If you look closely, all around the Irish countryside are still scattered old wrought iron gates made by local blacksmiths. These gates, according to Shem Caulfied, “are particular to Ireland. . . and their design often illustrates a distinctive local style. This local or vernacular style is an important element of our rural heritage.” Shem has produced lovely videos for the Kilkenny Co Council on forged gates – see the first one here as a good introduction to these gates.
I’ve been looking out for farm gates to see if I can identify a local style. So far I haven’t found any of the hooped braces which are the dominant kind in some parts. This illustration (and the others in this post) is from an article in a 1974 Ireland of the Welcomes by Gerald Tyler, designer and architectural historian, who worked with the Kilkenny Design Workshop. The article has given me the vocabulary and some of the knowledge I need to look at these gates. By the way, the gate was assembled ‘out of square’ so that as it naturally sagged it would come into square.
Local blacksmiths around this part of West Cork kept the design straightforward and sturdy. Some gates had no bracing at all. The one below is the simplest of all types – three upright stiles and five bars. The stile on the left is the hanging stile and the one on the right, where the latch is, is the ‘slapping’ stile.
But most gates had diagonal braces of one kind or another. Here are a few local examples.
Above is the only example I have seen with parallel diagonal braces.
This gate has an X brace, but an additional half stile was also inserted at some point.
A favourite way to brace was a pair of up-pointing diagonals. This gate is barely hanging in. The spikes on top may have been to deter cattle or horses from leaning over the top bar, or maybe small boys from climbing.
The diagonals could be down-pointing, as in the example above, which is actually a double gate. This gate is made of band iron which was often used (or straightened and re-used from old wheels). In cross section, it’s flat on one side and curved on the other, making it easily recognisable. The curved side was the one in contact with the road when it was used on wheels. Many of our local gates are band iron, or a combination of straight iron and band iron.
Gates often had to be widened to allow for modern machinery. The gate above and the one in the illustration have been widened by the insertion of extra lengths of iron in the horizontal bars. Often this is so skilfully done that it’s imperceptible.
This gate has been widened by the addition of a new section on the slapping side.
This double gate, which has no cross-bracing, only vertical stiles, has been widened by adding a section in the middle, attached to the left hand side. Did the farmer regret having no easy way to just hop over the gate and take the opportunity to put in a set of steps?
The gate in my lead photograph features mainly half stiles, but was once a lot fancier than it is now. The gate above has both full-height stiles and a diagonal brace and has been paired with a newer steel gate – you see this a lot around here.
Some gates had extra horizontal bars at the bottom to prevent small animals (calves or sheep) from squirming through the openings. Above is a lovely example from a local farmyard.
I have been amazed, and cheered, to see how many wrought iron gates are still to be found around here, although sometimes you have to poke around a bit to find them, as in the example above. . However, they are disappearing, and the vast majority have been replaced by the ubiquitous tubular steel gates. I am planning a further post to explore some of the skills of the blacksmiths to be seen in the details of our local gates. Meanwhile, take a look at how Pat O’Driscoll still works in the time-honoured way in his forge, now located in Durrus.
Several years ago we were the fortunate recipients of a complete set of Ireland of the Welcomes from the 1970s, and guess what? That’s exactly 50 years ago! So I am going to try to chronicle 1971 for you from our vantage point of half a century later, as we go through this year, using the articles in the magazine. Call it recent history, call it nostalgia, call it an exercise in compare and contrast.
Every issue from 1971 to 1979, six issues a year
The magazine is still flourishing – indeed, it’s one of the longest periodicals of its sort in the world – and continues to put out 6 issues a year. The website describes it thus: Each issue features lavishly-illustrated articles on Irish beauty spots, regular features on Ireland’s extraordinary millennia-spanning history, remarkable literary talent and history, music and dance traditions, as well as folklore, festivals, events and so much more… The photography nowadays is superb.
Flying Pan Am into Ireland – 1970s Mad Men-style advertising
Although published by a private company now, in the 1970s Ireland of the Welcomes was an official publication of Bórd Fáilte, the Irish Tourist Board. Aimed at the overseas market, it was nevertheless also deservedly popular in Ireland. My father, who worked in marketing in Aer Lingus, brought home each issue as it came out and we poured over it. It showed us what others might find interesting about Ireland and therefore what we ourselves could be proud of. Ireland was so different then – but Ireland of the Welcomes was chronicling the emergence of who we are now.
Each issue contained pages of small ads for shops and hotels and there is a poignancy to many which have since disappeared, such as the beloved Cork institutions of Cash’s and the Munster Arcade
Because this is part of a tourism campaign, selling Ireland as a happy destination, you won’t find a mention of The Troubles in Northern Ireland here, even though killing had become an almost daily occurrence there, bombing was commonplace and internment prisons were being set up. South of the border, we are told in these pages, all is calm and friendly and everywhere you go you will meet poets, wits and artists, ready to befriend you and pour you a pint.
The couple in this ad had been able to fly to Ireland, hire the car for two weeks staying in hotels and guest houses, all for $298 per person. That’s the equivalent of $2,000 per person today, or $4,000 in total. – that €1600/3200. How does that compare?
But this was no ‘shamrocks and leprechauns’ representation of Ireland – it showed a country transitioning into the modern world, while fiercely clinging to what made us unique. Articles on heritage jostled with pieces on modern farming methods; biographies of bygone artists contrasted with a description of Rosc, the famous modern art show that everyone of my generation visited; wildlife photographs vied with pen-and-ink drawings of inviting pubs.
All the best people wrote for Ireland of the Welcomes: I think they must have paid well. Familiar names from the time crop up: the 1971 issues include writing by John Montague, Gerrit van Gelderen, The Knight of Glin, Maurice Gorham, Hilary Pyle, Bryan MacMahon, Mary Lavin, Terence de Vere White, Benedict Kiely, and Niall Sheridan (husband of Monica). Even the American writer, Richard Condon (The Manchurian Candidate), then living in a restored Georgian pile in KIlkenny (below), wrote a bon-viveur series on restaurants and hotels.
So let’s get started with the issue that was published exactly 50 years ago – January-February 1971. I turned 21 in 1971 and went from being an undergraduate to a graduate student at UCC. I was living between Cork and Dublin, with forays to Newgrange and Kerry. I spent the summer in Malahide, studying for my BA finals at the National Library and at Trinity College Library, ducking out for lunchtime concerts at St Anne’s in Dawson Street. In the autumn I set up in my very first independent flat in Cork with my friend Bessie and embarked on my Master’s in Archaeology, paying my way with what was then charmingly called a ‘Demonstratorship’ at UCC. The world was my oyster.
What the well-dressed Demonstrator was wearing in 1971
That whole sense of emerging into a modern world was true for Ireland as well in the 1970s. Anybody who lived in Dublin in the 70s will remember the Dandelion Market – it was the place to see and be seen on Saturday morning, full of hippies and trendies selling antiques, tat, artwork, crafts and lots of cool clothes. No tweed suits here – those fringed waistcoats were more my style! Take a look at RTE Archives footage from around then. Were you there? Recognise anyone?
Some of the photographs of the Dandelion Market that accompanied Maeve Binchy’s article
And guess who wrote about it in the January-February issue? Maeve Binchy! in 1971 Maeve was years away from a successful career as a novelist, but she was already a well-known columnist and editor of the women’s pages for the Irish Times. She and my mother, Lilian Roberts Finlay, shared a stage at the Vancouver Writers’ Festival in the 90s and I got to know her a little then, and as a friend of Mum’s. She was everything you imagine – warm, witty, wise and great company.
The wonderful Maeve Binchy (right), my mother, Lilian Roberts Finlay (left) and our great friend Ingrid, Vancouver, 1998
The Dandelion piece was followed by an article, Some Unexpected Ballad Writers, by Grainne Yeats. I wasn’t sure who Grainne Yeats was so I looked her up. She was WB’s daughter-in-law but that was not her claim to fame. An accomplished harpist and speaker of Irish, she was a music historian and virtuoso singer and player, performing all over the world, and an expert in the music of Turlough O’Carolan. She singlehandedly revived the playing of the kind of traditional wire-strung harp that O’Carolan would have played. Her obituary in the Irish Times spells out her many achievements, while a short YouTube clip gives you a flavour of the sound of the harp.
One of several pages about the Shannon River, with detailed maps
A huge section in that same issue was devoted The Lordly Shannon. Shannon cruising was emerging as a holiday idyll and photographs showed cheerful boaters negotiating locks and fishermen hauling in salmon, interspersed with monastic ruins and enticing pub signs. It was a successful campaign – Shannon cruising is popular today and indeed by all accounts makes for a superb vacation.
Robert French’s photograph of Adare in the 1880s or 1890s. The second photo was taken in 2015, just before fire destroyed some of the thatched cottages. Some or all have since been restored
Although I know about the Lawrence Collection, and had lost myself in it a few times, I wasn’t really aware that the ‘view’ photographs, 40,000 of them, had not been taken by William Lawrence himself. “The man to whom he entrusted the task of photographing Ireland was an employee named Robert French who worked anonymously for the Lawrence firm all his life.” The article, by Kieran Hickey, rescues French from that anonymity and points to the personality behind the camera, the chronicler of the social history of his time. “Despite the inflexibility of a heavy camera, a cumbersome tripod and individual glass negatives, the images are unerringly composed, never reframed in printing, and taken at the precise moment which shows the photographer’s eye to be selective, observant, patient and alert.”
1 Leinster Market, Dublin; 2 Galway City; 3 Dublin Quays; 4 and 5 Tourists in Connemara
Lawrence’s studios were destroyed in the 1916 Rising, with the loss of all the human subject photographs and negatives. But French’s enormous body of work had been stored elsewhere, which is why it is still available to us. In its sharing of this priceless collection, the National Library is meticulous in crediting Robert French as the photographer – a fitting tribute to one who laboured unrecognised for so long and contributed so much to our visual history.
My aim is to update this series every month or two with a 50 year retrospective. We’re off to a good start!
We wanted to just sit and observe, so we found a comfortable spot where we had a view over the warren. They were everywhere! They weren’t unduly perturbed by humans, although they disappeared quickly when dogs came sniffing around. In the face of all the challenges rabbits face in Ireland, it felt good to be in a place where they seemed to be in a long-term relationship with their habitat.
European rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus to the biologists, coinín, pronounced cunneen, in Irish) were introduced to Britain by the Normans in the 11th century. They called them coneys and kept them in coney garths as a food source. Niall Mac Coitir, in his marvellous Ireland’s Animals: Myths, Legends and Folklore, tells us
The ‘coney garth’ consisted of a small enclosed field surrounded by a deep ditch, and a huge turf mound planted with gorse and blackberry to keep the rabbits in. Escape was easy, however, and the rabbit soon became free game for yeoman and serfs, even though it was illegal. . .
The Barley Cove dunes – rabbit country
A hundred years later, they brought their rabbits to Ireland, with the same predictable results. When you think that an adult female (a doe) can have up to seven litters a year, each one yielding up to ten kittens, the proliferation rate is explosive. They are kept somewhat in check in the wild by natural predators and a high mortality rate. Left totally undisturbed, rabbit populations probably undergo the same cyclical variations that other mammals do, with numbers increasing for about ten years and then declining due to over-population, before building up again.
Ears back – what’s he listening for?
But rabbits have never been left undisturbed for two main reasons – first they are a natural source of food and fur and second they can be a significant agricultural and horticultural pest. Exporting rabbit skins was big business in medieval Ireland and as late as the 1940s rabbit meat was still being processed and eaten at a great rate. But pity the organic gardener who comes out in the morning to find his patch stripped and desolate, or the farmer who loses a portion of her hard-won crop. The solution for the agricultural sector was disastrous – in the 1950s farmers introduced the disease myxomatosis into the rabbit population with devastating results. As I was growing up in 1950s Ireland I never saw a rabbit – the population had been virtually wiped out.
Since then, they have recovered somewhat (although now threatened with a new disease in the wild) but in this part of the world it’s still not commonplace to see a rabbit. That’s why it’s such a treat to be able to sit and watch them at Barley Cove. The best time to do this is in the evening, since they are naturally nocturnal creatures.
The warrens are obvious and sizeable – those big hind legs are effective digging machines! The tunnels have several entrances and contain passages and chambers where kittens can spend their first few days. Chris Packham, the British naturalist, has an amazing clip from his BBC program “The Burrowers” where a rabbit warren is filled with concrete, creating a model of its extent and complexity. Just click on the photo below and then on the picture again when you get to the site.
To get closer to the Barley Cove rabbits in order to photograph them I had to crawl through long grass and try not to spook them. Once they and I were at eye level, it felt like a real communication – being regarded by those deep pools of age-old knowledge, gentle and wise, was lovely. At the same time, the ears were on high alert, and I knew that one false move and he was gone.
We stood still and listened: the air was filled with humming – Bees swarming in February? But no… it was the murmuring of the pilgrims saying the decades of the Rosary by the grave of St Gobnait…*
We travelled up into the Muskerry Gaeltacht on Wednesday – 11 February: the Feast Day of Saint Gobnait. It’s a fair journey, and we felt that we had really gone into another world: we crossed over the Mountain of the Fairy – that’s my interpretation of the Shehy Mountains (Shee is Fairy) – others say the Irish Cnoic na Síofra means ‘hills of the animal hides’. For the first time in my life somebody – a passer by – addressed me in Irish… “An bhfuil hata agat le spáráil?” they said – “Have you got a hat to spare?” (I think it was a wry comment about the headgear I was wearing on the day).
Our goal was Saint Gobnait’s Church in Ballyvourney, where the Mass was to be heard celebrated in Irish. Also, we wanted to see the 13th century wooden statue which is brought in to the church on this day. When we arrived there was already a queue to buy ribbons and ‘measure’ them against the statue. In fact, it was quite an intricate ritual: first you wrapped your ribbons around the neck of the statue, then around the feet. Some did the same around the stomach – others passed the ribbons under the body of the statue and rubbed them along the surface. Many people kissed the statue and some picked it up and made the sign of the cross with it. We joined in and came away with a clutch of ribbons, now blessed by Saint Gobnait and imbued with health-giving and good-fortune-bringing properties.
The church was completely full for the Mass (it was also broadcast outside), which was celebrated by two Priests and a very robust men’s choir – beautiful singing in Irish. It was an uplifting experience, even though I hardly understood a word. A friendly atmosphere imbued all who were there, and excitement was in the air. Afterwards, we visited the statue again and then headed for Saint Gobnait’s Holy Well, her grave and the ruins of her ancient church, where the ‘Rounds’ were being performed all day. That’s when we heard the humming – it should have been Bees: this Saint has always been associated with them, and her statue which overlooks the pilgrimage site (and which was carved by Seamus Murphy in 1950) is decorated with Bees and with a Deer. This is also part of her story: when she was travelling through Ireland looking for a site to establish her community she was told she must continue on her way until she met with nine white Deer. She found them in Ballyvourney and that’s why in our time the little settlement flourishes on this February day.
We heard that there is another Holy Well, hidden in the woods just outside the town and seldom visited. This is known as Tobar Abán – Saint Abban’s Well. That saint seems to be closely associated with Saint Gobnait although not much is known about the lives of either of them – they lived back in the sixth century.
A visit to the Post Office provided us with the information we needed to get to this intriguing sacred site: walk over the bridge, go into the fields and look for a lone oak tree on the distant boundary – this marks the point where a trackway leads up through the woods. We made our way across a muddy pasture; the oak tree was prominent enough, and the track – but once inside the wood everything was quite densely overgrown. We would never have found it without the instructions, but we also had the help of red and white ribbons tied to trees and posts in strategic places – they had been there for some time: we wondered who set them up?
Tobar Abán is a wonderful site – a lonely outpost of religious sanctity but, for me, probably the most beautiful of all the holy places I have visited in Ireland so far. It’s an unexpected find: set away from everything, deep in an ancient oak wood, silent, still – one could imagine that it has always been like this, passing through generations of turbulent history and yet untroubled by it. Archaeologically it appears to be a cist with a cairn of stones built around it: this would imply pre-Christian origins. The lid of the cist (a burial chamber or repository for bones) is not visible – possibly it is under the large ballaun stone which rests on top. Above this is a small, relatively modern concrete cross embellished with offerings, beads and ribbons: other icons and objects are scattered around the site. The whole mound has a boundary defined by three standing stones, one of which is inscribed with ogham. Everything is covered in a layer of moss which seemed to exude a luminescence in the moist shade of the wood.
Saint Abban (or Abbán moccu Corbmaic) seems to have been active in many parts of Ireland, and tradition has it that he lived for three hundred years. The stories that are important here are the ones that link him with Saint Gobnait. It has been said that he founded a monastery in Ballyvourney before she arrived, and that he was her mentor and gave the foundation to her. Some say that Abban and Gobnait were brother and sister. Most important, perhaps, is the tradition that Abban had a cell or church just outside Ballyvourney and that he was buried in that cell when he died in 520. Could it be his grave that we found?
Saint Abban’s Well is a little distance from the cist, and is quite unassuming, especially compared to the elaborate wells around Saint Gobnait’s old church. It is merely an opening in a rock set in the ground: an old tray covers it and keeps the leaves out, and a wooden box beside it contains some cups and plastic bottles for collecting the water.
As we were making our way back across the fields we were surprised to see a lady in a red coat walking with a stick towards us. “Did you find it?” she asked. We assured her we had found the well and the shrine. “And did you see his bones?” she continued, “Last time I was there I lifted up the lid and saw the Saint’s bones inside…” We watched her go off towards the woods; when I looked back again she had disappeared.
There’s so much about the day: the journey across the Mountain of the Fairy; the Irish Mass and the ritual of the ribbons involving a 13th century wooden figure; the Rounds and the humming of the Saint’s Bees; the magical shrine in the woods – and I really do wonder about that lady in the red coat…
* Originally titled A Murmuration, this post has been re-edited. Although published under Finola’s name this time around, the post and the re-editing are by Robert..
While references to Fionn MacCumhaill (or Finn McCool) occur in many of the old legends about Mount Gabriel, more often a generic ‘giant’ is identified as having lived on or near Mount Gabriel. Giants were, apparently, given to fighting each other and to hurling rocks through the air. Here’s a good example from Jeremiah Mahony of Crookhaven:
Giants are a familiar motif of folklore – just across the sea many of the same stories are told about the effects the Giant, Bolster, had on the landscape of Cornwall.
The rock that was seized and thrown didn’t always become the Fastnet; prominent rocks on the landscape were also identified, including what we know now as Boulder Burials (for more on this class of archaeological monument see my post Boulder Burials – A Misnamed Monument?). Here is Cornelius Moynihan from Derreenlomane School (long since closed), telling a tale he got from his grandfather of the same name, then aged 75.
In my grandfather’s land in Rathravane there is a stone called “The Giant’s Stone”. A legend says that it was thrown from Mount Gabriel by a giant long ago. Those who believe this point out the print of a knee and prints of three fingers. It looks as if one end was lifted by human agency as it is supported at that end by three stones arranged regularly.
In an unusual piece of cross referencing, Tessie Coughlan from Dunbeacon School, on the other side of Mount Gabriel, tells of the same rock landing in Moynihan’s field (above, and below with Mount Corrin in the background).
The old people of this locality say that two giants once lived at the top of Mount Gabriel near the place where the lake now lies. One of them was much taller than the other but the smaller had two heads and was cleverer and stronger than the other. It is said that they killed any person who cut a tree on the mountain side and then they cast their bodies into the lake.
One day a dispute arose between the two as to which was the stronger and it was agreed upon that they should both lift a stone and throw it as far as they could. The two giants lifted stones of equal weight and threw them over the land together. The small giant threw his stone much farther than the other did and it fell in Rathravane in a field owned by Mr C Moynihan. The other stone fell in Dreenlomane and it is still to be seen.
The stone in Rathravane is oval shaped and it bears the five prints of the giant’s fingers. It rests on a height. The stone in Dreelomane is not shaped like the one in Rathravane but it is the shape of a coffin and bears the print of one of the giant’s fingers. The old people say that it is a real coffin and that a landlord is buried in it or under it. Several people have gone to break the stone, but owing to tradition they never struck it.
Perhaps this (above) is the other rock – it’s not in Derreenlomane but not far, on the slopes of Mount Corrin. Another student from Derreenlomane school, Rita Helen, tells a similar story in her piece titled Local Monuments, and goes on to describe several others.
There is a glacial stone in Mr. Young’s field and another in Mr. Moynihans field. The one in Mr. Moynihan’s field seems to have been lifted up at one end by some persons, as three stones have been placed under this end. People say there is a print of five fingers on the one in Mr. Moynihan’s field and that a giant threw the stone from the top of Mount Gabriel over into the field.
In this photograph of the Rathruane boulder burial, perhaps you can see the knee imprint and one of the finger holes. That’s Mount Gabriel in the background.
There is a cairn on top of Mount Corrin (Cnoc an Chairn).
There are two pillar stones in the townland called the Gallauns, parish of Schull, W.D.W. Carbery, Co Cork.
In another part of the townland there are six pillar stones forming part of a circle.
The only stone circle in the vicinity is in Dunbeacon, on the slopes of Mount Corrin, but Mount Gabriel is visible from it, as you can see in the photo above. Rita was from Rathruane, although she spells it as it is pronounced locally, Rathravane. It’s interesting that she also says There are no stones in the district with peculiar markings or strokes on them, since there is indeed rock art in Rathruane, quite close to the boulder burial. It’s an excellent example of prehistoric Rock Art, AKA cup-and-ring art.
Hannah Hayes, also from Derreenlomane has her own version of Local Monuments:
There are two large stones in Rathravane :- one in Mr. Young’s field and one in Mr. Moynihan’s field. It is said a giant threw the stone from Mount Gabriel to Mr. Moynihan’s field, and those who believe this say there is the print of five fingers in it. There are pillar stones called Galláin standing in the ground in the townland of Coolcoulachta. There are no ornamented stones in the locality.
Here are the Coolcoulaghta galláns or pillar stones – they constitute a type of monument known as a standing stone pair.
Here’s a piece from an unnamed student at Gloun School. It refers to “a kind of grave” and we wonder if this is the beautiful little wedge tomb in Ratooragh
In the western side of the Glaun hill up east of Timothy Driscoll’s there is a kind of grave. Long ago there was a chieftain living here and people say he was buried there and some treasure buried with him. On top of the clay there is a heap of stones and there is a fairly large stone standing in the centre and there is some writing carved on it.
This writing is nearly blotted out now. It was read by many people in olden times. No one ever tried to find the treasure.
No sign now of any clay or writing but the National Monuments record does reference traces of a mound which may have covered the wedge tomb originally but is impossible to make out now. There are panoramic views from this wedge tomb, not only to Mount Gabriel and Mount Corrin (above), but west to the sea as well (below).
We know you’ll want to be out and about as soon as we all can, doing your own exploring. As an enticement, here’s a story about buried treasure, courtesy of Caitlín Ní Árnéidig of the Convent of Mercy in Skibbereen.
Under a huge stone on the slope of a hill in my father’s farm, there is said to be hidden treasure.
It is said that one day “Athach Mór”, a great giant, was challenged to throw this huge stone (at least one ton and a half weight) from Mount Gabriel to that spot on the hill. First the giant seemed unwilling to try this feat but when he began to lift the stone it seemed of no weight, and he suceeded in landing it exactly on the spot.
Under it there is said to be an unusual thing (a nest containing seven golden eggs each seven inches in diameter and filled with sovereigns).
About four perches due west of this stone is another stone, under which a similar treasure is hidden.
An old man of the vicinity recently revealed that in order to find the treasure one must draw a straight line from one stone to another, then standing near the middle of the line hold a cord in the hand and lift it an eastward direction, so that it will [words missing] the stone and a light will be seen over the spot where the treasure is.
My uncle, having heard the story, decided to prove this, so he set to work at the mysterious stone. Having drawn the line he stood near the centre and cast the string eastward. Then to his astonishment he noticed a ray of light over a small portion of the stone.
He tried to split the stone but failed though still engaged at the work he finds it impossible to do.
All you have to do is figure out the location and , crucially, what the student meant to say where the words are missing. Good luck!
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