Tag Archives: Irish history

Dublin and Keating’s Bar

This is the last day in Ireland, before we flew back to Glasgow, in October 2007.

Sunday October 14, nearing the end of our trip and our last night in Ireland. We had come back to Dublin a day earlier hoping to have some time to see a few more sights but what with getting lost over and over again, we really had time only to pack, drop off the car and get something to eat. Driving into Dublin after two weeks of driving, you think would be easier. But there were multiple lanes, the signs were unclear and once we got off the highway, we proceeded to meander with the streets.

I think we stopped twice to ask for directions and finally found the same B&B where we had stayed before, the Charleville. Whereas this place had very nice rooms when we arrived we were given one in the basement this time. It smelled moldy in the corridor, the light didn’t work right, the door knob was loose and the water cool. It wasn’t as impressive but we were only there for the one night. (So if you’re planning on staying there, don’t let them put you in the basement.)

So after wasting part of the day getting into Dublin we decided it was wise to drop of the car first, knowing how signage just doesn’t match reality. We got lost, typical by now, went the wrong direction, finally got directions that took us to the Liffey (river) where the dropoff for the car was. The guy who gave us the best directions said, take the last road before the Liffey and turn left, then go one block and turn up. Not only were the names of the streets wrong but we couldn’t turn left on the street he said we could, nor go up the street that was next (because it was one way the other direction). It seems even the Irish don’t know their city that well.

After driving in large circles for about an hour, we finally found the entrance, not marked in any discernible way to say it was the right place. And then we were hungry. We were downtown on a Sunday and couldn’t find much. Many things were closed, or looked very cheesy. So we ate at a diner with unremarkable food.

We then caught a taxi to Keating’s Bar because my friend Will in Glasgow had said check it out. We could have walked as it was only a few blocks away but we didn’t know that after our long adventures in Dublin. It turns out to be an old church that fell into disrepair. Eventually it was bought by a local restaurateur and restored, keeping both the history of the place preserved. Part of the deal was to keep in in good repair and it has more parishioners of food than anything else. The crypt in the basement (with tombs in the floor) is the wine bar, which was closed that night. The large open-space bathrooms are on that level, where you walk in and go right if you’re a man and left if you’re a woman. When you’re at the sinks you can see men and women equally. Very Euro trendy.

The main floor has a long oval bar down the middle, and the top floor, overlooking the main floor is the dining area. If we had known there’d be food we would have eaten there and had a better meal. There are plaques and tombs in the walls to different personages. I wonder if people from two hundred years ago would roll in their graves to know a church had been turned into a bar, but then I thought, it’s the Irish. They tend to be more relaxed about drinking as part of life and religion.

We had an early flight the next day so we caught a taxi back to the B&B (not risking getting lost again) and that was that. Although there were a few things I didn’t see in Dublin I would probably skip it the next time. At the least I wouldn’t rent a car in the city and would the very least take a bus to a neighboring town and rent there to save on the confusion.

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The Rock of Cashel, Ireland

From  my fall 2007 trip to Ireland.
It’s a long way to Tipperary but if you go to Cashel, then you have in fact made it. Cashel (with the accent on the first syllable) was a lovely town (I’ve now officially lost track of the days). It’s small, a mix of medieval and modern and winds slowly up to the mound where the Rock of Cashel is. The castle was built at the highest point. It’s suffered some weather damage over the years from wind (parts blown down, such as the high cross and some crenellations) and rain. The castle is a sprawling place, containing several buildings, and cold. It was a windy enough day there but we could see from all sides, overlooking the town.
I didn’t do as well a job of editing these photos so there are a lot of pictures of fresco details and pillars.

The oldest part of Cashel is more than a thousand years old. We did the site tour , which had a very entertaining guy who gave great insights into the place’s very long history. Viewing over the cemetery, the distant hills show a dip. The tale goes that one day the devil was walking along, in a foul mood and took a big bite out of the hills. That dip is called the Devil’s Bite and when the devil spit out the chomp he took, it made the Rock of Cashel.
 
The oldest part was probably the tower as these are evident in all of the oldest monasteries (as lookouts for the Vikings). Then there was a smallish chapel, made I believe of limestone as that is the composition of the mount as well. The walls and ceiling had been painted in frescoes. Some of the design is still visible with red, blue, yellow and white colors. That was amazing to see, and religious figures and diapering designs were still discernible. This chapel was also unique in its crookedness. When looking through the arched entry it was obvious that it wasn’t in the center of that wall, nor was the arch geometrically even. I bet it was built by unskilled monks and laborers with no architect or only directions passed down the line from one guy to another.
 
There are the little sculpted heads there were also on the Dysert O’Dea doorway. The remains of a broken stone casket was inside. The front has and Urnes style beast on it, which helps date this part of Cashel to 900-1000 CE. Urnes style resembles the famous carved stave churches of Norway, indicating the influence of the time.
 
Ireland is working hard to preserve its heritage and history. Many of the castles are owned by county or country tourism. It’s a long and expensive process but there was evidence of work on Cashel, especially in spots that needed to preserve the building’s integrity.

Brian Boru, and his grandson were some of the early Munster kings that ruled from here. But his grandson gave the castle over to the Bishop of Limerick. This began the long ecclesiastical history of the castle. There was an enclosed museum, which had some religious artifacts, pennannular brooches, and stonework that had been moved in to preserve them.

Another chapel (I don’t know the actual religious names for these different buildings) was redone with a wooden roof (no nails) and plant made pigments painted on the gothic arches and angels that decorated the room. Most castles and churches had wooden roofs as the technique for making the corbelled (or other) stone roofs was complicated and put a lot of weight on the walls. Throughout these buildings there are many square holes in the walls. These are post holes, for floors and stairs. It makes one realize how drafty these stone places would have been.

The town itself was fairly small and we were hardpressed to find a place to eat that night, but ate at the Town Hall, a higher end and very good restaurant. It is so named because it is in the old town hall. We’d had a drink in one of local pub earlier and many of the pubs in this area of Ireland have little hearths and some that burn coal still. We spent several hours at Cashel and then moved on to Limerick.

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Travel: Ennis, Ireland

Ireland 2007–Ennis

Ennis is in the southwest of Ireland and we stayed the night after our long drive through the Burren. Its Gaelic name is Inis. We found a little B&B a little farther out of the town center. All the Irish towns have the oldest buildings at the center and the newer more moderns ones the farther out you go. The streets were once built for carriages and are narrow. If there is any parking, people usually just drive up over the low curbs and you have to drive around the cars. This was true of Donegal town too. Ennis was set up as a one way, with the sidewalks widened and penant shaped streamers through the streets. There was some sort of game, the local team or something that was winning but I can’t remember what.

Rose Cottage, our B&B, wasn’t a cottage but had a small dining area as well as a wee pub downstairs with quite lovely and clean rooms upstairs. The food seemed kind of Americanized so we went into town and found one of few restaurants open. The food there was extremely good, one of those higher end restaurants. I believe it was called the Town Hall, denoting what it once used to be.

After dinner my sister and I wandered up the street to a cute little pub. There were people playing inside but as opposed to an organized band they were more just jamming. A fiddler or two, I think one on bodhran but it was very low key and background. I don’t even remember much about that pub.

The next day we wandered about the town, which still has many medieval buildings, and did some shopping. I think it was my favourite town for the looks and being just a pretty place. The streets all gently curved and the shops and pubs have an old feel. This town had the most medieval feel of the towns we had been in. There were many interesting shops and I wouldn’t have minded more time there. We found our way to the Ennis Friary by asking the Garda (the police) since we somehow couldn’t find a street that went through and it turns out there is the old friary, the ruins, and the new one, which is still in use. Of course we wanted the ruins.

Ennis Friary was built in 1240 making the town a religious center. It was a Franciscan center until the expulsion of the monks in the 1800s. It’s a fine example of gothic architecture, with remains of the cloister walk and many walls with the skeleton of the windows left. Some windows, side by side, would have a different design from one to the next. The floors were festooned with old tombs, leaving no space to walk that wasn’t over someone’s grave. I found that tombs older than about the 1700s were unreadable. Many were set in the walls and the O’Brians and MacMahons were families of note in the eiarly days of the friary.

The friary has some great sculptural images, with a monk, a skeletally thin Christ, and a virgin Mary as some of the plaques and such embedded in the walls. The Creagh tomb was large and ornate, in better condition but then it was put in, in 1840 and incorporated some elements from the 1500s. Overall, the friary was in good condition, for a ruin. I really wished these old churches still had the stained glass. It’s a bit hard to imagine what they would have looked like in their full glory, with the bright hues of glass, candles, wooden ceilings and floors, rushes perhaps, and walls not yet pitted by age and weather in rebellion.

When I get back to Ireland I want to spend more time in Ennis and exploring around the town.

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St Peter & Paul’s Cathedral, and Old Mellifont Abbey

First posted Oct. 31, 2007. I’d like to get back to Ireland this year.

I find beauty in stone and architecture, in details and the juxtaposition against sky and flora. St Peter and Paul’s Cathedral was in the town of Trim and not far from the castle. Trim was a very important center at one time. We happened upon the cathedral and just stopped. I loved the sense of age, the details still visible, and that the cemetery was still in use.

The days are blurring together but we arrived in the Newgrange/County Meath area on the Friday evening, then spent Saturday and part of Sunday bopping about before we went north. I can’t remember if we did Trim on Sunday or if it was one of the last things on Saturday. The time of day and that the castle was nearly closed when we hit it makes me think that the cathedral was the last place on Saturday.

We then wandered back to Slaine (that we never did get pictures of nor see the castle because it was booked for weddings). We ate at “the Old Post Office” but had drinks at the pub across the street first until they had space for us. There was a guy playing music but it was 80s tunes. Alas, N.A. rock made its mark everywhere, when we wanted Irish traditional.

So on Sunday, after saying so long to Irene of the Roughgrange B&B right near Newgrange (she was lovely and very friendly) we moved on to Old Mellifont Abbey, a cistercian monastery first founded in 1142 AD by St. Malachy. Of course, it was constructed and expanded over centuries and there were even ruins of one of the old houses on the hill. The rain spittered and spattered but never did more than that.

The detail in the columns were amazing and the sense of age was powerful. I got in trouble at the visitor center for saying we have such little history in Canada. I amended it to say architectural and civic history, because we do have history. But the artifacts of the first Nations were mostly of wood and leather and just as all the places no longer have their roofs in Ireland, we have very little (especially in western Canada) that goes back more than two centuries at most.

The sense of people living, adapting, changing through all those years is stunning. Nature is amazing and what humans have done, both good and bad, awe inspiring too.

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Dublin or Bust!

Here’s another Ireland installment, first written on Oct. 7, 2007 while I was in Ireland. I’ll be soon posting some of the blog pieces with pictures or you can go over to my blogspot blog, link listed on the sidebar.
We’re in Kilkenny, which turns out to be a hopping college town, or at least where all the young people gather to party. Yeegods, we almost didn’t get a B&B but lucked out on try 3 with a very nice place and very nice people.

There’s been so much and not enough time to even find internet cafes which some of the small towns don’t have. We got into the habit of sometimes eating the breakfast–a full breakfast will come with two cooked tomatoes, sausages, ham (bacon but it’s like back bacon), toast, eggs, cereal and fruit, maybe potatoes and black and white pudding. Who could eat all that? We were down to ham and toast and tomato and skipping it some days as it’s too much and eggs over more than 2 days don’t sit well with me.

We would skip lunch as we were always running about trying to fit in the most by the end of the day. Some castles and sites close at the beginning of Oct. Boo! Most disappointing site–Ormonde Castle, a mostly Victorian manor house, closed off completely. Not exciting by architectural standards and why it was in the guide book, I don’t know. Nicest castles–Bunratty, and errr…another I can’t remember right now.

We’ve been eating dinners that are around 15-20€ and a pint of cider and a rum and coke have cost lowest at 7€ for both in Dungarvan, to 15€ in Dublin. Not cheap but the food portions have been substantial and quality mostly very good. My celiac sister hasn’t had any problem getting food adapted and it turns out Ireland is only second to Italy in number of celiacs.

We stopped at Blarney castle, which is mostly a shell but I didn’t kiss the stone. Rather, while snooping down some dark, tunnelly passage, I saw light and stairs to my left, and went to cautiously look down. I ran my nose right into a ridge of stone and nearly broke it. It’s still bruised but feels okay. Reminds me of Lorna’s year of the broken nose.

I have many many photos and I’m always into architectural details and the small stuff. I’ve taken pictures of some very old tiles from some cathedrals and castles as well as some gothic and earlier carvings. Much in stonework, not as much in wood, of course.

We’ve come to want to avoid the bigger cities like Limerick (though we went to the castle there) and Cork where we spent an hour going a few blocks. We’ve just done Kilkenny castle, restored by the Irish gov’t and once owned by the very rich Butlers for over 500 years. No photos inside were allowed and most of it is done now in 18th century style as it went through several changes over the centuries.

I also realize that I’ve been trying to live up to being Irish and I’ve drank cider every day since I’ve been here. This could be a personal record. Last night we met some gents from the North who had been down for the races. One was a Belfast cop and we ended up drinking more than we would have. Then got lost in the fog going back to our B&B.

We’re about to head up to Dublin and flight out godawful early tomorrow to Glasgow. Then it’s, sob** home on Wednesday. We’ve lucked into great weather except for one rainy day in Carrowmore and when driving out of Dublin. That’s made it much nicer. Ireland is truly beautiful and kinda laid back about driving even if the speed limit is 100km on winding country roads built for carriages originally. I’ve come to love the inherent use of and living with stone of the Irish. Stone plots in cemeteries, stone castles and homes, the wonderful stone walls everywhere and the megalith tombs and dolmens. Oddly enough it’s the stones I will miss most.

And now it’s time to drive off to Dublin.

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How Green is Tara?

On my other blog, I posted over a couple of months pictures and small write-ups of my trip to Ireland last October. I recently received this comment on my piece titled “Hill of Tara and Trim Castle” http://colleen-anderson.blogspot.com/2007/10/hill-of-tara-and-trim-castle.html 

You may not be aware that a motorway – M3 is being built through the valley at the foot of Tara.
National surveys have shown that 70% of Irish people want the M3 rerouted and an Irish Times online survey showed that 82% of people want Tara declared a UNESCO site.

– The World Monuments Fund has placed the Hill of Tara on the 2008 List of 100 Most Endangered Sites.
Perhaps you would kindly publicise this petition. Thank you and best wishes
Pat

PETITION TO UNESCO AND ICOMOS to save the Hill of Tara archaeological complex and cultural landscape from construction of the M3 motorway, in Ireland.

THIS PETITION is addressed to:

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), which includes:

– The Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura
– The Executive Committee of the General Conference
– The Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, called the World Heritage Committee
– All parties in attendance at the 32nd Session of the World Heritage Committee, Quebec, Canada, 2-10 July 2008.
– The Irish UNESCO Representatives

http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/savetara/index.html

Tara has a history going back through many changes. It was a last stand and a ruling pinnacle at times. It’s more impressive in aerial photos but that doesn’t negate its significance. When we were on Tara that rainy day, that hill that has existed for centuries, we heard then from some Irish people about the impending motorway. It’s up to everyone to make their own decision but aspects of history once gone are gone for good.

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The Stones of Ireland: II

Continued from the previous day’s post.

Kinbane CastleWe travelled to the Cliffs of Moher in northwestern Ireland, the tallest in Europe. Rugged and impressive, they remained formidable to drive up and to look down. The sheer audacity of Kinbane castle in Northern Ireland built down a very steep hill right on the promontory of the North Sea kept it impenetrable for years. Out near Kinvara and in the Burren were the Ailwee Caves, great underground caverns carved millennia ago by a subterranean river, fossils and minerals sparkling like the realm of Hades. Cool, pitch black except when they turned on the lights, and a den for extinct European brown bears, their might was in their endurance and solidity.

The Burren was as impressive in its way as the Giants Causeway. At some point in the ancient past a mountain or volcano erupted, spewing tons of flowing mud down mountain and hill. Eventually it solidified into grey rock but still has that look of a mud flow. Smooth in spots, rippled in others, there are dips that are treacherous to walk over but where wind and rain have blown deposits of soil over the centuries. There in those protected trenches are a myriad of plant life, some uniqe to that area.

The Burren

The Burren butts up to a rugged shoreline near Kinvara, but on the higher hills it is barren stone, short shrubs and the tiny plants that grow in their coves. Everywhere through this area are stone walls and hill forts that were stacked by hand centuries ago. In fact the stone walls are abundant throughout Ireland but rule supreme in the Burren. The stones might be stacked on their edges, resting against each other, placed flat on top of each other, or made with their widest sides facing out. Some are mortared, and they are ageless. They could have been built a week ago or a thousand years ago. They were used as natural boundaries, pens for cattle and sheep and as fortifications. I’ve been told that they now work at protecting species of flora and fauna throughout the emerald isle, working as borders where invasive species don’t encroach.

Upon the Burren with its hard, alien looking surface, unable to really support any crop, somehow people eked out a life, for centuries. And topping it was Poulnabrone Dolmen, a passage tomb made of four giant slabs of stone with a fifth resting atop them like a table. You can look through beneath the table stone, from one world perhaps to the next. It has stood for over 5,000 years, a part of every person’s life who lived upon the Burren.

All lands have stone in one form or another. Rock is the foundation of our world from its magma core to the volcanic eruptions and tectonic shifts that show our planet is alive. From sand and pebble to rock and boulder, stones have always been there to support and shelter. The Irish reuse the stones from any old building torn down, reworking it into something new.

The strong sense of the history of the stones, from the monasteries and castles to the cemetery tombs and headstones, to the walls and hill forts, they all spoke of a true Irish intimacy with stone. There is history, life and death. There is art, utilitarian purpose and mystery. And most of all, there is community; thousand of years of life with each person using what had come before, the ruins or the dead not forgotten but integrated into continuing family rituals. Ireland truly taught me the endurance of time and of stories shown in its stone, its very foundation. stone walls

The picture at the top of my blog is taken from the top of Blarney castle. All pictures are copyrighted.

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The Stones of Ireland: I

Giants Causeway In October, 2007 I travelled to Ireland, a place I had wanted to visit for years. I’m not sure why exactly as there is no Irish in my blood and other countries have more and bigger castles. It was more the sense of rolling green hills and the land of faery, a romantic notion perhaps.

We circumnavigated Ireland in two weeks, going north, then west, then south and east, starting and ending in Dublin. There were some key sites we wanted to see but then let ourselves be guided by road signs and guide books.

This was a mostly outdoor expedition involving trips to old castles and monasteries and some cemeteries, as well as driving through the changing landscape. The history of the architecture and how it had changed over time was fascinating, small enclosures and Viking settlements built over with increasingly sophisticated fortifications or ecclesiastical buildings.

Newgrange and Knowth were amazing in that these structures were built over 5,000 years ago and are older than the pyramids of Egypt. Some of the passage tombs fell apart or were scavenged for stones for other buildings and roads. Many of these barrows have a corridor or an interior built with slabs of stone, then dirt is mounded over. Newgrange’s corbeled stone roof has never leaked in 5,000 years. The hummocked hills gave rise to the tales of the homes of the sidhe and the Tuatha de Danan.

Knowth BarrowsOther barrows were built over with time, dirt being added, and villages or cattle settling upon them. Some of their original use is a mystery but some contain bones or human ashes. Others may have been ceremonial or religious structures. Newgrange is the most impressive as it was built upon a hill and the outer wall lined with white quartz (this was rebuilt in more recent times and there is argument as to how it may actually have been placed), which would be striking in the bright sun and visible for miles around.

Giants Causeway on the north coat of Northern Ireland was a natural structure of basalt rock that had been rapidly heated and cooled millennia ago causing large octagonal pillars to form. They break apart in slabs, maintaining their structure and can be walked over like steps. Some form natural seats or chairs. There is a section called the organ because it looks like a giant pipe organ in the hill. There seems to only be that one area in Ireland that has such unique stones.

The castles and monasteries abounded as well as the very old cemetery of Monasterboice with the millennium old tower (imagine Rapunzel) that they believe was used for storage, sanctuary and to watch for marauders. Some of the carvings on pillars still showed wonderful detail; leaves, faces both animal and human, various designs. Some of the blocks of stone seemed to have been placed with a sense of tone, dark and light stones alternating, or smaller pebbles placed in the mortar between larger stones.

Over the centuries many of these castles and churches fell into ruin but they were not abandoned. Tombs and graves pepper every place. The oldest monastery floors are nothing but tomb after tomb. There is nothing to do but walk over the bones of the past. Even walls have been taken over, a person interred into the very foundation and a plaque sealing them in. The oldest readable stones go to the 1700s. Older than that, the words become too worn away, by feet and weather. There are graves dating over a thousand years in some cases, right up to months of the current date.

Some graveyards have been held by the ruling families or clans and there might be dozens of McDonnells buried in one area such as Ballycastle. Other graves are family plots and in the more modern ones, configured by a low fence, a bar, about six inches from the ground. These more modern plots have pebbled glass or stone in different combinations of color, and some flowers, real or not. Some are very individual. Headstones often denote many generations entombed in the plot, going back a century or more. At one Benedictine monastery there was a family of four cleaning and smoothing the stones of their family’s plot on a sunny day.

Continued tomorrow

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