681 Days!

Yes – it has been 681 says since Covid-19 hit us and our world changed. From today, 22 January 2022, most restrictions in the state are gone, apart from the continuing need to wear masks in certain public places. Hopefully that West Cork sky over our house this morning, above, is a good omen for us. Today’s paper shows the stark tally:

The population of the Republic of Ireland as I write this is 5,023,337 (no doubt that is changing by the minute). That tells the story: 22.6% of the people here have had the virus. And of course it hasn’t gone away yet… But at least “social and economic life can begin to return to normal” says the Taoiseach. In order to mark the significance of the moment, my post looks back to our experiences over the last 681 days: in particular, how our lives changed at the beginning of the outbreak.

These two images of Ballydehob, taken at the beginning of April, 2020, sum up the shock of empty streets, closed businesses and everyone being advised to isolate. It all seemed very bleak: our movements were initially restricted to 2km from home, then that increased to a radius of 5km. If you lived in rural areas – as we do – you were permitted to travel beyond those distances if you needed to in order to shop or use essential services. We breached those rules on occasion – sometimes to get exercise in the deserted countryside all around us.

As the days went by, an amazing spring emerged, with day after day of beautiful weather. Human activity was curtailed, but the natural world continued along its course as though nothing was awry!

We humans are pretty adaptable. It was amazing to see the ingenuity of folks creating outlets for their energies without having to mix. Food-on-the-go blossomed as a craft industry: here are some examples.

We were very impressed with many of the examples we encountered – and which have survived over the months. Hopefully they will carry on, as casual coffee stalls in the middle of nowhere are welcome to us in our travelling. Pre-pandemic they were probably frowned upon by ‘the authorities’ – and they are certainly regulated – but ‘authority’ would have had to be very hard-hearted to close down these little lifelines. In our experience, every one we encountered was well-run, and spotless. It was an incidental opportunity to have a distanced ‘chat’: always a source of good local information on how others were coping.

We took the opportunity to climb – and descend – Knockaphuka during the pandemic. It’s a mountain a short distance from Nead an Iolair, but a little outside the limit. No-one was watching! I suppose being restricted to our immediate environment for so long – day after day – made us re-assess it, and our lives. Certainly we have got to know the fine detail of the beautiful place we call home.

Here’s a social issue: we couldn’t get a haircut for months! Finola kept me in trim, but it was a relief when salons were once again allowed to operate, albeit with some restrictions.

This is us having coffee on our own terrace, looking out over Roaringwater Bay in the wonderful spring of that first pandemic year. In fact, each of the two last years has been benign – with a few exceptional winter storms. We would have felt less relaxed if we had had persistent rain (which sometimes happens).

A sprig of green appears on a doorstep on May Day, 2020: a sign that we all still want to continue the old (perhaps ancient) traditions… There were ups and downs: things eased as the year went by and then the new variations came in. Numbers went down and we breathed out. Then they soared – especially with the Omicron variant, and everything went haywire again. Let’s hope that the present easing is here to stay. But the future can never be told…

St Brigid: Dove Among Birds, Vine Among Trees, Sun Among Stars

Starting next year, we’ve been given a new National Holiday! It falls on Feb 1, which is celebrated as St Brigid’s Day in Ireland. (Also Imbolc but that’s another story.) Although in my far-off youth I had a devotion to St Brigid and took her name as my Confirmation Name (is this just a Catholic thing?) I realised I knew very little about Brigid herself. So I set out to do some digging, using my own photographs of her image in stained glass to illustrate. That’s Harry Clarke’s take on Brigid above, from the Honan Chapel in Cork, and another one of his below, from Castletownshend.

Note the lamp, which is one of her attributes, since she is associated with a perpetual fire that miraculously never went out. Given this is Harry Clarke, the lamp looks suspiciously like something from the Arabian Nights.

For the life of Brigid, although there are many, many versions, I have turned to two sources. The primary source is The Life of Saint Brigit by Cogitosus*. Almost unbelievably, this Life dates from about 650 and is written in Hiberno-Latin. Cogitosus may have been a monk in Kildare, steeped in the cult of Brigid. Part of this cult was to claim the highest status for Kildare of all the Irish monastic settlements and therefore the Primacy over all Ireland – a claim that was eventually won by Armagh, which trumped Kildare by its appropriation of St Patrick. Cogitosus’s story is told in the form of 32 miracles, each of which leads us through Brigid’s life. 

Instead of an image of the saint, this window by George Walsh focusses on the Brigid’s Cross, another of her attributes, based on a story where she picked up rushes from the floor and wove them into a cross which healed a dying man. We like to make them every St Brigid’s Day and then hang them in the house to prevent damage by fire

My second source is the Life of Brigit from the Book of Lismore**, translated by Whitley Stokes. I love Stokes’s language, a form which he seems to have invented himself to convey something of the Medieval Irish he was translating (see this post on The White Hound of Brigown for more on this). The Book of Lismore dates to the fifteenth century and it is thought that the Lives of the Saints within it, or some of them, were written in the Abbey at Timoleague in West Cork. In both versions her name is given in translation as Brigit, rather than Brigid which is the more usual modern spelling used in Ireland.

In this window, Brigid brings the winding sheet for the dead St Patrick, a story that does nor feature in either of the Lives I am using here. This is the lower section of a paired window in Killarney Cathedral, part of a series that draws parallels between the Life of Christ and the Lives of Irish Saints. In this case, Brigid is being compared to Mary Magdalene anointing the body of Christ

Many of the same stories occur in both lives. Significantly, though, Patrick is not mentioned in the earlier Life by Cogitosus, although he appears frequently in the Book of Lismore as if she and he were living contemporaneously. There are other differences, showing how the stories grew through the ages, but both agree that Brigid was the daughter of Dubhtach and a bondswoman called Broicsech. Like all good Irish saints, her birth and her greatness is foretold. From the Book of Lismore: 

The wizard went to meet him, and asked whose was the woman who was biding in the chariot. Mine, saith Dubthach . . .The wizard asks if she was pregnant by anyone. She is pregnant by me saith Dubthach. Said the wizard, Marvellous will be the child that is in her womb, her like will not be on earth. My wife compels me, saith Dubthach, to sell this bondmaid. Said the wizard, through grace of prophecy, the seed of thy wife shall serve the seed of the bondmaid, for the bondmaid will bring forth a daughter conspicuous, radiant, who will shine like a sun among the stars of heaven. Dubthach was thankful for that answer, for till then no daughter had been born to him.

This image of a young Brigid is by Evie Hone and is in Blackrock, Co Dublin. Evie Hone’s windows are pared-to-the-bone, deeply spiritual depictions inspired often by ancient Irish carvings.

I love the fact that Dubhtach rejoices to have a daughter since most of these stories glorify the birth of male babies. Brigid accomplishes many miracles as a child, mostly having to do with her charity and her faith. Here’s one such from Cogitosus: 

So, when she was old enough, she was sent by her mother to do the work of churning so that she could make up the butter from the cow’s milk which had been dashed; she too was meant to carry out this work, in the same way as other women were accustomed to do, and to deliver for use the complete yield of the cows and the customary weight and measure of butter at the appointed time with the others. However, this maiden with her most beautiful and generous disposition, preferring to obey God rather than men, distributed the milk and butter liberally to the poor and the guests. So, when as usual the appointed time came for all to hand in what the cows had yielded, her turn came. And when her workmates presented the finished result of their work, the aforementioned blessed maiden was also requested to hand in her work in like manner. 

In dread of her mother since she had nothing to show because she had given the lot away to the poor without a thought for the morrow, strengthened and inflamed with an ardor of faith so intense and unquenchable, she turned to the Lord and prayed. Without delay the Lord heard the maiden’s voice and prayers. And, being a helper in the hour of need, he came to her assistance with the generous bestowal of a divine gift, and lavishly restored the butter for the maiden who had confidence in him. Astonishingly, the very moment after her prayer, the most holy maiden proved that she had fulfilled her task by showing that nothing was missing from the fruit of her work, but that it was even more abundant than her workmates.

A rather sumptuous Brigid from the Harry Clarke Studios, in Ballinrobe

Eventually, determining to be a virgin and devote her life to God’s work, she took the veil. Cogitosus relates that 

Brigit, inspired from above and wanting to devote herself as a chaste virgin to God, went to the most holy bishop MacCaille of blessed memory. Seeing her heavenly desire and modesty and seeing so great a love of chastity in this remarkable maiden, he placed the white veil and white garment over her venerable head. 

However, by the time the author of the Lismore life wrote his account, MacCaille had been relegated to inferior status and the Bishop who confers the veil is Mel, who is depicted in the window above, in Armagh Cathedral, performing the ceremony. By now, the story has acquired one of its most-quoted aspects – that Brigid, through divine intercession, is actually made a bishop. The next image, the lower panel of the previous window, shows Mel handing Brigid a crozier, symbol of episcopal authority. This large window is by Mayer of Munich.

Brigit and certain virgins along with her went to take the veil from Bishop Mel in Telcha Mide. Blithe was he to see them. For humility Brigit stayed so that she might be the last to whom a veil should be given. A fiery pillar rose from her head to the roof-ridge of the church. Then said Bishop Mel: Come, O Holy Brigit, that a veil may be sained on thy head before the other virgins. It came to pass then, through the grace of the Holy Ghost, that the form of ordaining a Bishop was read out over Brigit. Mac-caille said, that a bishop’s order should not be conferred on a woman. Said Bishop Mel: No power have I in this matter. That dignity hath been given by God unto Brigit, beyond every (other) woman. Wherefore the men of Ireland from that time to this give episcopal honour to Brigit’s successor.

Although she is associated with many places in Ireland (there are numerous townlands called Kilbride or Kilbreedy) it is the great city of Kildare that is most closely hers. She managed the city, the Lismore Life says, in partnership with Conleth, a hermit whom she persuades to join her. Cogitosus tell us:

And as by her wise administration she made provision in every detail for the souls of her people according to the rule, as she vigilantly watched over the Churches attached to her in many provinces and as she reflected that she could not be without a high priest to consecrate churches and confer ecclesiastical orders in them, she sent for Conleth, a famous man and a hermit endowed with every good disposition through whom God wrought many miracles, and calling him from the wilderness and his life of solitude, she set out to meet him, in order that he might govern the Church with her in the office of bishop and that her Churches might lack nothing as regards priestly orders. Thus, from then on the anointed head and primate of all the bishops and the most blessed chief abbess of the virgins governed their primatial Church by means of a mutually happy alliance and by the rudder of all the virtues. By the merits of both, their episcopal and conventual see spread on all sides like a fruitful vine with its growing branches and struck root in the whole island of Ireland. It has always been ruled over in happy succession according to a perpetual rite by the archbishop of the bishops of Ireland and the abbess whom all the abbesses of the Irish revere. 

This window by Watsons of Youghal is in St Carthage’s Catholic church in Lismore and is a great example of the Celtic Revival decoration they specialised in. Note the proliferation of oak leaves above her – Kildare is from Cill Dara, meaning Church of the Oakwood, and the oak leaf is one of her attributes, along with the lamp and the crozier, also shown

Cogitosus goes on to say this of Kildare and her establishment (and don’t forget he was writing in or around 650!): 

And who can express in words the exceeding beauty of this church and the countless wonders of that monastic city we are speaking of, if one may call it a city since it is not encircled by any surrounding wall. And yet, since numberless people assemble within it and since a city gets its name from the fact that many people congregate there, it is a vast and metropolitan city. In its suburbs, which saint Brigit had marked out by a definite boundary, no human foe or enemy attack is feared; on the contrary, together with all its outlying suburbs it is the safest city of refuge in the whole land of the Irish for all fugitives, and the treasures of kings are kept there; moreover it is looked upon as the most outstanding on account of its illustrious supremacy. 

Today we honour St Brigid as one of the founding great women of our culture. She is often shown with Patrick and Columcille as one of the three great Patrons of Ireland. In the window above, also from Killarney Cathedral, Brendan has been added in because, well, we’re in Kerry.

This window is in the Church of the Most Holy Rosary at Kilcoe, near us in West Cork. It’s a bit of a mixed metaphor – we see her holding her church, which is clearly based on the 12th century Cormac’s Chapel at Cashel, and surrounded by her oak leaves. However, she is also holding a set of rosary beads, something that doesn’t appear in Catholic imagery before the 13th century. It’s beautifully executed, though, by Catherine O’Brien of An Túr Gloine.

Brigid’s end was peaceful. As it is related in the Book of Lismore:

Now when it came to the ending days for Brigit, after founding and helping cells and churches and altars in abundance, after miracles and marvels whose number is as the sand of sea, or stars of heaven, after charity and mercy, then came Nindid Pure-hand from Rome of Latium. The reason why he was called Nindid Pure-hand was that he never put his hand to his side, when Brigit repeated a paternoster with him. And he gave communion and sacrifice to Brigit, who sent her spirit to heaven. Her relics are on earth with honour and dignity and primacy, with miracles and marvels.

A conventional image of Bridget in the church in Goleen, West Cork, by Watsons of Youghal. She’s looking very saintly indeed. By now, you no doubt recognise all her attributes

Summing up her life and legacy, the anonymous author of her Life in the Book of Lismore says:

For everything that Brigit would ask of the Lord was granted her at once. For this was her desire: to satisfy the poor, to expel every hardship, to spare every miserable man. Now there never hath been anyone more bashful, or more modest, or more gentle, or more humble, or sager, or more harmonious than Brigit. She never washed her hands or her feet, or her head among men. She never looked at the face of a man. She never would speak without blushing. She was abstinent, she was innocent, she was prayerful, she was patient: she was glad in God’ s commandments: she was firm, she was humble, she was forgiving, she was loving: she was a consecrated casket for keeping Christ’s Body and his Blood: she was a temple of God. Her heart and her mind were a throne of rest for the Holy Ghost. She was simple (towards God): she was compassionate towards the wretched: she was splendid in miracles and marvels: wherefore her name among created things is Dove among birds, Vine among trees, Sun among stars. . . . She is the prophetess of Christ: she is the Queen of the South: she is the Mary of the Gael.

Brigid by Michael Healy, in the stained glass room at the National Gallery, holding her church with the round tower that can still be seen in Kildare.

It is entirely appropriate that a new National Holiday is named for Brigid. About time, in fact!

*Cogitosus’s “Life of St Brigit,” Content and Value. Author(s): Sean Connolly and J.-M. Picard. The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland , 1987, Vol. 117, pp. 5-27 
**Lives of Saints from the Book of Lismore, Edited with a Translation, Notes and Indices by Whitley Stokes, Oxford, 1890.

Ardpatrick

We’re back from a few days in Limerick with Amanda – she of Holy Wells of Cork and Kerry – and Peter. It felt like we were sneaking over the border into unknown territory! What – do Cork and Kerry not have enough holy wells for you, Amanda? It turns out that the answer to that question is no – Limerick beckons and we obey the call.

We managed fifteen wells in an afternoon, a morning and a whole day – along with some stained glass, some random archaeological sites – and a steeplechase! See Robert’s post for more on that story. I’ll probably write more about the wells in future, but for now take a look at Amanda’s latest post to get a sense of one of her objectives for the trip. The bit I am writing about is our walk up to the top of Ardpatrick and what we saw there (above, above and below).

At the end of the full day, having slogged across (I’m sure) half of muddy Limerick, Amanda airily announced that our last location of the day might be up a slight rise. Knowing Amanda, a vision of Jacob’s ladder arose in front of me – and I was not wrong! But what a site – Ardpatrick is one of those places that you can’t believe you never knew about before and are SO glad you do now!

At the top of a steep hill, it’s an early medieval monastic site, with the ruins of a church, the stump of a round tower, an erstwhile holy well, and a large graveyard. The road up has been recently concreted, probably to make it easier to access the graveyard. 

Limerick seems to specialise in ancient graveyards marooned in the middle of fields, with little visible sign of roads leading to them. We saw several like that over the course of three days and this one had the added feature of being on the top of a mountain. The original road to it was known as the Rian Bó Phádraig, or the Path of Patrick’s Cow. Like many another saint (St Manchan, for example), Patrick had a cow to supply his milk and this cow had mighty horns which she used to plough a path up the hill so he could build his monastery at the top.

The actual shape of the site isn’t as obvious on the ground, but it appeared to have been a typical early-medieval ecclesiastical site comprising of a group of buildings within one or more circular enclosures. The monks lived in small huts, there was a central church (often containing relics of the founding saint) and in this case there was also a round tower. This illustration is at the beginning of the walk to the site.

There would have been a complex of fields and dwellings around the site and these are most clearly visible now from the air. Also from the air can be seen the original Rian Bó Phádraig and the approaches from either side.

The round tower is just a vestige now, but Brian Lalor in his book The Irish Round Tower (more recently re-published as Ireland’s Round Towers) says, When fully standing, the tower would have dominated the landscape, even from a great distance, and is among the finest sited of all towers. He suggests a date of 11th to 12th century and states, The paucity of the tower remains are more than compensated for by the interest and drama of the site.

The church is a confusion of walls and one archway, much broken down and ivy-covered. Although some authorities suggest that the church had antae (see this post for an explanation of antae), typically found on churches of this era, those antae are not obvious now and the church was probably re-built on several occasions over the centuries. Indeed there is one account that it was burned down in 1114.

That same source, The Annals of the Four Masters, tells of the death of the abbot in 1129. 

In this year ‘Ceallach [Celsus], successor of Patrick, a son of purity, and Archbishop of the west of Europe, the only head whom the foreigners and Irish of Ireland, both laity and clergy, obeyed; after having ordained bishops, priests, and persons of every degree; after having consecrated many churches and cemeteries; after having bestowed jewels and wealth; after having established rules and good morals among all, both laity and clergy; after having spent a life of fasting, prayer, and mass-celebration; after unction and good penance, resigned his spirit to heaven, at Ard-Padraig, in Munster, on the first day of April, on Monday precisely, in the fiftieth year of his age. His body was conveyed for interment, on the Wednesday following, to Lis-mor-Mochuda, in accordance with his own will; it was waked with psalms, hymns, and canticles, and interred with honour in the tomb of the bishops, on the Thursday following. Muircheartach, son of Domhnall, was appointed to the successorship of Patrick afterwards 

O’Donovan’s translation, available here

The holy well (above) has been covered in ‘for safety reasons’. It held a cure for rickets, lameness and rheumatism, and according to the folklore if you saw your reflection in the water, you’d be grand. But if you didn’t, you’d be dead within the year. Perhaps it’s just as well it’s filled in.

The graveyard is still in active use. One of the features of all the Limerick graveyards we saw on our trip is a curious double-gapped ‘stile’. I wondered if it also functions as a coffin rest, with those carrying the coffin able to pass into the graveyard through the gaps, while resting the coffin on the middle stand. More than one observer has commented that the top piece of masonry on this middle stand probably came from the early church.

It had been a magnificent day – very cold but sunny and bright – and it was getting dusky as we headed back down the hill. It was at this point that I discovered that my cute but ill-fitting wellies were not designed for downhill travel, as my toes slid forward and were soon very painful. This was when I needed the intervention of St Patrick to perform some kind of toe miracle, but alas he turned a deaf ear and in the end I had to come down mostly backwards. The only compensation for descending facing backwards was seeing the silhouette of the mountain in the fading light – the cemetery crosses standing starkly against the skyline.

For more about this wonderful site, have a look at this entry by our friend, the marvellous Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland.

Chasing Steeples!

I can’t resist a good Irish story . . . I look out for them wherever we go. Our latest adventure was over in the northern part of County Cork, searching out a number of holy wells and anything related to them: we were led by Amanda Clarke: look at her website here. Regular readers will know that we often get together with Amanda and Peter to share our mutual interests in the Irish landscape. On this most recent expedition our path took us through Buttevant, and specifically to St John’s C of I church there, where Finola was keen to inspect the stained glass windows. The present church was built in 1826, and replaced an older one, established in the late 1600s.

As you can see, it has a tower with a fine, elegant spire. I was fascinated to read that the predecassor of this church is credited with the historical significance of having ‘given birth’ to the Steeplechase horse race.

. . . The term ‘steeplechase’ actually originated in a horse race first held in Ireland in the 18th century. As the name might suggest, that very first race took place in 1752 between two steeples in rural county Cork in the south of Ireland. At that time, church steeples were among the tallest buildings in the landscape. On that night, Cornelius O’Callaghan and Edmund Blake were at dinner at Buttevant Castle, having a good time. They made a bet between themselves to race from the steeple of Saint John’s Church in Buttevant to that of Saint Mary’s Church in the town of Doneraile . . .

.europeana.eu

Sadly, the Castle at Buttevant is no longer habitable. It was built around 1200 by Philip and William de Barry, on land seized from the Gaelic O’Donegan’s. The poet Edmund Spenser (1553 – 1599) lived in the nearby castle of Kilcolman for many years, and wrote his poem The Faerie Queene there. He also mentions Buttevant Castle in his writings:

“Old father Mole, (Mole hight that mountain grey
That walls the Northside of Armulla dale)
He had a daughter fresh as floure of May,

VVhich gaue that name vnto that pleasant vale;
Mulla the daughter of old Mole, so hight
The Nimph, which of that water course has charge,
That springing out of Mole, doth run downe right
to Butteuant where spreading forth at large,
It giueth name vnto that auncient Cittie,
VVhich Kilnemullah cleped is of old:
VVhose ragged ruines breed great ruth and pittie,
To travallers, which it from far behold”

Spenser is supposed to have derived the names ‘Mole’ and ‘Armulla’ from Kilnemulla or, more correctly Cell na mullach, an early name for Buttevant. It is possible that the castle here fell victim to the 20th century Irish Civil War, although I cannot find any detailed information on this. Accounts generally suggest that the building was in use until the 1920s and another reference states that there was a significant fire which destroyed the interior in 1936. Today, it is a windowless ruin which is not accessible to the public.

I’m sure you are all anxious to get back to the story of that first Steeplechase – and you want to know who won? When taking in any Irish tale you have to be patient . . . We simple don’t know who won! It’s not recorded anywhere . . . The account continues:

. . .The distance was around 4 miles, crossing countryside and rivers. The winner would be the first to touch the base of the steeple in Doneraile. The prize? More than 600 gallons of port. Sadly, history has not recorded who actually won the race. But that race has gone down in history, with steeplechase races becoming a tradition . . .

.europeana.eu

Obviously, we had to continue our expedition with a visit to Doneraile, to view the finishing post. That’s St Mary’s Church, above. The present building does not have a spire: I would have thought that such a feature would be essential if you were looking out for it from a distance of four miles, even with fairly flat countryside in between. However, I have now learned that the term ‘steeple’ correctly refers either to a simple church tower, or a church tower with a spire on it. Have a look at the terrain from a birds’ eye view:

Here I have copied extracts from the first edition 6″ Ordnance Survey map, showing the terrain in more detail around the start and finish points as it was noted in the early nineteenth century:

On this occasion we didn’t have time to explore the route itself: I wonder if anyone else has? Is it significant that the townland which surrounds Doneraile Church is known as Horseclose?

In the present day, of course, Steeplechasing has an equine life of its own. Supposedly, the very first recognised English National Steeplechase took place in March 1830. In 1839, the British Grand National Race at Aintree was established, a race that is still run today over roughly the same distance of around 4 miles. Here’s a poster for the Irish equivalent – at Fairyhouse – on Easter Monday 1916, a very significant date in the Irish calendar . . .

While on the subject of the Aintree event, we must mention the most famous racehorse of all time (probably) who holds the record for winning the Grand National Steeplechase thrice – in 1973, 1974, and 1977 and coming second in 1975 and 1976: Red Rum.

. . . Red Rum was bred at Rossenarra stud in Kells, County Kilkenny, Ireland, by Martyn McEnery. Following a canter at Aintree Racecourse the day before the 1978 Grand National he was retired. The news of Red Rum’s retirement was the lead story on that night’s 9 O’Clock News on the BBC and was also front page news of the following morning’s newspapers. Red Rum had become a national celebrity, opening supermarkets and annually leading the Grand National parade for many further years. His likeness graced playing cards, mugs, posters, models, paintings, plates and jigsaw puzzles. Several books have been written about Red Rum, The horse helped launch the Steeplechase rollercoaster at Blackpool Pleasure Beach in 1977 . . .

Wikipedia

Yes, this is it: the Steeplechase Rollercoaster! You can join in the full experience here. Hopefully my account has enlivened your day: I’m sure there are many of you out there who are familiar with this tale and can, perhaps, add to it? I’ll finish with a view over Buttevant taken on our journey – an atmospheric winter morning.

With thanks to The Guardian for the header pic of the Aintree Grand National

The Wran, The Wran . . .

. . . New Year’s Day saw the Wran coming out in our village of Ballydehob, County Cork. It’s an old tradition here. That time “the fool” accompanied the wren boys. He was mounted on a donkey and carried a bladder tied to a stick. I got the song from John Levis, Ballydehob, (34 years of age) who procured it from Jeremiah Driscoll, Ballydehob (age 64yrs) who was an old wren boy. “Wren” is pronounced wran locally in Ballydehob and surrounding districts . . .

Duchas Schools Folklore Collection : Collector J Barry

This account dates from around 1936. It’s referring, therefore, to something happening regularly in the late 1800s and, probably long before that. ‘The Wran’ is still active in Ballydehob, well over a century later. I have written about our own Wran Day preparations not so long ago – and included the song – and I’m pleased to report that the day went well. That’s me, above and below, playing the melodeon (although perhaps I shouldn’t be giving away the disguise)! I’m actually wearing ‘tatters’, which was my costume when I took part in Mummers’ plays in England from relatively early in my life: I was brought up on the Surrey / Hampshire borders, prime country for this English tradition. Mumming also takes place in parts of Ireland, have a look here.

New Years’ Day was quiet day in the village – until we took to the streets! If you want to know the purpose of it all, I can’t really tell you. These are activities that happen around the natural turning point of the year – the change from the sun getting progressively lower in the sky, and weaker, to its returning strength: already we can sense the lengthening of each day. In the mumming on these islands you got a sense of it from a symbolic play where combatants fought and died, then were brought back to life by The Doctor who can apparently cure all illnesses. And, of course, we are always anxious to see the solstice in action!

In Ireland, the Wran Day tradition is accompanied by a play in some places, but more usually it’s a procession through a community, involving interaction by going into houses and shops, making a lot of noise and generally stirring up the spirits with a bit of mischief-making. We were fairly passive this year because of Covid restrictions, but it felt good to be out and about. Let’s hope that this anomaly in the regularity of daily life can become more marked as things gets back to near normal in future years!

Thanks are due to Sonia Caldwell – who instigated proceedings, keeping us all focussed – and Joe and Caroline of Levis’s Bar who provided the venue for making the masks – and gave great moral support! Traditionally, the masks are ritually burned on the following St Patrick’s day. Finola kindly provided the pics.

Art/Nature – Incredible Residency Opportunity!

Are you an artist between 30 and 45? Are you inspired by the natural world? If the answer to both of those questions is YES, then here is an opportunity of a lifetime – a residency on a beautiful private estate in West Cork, surrounded by gardens, both wild and cultivated. If the answer is NO, but you know someone who might fit the bill – share the heck out of this post – the Foundation is hoping to receive applications from Ireland!

Ulrike Crespo was a loved and respected member of the West Cork artistic community and a friend and neighbour to us all in this little corner of it. That’s Ulli below in happier times, toasting the installation of a neighbour’s gate.

We were all saddened by her death in 2019 and wondered what would happen to the glorious garden she developed – Glenkeen. In fact, her Foundation, focused on artistic development and opportunities for young people (especially disadvantaged girls) has carried on her work, and one of their programs is this residency opportunity – “ArtNature/NatureArt”.

Glenkeen Gardens is a very special place, full of sculpture and with endless vistas across innovative plantings that mix natural and cultivated areas. Ulli loved this place – it inspired her own photography practice – an ethereal, intensely atmospheric approach to scenes from this nature. Take a look at one of her photobooks, Ephemere, for example, or Flowers or Twilight. Or See some of her landscape photography from her regular shows at the Blue House Gallery in Schull.

There’s a real contrast between Ulli’s photography – especially her soft-focus, gently waving, colourful flower images – and her choice of sculptures for the garden: many of those sculptures seem rectilinear and monumental, and many carry the impression of a portal to another world. 

That portal may well represent the boundary between art and nature, the subject that fascinated Ulli always. Art in her garden is not just in the form of sculpture but in the form and arrangement of the beds and in the glorious summer plantings.

Both images above © Ulrike Crespo

If the gardens can be seen as a blend of the two, other sections of the estate are pure nature. First of all, the estate is on the sea and the frontage is spectacular – giving on to Roaringwater Bay and full of marine life.

This image © Ulrike Crespo

And above it all is the Foilnamuck bog soak, about which I have written here and here. This part of the land has been left in a pristine state and is full of Orchids, Sundews, Bogbeans and Asphodels – a paradise for those of us interested in wild wet places.

The Foundation that is now carrying on Ulli’s work has established these residencies very much in the spirit of her own life’s interests. Here’s a quote from their website

The aim of the programme is to encourage the development of groups of young artists from Europe and Russia and raise the international profile of their work. The theme of art and nature comes from the location of the residency, the Glenkeen Garden estate. To explore this topic as extensively and as deeply as possible, the Crespo Foundation provides artists with a network of humanities scholars and scientists for interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary exchange. The intention is for Glenkeen Garden Residencies to give space, time and inspiration for close collaboration as a team, with the goal of producing innovative works that will then be shown in Frankfurt am Main and other European cities, as well as virtually to a broader public.

https://www.crespo-foundation.de/en/art-overview/artnature-natureart

All the details of the residencies and the requirements of the competition can be found on the website. The application deadline for the next one is January 30th, so no time to lose!

And for the rest of us – let’s just appreciate Ulrike Crespo’s incredible vision for this special corner of West Cork, and the enduring legacy she has left for us all. Each residency will result in exhibitions, so we will all, as time goes by, be able to share in the artistic outcomes from the chosen young artists. Robert and I look forward to this very much.