The year is drawing to a close. It’s been a roller-coaster twelve months in terms of politics and world problems. But (we believe) things have gone pretty well with Roaringwater Journal. We each continue to publish a post every week: that’s over 100 posts in the whole year. Today we have each chosen five of our favourite 2019 posts, and written a little overview of each, with a live link and a photograph. We hope you might while away a few of those spare moments we all have over the Christmas holidays reminding yourself of what you perhaps enjoyed (like Robert’s piece about Hook Head and The Oldest Lighthouse in the World, above).
When I look back on what I’ve written this year it seems pretty eclectic, but with a definite emphasis on archaeology (like the cupmarked stone Robert discovered at Inish Beg Estate, above) , history, stained glass and wild flowers. Quelle surprise! It’s been a very difficult exercise to pick my five favourites, but here goes…
The post I enjoyed writing most this year was Witches Marks and Lovelorn Shepherds: Inscribed Rock Art in a Remote Valley. When I re-read it it brings me back both to my rock art research when I was twenty-two and travelling the back roads of Cork and Kerry on my brother’s Honda 50, and to a beautiful day in May this year when Robert and I set out to re-find the ‘cave’ (above) with the mysterious rock scribings. Hiking through a remote valley filled with wild flowers and the remains of abandoned settlements, it felt like we were the only people in a lost world. While my own post concentrated on the archaeology, Robert wrote about the walk and the valley in Coolenlemane – a Walk into History.
Regular readers know that I have become a student of stained glass and a huge highlight for me this year was helping to open George Walsh’s exhibition in Dublin – see Celebrating George Walsh. It was a happy occasion for everyone involved and it coincided with the publication of my piece on George’s art in the Irish Arts Review.
Venetian masks by George Walsh, above and detail from the Finola Window, below
Unbeknownst to me, Robert commissioned George to make a stained glass window for our home – The Finola Window (detail below). I look at it every day, and feel all the care and thought and talent that went into this precious gift.
I am planning a multi-part post on the Stone Circles of West Cork, but so far have only written the Introduction. Why? Well, when you write about stone circles it’s important to visit them, so you really start to appreciate their commonalities as well as their unique features, how they sit in their landscapes, what their orientations are and the folklore that sometimes surrounds them. All of this takes time.
Kealkill Five-Stone Circle, one element of a complex site
Planning and going on field trips to stone circles has been great fun, especially when we do it in the company of our buddies, Amanda and Pater Clarke. In return, Amanda includes us in many of her Holy Well adventures, now expanded to Kerry, and Peter shares his wonderful sketches from his Hikelines blog, like the one of the Ardgroom Stone Circle on the Beara (below). So – look out for the rest of the Stone Circles series coming up in 2020.
The Mizen is our beat and we love to write about all its nooks and crannies, valleys, beaches, islands, antiquities. In 2018 we were privileged to spend a day with Aidan Power, who had written a book about Rock Island. The post generated a lot of comment and interest – and amazing connections! This year, my post Cousins Find Each Other – Through Roaringwater Journal! related how the Burchills and their Nicholls and Wilkinson cousins connected through the Rock Island post.
Charles and Elizabeth Nicholls – what a wonderful photograph to have in your family archive
Even after Cousins Find Each Other was published more relatives stumbled on to the page and discovered their common past. What I loved about this story was how deeply the family narratives were embedded in the history of West Cork and the building of the iconic Fastnet Lighthouse.
Finally, I have chosen Barley Cove: A Special Area of Conservation. Barley Cove is not just a popular beach but has a complex set of dunes and wetlands as well (below) which I explored in my post, along with the wildflowers that flourish in that special habitat.
We are so fortunate in West Cork to still have a relative abundance of wild flowers around us, but even here that is under threat as the relentless conversion of wild land into monoculture fields seems to go on day and night. I run a Facebook Page called Wild Flowers of West Cork with the simple objective of saying – Look what we have here! We need to value and preserve this heritage not because the wild flowers are beautiful, although they are, but because without them and the pollinators who depend on them, we may all be doomed to a difficult future.
The Sand Pansy, found in the dunes of Barley Cove
And now it’s down to me (Robert) to make my choices. One of my favourite pastimes (or is it just a way of life?) is exploring off the well-worn track in West Cork. Early in the year we headed for the hills to the north-east of Bantry, partly because I was attracted by a name on a map. Here is ‘Through the Yellow Gap’. And here is our friend Tim whom we encountered, by chance, on one of his epic cycle rides along this road.
Another name that jumped out from a map was Abhainn na Seangán – which means ‘River of the Ants’. I couldn’t overlook that one so off we went again, in February, and as a result I wrote this post, which takes in archaeology, traditional music and much more of the beautiful scenery which West Cork has to offer. Here’s a sample: looking across the water meadows to the distinctive gaunt ruin of Castle Donovan, fortunately relatively safe as it is in state care.
There’s nothing we like better than unearthing history as we explore the byways of Ireland. In July we set out for the Beara Peninsula (it’s not too far away from Nead an Iolair) specifically to discover more about Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare (1561 – 1618) and his connections with Dunboy Castle, over by Castletown-Bearhaven. It was a fascinating journey and included a visit to a doomed Celtic Tiger project: the building of Ireland’s first 6 star hotel, Puxley Manor, a 21st century incarnation of the huge neo-gothic family mansion which was created by the Puxley family who were largely responsible for running the copper mining industry at Allihies. Daphne du Maurier’s novel Hungry Hill was based on the real-life Puxleys. Here’s the link to the post. And here is our photo of the manor after its destruction by the IRA in the 1920s with, below it, a view of the property today after its cycle of restoration and abandonment.
This year I was pleased to be further involved in the development of the Ballydehob Arts Museum. This – which must be one of Ireland’s smallest museums – celebrates Ballydehob’s place in history as an artists’ colony in the second half of the last century. I assisted the Museum Curator – Brian Lalor – in mounting two new exhibitions on aspects of the artwork, and also put together a dedicated website for BAM. Read all about the exhibitions here, and have a look at the BAM website here. And, in case you are not convinced, here are Ian Wright, Brian Lalor and Pat Connor publicising the work of the Ballydehob artists on the streets of Zurich, Switzerland, in May 1985!
Although it’s a recent post, published at the beginning of December, I think I have to mention The Enigmatic Bullaun, as it has been our most popular article ever published. Bullaun stones are aspects of archaeology which defy explanation – a bit like rock art – although we can make educated guesses as to what their original use might have been. My little review discussed these, and seems to have captured the imagination of our readers. It all goes to show that you can never predict your audience! Here’s a bullaun stone associated with the ecclesiastical site at Maulinward over the hill from Ballydehob, not very far from Durrus. You can see that it has been used – even in recent times – as a receptacle for offerings.
OK, so we cheated a bit and included more than five each – but it’s been a great year! We hope you enjoyed it as much as we did and that it motivated you to come visit us in West Cork, or get out and explore your own part of the world. Thanks so much for all your comments and support in 2019 and here’s to another banner year in 2020!
And just to add – these are our favourites, but we’d love to hear what yours were!