social place of all was the crossroads here outside the Killinaboy (1) post
office. There was a huge tree and it was under that big tree people used to
meet on a summer evening and we’d play pitch-and-toss (2) and the older people
would be talking about farming and local topics or who was getting married, who
was born or who was dying. I was only in my teenage years then”. These are
the words of the late Vincent Lahiffe. Vincent was a native Killinaboy with a
great fondness for remembrance of things past.
The tree at the crossroads has long since been cut down and most of the pitchers and tossers have passed away. Moreover, the other great social hub at the cross, the post office (P.O.), is no more either. It was closed down in 2002.
The Kilnaboy P.O. closure is part of a bigger picture of the long, slow
death of the rural post office. 310 post offices were closed in the period 2005
-2014. According to an Irish Postmasters’ Union statement this autumn, the
government plans to soon close another 400 of the 1,100 post offices still
The decimation of the network is taking place despite the fact that even our political masters accept that the post office is a key national resource – a very valuable social space as well as a centre of commerce.
With the demise in 2002 of the post office as a commercial and civic space, Killinaboy cross was largely reduced to a junction for passing cars. That was until local artist Deirdre O’Mahony reopened the post office as a community and arts space in 2007. She cleverly christened the “new” space X-PO.
Deirdre also set about archiving as much information as possible about
the former postmaster John Martin “Mattie” Rynne. The post office was Rynne’s
working and living space but the world was his oyster. At night he would listen
to short wave radio and teach himself languages. By all accounts he was a
private, sensitive man with a great thirst for knowledge about the big world.
Deirdre made a large wall-drawing of Mattie above the stove in the living room. It was in fact soot from the stove which was used in the drawing of the portrait. Locals say the drawing bears a remarkable likeness to the man himself. Mattie is now a giant at the shoulder of all who walk into his former home.
LIMERICK, DUBLIN and BOLOGNA
I was born in Limerick city a few decades ago. I am quite proud of my birth place. My full name is Anthony Gerard Martin John Kirby. My father was extravagant when it came to naming me. His own name was Alf and I remember him being described as a “charismatic insurance salesman” in a book on the life of actor Richard Harris. My father passed away in 1977. My mother did likewise two and a half years ago at the age of 99 .
I studied French and English literature in University College Dublin in the late 1970s. I graduated without distinction but the education did give me an enduring love for words and languages. Whilst in college I happened to sit a civil service exam. I remember meeting the comic genius, the late Dermot Morgan, in the exam hall that day. He was a good friend of my cousin. I got the call to work for the state after I left college. I became a public servant. Morgan didn’t. Sometime later he became Father Ted in the eponymous and wildly successful TV comedy series.
Thankfully my public service did not stretch to licking envelopes or asking people their mothers’ maiden name . However, the job did not enthral me either. I finally invoked an escape clause and made good for Italy. A five year long sabbatical. I taught English as a foreign language in the medieval city of Bologna. I also spent one sublime summer in the city of Matera – a world UNESCO heritage site. Five years is the career break limit so I opted for the Irish public service again when the sabbatical expired. I returned to Dublin in 1997. I still miss Italia .
This 9km loop begins in Carran — the only village in
the Burren hills. The cultural highlight of the walk is Temple Cronan, a
remarkable Early Christian monastic site set in a green valley, in stark
contrast to the bare limestone massif of Termon you ascend afterwards.
Even though the peak is a mere 243 metres, it is never inundated with walkers. You may even have Termon’s generous plateau to yourself. Termon, coming from the Gaelic tearmann (sanctuary), is true to its name!
The views are lavish — to the south is Slieve Callan in mid-Clare; east is the wild, boggy terrain of Slieve Aughty; west is the dissident shale uplands of Slieve Elva in the heart of the Burren limestones. Most exhilarating of all are the views north — beyond Clare, into Galway Bay and chunks of Connemara.
Trek during the blooming season in May and June, and you’ll find patches of soil occupied by wild flowers with origins in different corners of the world. The most northerly point of the Termon plateau affords a stunning vista, too: a football stadium-sized depression known as the Glen of Clab. It’s a “darkly picturesque glen”, as described by the Irish antiquarian Westropp.
On the home stretch, there’s another sacred site — an eye-well dedicated to St Fachtna with a very impressive suite of dry stone penitential stations. It’s a vivid testimony to Ireland’s rich pilgrim past.
The Termon hill accounts for 5km of the 9km walk. So just over half of the walk features the region’s renowned craggy terrain. However, the biggest challenge in this rocky landscape may be the trees! Hazel is steadily advancing across some Burren hills due to the decline of the out-wintering of cattle. The hazel tends to obscure the way markers… so detective work may be required!
Length/time: 9km; 3–4 hours.
Start/finish point: Park at Cassidy’s Pub in Carran — the trailhead is here.
Nourishment : Cassidy’s pub is open 7 days a week from April 15th 2017 and is home to good food. The café in the nearby Burren Perfumery is another excellent eatery.
*This blog first appeared in the Irish Independent on 1st April 2017 as 1 of 7 walks in the article entitled “7 Amazing Walks in Ireland: Fresh air for every fitness level.”
The Early Medieval monastic site of Iníon Baoith consisted of 811 plantation acres. (The Irish acre or plantation acre is a measurement in disuse now. It approximates to 1.62 statute acres or 0.66 hectares). The monastery tenants also had access to another 900 acres of 'rocky pasture' for their common use. This approximates to what we know today as the townlands of Commons North & Commons South, though some small portions of other townlands were also included. Of the Commons, only about 40 acres were considered profitable. (Mc Mahon ; 2017).
Thus Tobar Iníon Baoith, which is located on the rocky pasture of Commons South, is situated within the monastic termon of Iníon Baoith. Moreover, there are two other holy wells in Commons South within the termon. They are the second well named after the saint, Tobar Iníon Baoith, and also Tobar Bhaighdeán.
Holy wells are often located near the ruins of medieval churches (or on the sides of hills or mountains or by the seashore) (O’Sullivan and Downey ; 2006).
Know Your Monuments Holy Wells by Muiris O'Sullivan and Liam Downey. Archaeology Ireland. (Spring 2006).
Buiochas le.../Thanks to...
Michael Mc Mahon for the information on the area of the Early Medieval monastic site of Iníon Baoith.
THE WELL HOUSE
The house is an elliptically-shaped dry stone construction enclosing the well. It is 2.8 m long and measures 2.5 m at its widest point. Access to the well is by an aperture in the house which is 0.45 m wide.
The house is single stone-width (0.45 m approx) except for the rear wall which has a depth of up to 1.3m of stone. The altar is flat piece of stone (0.4m by 0.2m) which is known locally as "the flag". The flag is inserted in to the interior of the rear wall. It overhangs the well at a height of 0.29 m above the ground.
The flag serves to denote the sanctity of the space but also acts a repository for devotees' offerings.
There is a small depression in the pavement under the flag and just behind the well water.
This naturally occurring feature has been re-invented by devotees as another point of deposition of the offerings or "devotionalia".
Site visited 7th February 2017.
There were a medallion and 4 religious figurines on the altar.The following offerings were recorded in the small depression in the pavement behind the well - approximately 90 coins in the new currency.
Two small pieces of limestone. 2 other small stones – one red in colour, the
These latter stones are from geological areas other than the Burren and were deposited as offerings probably because of their exotic look.
Two secular tokens - a plastic bottle top and an ear ring.
The following religious tokens - the Madonna in a grotto ; a wooden crucifix ; 2 metal crucifixes ; 6 religious medals ; a headless figure of Mary ; a photo of the holy family Jesus, Mary and Joseph.
There were 20 coins clustered on the ground a few centimetres from the well.
Finally, one small piece of granite was recorded in the interior wall of the well house.THE HYDROLOGY OF THE WELL
The well is a natural solutional hollow in the limestone. There are many similar features in the surrounding pavement.
The hollow is fed by rainwater draining from the surrounding pavement at shallow depth (920-30cm). This is known as epikarst drainage and it is quite common in the Burren karst.
The water drains horizontally and fills the hollow up to a depth of 15cm before overflowing. Thus there is a mini-pool just below the surface with no outlet. Even with no inflow in dry weather, the water would take a month or two to evaporate altogether. As it never goes that long without rain in the region, the mini-pool never dries up.
Killinaboy parish is mostly agricultural and that is why floods and even droughts are keenly noticed as they both have a negative impact upon the pasture. The stability of the water supply in the well was a source of local fascination in the past and is still the subject of some comment today.
"And no matter how dry the weather is or how wet, the well would not get bigger or smaller" (Teller John Costelloe, Coad ; collector Joseph Costello 1937/38).
"It never increases or decreases after the biggest flow or the greatest drought" (Teller George Pilkington, Leamaneh ; collector Seán Pilkington ; 1937/38).
THE PERSONALITY OF THE WELL
There are a number of similar solutions in the surrounding area which begs the question as to why the water from this particular hollow was ordained to be "blessed".
LIST OF the 9 HOLY WELLS IN the PARISH OF KILLINABOY and THEIR CURES
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Commons South. Eyes and warts.
Tobar Bhaighdeáin (The Maiden’s Well), Commons South. Eyes and warts.
Bullán Phádraig (St Patrick’s Well), Poulnalour. Eyes and warts.
St Anthony’s, Caherblonick (no longer extant). Eyes and warts.
Tobar Inion Baoith, Anneville. Eyes.
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Ballard. Eyes.
Tobar Iníon Baoith, Commons South. Eyes.
Tobar Mháirtín (St Martin’s Well), Leamaneh. Eyes.
Tobar Duibh (The Black Well), Caherfadda. Eyes and swollen limbs.
An image from a grocer’s store on the Sheep’s Head peninsula
in the south west of Ireland on the morning of the 3rd of January
2017. The store is in the village of Kilcrohane, the most westerly village on the
peninsula (there are two other villages – Ahakista and Durrus, the latter the most
O Mahony’s is a store, coffee shop, post office and wine bar (wine bar open in high season). The owner is the ultra-genial Frank O’Mahony and his stamp (excuse the pun) is all over the premises. The place is crammed with knick-knacks and memorabilia and even the ceiling is maximised to reflect some of Frank’s passions. Stand-outs for me were the L.P. covers (including a Richard Clayderman!) and the Donald Trump shrine called The World According to Donald. The coffee is excellent. O’Mahony’s is arguably one of the most idiosyncratic shops/P.O.s in Ireland.
We spent a post-Christmas week on Sheep’s Head - one of 5 Old Red Sandstone peninsulas in south-west Ireland defiantly jutting out into the Atlantic. Mizen is the most southerly peninsula and above Sheep’s Head there is Beara, Iveragh (a.k.a. Ring of Kerry) and the Dingle. The latter two are the most trafficked whereas the first three mentioned remain largely unspoiled.
Sheep’s Head is a very narrow peninsula at only 4 kilometres
wide…whilst it is 21 kilometres long.
The highest point of the region is Seefin (348m). The peninsula is characterised by a rugged, mountainous spine with the better land of glacial tills (and inhabitants) more concentrated towards sea level.
The region is a magnet for walkers who are attracted by the excellently way marked Sheep’s Head Way. The Way is 175 kilometres long and boasts 20 looped walks.
We hiked about 40 kilometres with the kids during the week. It was a very rich experience as the Way features the most lavish scenery……mountains, bog, lakes and ocean. We were often entranced as we walked by the vista of two bays – Bantry to the north and Dunmanus to the south. On occasion we could view sections of four of the five peninsulas i.e. all except Dingle. One of the many highlights for us was dolphin watching from the light house at the most westerly point of the peninsula.
Cork city and airport are a 1 hour 20 minute drive to Kilcrohane and the remoteness explains in part why Sheep’s Head remains a secret of Ireland’s Atlantic landscape. Moreover, there is not one sandy beach on the peninsula and hence the relatively small number of family groups which holiday here in high season. (I am told however that the Kilcrohane pier is a popular swimming spot in summer).
Apart from Frank’s emporium, Kilcrohane is home to a very cosy pub, Eileen’s. The only tin-roofed pub in Ireland is in the nearby village of Ahakista. Its beer garden sweeps down to the sea. Friendly and family-run by the Whooleys, the Tin Pub is hard to beat. Arundel’s is the other pub in Ahakista and it is located on the pier. A beer, coffee or chowder here al fresco as the sun declines is a peak experience as they say in the U.S.
We did miss out on some coffee shops with strong reputations as they were closed during our winter stay – Bernie’s Cupán Tae is in Tooreen in the far west of the peninsula ; The White House Gallery and Coffee Shop is a kilometre west of Kilcrohane and The Heron Gallery Café is just outside Ahakista.
A final, honourable mention of the people of this part of peninsular Cork – uber-friendly and most willing to stop time to strike up a conversation. If you are looking for a bit of Nirvana far from the venal roar – Sheep’s Head is the place for you.
Ath bhliain faoi mhaise duit – Happy 2017.
WALKING BOOK and MAP
Ordnance Survey Ireland Discovery Series. Map Number 88.
Walking the Sheep’s Head Way
2nd edition Main Trail and 17 Loop Walks by Amanda Clarke. Wildways Press.
2nd edition published 2015.
SHEEP’S HEAD BOOKS
The Story of Kilcrohane by Frank O’Mahony.
First published by Frank O’Mahony 2000.
A history of the parish of Kilcrohane by the uncle of current Kilcrohane grocer Frank O’Mahony.
Jack’s World by Seán Sheehan.
Cork University Press 2007.
The story of the life of a Sheep’s Head farmer, Jack Sheehan, as recorded by his nephew Seán.
A record also of the place names of the fields on Jack’s farm and the 20th century changes to the landscape of the peninsula.
Crowley’s pub is on the Main St in Corofin. Crowleys once leased the premises and the shop front still has their name. Gerry Quinn was another leasee and his wall sign survives too.
I quite like the street ad for St Bruno flake. It is really quaint and harks back to the days before no-smoking pubs. St Bruno is probably the most famous piped tobacco in the world - U.K. manufacture, Virginian leaf, 11th century Cologne saint.
The building is a reasonable size boasting a six-bay window first floor. In the past, the premises was not just an alehouse but offered lodgings as well. Eminent local historian Michael Mc Mahon writes that Crowley's was formerly known as The Queen’s Head. It was probably so named during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) in the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Michael actually maintains that the building was home to a pub long before it got the The Queen’s Head name.
Dick Cronin is an architectural conservationist and a
habitué of the pub. Dick reckons that Crowley’s
is the oldest pub in the province of Munster. He also tells me
that it was an important comfort stop in the past for the staff and visitors to the village courthouse. The court house was located right across the street from the pub. It successively functioned as the Market House by which name it is known today. (The two-street
village of Corofin was a market and
post "town" in the 19th century). The Market House now houses apartments.
The pub is divided into two rooms. The back room opens for music evenings and other events. The front room features the bar, a Liscannor stone floor and a fire which blazes in the winter.
Mick Nestor presides over a hugely enjoyable traditional music session every Friday
The “Nestor orchestra” averages about 10 to 15 musicians and songsters.Mick is a kind, gentle man and a truly excellent flute player. He is from the parish of Dysert and he has a car mechanic’s yard in Killinaboy. His yard must be the only one in Ireland located in a sacred space – a disused church!
Liam Jones on guitar is also a tower of song. Then there is Lu Edmonds who is vocalist/instrumentalist with The Mekons, a 1970s punk band who have evolved heavily in terms of musical style over the last 40 years. Lu is also guitarist with John Lydon’s band Public Image Limited. When he is not touring, the Corofin-based Lu can be found in the thick of Crowley’s Friday night session. He plays Greek bouzouki at the session. (It was septuagenarian Andy Irvine, a founder member of Planxty, who introduced the instrument to Irish traditional music). Lu himself first came to prominence in the late 1970s with the punk group The Damned.
Lu and Mick are from two quite different musical traditions but have struck up a fine chemistry on Friday nights - The Sacred and the Damned!
The pub is now leased by two of the good guys– Tom and Pete.
They run a fine shop…. an atmospheric refuge rich in history. It opens in the
“Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” is a jazz standard with music by Duke Ellington and lyrics by Bob Russell. That's me - I don’t get around much anymore. However, I am hyper-determined to drop in to Crowley’s over the next few days for a seasonal frothy freshener.
Nollaig Shona/ Happy Christmas.
Reference - The Parish of Corofin - A Historical Profile by Michael Mc Mahon published by Michael Mac Mahon 2013.
"The last pool of darkness"……….. Connemara
as described by the renowned 20th century philosopher, Ludwig Wittgenstein.
The photo was taken roadside between Screebe and Cashel at the dimming of another spectacular November day in the west.
The summits are part of the great highland range - Na
- translated as Beola's peaks. Beola was a very obsure, local
giant/chieftain. According to tradition he is buried in the tiny village of
The range is much more commonly known as The Twelve Bens. The dozen peaks range in height from 1900 to 2490 feet.
The Bens consist of quartzite rock just like Croagh Patrick (Mayo), Errigal (Donegal) and the Sugar Loaf (Wicklow). Once of sandstone, the rock metamorphosed into hard quartzite. The other great Connemara massif is Mám Tuirc (Boar's Pass)....known in English as the Maumturks. They lie a few miles east of the Twelve Bens.
The lowlands in the foreground of the photo were once made up of softer clay materials and were eventually worn down into schist, a coarse grained rock with layers of different minerals.
The bog-brown Connemara lakes and rivers are renowned fishing grounds... salmon and sea trout being the main attraction.
The Connemara region, at 800 square miles, is 4 times the size of theBurren. It is a wild and mysterious place......a magnificent distraction across Galway Bay from us.
Reference - The Mountains of Connemara by Joss Lynam, published by Folding Landscapes in 1988. The definitive guide and map of the Connemara uplands
"Useless to think you'll park or capture it/More thoroughly" Postscript
by Séamus Heaney.
The photograph was taken by Shelly Wolf from L.A. He and his wife Barbara were on a Burren tour with me on a golden autumn day – the very first day of October 2016.
We stopped at a lay-by in the townland of Fahee South about 5 km east of the tiny village of Carran as this photo opportunity presented itself.
The camera itself is pointing even further eastwards.
I like the image a lot as it can be read as having at least four different frames.
The lush green pastures in the foreground are in Glencolmcille (locally known as ”Glan”). The placename is an Anglicisation of Gleann Cholm Chille (the valley of St Colmcille). The monastic site (now ruins) in the valley are dedicated to this 6th century monk.
Like all Burren valleys, Glencolmcille has generous glacial deposits of sands, clays and gravels overlying the porous limestone. It makes for excellent terrain for pastoral farming. However, the valley would have been covered in oak trees in prehistory. It was farming communities in prehistoric/early historic times who converted the forest in to the grasslands we see today.
The stony hill of Turloughmore is perched above Glencolmcille. The Burren hills have been compared to a giant staircase with their classic terrace and cliff topography.
Moreover, the rocky uplands in the region make for a strong contrast with the lavish soil cover in the valleys below. The Turloughmore range extends for more than 6 km. The highest point is 267 metres. The great mapmaker/landscape writer, Tim Robinson, records 7 prehistoric tombs along the range.
The Burren uplands are home to one of Europe’s most distinctive landscapes – limestone pavement. In fact the region boasts the most extensive area of limestone pavement in the European Union. So much of the bedrock in the hills has been exposed due to glacial erosion and uber-enthusiastic prehistoric agriculture. Thus, one could argue that the Burren uplands are in part a deeply humanised landscape.
Hills like Turloughmore are still farmed today albeit in the autumn/winter only. Cattle are transferred to the uplands for the period November to April. This farming regime is highly unusual and is called reverse transhumance.
The white Derrybrien wind turbines are just about visible in the middle left of the image (behind Turloughmore). The turbines are built on Slieve Aughty - a 25 km-long Old Red Sandstone hill range extending from east Clare into south east Galway. It is a wild and desolate landscape of uplands bogs. (Bogs are wetlands that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material). The highest point on the range is Maghera (400m).
The Derrybrien wind farm has 70 wind turbines and was one of the largest wind farms in Europe when it was built in 2003. The farm, constructed by the semi-state energy body E.S.B., precipitated a 0.5 million tonne peat slide with significant environmental damage and a fish kill of 50,000. Bogs are notoriously unstable environments. Construction of large-scale infrastructural projects on bogs without proper environmental impact assessment can lead to environmental chaos.
The final frame in the image is the “cloud formation” as Shelly phrased it. It was a remarkably still, bright autumn day. The clouds were frozen on the canvas.
of October was a day from heaven in Ireland and the month kept giving. Met
Eireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, summarised October as “extremely dry
almost everywhere” with “mean air temperatures on or above average nearly
everywhere”. However, November has returned to the form of most of 2016 – unsettled and
changeable. We will look back on October 2016 as mí na míosa
– the month of
Shelly informs me that the shot was taken with a Nikon D5 camera and a 20mm Nikon lens.
Thanks to Shelly and Barbara for the company and the sublime photo.
Go n-eirigh an bóthar libh. May the road rise with you.