The Castle of Rossbrin

It was just Raven and I, down at Rossbrin today. We were both inspecting the O’Mahony stronghold which has stood here for, perhaps, 800 years in one form or another. Peter Somerville-Large explored the area and its history in the early 1970s:

Down beside a narrow inlet which empties at low tide stands Rosbrin, the most easterly of the O’Mahony castles. Like the O’Driscolls, the O’Mahonys had a passion for building castles: they built twelve, and six survive, all overlooking or right on the edge of the sea. They shared with the O’Driscolls one of the finest fishing grounds in Europe, controlling the waters and exacting dues from visiting fishing boats in much the same way. ‘None of the fisheries of Munster are so well known,’ wrote an observer in 1688, ‘as those of the promontory of Ivaha, whereto a great fleet of Spaniards and Portuguese go, even in the midst of winter . . .’

The Coast of West Cork, 1972

Neither Raven nor I would be deterred by the winter weather. On a day of hard frost followed by blue skies and sunshine, nowhere could be more beautiful than Rossbrin, and nothing could be more poignant than the quiet remoteness of this western corner of Ireland, once considered ‘the greatest centre of learning in Europe’. I walked in the company of the wisest of the corvids over the vanished ruins of a great university.

Finnin O’Mahony – Taoiseach, or chieftain, of the clan – as he may well have looked in the latter part of the fifteenth century (above): cultured, fashionable, flamboyant even, and powerful. It’s sobering to think that, while Columbus was following in the footsteps of Saint Brendan to rediscover the New World, scholars and scribes were busy on the shores of Roaringwater Bay writing and translating treatises, medical manuscripts and historical accounts of travellers busy in their quests to prove the earth may not be flat after all . . .

The Annals of Ulster tell us that Finghinn Ó Mathúna of Rossbrin Castle who died in 1496 was an acclaimed historian of the then known world. And, the Annals of Connaught lauded him as ‘a great scholar in Irish, Latin and English’. The Annals of the Four Masters referred to Finghinn Ó Mathúna as being unmatched in Munster for hospitality and scholarship. The O’Mahony territory was inclusive of today’s parishes of Dromore and Caheragh and all the lands westwards to Mizen Head. Finghinn made Rossbrin Castle both his residence and a rendezvous for Irish scholars . . . Most writers who laud the scholarship of Finghinn Ó Mathúna lament the loss of many of Rossbrin Castle’s manuscripts . . .

From an article by Alfie O’Mahony in the Skibbereen and District Historical Society Journal, Volume 6, 2010

Roaringwater Bay – the view to the south, today, from Rossbrin. In the foreground is Horse Island, and beyond is the profile of Cape Clear, also a place of learning to this day: students of the Irish language spend time on the island, one of the Gaeltacht areas where Irish is still the native tongue. One of the reasons for Finghinn being so expert in languages himself was the desire to communicate with the visiting fishermen whose needs provided him and his clansmen with a good living. As well as a celebrated place of learning, Rossbrin Cove would have supplied fish palaces and all the trappings of the industry: barrels and salt for preserving, victuallers, alehouses, brothels . . . It must have been a boisterous and vibrant place.

Peter Somerville-Large gives a commentary on the more recent history of the castle:

One wall of the splintered tower has a crack running down the side. Another was partly blown down by a storm in 1905. If there is another great storm like that one, Rosbrin might well disappear without trace, like the O’Mahony castles at Ballydevlin, Castle Meighan and Crookhaven. It is sited on an area which is very difficult to approach from either land or sea, standing on a rock. Contrary to what might be written in Holy Scripture, buildings on rocks have little in the way of foundation, and when they fall down or are swept away there is nothing left of them except a memory . . .

To the south of the rock on which the castle stands are the vestigial remains of an ancient stone quay (above), still in use as a landing place. The Cove itself – a natural haven – would have been the main harbour area serving the fishing fleets. The castle stands sentinel above the harbour entrance, ensuring that no-one could approach unseen.

I have been looking for older illustrations of the castle, in order to ascertain how much erosion is taking place as the years go by. Here’s a fascinating record of an O’Mahony Clan Gathering, photographed in 1975 by Michael Minihan of Skibbereen. There is a lot more of the building intact at that time. Can you see the spectators high up on the walls and roof?

As most of you will know, we look down on Rossbrin Cove and Castle from our eyrie up at Nead an Iolair. We consider anyone living on or by the Cove a neighbour. One of these is Julian, the first to welcome us when we arrived here many years ago. On my walk today I called in on him – he lives next door to the Castle Farm. I was over the moon when he showed me a portrayal of the Castle which his mother, Geraldine, painted in the 1970s, only a year or so after the gathering above. Clearly, a substantial part of the castle walls has gone in that short time.

Rossbrin Castle, painted by Geraldine van Hasselt in the 1970s (above). Best of all, though, is a photograph of Julian – her son – taken at Easter, 1969:

Julian van Hasselt on Rossbrin shore: behind him is a clear view of the castle. You can see the vertical crack which eventually led to the collapse of half the tower.

At this time of the year we get excellent sunsets when the weather is right. Today’s was a good one! I reluctantly said goodbye to Raven, my companion whose constant cronking seemed to follow me as I perambulated this place of deep history. I wonder: was it just Raven? Or might it have been Finghinn himself, speaking to me in yet another of his languages? I think I’ll have to return to Rossbrin to find out!

With many thanks to friends Julian and Raven . . .

Getting Into the Art!

Uillinn – the West Cork Arts Centre gallery in Skibbereen – has just opened its first exhibition of 2020. It’s a riot! I have seldom seen such enthusiasm in an art show from the lively crowd who had gathered for the launch event, billed as an indoor picnic.

We went along, and were delighted. It’s advertised as an exhibition for children: take no notice of that! Just go and join in the fray – we all have a child in us. And it is a fray, in that it’s totally participatory. You can’t avoid taking apart everything you see, and putting it all back together however you want to. How amazing, to be encouraged – no, commanded – to get involved and act out the child. I wish I could show you the expressions of delight on the faces of all the ‘real’ children who were there, but today’s privacy laws mean that we can’t publish those. Instead, through some skilful juxtaposing and a little bit of PhotoShop, we hope that we can get across the sheer exuberance of all the activity.

The ground floor gallery was full of shapes – many recognisable, some abstract – all brightly coloured, attractive and tactile. Each one could easily be a piece of ‘modern art’. The fun comes when you realise they can all be taken apart and put back together in unlimited combinations. There are no restrictions: everything has hooks, slots, sockets. This is your chance – everybody’s chance – to build sculptures, make murals, hang things on walls (or on each other!). There’s not a single Do Not Touch sign anywhere . . . Imagine the excitement!

If you wanted to, you could enter the exhibition through a tunnel – it looked invitingly organic, if not somewhat anatomical. You were disgorged into a forest of sweets hanging on strings. Towards the end of the afternoon there were lots of empty strings and very few sweets. But, surely, that’s what it’s all about: consuming the art; embracing it, encountering it, making of it what you will.

It was interesting for us to note tidy-minded adults busily untangling the hanging strings, while their offspring revelled in getting them as muddled as possible. Meanwhile, we overheard a fraught parent exclaiming “I can’t believe you just ate the art!”

Art in Action is the brainchild of a group of Polish artists, and was first curated at the Municipal Art Center, Pomorska, Gorzów in 2019, with the intention of travelling on to Skibbereen. One of those artists, Tomasz Madajczak, has been based in Ireland since 2003, and has contributed to previous exhibitions at Uillinn. He provided the liaison between the two arts centres which resulted in this collaboration. He seemed completely at home among the exhibits:

I need to persuade you all to visit this exhibition, so I won’t give away too much in this little preview. I will just mention the upstairs galleries, where some ingenious devices are available to ensure full interaction between art and spectators, including a modern take on the epidiascope (remember those? – you will if you are anywhere near my age!), pop guns for shooting down technological detritus, and over-aweing human voice amplification. Here are some further images to whet your appetites . . .

Don’t be shy about coming into this show and being part of the action! That’s exactly what it’s there for. All the better if you can bring along a group of children – or aim to be there when there are children in the gallery: the Arts Centre has a continuing programme of involving schools and other community groups. It’s the children, particularly, who will show you what being uninhibited means.

Art in Action is on at Uillinn, Skibbereen until 22 February 2020. It is curated by Bartosz Nowak, with work by Basia Bańda + Tomasz Relewicz, Ewa Bone + Ewa Kozubal, Tomasz Madajczak, Krzysztof Matuszak, Aleksandra Ska and Hubert Wińczyk. Open Monday to Saturday, 10.00am to 4.45pm daily. Special thanks must go to Uillinn’s Director, Ann Davoran, and her technical team for bringing this show to fruition, with special mention to Ballydehob’s Stephen Canty – who solves every problem! Uillinn receives financial support from the Arts Council and Cork County Council.

Fingal Mummers

On Stephen’s Day we went up to Fingal County to see the Mummers – it’s a mere hare’s leap from Nead an Iolair. Until 1994 there was no county of Fingal: the area was part of Greater Dublin. Since that time this county has recorded the highest birth rate and population increase of any community in Ireland. Why? I would like to suggest that it’s because Fingal has , for countless generations, been the home of a Mummers tradition.

On our new green last evening here was presented the drollest piece of mummery I ever saw in or out of Ireland. There was St George and St Dennis and St Patrick in their buffle coats and the Turks likewise and Oliver Cromwell and a doctor and an old woman who made rare sport till Beelzebub  came in with a frying pan upon his shoulder and a great flail in his hand threshing about him on friends and foes, and at last running away with the bold usurper whom he tweaked by his gilded nose – – and then came a little Devil with a broom to gather up the money that was thrown to the Mummers for their sport. It is an ancient pastime they tell me of the citizens . . .

This account of Mummers in Cork is supposed to date from 1685, and is found in a manuscript collection in the Library of Trinity College Dublin, lodged by Thomas Crofton Croker in the 1840s. It is probably the earliest recorded portrayal of the custom in Ireland or Britain. Three hundred and thirty four years after this description of ‘an ancient pastime’ was written down, recognisably the same ‘mummery’ is happening every year across these islands around midwinter.

The Fingal Mummers ‘entering in’ (above). Following a revival in the 1950s, this group travels around several towns and villages on Stephen’s Day, performing their play to crowds who gather to see them. We tracked them down to their starting point, O ‘Connors Inn, Ballyboughal, which seemed a quiet little settlement until we walked through the door of the pub and realised that every resident of the village – and quite a contingent of visitors – was crammed inside waiting expectantly for the visiting players. The excitement was tangible, and everyone was in good spirit, enjoying the Christmas cakes, puddings and treats that were being freely handed around.

It seemed that the visit to O’Connors was a purely ritual appearance, as the crowds and the noise were too overbearing to permit a performance of the play. There was music and singing, but the group eventually moved on – with us following – to the next venue: Man O’War! This bar, which also gave its name to the scattering of houses around it, was evidently established in 1595 and became a toll point on the turnpike section of the main Dublin to Belfast road in the 1700s. The road has long since been superseded and is now a quiet lane. The pub, however, has grown in size and reputation and, on Stephen’s Day was packed: a large number of musicians was seated around an enormous table, and post-Christmas festivities were in full swing, with an air of expectancy leading up to the arrival of the Mummers.

It was at Man O’War that we saw the Fingal play performed. There are around a dozen characters, which include St Patrick, Prince George, The Doctor, The Butcher, Jenny Wren and Beelzebub. The main protagonists, Patrick and George, fight with swords until the former kills the latter (obviously!). A quack doctor is brought in and raises George to fight another day. There is considerable humour, innuendo and – always – music and dance. A most important aspect, however, is the appearance towards the end of the play of a character – Slick-Slack – who carries a large family on his back (usually dolls and teddy bears).

From upper picture – heroes Patrick and George, fiercesome Doctor and musicians

For me, it was just slipping back to old times: from when I could barely walk we attended the Mummers play at Crookham Village in Hampshire, England, every Boxing Day, and I absorbed the tradition into the rhythm of 1950s life. Here are the Crookham Village Mummers around that time:

A mid 20th century photograph of the Crookham Mummers, Hampshire: could the little boy on the right be me? The characters in this play, left to right – Roomer, Slasher, Trim Tram, Doctor, Turkish Knight, King George, Old Father Christmas

Into adulthood I never questioned the existence of the Mummers: they were just an essential part of Christmas – like carols, bells and reindeer. As soon as I was able, I joined the Mummers myself and now, after decades of performing it, carry the complete play in my head (the Hampshire version of it, anyway). It was only when my interest in folklore became academic that I asked myself: what is all this about? And then I became aware of the significance of mummery in the traditional cultures of northern Europe, Scandinavia – and beyond – and saw its place and relevance to the season when the sun gets to its lowest point and then has to be encouraged back again: cold and darkness have to be replaced in the natural cycle with light, warmth and regeneration. The old spirit of winter has to be supplanted by the young fertility character who carries his wife and (large) family on his back. In Fingal that is Slick-Slack; in Hampshire it is Trim-Tram who rounds off the performance:

In comes I, Trim-Tram, left hand press gang: press all you bold fellows to sea to fight the French and Spanish. Although my name be Jolly Jack, wife and family on my back – although my family be but small, I thinks myself best man of all . . .

Trim-Tram fights with Old Father Christmas and kills him, causing some consternation to younger members of the audience. Trim-Tram concludes:

Ladies and gentlemen, see what I have done: killed my poor old Father Christmas, just like the setting sun. So, while I sits and takes my ease, good people – give us what you please . . .

At which point the hat is passed around, giving the watching crowd a chance to partake of the ‘luck’ which the Mummers bring to the communities they visit.

The Butcher is on the left – replete with carving knife and turkey!

Masks and straw headpieces are common in the Irish Stephen’s Day traditions. Remember the workshop we had in Ballydehob a few weeks ago? That was in preparation for a Wranning there this Christmas just gone. Unfortunately, we couldn’t magic ourselves to be in two places at once on the day, so we will have to wait for next year’s event. Meanwhile we were very happy to have the Fingal experience. Long may that county continue to hold on to the luck, and perpetuate its fecundity!

All Silver and No Brass

title page full

To celebrate St Stephen’s Day, I’m republishing this post from a couple of years ago. Both Mumming and Hunting the Wren were (and still are) traditional activities which take place on the day after Christmas in many parts of Ireland. I was pleased to find Henry Glassie’s volume on the Mumming Tradition in Northern Ireland in my younger days: as a Mummer myself, I was eager to search out any material on this then neglected subject, and was pleased to find this volume. It is written and illustrated by Henry Glassie, a Professor of Folklore at Indiana University Bloomington, and is the product of an extended field trip to County Fermanagh in the early 1970s. The title comes from the Mummers’ plea for the audience to put money in their hat or box – preferably silver coins!

Henry Glassie – born 1941 – has written many books about life and traditions in Ireland. His first was All Silver and no Brass, published by The Dolmen Press in 1976

…Winter nights in Ireland are black and long. A sharp wet wind often rises through them. Midwinter is a time to sit by the fire, safe in the family’s circle, waiting for the days to lengthen and warm. It is no time for venturing out into cold darkness. The ground is hard, the winds bitter. But for two and a half centuries, and possibly for many years before them, young men braved the chilly lanes, rambling as mummers from house to house, brightening country kitchens at Christmas with a comical drama. Their play, compact, poetical, and musical, introduced an antic crew and carried one character through death and resurrection…

(From the Preface to All Silver and no Brass by Henry Glassie)

here comes I

saint patrick

Glassie stayed in Ireland during the Troubles, and deliberately chose a community that was close to the upheavals of those days.

…Mumming was neither my project nor my goal. My project was the creation of an existentially grounded ethnography of people in trouble… We settled next to the barbed-wire bound barracks in the southwest Ulster town of Enniskillen, in the County Fermanagh, about twelve miles north and east of the burning border. I began quickly, luxuriously conducting my study on foot. I came to know every dog, bog, path and field in a small area south of the town, lying west of Upper Lough Erne, its waters as bright, its isles as green as promised in the old ballad of the Inniskilling Dragoon…

Enniskillen, from a photograph dated 1900, and Henry Glassie’s illustration of the mummers ‘Doin the Town’ as remembered in the 1970s

I like the way the book is set out. One section transcribes a number of conversations that Glassie has with people who remembered – and had been involved with – the mumming tradition.

…Most of the kitchens at the centers of those white houses were opened willingly, generously to me. My Americanness set me outside the local social categories, so I got on well with people of opposed political and religious persuasions. More of the people were Catholics than Protestants, more were men than women, more were old than young. Almost all had made courageous adaptations within the terrors that frame our lives. That was what interested me most: how daily life passed sanely, even artfully, despite armored cars hurtling down the country lanes, despite bombs that cracked the air and rattled the windows. I had forgotten all about mumming. Then one evening Mrs Cutler and I were chatting about Christmas and she mentioned the mummers’ arrival as the season’s high point. Suddenly excited, I asked if any of the play’s performers were still alive, and she listed people I knew well. All of them were men in their sixties and seventies who had begun to stand out in my thinking as exceptionally energetic, outgoing, and articulate. From that time on, I asked many questions about the drama, its performance, meaning, and purpose. I learned that the memory of mumming is cherished…

wren-boys

Upper picture – Wrenboys from Athea, Co Limerick, 1946 and below – ‘Mummers hunting the wren’ in Macroom, Co Cork, around 1950

Glassie talks at length to two brothers, Peter and Joseph Flanagan, who have very clear memories of taking part in the mumming.

“…We’d just take every house that we faced, whether we’d be admitted or not. We’d just take every house that we’d face. Of course, there was people on the other hand that wouldn’t admit them because it might frighten the youngsters, you see, or cause some confusion. That’s the way. That’s the way it goes now. So, You all stood at the door and…”

He twists and rapidly knocks five times on the table.

“…’who’s there?’

“…’Captain Mummer. Any admission?’ Yes, aye, or no: that was the way. ‘Any admittance for Captain Mummer and his men?’

“and if the person was pleased to admit you, well, they’d open the door. Throw it wide open for you.

“And Captain Mummer walked in.”

Peter moves quickly from his seat and down the kitchen. His heavy boots sound sharp on the floor. He closes the front door behind him, raps on it thrice, and re-enters. He strides ten feet into the kitchen and stands to deliver his lines, turning his torso to project to the audience assembled in a semi circle that runs from the front table past the hearth to the back table. Joe and I are fixed upon him…

“Here comes I, Captain Mummer and all me men.

Room, room, gallant room, gimmee room to rhyme,

Till I show you some diversion round these Christmas times.

Act of young, and act of age, the like of this were never acted on a stage.

If you don’t believe in what I say, enter in Beelzebub and he will clear the way.”

Frowning, Peter returns to his stool. It has been years since he has thought of the rhymes. “Let me see now,” he says, and sits repeating the speeches of Beelzebub and Prince George under his breath. Joe picks up the large turf out of the fire with the tongs and sets them at the front of the hearth. He sweeps the thick ashes off the iron to his side with a besom, places new turf against the backstone, and arranges the old coals next to them. The smoke and glow increase as the new turf ignite. Joe, too, went mumming, but he went out less often than Peter and cannot remember the part he played. He sits back as Peter starts in again…

Henry Glassie’s drawing of ‘how a mummer’s hat is made’ together with two examples from more recent times

Glassie’s writing goes on to describe the recollections of the play from those who undertook the performances. It is an invaluable record: his informants have now passed away. They would probably be surprised to know that their plays have not been lost: a new generation is performing in the north – and elsewhere on the island of Ireland. They would be even more surprised, perhaps, to learn that their own play breathes again: there is a Mummers Centre in Derrylin and the Aughakillymaude Community Mummers (Aughakillymaude translates as the wooden field of the wild dog) perform regularly in the area around Christmas time once more, while at other times they travel across Europe keeping the spirit of mumming in Ireland very much alive:

the performance

Henry Glassie’s reconstruction of the performance before the hearth – above. Below – Aughakillymaude Community Mummers in full cry

aughakillymaude-mummers

Aughakillymaude Community Mummers in full cry (above)  and (below) Henry Glassie’s reconstruction of the performance before the hearth

Recalling 2019 – The Roaringwater Journal Review!

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).

Finola’s Selection

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

Robert’s Selection

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!

Copper Craft

I admire workshops. And I admire the creativity that goes on in them. Here’s one that’s not too far away from us in West Cork: it’s just outside Skibbereen, on the road to Lough Hyne. It belongs to Paddy McCormack, who is a metalworker producing functional and decorative items. His preferred material is copper, and that comes with a historical connection that puts him right back with some of the earliest craftspeople who dwelled in this western part of the land thousands of years ago!

Mount Gabriel, the Mizen’s highest outcrop of land, silhouetted against a copper-coloured winter sky (upper picture) is the site of ancient copper mines dating from the Bronze Age. In the lower pic, Finola is standing at the entrance to an old mine adit driven into the side of this mountain. If you want to see the techniques used by the early metalworkers, have a look at this post which I wrote back in 2015. You’ll find that the methods dating from three and a half millennia ago are recognisable today. Here’s Paddy continuing the tradition:

We first came across Paddy at the 7 Hands Exhibition held in London, Dublin, Cork and Ballydehob. In this post written by Finola at the time you’ll see him with one of his unique pieces, a chess set, but it was at another exhibition this year that we became aware of his beautiful, hand-beaten copper bowls. Once seen , never forgotten: we asked Paddy if it would be possible to produce a large bowl for us, more the size of the now much sought-after copper ‘chargers’ produced by the Newlyn artists colony in West Cornwall during the late 19th and early 20th century. I lived in Newlyn before coming here to the west of Ireland and much admired the copper work from that time.

The Young Apprentice a painting by the Irish-born founder of the Newlyn School, Stanhope Alexander Forbes (above). The painting dates from 1908. There is still a copper works in Newlyn today. First established in the fishing village in 1890, copperware production gave us some of the most outstanding work created in the Arts and Crafts tradition of its day. One of the things that impresses us about Paddy’s work is his own way of working the metal surface, creating organic textures and colours which are exquisite.

Paddy presenting us with the large bowl which we commissioned. It is elegant and unique, and we are delighted! The richly textured surface shows the marks of the copper being worked and provides an organic finish which will evolve and change colour over time. Paddy has developed his own design for his bowls, with a double skin and welted rim.

Raw materials and the tools of his trade form Paddy’s working environment. He is comfortable within these surroundings. We felt privileged to meet him in this environment, and could sense his ability to transform his visions into reality through complete mastery of his chosen medium. Examples of his work in the open air show the distinctive patina that develops on copper when exposed to the elements.

Paddy markets his bowls and decorative copper work through craft outlets and fairs. He recently travelled to China with a group of locally based fellow artists and craftspersons. It’s a small world when a master artist / craftsman from rural West Cork is in demand on the other side of the planet!