Monday, June 30, 2014

Lush Irish livestock

Along the byways of Ireland, jaded city dwellers can feast their eyes on field after field of lovely livestock.

Left, a sheep relaxes near the Rock of Cashel.

Right, donkeys graze in a lush green field.

Below, cattle graze at Clonmacnoise and on a Portlaoise Farm.  Bottom right, sign points the way to a stud farm for horse breeders.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Mount Cashel, seat of ancient Irish kings

The Rock of Cashel is the seat of the ancient Irish Kings. This is where, in 990 CE, Brian Boru was crowned High King. That fact and other history and make Mount Cashel an important tourist destination.

The round-towered St. Patrick's Cathedral dominates the hill, giving a wide view over County Tipperary. The roofless church is now under repair, as the picture shows. The details below show a roosting pigeon and an elaborate tomb with a view.


A detail of Cormac's Chapel, with its wooden ceiling beams and artistic decor, is seen below.

 This wide view from the walled hill reveals an angry sky.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Improvements to Emo Court trails

Emo Court has wonderful walking trails on both sides of the lake. The side closest to the house, of course, contains the formal gardens, with statues, lawns, rhododendrons, camellias and many huge and beautiful trees: oaks, elms and beeches among others.

Right, Jackie, my Irish healer friend, communes with an ancient tree.

 The lake is filled with ducks and swans and adorned with reeds and waterlilies.

A small wooden bridge crosses to a natural woodland where a lot of work is currently being done to clear the trails and forest floor of dead and fallen trees. Below one cut tree waits to be carried off, one resembles a question mark and another displays its gorgeous sunlit canopy.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ancient oak at Emo Court

Emo Court contains some of the oldest trees in Ireland

The magnificent neo-classical house was designed for the Earls of Portarlington. The enormous gardens, woodlands and lake were laid out in the 18th century.

A private residence until 1994, this property is now managed by Heritage Ireland. The house, still furnished, can be seen by appointment. There is a tea room on site.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Emo Court Gardens

Emo Court house seen from across the lake and a part of the extensive formal gardens. 

In 1790, this magnificent neo-classical home was designed for the Earls of Portarlington. In the 18th century, the enormous gardens, woodlands and lake were laid out.

A private residence until 1994, this property is now managed by Heritage Ireland. The house, still furnished, can be seen by appointment, and there is a tea room on site.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Key to the ancient past?

Beneath a jewel-blue sky, this strange stone shape shows where a building existed in earlier times.

The site is Clonmacnoise on the River Shannon. Occupied since at least the sixth century and frequently sacked, this fascinating centre of Irish heritage is located in County Offaly in the midlands.

Perhaps the remains visible in these pictures are related to the recently discovered Clonmacnoise bridge, built across the broad and shallow Shannon in the 8th century CE.


Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Magic of Clonmacnoise III

The Celtic Cross is a common symbol that dates back to prehistory. With roots in the ancient past, it also became important in early Irish Christianity.

The Celtic cross combines the traditional form of the cross with the circle, which was an early symbol of the sun.

According to Edward G. Seller, when the Irish Celts were first Christianized, they used this prayer:

Circle me, Lord; keep fear without, keep joy within.
Circle me, Lord; keep complaining without, keep peace within.
Circle me, Lord; keep despair without, keep beauty within.
Circle me, Lord; keep deceit without, keep mercy within.

Sadly, the inscriptions on most of the large Celtic crosses at Clonmacnoise have eroded and been overgrown by lichen. Most are unreadable.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Magic of Clonmacnoise II

In our time, Clonmacnoise has a functioning church that was built in the 12th century. Since the 18th century, Temple Connor (left) has been home to a Church of Ireland congregation. A padlock keeps it closed to tourists when not in use.
Right: Tiny flowers grow on the ancient stones.

A well-preserved round tower stands against the backdrop of the Shannon River. An Irish defense innovation, (below right) it has no door. Those with permission to enter had to climb rope ladders that were let down from the narrow windows above.

Below: author stands amid the ruins.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Magic of Clonmacnoise I

An ancient design of swirls graces this ancient monument of stone at Clonmacnoise in central Ireland.

Founded as a monastic settlement by St. Ciaran (Kieran) in 548 CE, this site was important during the fifth and sixth centuries CE, the golden age of the Irish saints. In 1198, Rory O'Connor, Ireland's last High King, was interred here.

The site was likely chosen because it lies at a conjunction of ley lines. These magnetic earth lines were important in ancient Druidic religion. Many ancient monuments and ruins including Newgrange and the Hill of Tara in Ireland, as well as Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland and Stonehenge and Avebury in England are located on ley lines. Today Jackie Queally is one travel guide who explains such sacred sites.

Like many Irish monastic settlements, Clonmacnoise was attacked and plundered on several occasions by Anglo-Normans and Vikings. Yet in spite of its violent past, the place is imbued with a mysterious sense of power and peace.

A good way to view this vast site is to begin by watching the short film that introduces its history.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The delicious joys of midsummer

Today is the summer solstice and the garden is in full fig, so to speak. No actual figs, of course, but there are a few late peonies, and plenty of alstroemeria. Beside the dark red lilies, the pure white callas have begun to open. The crocosmia are about to burst into flower as well.

The fragrance of the roses and mock orange that I've brought in waft their delicious scents through the house with its open windows.

In the front boxes, bright coloured dahlias, mini-carnations and gerbera daisies are giving their best. Sitting on the back deck this afternoon, I enjoyed bursts of fragrance from pot plants chosen especially for their scents: Stargazer lilies, Hidcote lavender and Eternal Fragrance daphne. In the back garden, the purple yarrow is beginning to flower, and the hydrangeas are well along too.

It was 9:45 pm when I finally decided the evening light was getting too dim to read, and came in.

Yesterday, another bright evening of high summer, I walked with a friend from Sunset Beach into Stanley Park.

Of course the seawall along English Bay was crowded with people. It was also bristling with lush greenery, including some hardy but tropical looking European fan palms.

Yes, summer is sweet, and all the more appreciated after a coolish spring.

Sweeter still is the sense of spaciousness gained by having plenty of free time.

(Back to Ireland posts tomorrow.)

Napoleonic era fort now a restaurant

The Old Fort Restaurant stands on the bank of the Shannon River near Athlone, on the border of County Roscommon.

During the Napoleonic wars, this fort was part of a defense system built by the British to protect against an anticipated French invasion.

The British reasoned that by landing in the west, the French could cross the Shannon and march on Dublin. The idea was not outrageous; similar  invasions had already been attempted.

These unique defensive tete-a-pont fortifications at Shannonbridge were begun in 1802 and completed in 1817. Initially manned by a hundred British troops, the fort stood until 1865. The expected French invasion never came. 

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Rock of Dunamase

My Irish hosts pose in the Barbican gate

Located in County Laois in the Irish Midlands, a low hill, the Rock of Dunamase, holds the ruins of the 12th century Dunamase Castle. An earlier fort, or dun, preceded it.

When Aiofe, daughter of Dermot MacMurrough, married Strongbow, the 2nd Earl of Pembroke, the castle passed into Anglo-Norman hands.

After Aiofe and Dermot's daughter Isabel married the Earl of Pembroke William Marshal, the castle became a military and administrative centre. It passed to the Mortimers in the 14th Century. When Earl of March Roger Mortimer was executed for treason, it changed hands again, then fell into disuse.

The 18th century saw a partial and temporary restoration when the hall became the residence of Sir John Parnell, Irish Parliamentarian and grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell, the 19th century champion of Irish Home Rule.

As the OPW marker explains, this castle, on its small hill with a wide view in all directions, was well-fortified. Surrounded by a double barbican, it featured plunging arrow loops in the walls.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Ancient art of thatching still alive in Ireland

This style of stone house with it's roof of thatch is now a fairly rare sight in Irish country villages. In 2005 in the New York Times, Brian Lavery wrote that the once-common Irish thatched cottage is becoming endangered.

The Thatch Company in County Waterford still works at the old craft. Hogan's offers thatched cottages as Irish holiday destinations. And Brian Donegal explains the history of Irish thatching on Donegal Cottage Holidays.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Thatched roof artistry

The ancient art of thatching is alive and well in Ireland, as well as in the UK. This Irish house has been re-roofed quite recently. Beside it, an outbuilding sports matching thatch.

Done properly, such roofs are very practical and can last a long time.

On this side of the Atlantic, Virginia-based Colin McGhee, who decided to be a thatcher when he was seven, gets lots of business in the U.S. and Canada.

Weir and early hydro site

In County Carlow is a stone bridge that crosses the river to what appears to be an old castle. Upstream is the weir pictured below. In 1891, Carlow had the first hydroelectric station to light an Irish town, or one in Great Britain either, as indicated on the sign below, posted on the castle wall.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Fishing at Shannonbridge

It's spitting rain and that's a good time for fish to bite.

The fisherman, however, does not enjoy getting wet while sitting on the riverbank.

The solution is simple: a large umbrella.

Shannonbridge is the site of West Offaly Power Station, which burns milled peat to generate electricity.

It's also a boating and fishing paradise.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Peat dries in the bog

Photo by Jackie A. Carter

This field of peat has been cut neatly and laid to dry. It was likely harvested last fall and will be collected this year and stored for burning.

Irish bogs are famous; this one is in County Offaly. Central Ireland and Galway have two types of bogs, special wetlands with rare plants.

Raised bogs are currently being restored in Ireland. Many blanket bogs can be seen along the west coast; in fact, Ireland possesses 8% of the world's supply of this type. These wetlands are cared for by a special Conservation Council.

Just as bogs preserve ancient wood, they can hold the bodies of those long dead in a state of partial preservation. According to Matt McGrath, the mummified remains of Cashel Man, discovered in County Laois in 2011, predate the mummy of Tutankhamen by 500 years. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Peat bog in County Laois

Traditionally, Irish people have harvested peat from the bogs for fuel to burn in the classic turf fire. In fact, one souvenir I saw at Carroll's was a bit of turf -- something for an emigrant to burn and be comforted by the smell of home.

As well as peat, wood that has been submerged is valuable. Ancient bog oak is used for furniture and other artistic objects. In the picture below, piles of bog wood have been set to dry before being taken away.

This bog is located in County Laois.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Views from the Slieve Bloom Mountains

Although they pass through only two counties, a viewpoint at the top of the Slieve Bloom affords glimpses of seven.

From this lofty perch one can see Roscommon, Longford, Westmeath, Offaly, Laois, Tipperary, and Galway.

Also visible during our May travels were yellow gorse, bluebell woods, and flowering white thorn. Fluffy heads of bog cotton could be seen in a few places beside the road.

The other great view from the top of the Slieve Blooms was the sky, full of ever-changing arrays of cloud.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Mysterious roadside fireplace in the Slieve Bloom Mountains

Driving through the Slieve Bloom Mountains with a friend brought memorable moments. One of these was meeting a lorry on the high narrow two-lane road and being obliged to back onto the narrow shoulder to let it pass. Another was pausing at a high vantage point to look out over seven Irish counties.

Then there was this giant fireplace beside the road. There was absolutely nothing to indicate why it was there; likewise the wooden stairs that seemed to lead nowhere.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Brian Boru now in the hospitality business?

The Brian Boru is a Dublin pub and restaurant, also called Hedigans. Brian himself was a historic character, born more than a millennium ago to the chief of one of the royal free tribes who inhabited the Irish province of Munster.

After his mother was killed in a Viking raid, Brian left his home and became a guerrilla fighter. He attacked Viking settlements and then returned to the hills.

Eventually Brian Boru assembled an army to face the Norsemen, and triumphed. In 978, he took over the Kingship of Munster after defeating the King of Cashel.

In 998, Brian met Malachy, High King of Meath, and they agreed to divide Ireland between them. Five years later, Brian quietly took over Malachy's northern lands as well as his own in the south. Thus Brian Boru united the Irish, crushing the destructive military might of the Vikings. He was the first and only king to govern all of Ireland, until his death a millennium ago during the Battle of Clontarf.

Trinity College Dublin is now showing a Brian Boru exhibition in the Long Room of the library.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Porterhouse, a Dublin pub

This well-worn leather bench flanked by cowhide stools is where our party dined on scampi and fish and shepherd's pie.

We also tried Oyster Stout, a tasty dark beer brewed especially for this pub.

There are other branches of the Porterhouse in Ireland, New York and London.

The pub ceiling, below, is wood, and not quite so white as the picture shows.