“People would be walking from Ballydehob”, our friend told us, “to do the rounds at Stouke Graveyard on St John’s Eve. Everyone in the village would come”
He remembered it well as a boy (he’s now retirement age) – the whole family walking to the graveyard, a festive atmosphere with friend greeting friend, after the day’s work was done. He described how the rounds were done. The focus was the chest tomb in the centre of the graveyard. You would do a decade of the rosary as you walked around, stopping four times. You would leave coins or a small offering, and pray for some special intention. He didn’t remember the Bishop’s Head being part of it, although other accounts state it was. The Bishop’s Head is the name given the bullaun stone (below), based on a legend about a beheaded bishop.
I’ve written about Stouke before (here and here – take a look for the background to this post) – it’s a tiny graveyard full of fascinating history. Looking back at those posts from 2016 also provides a good comparison of the condition of some of the objects in the graveyard between then and now. It is obvious that the small statues, for example, are not being renewed.
The chest tomb, located in the centre and highest point of the graveyard, marks the last resting place of Fr John Barry, and both he and his brother James, also a priest, are memorialised here. They were tremendously compassionate and capable men who worked tirelessly for their parishioners during the Famine. I have read James’ depositions to the Poor Law Commission. He was articulate and devastating in his criticism of the landlord system – full of righteous anger of the truest sort.
The memory of these two brothers lived on locally and over time took on an almost saintly aura. The fact that Fr John is buried here and that the original name of the graveyard is Kilaspick Oen, or Church of Bishop John, may have led to the practice of visiting here on St John’s Eve, June 23rd, as described to me by our friend.
This year I decided to see if the tradition lived on, so I walked up to the graveyard on St John’s Eve (Thursday). I arrived at 7PM and sat in glorious solitude for a long time until I was convinced that nobody was coming. Just as I was about to give up, a car arrived and then another. Tim Cronin and Joan O’Donovan, supported by her son Michael John, had come to do the rounds, as Joan had indeed come for her whole life.
Joan had brought flowers and coins and distributed them among us. She led the prayers as we said the rosary, stopping four times, once at each side of the tomb. We also left flowers and coins at the Bishop’s Head.
The chat was mighty afterwards. I told them what I knew about Fr James and John, and Joan and Tim told me about how busy a place this was in the old days. Joan says she will keep coming as long as she is able – she suffers from a bad back and sciatica and needs two sticks to walk, especially on the uneven ground in the graveyard. She had known a lot of the families buried here and we talked about the many islanders whose final resting place is this lovely, lonely spot.
As I walked home, I wondered how much longer anyone would come to continue this tradition. It seemed sad that it had been lost so profoundly that only Joan and Tim now come, where once it had been such an important event for the whole village. We are not that country any more, and in many ways that’s a very good thing, but I can’t help mourning the loss of the old ways too.
As a retired couple we often get asked what we find to do all day. How do you spend your time? Perhaps there’s a subtle sub-text of ‘way out there in the wilds of West Cork.’ Well, it’s only half way through the month and we have had numerous experiences already in June, including many that revolve around art and music so I thought I would highlight them in this post to give you a flavour of the Wilds.
Robert has written extensively about the thriving art scene established first by the artists and hippies that made West Cork their home starting in the 60’s, a legacy that is celebrated in the Ballydehob Arts Museum. But it’s as true now as it was then and just in our small villages of Schull and Ballydehob we have been to several exhibitions over the last couple of weeks. I am always drawn to photography and I was bowled over in particular by three exhibitions.
Oliver Nares is exhibiting at the moment in the Working Artists Studio in Ballydehob. The first three photographs in this post are his. The first two are Flutes and the one above is Tambourine. Oliver captures his images live and, as Pól Ó’Cólmán astutely noted at the opening, he photographs the music, not the musicians. Unbelievably, this is Oliver’s first ever exhibition – if the reaction is anything to go by, it won’t be his last!
Another exhibition that left me breathless was Richard Breathnach’s The Bog in the Bale at the Blue House Gallery. Everyone who comes to see this has the same reaction – what is this? An Oil Painting? An abstract? Richard’s photography, which included many many hours of lying in a bog waiting for just the right image, captures the reflections of a bog in those ubiquitous black plastic silage bales – the results are extraordinary and you can see more on his website.
Meanwhile, the Aisling Gallery, situated over Rosie’s Pub in Ballydehob, has an exhibition focused on All Things Maritime. Chris O’Dell’s iconic image of Cobh (above), taken from the sea, is only one of several of his photographs, and the photographs of others, on display in this show. Chris is a distinguished cinematographer who has worked in television and cinema and is now recording his archive.
We went to Kenmare to see the new Butter Market Gallery, recently opened. (OK – that’s in Kerry, not West Cork, but sure it’s only the next parish over.) With a Modern Irish Sculpture show as its premier event, we weren’t disappointed!
One of the standout artists in the Kenmare show for us was Ayelet Lalor – that’s her large piece above destined now for a hotel. Back in West Cork we were delighted that the Blue House Gallery in Schull devoted prime space in their latest show to her work. Titled A Life at Odds, Ayelet uses her iconic female heads to explore her own heritage and influences with an eclectic conglomeration of media including concrete, ceramics, cutlery, garden forks and industrial brooms! The results are both captivating and provocative.
On to the music – our regular Friday sessions have resumed in Ballydehob after two years. It’s always great fun for Robert to participate in these and even more so now as they are earlier in the evening (starting at 7 rather than at 9) so he’s full of beans as he heads off with his melodeon and concertina. His post last week had a clip of them all playing. The Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival is on here at the moment, so the village is full of musicians, including Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch, about whom Robert wrote in his post Learning from the Masters – check that out to see some of their playing. For now, a tiny clip of John and Uwe from one of the sessions on tin whistle and flute playing Carolan’s Draught.
A couple of days ago we went over to the Beara to meet up with our friend Susan Byron, of Ireland’s Hidden Gems and her group of American tourists. Among them was Bob, who played us over the Healy Pass.
Finally, for something completely different, we travelled to the Beara again today to hear the wonderful David Syme in one of his legendary Living Room Concerts. If you ever get a chance to do this, grab it! Here he is playing the Chopin Etude “Tristess”. This is his own recording on YouTube, and if you Google David Syme and choose video, you’ll get lots more that will give you a flavour of what we heard this afternoon.
Among the pyrotechnics of Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Bach and Gershwin, David told us a moving story about his Ukrainian-Jewish grandmother and played us a gentle piece called Jewish Prayer for Healing by Debbie Friedman. I will leave you with a short clip from his performance.
A weed is a wildflower whose name we haven’t learned yet, in the same way that a stranger is a friend we haven’t met yet. Like the hogweed above – a plant, by the way, that is in the top ten percent of the most nectar-rich and valuable-for-pollinator wild plants, a plant that is also edible by humans and animals – ‘weeds’ are plants we mostly love to hate.
Ah yes – weeds! Those wreckers of manicured lawns and tidy driveways. Those nasty undesirables that must be dug up or, as with the seldom-used holiday home above, Rounded-Up.
But wait – what’s this? All over Ireland people are letting the ‘weeds’ take over! Just look at this fabulous example at the Heron Gallery on the Sheep’s Head (above). It’s like we’ve had a mad rush of blood to the head and are changing life-long attitudes. What has caused this? Was it the pandemic, like we account for so many other changes in our lives?
Pollinators are in decline, with one-third of our 98 wild bee species threatened with extinction from the island of Ireland. The problem is serious and requires immediate attention to ensure the sustainability of our food, avoid additional economic impact on the agricultural sector, and protect the health of the environment.
Working together for Biodiversity: Tales from the All-Ireland Pollinator Plan 2015-2020
Each of us with any little patch of ground can do our bit too. All you have to do is set aside whatever portion of your garden you’re comfortable with (10%? 50%?) and turn it into a perennial wildflower patch. I’ve been doing this in my garden (above) now since 2017, so this is my 6th year. in 2018 I introduced Yellow Rattle from seeds bought from Sandro Cafolla at The National Wildflower Seed Collection. Called the meadow maker, Yellow Rattle (below) parasitises on grass roots, thinning them out and providing space for other wild seeds to take root. Apart from that, I have had to keep an eye on incursions of bracken and nettles.
The results have been all that I hoped for. Every day I am tempted out to my little mini-meadow with my camera. The rest of the lawn I try to leave as long as possible between cuts and it’s amazing what comes up there too. Take a look at my video, Lying in the Grass, for a sense of the sheer wonder and variety of what has appeared all over my One Acre.
The driveway and all around the house is gravelled and I have resisted the temptation to tidy it up in any way. In return, a huge variety of wildflowers have appeared – Groundsel and Pineapple-weed, Scarlet and Yellow Pimpernel, Silverweed, Cat’s-ear and Autumn Hawkbit, Germander and Thyme-leaved Speedwells, Herb-Robert and Keel-fruited Cornsalad, Dove’s-foot and Cut-leaved Crane’s-bills, Common and Bush Vetch, Sowthistles (Prickly and Smooth), Sheep’s-bit, Sorrels and Chamomile.
I even discovered a rare little plant popping up in my driveway – the gorgeous and curious Sharp-leaved Fluellen. According to the distribution maps it’s been slowly making its way west from Wexford over the years – but how on earth did it land in my driveway? It’s a mystery like that, that keeps me fascinated with wildflowers.
See what I did there? I named the ‘weeds’ – and naming something gives it presence and personality. Once you know the name, there’s a natural curiosity to know more about the plant itself and to keep an eye on it. Thus, they turn into old friends and your heart lifts as you watch a Painted Lady Butterfly feeding on the humble Knapweed, or a Bumble Bee hover over the vetch, choosing which blossom to settle on.
We need to adjust our notions of what’s beautiful if we are to avoid a biodiversity catastrophe. Each one of us can do something to help. If you want to grow your own perennial wildflower patch, there are simple steps you can take – see my posts on my One Acre (then, One Year on, Three Years on, and Four Years On) for what I have done, or follow the Guidance of the Pollinator Plan.
Here’s what NOT to do – don’t buy ‘Bee Bombs’ or packets of ‘wildflower mix’ seeds. As this excellent paper puts it: Wildflower seed mixtures do not help address biodiversity loss. Rather, they cause further disruption to what remains of the natural environment. Follow best practice – mow once a year and remove the cuttings, try to keep down nettles, dock and bracken (and Ragwort if it’s threatening to take over) – and then let it be. Every now and then, go lie down in the grass beside it and listen for buzzing.
All over Ireland there are local history heroes working to recover the heritage represented in the numerous historic graveyards that dot the country. Few groups have taken on as daunting or as important a task as the Abbey Graveyard Project Team in Bantry.
Team members Dorann Cafaro, Teresa Moran, Geraldine Mullins, Bernard O’Leary and Seamus O’Shea
First of all, this graveyard is enormous, stretching over several acres, and secondly, the ‘old’ section has been largely untended over the centuries and so is characterised by long grass, lichen growth and tumble-down headstones. While this is understandable, as the families of those buried here have themselves passed or moved away, it makes for a very challenging environment. It also provides a startling contrast to the ‘new’ sections, where all is order and neatness, for the most part. In the image below the ‘old’ section is at the back.
More recent history – this is the moving and beautiful memorial to those who died in the Whiddy Island Disaster of 1979
I was privileged to spend some time with them recently, on the invitation of the project team. Besides an extraordinary level of commitment, the group has a wide variety of skills between them, something that is key to a project like this – historians, computer folk, genealogy experts, keen-eyed decipherers of faint inscriptions.
On this website, take a look, for example at Grave 31 from the Abbey Graveyard – photographed, numbered, geo-located on the map. It’s the headstone of Cornelius Leary Senior, who died in 1797 aged 88. The script is beautifully incised – the work of a master carver. Such a headstone is a real treasure, both for the information it contains and as evidence of the craftsmanship that went into a memorial like this for those who could afford it.
In this still from the Zoom presentation, Jacinta shows how a Drone Survey, using geo-tagging technology, can assist in providing a super-accurate map of a graveyard. Drone surveys are expensive, but the Bantry Team successfully raised the funds to commission one.
Sadly, many of those buried in the Abbey Graveyard, and in similar graveyards across the country, lie under stones with no inscription. But that does not mean that that is always impossible to identify them. Amazingly, in some areas, the knowledge of who lies under what stone is held by the elders of the area, who remember the size and shape of a field stone, especially chosen for a burial plot. That’s one of the reasons this kind of project is so vital to undertake before those memories disappear forever.
Dorann Cafaro takes the recording exercise one step further and uploads all the records into the massive international website Find a Grave. This is particularly helpful for the descendants of emigrants who are searching for family and cannot access the information any other way. So many people now are becoming expert in genealogy and this is one of the major tools that the advent of the internet has provided for them. It’s an enormous undertaking though, to upload all those records – we are all grateful for people like Dorann!
This chest tomb is the grave of Honoria O’Sullivan, sister of Daniel O’Connell
The Abbey Graveyard, as its name suggests, began as a burial ground surrounding a Franciscan Abbey, built in 1460 by Dermot O’Sullivan and demolished in 1602 by his descendant, the tragic Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare, in order to prevent the Earl of Thomond from taking it over. Only a few random stone remain, now incorporated into an altar.
This area was one of the epicentres of the Famine – a period rigorously researched and chronicled by Geraldine Powell in her new book A Want of Inhabitants. Bodies from the workhouse – 3,000 in all, most of whom died of infectious diseases between 1847 and 1850 – lie buried in the Famine Pits, and were unmarked until Tim Healy caused a Celtic Cross to be erected in 1899 (below). However, as one of the team members, Bernard O’Leary reminds us, there were other horrendous period when large numbers of people died – of cholera in the 1820s, yet another mini-famine on the 1880s, and of TB, which was still killing thousands of people every year in Ireland up to the 1950s.
Paddy O’Keefe, noted Bantry historian, conducted the first survey of the graveyard in the 1950s and the project team has mined the database he created. This has been particularly useful, since it was done 70 years ago and some headstones that have since eroded were readable then.
Deciphering a headstone can be a real head-scratcher, especially if it’s badly weathered or covered in lichen. Geraldine Mullins showed me several where she had figured out the inscription – she has been developing a real eye for it. Lighting becomes important – strong slanting sunlight does wonders, or a bright torch shining from the side. One particular example only became clear under tinfoil! As with best archaeological practice, the team do not advocate the use of rubbing, chalking or cleaning with stiff brushes or chemicals, all of which can promote further deterioration of a headstone in the long run.
One of the exciting finds has been that of a headstone with an inscription in Irish – highly unusual! This might seem strange, since Irish was the language of most of the people buried in this graveyard, but it has to be viewed within the context of the colonial administration. Headstones were considered an official record, and the official language, under British rule, was English. After the foundation of the State, of course, Irish inscription became much more common. Geraldine has sent me the text and translation and I append it at the end of this post. As you can see (below) it took real study to make out this inscription!
Headstone of Owen O’Sullivan, who died in 1822 has a carved top section featuring a crucifixion, two winged heads and an angel blowing a trumpet
Or better yet, take a wander through the graveyard itself and see what you can find.
Many thanks to Geraldine Mullins for sharing resources used in this post, and to all the committee members for so graciously spending time with me and answering questions.
Text and Translation of Irish Inscription
Gac naon do calam liocht /
cathuil ui neill is cuimhine do /
leifis an rann so g[e above]arrtha an /
gaoghalge caoin le cheile an tathair /
an mac 7 an naomh spriod /
[g]uidheach do rai[.]h Dia trochurac /
air anom do bhi ansa corp so /
ata fan liag Amen
Everyone of the noble, warlike line of Ó Néill and Conn, who will read this verse inscribed in beautiful Irish, pray to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit together, that God may be merciful to the soul that was in the body that is beneath this stone. Amen.
There’s a Buildings of Ireland series, only half done now – 16 of our 32 counties to date, with more underway and others yet to be started. It’s a monumental achievement and on Saturday we attended the launch of the Cork volume in Nano Nagle Place in Cork.
The Buildings of Ireland, Cork: City and County, was written by Frank Keohane (Above, signing my copy) and it took him ten years. Ten years! Covid restricted his investigations for some of that time, but still. At almost 700 pages, it’s an amazing achievement and we were very glad to be able to attend the symposium to celebrate its publication.
Alistair Rowan, genial author of the first of the Irish series was honoured during the day
The day was full of talks and progress reports on volumes currently underway (Dublin suburbs and country, Leitrim/Sligo/Roscommon and Central Leinster). What I loved about the talks was the descriptions of going out exploring and investigating – it certainly wasn’t all about dry research in dusty archives, although I suppose some of that has to be involved too. The Dublin writers, Brendan and Colm, went around by bike and there was one particularly striking photo of a slavering Rottweiler hot on their heels – or rather, wheels.
We enjoyed all the talks very much, but perhaps our favourite was the keynote by Bishop Paul Colton (above, showing us the dilapidated state of Desertserges church, which houses a significant Túr Gloine window). Titled A Parson’s Dilemma, it was witty and warm and brought us all back to the sense of buildings that provide the backdrop and context for people’s lives, and all the disparate functions that they serve as well as the emotions we attach to them. His talk also served as a stark reminder that many churches and religiously-administered premises are facing severe challenges as congregations decline and buildings begin to face dereliction.
The Cork volume, as is the pattern with the Pevsner Guides, is laid out as a Gazetteer, arranged alphabetically by town, village or district. I will illustrate (with my own photographs) four entries from the thousands the book contains, just as an example of how this volume has already stoked my interest in things we have seen and motivated me to go back and take another look. (And I only got it yesterday!)
Youghal – a town we have visited and marvelled at (see here and here and here), gets 25 pages, a clear indication of its architectural and historical importance. St Mary’s Church is described in detail, the exterior and interior, with informed comment on the ages of the various parts – not something that an amateur like me could figure out on her own. Here is what Frank has to say about Richard Boyle’s monument.
One of the finest expressions of Jacobean architecture and sculpture in the country, retaining richly painted decoration of a later date. Richard Boyle commissioned it in 1617 from Alexander Hylls of Holborn in London, 24 years before he died. Boyle was acutely aware of the power of funerary monuments in extolling dynastic greatness and this one is only one of four that he commissioned.
Coolkelure Lodge is described, along with its gate lodge (below).
Wonderful three-bay, two-storey gabled lodge in the same vein, [as Coolkelure House which was built in 1874, architect Henry Hill] with elaborate Bath stone carvings, ornate bargeboards, and a three-stage stair tower with pointed roof.
We stumbled upon Clonmeen House when we were on a North Cork Holy Well Expedition with Amanda and Peter, near Banteer. We were staying in a house on the grounds and when out for a walk in the evening got an intriguing glimpse of the house – I have wondered about it ever since, and here it is in the Guide!
Built by Stephen Grehan, first Catholic Governor of the Bank of Ireland, to designs by George C Ashlin – an obvious choice. Keohane states that Stephen Grehan was the first Catholic Governor of the Bank of Ireland. I can find no information on this – but I know who I can ask!
And finally, a tiny detail that is easy to miss, at the Catholic Church at Kilcoe, just down the road from us. The last sentence of the description points out The Iron Rings fixed in the churchyard wall for tethering worshippers’ horses and donkeys are a happy survival.
Ready for a longer walk? If yes – this one is 13.5km and has strenuous stretches. If not, don’t worry – there are lots of possibilities for doing parts of the walk, or for going with friends and leaving a car at strategic spots. We didn’t do it all at once, in case you get to thinking we are super-fit hikers. (The sad truth is we can’t be too far from a coffee shop.) As with all the Fastnet walks, keep dogs on leads – we did encounter both cattle and sheep on this walk, right on the road. There is a short stretches of ‘green road’ and although it’s well maintained, it might be muddy after rains, so good shoes are essential.
This loop takes you from Goleen on the south side of the Mizen right across the peninsula to the fabulously scenic north side. It skirts along the edges of the valley that runs between Knocknamaddree (Hill of the Dogs) to the west, and Knockaphuca (Hill of the Pooka, or Mischievous Spirit) to the east, rising to a maximum altitude of 180m (or about 600 feet). Most of the altitude is gained in the first half of the walk – so a packed lunch and water will be both welcome and needed if you’re doing the whole walk.
You’ll have to dig into your reserves of energy (or maybe have some chocolate) as you continue the climb. You are in true mountainy heathland now – look out for orchids in the spring and early summer, or Cuckooflower (below) in damp ditches.
Watch out also for cattle on the road – we were startled by a line of plodding cattle coming towards us, and even more startled when we realised that one was a mighty fine bull. Fortunately, they turned into a field before we reached that spot, but there was no human around and the gates were open, so we can only assume we were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as it is very unusual (although not unknown) to see cattle wandering like this.
Coming over the top of the hill you have the whole of Dunmanus Bay in front of you and you can see clear up to the head of the bay, across to the Sheep’s Head, and to the Mountains of the Beara behind that. Have a nice sit down on some convenient boulder here – you deserve it – and just absorb that breathtaking sweep of land and sea.
And talking of sea – you’re heading down now towards it, past picturesque stone farm buildings and beautifully renovated cottages until you arrive at Dooneen Coos (the Cove of the Little Fort). Along the way we rain into a shepherd moving his sheep up into higher ground, with the aid of the marvellously well-trained dogs that attend to their business but also like a good pat.
Dooneen Coos is a good spot for lunch – or even a swim if you’re that way inclined. it’s close to the peninsula we wrote about in our post Mizen Magic 23: Lackavaun and The Meallán so you can always take a side trip there if you wish. This might also be a good spot to leave a car if you’re not doing the whole loop on this occasion.
But if you’re carrying on, you’re now heading towards Dunkelly and the storied inlet known as Canty’s Cove. Read all about it here. Here, because we have been to Canty’s Cove lots, we took the short cut – marked in orange on the map. The compensation is that this stretch contains the remains of old ruined cabins and clacháns (hamlets) along the road, as well as a beautiful pond which, at the time of our visit was full of flowering Bogbean.
From Dunkelly the road turns back along the slopes of Knockaphuca and along the way there’s a bit of a surprise – an old store that once supplied necessities for the population of this area but which has not been viable for many years. No doubt local people have all kinds of memories and stories about this one. I was taken by the keys, still hanging above the door!
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