Finding The Cailleach

It’s midwinter here on the shores of Roaringwater Bay. It brings hard frosts (above – Rossbrin), clear days and spectacular skies – we caught the one below in 2020:

Winter is the time of the Cailleach.

. . . The Cailleach is the goddess of the winter months and is said to control the weather and the winds as well as the length and harshness of winter. Depicted as a veiled hag or an old crone, with one eye and deathly pale skin, she is said to have a bow-legged leaping gait, striding across mountains with a power to shape and transform the landscapes as rocks fall from her gathered apron . . . The Cailleach, or the Hag, has been feared and revered across Celtic cultures in Ireland, Scotland and the Isle of Man, for hundreds of years. She is called Beira in Scotland, and has strong associations with the Beara Peninsula in Ireland, which straddles County Cork and County Kerry . . .


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cailleach

The Hag of Beara petrified in Hag Rock (above): she forever looks out across the Beara. Below – this is the Hag’s permanent view over her landscape.

Lest there be any doubt about the Hag’s longevity, this is instructive:

. . . There is a tale of a wandering friar and his scribe who came to the old woman’s house. He inquired as to her great age, which he had heard stories of. She replied that she didn’t know, but that every year she killed an ox and made soup from the bones—and perhaps they could gauge her age by the number of ox bones thrown up in the attic. The young scribe climbed the ladder and threw the bones down one by one for the friar to count. The friar duly made a mark on his paper for each bone, and a great pile of bones grew until he had run out of paper. He called up to the young scribe, who replied that he had not even cleared one corner of the pile of bones, such was the great age of the Cailleach . . .

https://www.irishcentral.com

Above – The Wailing Woman (courtesy of Ronan Mac Giollapharaic) – dramatically depicts another Hag rock, overlooking the Skelligs on the Iveragh Peninsula, Co Kerry. It is a given that Cailleach is one of Ireland’s most ancient inhabitants. Even older, in fact, than Cessair, Noah’s grand-daughter, who we know arrived on our own West Cork shores some five thousand years ago. With her in her Bronze Age crew were her father – Bith – and Fionntán, together with ‘a large company of women’ whose combined purpose was to repopulate the world after the Great Flood.

. . . Legend has it that Fintan the Wise of the hundred lives accompanied Noah’s granddaughter, Cessair, to Ireland before the great Biblical flood. He thought himself the first to set foot on the island but found Cailleach living there, and could see she was far more ancient than himself. He is said to have asked of her, “Are you the one, the grandmother who ate the apples in the beginning?” but received no answer . . .


https://www.irishcentral.com

The Cailleach rules over the the dead of Winter (above – Rossbrin Cove in that time). If you research the Schools Folklore Collection you will find over 830 entries referring to her: many are recorded in Irish.

. . . An Cailleach Béarach according to tradition was supposed to be a witch who is believed to have erected most of the round towers and castles in this country. Tradition tells us that she built each of those buildings with three pocketfulls of stones. As well as being a famous builder, she is believed to have been a great mower. At the time of her death, it is said, she was 121 years and one day . . .

Schools Folklore Collection – Informant Mrs J Peyton Aged 58

. . . The Cailleach Béarach started one day mowing with a score of men. The men led off & she took up the rear. After an hour’s work, she caught up to the man who was last and mowed off his legs from above the ankles. She continued the work until she caught up to the man who was second last & she cut off his legs also. This procedure continued until all the men but one had their legs cut off. At this stage, they went to their dinner . . .

SCHOOLS FOLKLORE COLLECTION – INFORMANT MRS J PEYTON AGED 58

The most frequently occurring references to the Cailleach are her feats in sculpting the landscape. Many features in the west of Ireland are attributed to her work.

. . . There is a hill in this locality called Keash Hill. Caves at the back of this hill are still pointed out as places where giants lived. Nearby there is a hollow with a flag flooring which is called the “Giants’ Table” and likely it is here they cooked and eat their food. Running parallel to this hill and at the back of it is a place called “Dun Ui Bhéara” where the Cailleach Bhéara is supposed to have lived. Old people tell stories of a fight between the Cailleach Béara and one of the giants. He stood on the summit of the hill and fired stones down at her. She lifted stones and earth and fired them up at him. The stones that reached the top of the hill form a “cairn” which is still to be seen. The place from which they were taken formed a small lake which remains to the present day. Some time ago if children were bold their mothers threatened to tell Cailleach Bhéara and immediately they got quiet. She was able to walk across Lough Arrow and the waters at their deepest part just reached her arm pit . . .

SCHOOLS FOLKLORE COLLECTION – INFORMANT MR James Benson, Kesh, Co Sligo

. . . When the Summer came the Cailleach Bhéara drove the bull out to the grassy parts of Béara. One day when the bull was being driven out, he heard a cow lowing in Kerry, so he started off towards her. The Cailleach went ahead of him, but he jumped into the tide and started to swim for Kerry. The Cailleach struck him with her wand and as she was doing it, the bull called the cow, and her calf with him, and they form the Bull, Cow, and Calf rocks now . . .

SCHOOLS FOLKLORE COLLECTION – INFORMANT Danial Houlihan, Croumphane, Eyeries

Finally, we must not overlook a poem written by Pádraig Pearse, one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. Pearse was executed on May 3 in that year – aged 36 – for his part in this ‘rebellion’. In this photograph, Pearse can be seen reading the oration at the funeral of the Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa on 1 August 1915. I am completing this post with the words of Mise Éire, written by Pearse in 1912.

Mise Éire:
Sine mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra

Mór mo ghlóir:
Mé a rug Cú Chulainn cróga.

Mór mo náir:
Mo chlann féin a dhíol a máthair.

Mór mo phian:
Bithnaimhde do mo shíorchiapadh.

Mór mo bhrón:
D’éag an dream inar chuireas dóchas.

Mise Éire:
Uaigní mé ná an Chailleach Bhéarra.
I am Ireland:
I am older than the Hag of Beara
.

Great my glory:
I who bore brave Cú Chulainn.

Great my shame:
My own children that sold their mother.

Great my pain:
My irreconcilable enemies who harass me continually.

Great my sorrow:
That crowd, in whom I placed my trust, decayed.

I am Ireland:
I am lonelier than the Hag of Beara
.
Mise Éire – Patrick Pearse – 1912

Mizen Megaliths 3: Wedges in Hedges

Wedge Tombs belong to the Bronze Age, starting about 2500BC. Of the 115 examples known in Cork, 12 occur on the Mizen, of which the best known is Altar (below).

All wedge tombs share the same basic wedge shape – broader and taller at the western end, which is assumed to be the entrance. All are oriented towards the western sky. To refresh yourself on the essentials of wedge tombs, take a quick read of my post Wedge Tombs: Last of the Megaliths, and then come back here.

For my series Mizen Megaliths, we are trying to visit all the megaliths of the Mizen Peninsula (like our closest one at Kilbronoge, above), so today, I want to concentrate on two we visited this year, both of which are incorporated into field boundaries, Cappaghnacallee and Ballydivlin.

Cappaghnacallee – the name is interesting, the tillage field of the Cailleach. The Cailleach was the wise woman, the Hag of Irish mythology, the bringer of winter, the veiled one. Many placenames include a reference to her, including the largest and most impressive of the Cork wedge tombs, Labbacallee, the Bed of the Cailleach: here’s Robert’s post on this most impressive monument.

It is possible that the presence of the wedge tomb in this townland is the origin of the place name Cappaghnacallee. But if it was once an important local site, the focus of legend and ritual, it’s not easy to recapture that sense of it now. It’s hard to find, hidden in a field boundary (above), overgrown with brambles and long grass. We visited in 2015 and again this year and it’s more overgrown now.

Once you do find it, it is recognisable as a wedge tomb. Here’s what the National Monuments record says about it, and I couldn’t put it better myself.

The monument, incorporated in a stone field wall, consists of a gallery. . . aligned NE-SW. The W end of the monument has collapsed and is obscured by the roofstone and field-clearance material. The S side forms part of the field wall and is represented by three stones that rise in height to the W. Only the E stone of the N side survives and there is no evidence for a backstone. The roofstone. . . rests on the two opposing sidestones forming the E end of the gallery and slopes downwards to the entrance area where it is covered by field-clearance material. The monument appears to have collapsed in antiquity as there is a layer of peat on top of the roofstone below the field-clearance material.

https://maps.archaeology.ie/HistoricEnvironment/

There are views from the site down to Roaringwater Bay, but also to Mount Gabriel (below). We are constantly amazed when we visit prehistoric sites to find that Mount Gabriel is in view and are more and more convinced that it was a sacred mountain.

The second Mizen wedge tomb I’m including in this post is in Ballydivlin, not far from Goleen. Once again, this is a partially collapsed tomb, perhaps in slightly better shape than Cappaghnacallee, but the similarities of situation are striking. Like Cappaghnacallee, this wedge tomb is incorporated into a field boundary or hedge (although locally it would likely be called a ‘ditch.’ 

Here’s the NM description:

Tomb incorporated in fence; gallery. . . aligned NE-SW. Three erect sidestones on N side; one erect stone, one fallen sidestone on S; backstone visible at E end and another stone closes W end gallery. Stone partly covering W end gallery may be displaced roofstone. No indications of surrounding mound.

This wedge tomb is situated in such a way that it has views of both Mount Gabriel (below) to the east , Mizen Peak (the pyramid-shaped mountain that is the focus of the Altar Wedge orientation) to the west and, in the nearer distance, of Knockaphuca to the north. There are also clear views across the sea to Cape Clear (above). 

Setting out to find these obscure wedge tombs is a great way to spend a day on the Mizen. We did it in the winter, when undergrowth is not so luxurious and the ground is hard underfoot, and were blessed with fine weather each time.

We were also blessed with a fine bull at Ballydivlin – fortunately one field over and more interested in his cows that in us.

Rincolisky Castle – A Loving Restoration

There are so many ruined castles in West Cork that it’s important we celebrate the ones that have been saved, and the people who have done the saving.

I’ve written about two of them already, Kilcoe (Kilcoe Castle – A Magnificent Reconstruction) and Black Castle or Leamcon. There is also Baltimore Castle, restored by the McCarthy Family and open to the public. I’ve also done some primers on what castles are all about. If you’re new to this, check out Tower House Tutorial, Part 1, Tower House Tutorial, Part 2 and Illustrating the Tower Houses.

Rincolisky, also known as Whitehall (the name of the townland in which it stands) was a castle of the O’Driscoll Clan – the fierce, sea-going, fabulously wealthy family whose seats of power were in Baltimore (Dún na Séad, or Castle of the Jewels) and Cape Clear (Dún an Óir, or Castle of Gold). 

The siting is interesting. It is in clear view of Kilcoe Castle, built by the McCarthys probably to keep an eye on the O’Driscolls and the O’Mahonys, and Rossbrin Castle would also have been visible battlement-to-battlement. Here’s what Samuel has to say about that in his Tower Houses of West Cork;

The tower house seems to have been located to defend the isthmus between Cunnamore and the mainland; the isthmus would ease the defence of herds of cattle and it is possible that some form of occupation may have existed before the construction of the tower house. The defensive strength of the site seems to have have been deliberately enhanced by the quarrying required for the tower house’s construction. The scarp faces eastward, perhaps because attack from this direction was expected.

Samuel, Mark Wycliffe. The Tower Houses of West Cork

The name Rincolisky comes from the Irish Rinn Cuil-Uisce, or Point of the Backwater. It appears to be 15th century, as are many of the castles in this region, and there is one documentary mention of the year 1495 as the year in which is was built. After the Battle of Kinsale and the subsequent subduing of all the West Cork clans, it passed into the ownership of Sir Walter Coppinger, along with the lands, which apparently included a ‘town’ of which no trace now remains. The Coppingers remained in possession throughout the tumultuous 17th century after which time is passed to their relatives, the Townsends. At some point in the 18th century the Townsends abandoned the draughty old tower house in favour of a more comfortable manor house (like the ones described here), styled Whitehall. They may have used stone from the castle (the upper floors) or the bawn walls in its construction. This would explain the total absence above ground of traces of the bawn. 

At this point, Rincolisky fell into disuse and became, as is the fate of so many West Cork castles, a convenient place for a local farmer to keep cattle (below, photo by Margaret McCarthy). And so it remained for a couple of centuries, until it found the champion it needed and deserved. 

Stephanie Jaax loved this area and spent summers here with her parents who owned the castle. She was determined to bring it back to life and what a daunting proposition that was! Stephanie was also set on doing it properly and this involved getting all the required surveys and assessments done by archaeologists and working to conservation and historical standards at all times. To see how well she has succeeded, take a look at this video, which shows not only the castle, but the surrounding area.

Rincolisky is one of the Raised Entry Castles of West Cork. Similar to Ardintenant and to Black Castle. Black Castle (or Leamcon) has the same layout, in fact, with the raised entry directly above the ground entry.

Rincolisky Castle offers a wonderful opportunity to observe how three spaces could be accommodated beneath the vault. 

The main kitchen/dining area at Rincolisky is on the ground floor (unlike at Leamcon where it is on the top floor). Originally this area may have been used for storage and it was self-contained – that is, there would have been no access to any other floor from this level.

Now, however, a wooden stairway leads to the second story, a wooden floor laid on the joists which were stretched between the joist stones in the walls (see Dunmanus Castle for examples of this. From this floor, a spiral stairway leads up to the final floor under the vault, used now as a sleeping space. One surprising things is that the areas under the vault are not as dark as I imagined they would be. given so few, and such small, windows. Partly this is because of the whitewashed lime render which really helps to brighten up the interior, and partly it is the result of clever and subtle lighting.

Access to the second floor in the 15th century would in fact have been from the outside. The raised entry, now repurposed as a window but originally a door, was what separated the public from the private areas of the castle. Ascending the outside steps to the raised entry, you would go straight ahead into the second floor, or turn left to ascend the steep stone stairs to the storeys above the vault.

The second floor may have been used as a public space where the chief met with others and carried out the business of the clan lands. But see also further down – it was possible this kind of business was conducted in an adjacent ‘hall.’

The private areas of the castle – the home of the chief and his family – were accessed by ascending the steep mural staircase which then turned into a spiral staircase within the corner of the castle.  Nowadays this brings you to the final floor of the castle, used for sleeping, living and bathing. But originally this would have led up to two more stories and access to the wall walk and roof. 

The current top floor is beautifully done – with a bedroom, bathroom and living room. The crowing glory is a sunny terrace with stunning views across the sea and surrounding countryside.

Throughout all her renovations, Stephanie has employed archaeologists to carefully excavate and uncover all the original features and has followed best practice as provided by Cork County Council Planning Department and heritage experts.

The photograph above is of three distinguished medievalists – from the left Con Manning, Margaret McCarthy and Eamonn Cotter – pondering over the most recent excavation.

This, of course, has severely limited what she was able to do and how she had to do it, and made it more expensive. This process continues, as the area around the entrance was excavated this summer by Eamonn Cotter to try to establish what lay immediately outside the ground-level and raised entries. His finding have turned up the original lime render (Above) which would have coated the entire building (leading to the name White Hall), traces of the original bawn wall (found also in the previous excavations) and a complex series of structures which were built, and collapsed, over time. 

These structures incorporated what may have been a bread oven and it seems the buildings were attached to the castle, as evidence by traces of a gable wall, now no longer visible. Eamonn posits that the first building may have been a ‘hall’. In his report he says.

At some point in the 17th century the building was roofed with local slate and imported North Devon ridge tile. . .

It is well established from historical sources and from excavations that many, if not all, tower houses had ground-floor buildings attached or adjacent to them, buildings generally identified as halls. . . The building uncovered at Rincolisky may be interpreted as such a hall. Its roof, with imported glazed ridge tile, would certainly suggest it was a high status building. Its location, immediately adjacent to the castle and tucked into a corner of the bawn, is replicated in other tower houses. . . 

Halls were for the conduct of business and meetings. This hall was replaced by another building during the 17th or 18th century, but this building has left no clear evidence of its purpose or longevity.

When we see Rincolisky now, it sits alone and isolated. It is hard to imagine that it was a bustling place, surrounded by an enclosed bawn, with other buildings inside the bawn and even attached to the castle, while a nearby ‘town’ carried on all the business of medieval trade. What is not hard to imagine is that, without Stephanie’s dedication, care and attention to detail, this castle would have ended, as so many others have, crumbling into an unrecoverable state. All of us owe her our appreciation and gratitude for salvaging and lovingly restoring such an important part of our heritage.

And what about you? Ever had a hankering to stay in a castle? Rincolisky is available to rent – so why not give it a go? Check out the listing on VRBO and read Stephanie’s own description of the thoughtful way she approached both the reconstruction and the furnishing of the castle.

Ships in Churches

You’ll have to look carefully at the photo above. It’s inside the ruined church which stands in St Mary’s graveyard, Colla Road, Schull.

Here’s the church – a view taken a day or two ago, in a spell of clear, cold weather. It has a fascinating history, which you can read here. Go in through the old main entrance, and immediately look to the wall on your right. Scratched into the plaster there is the ship image. But it’s not the only one.

There are more ship images visible on this porch wall; the first – shown in the header – is the most clearly defined. Here are more detailed views of others (I have counted five in total), including further examples on the opposite wall. There may once have been more.

Of course, we would like to know the story of these carvings: who made them? When? And why? As to the ‘when’ we have to sift through the history of the building, although what is known is somewhat fragmentary. One record states that what we see today was built in 1720, but there must have been something there before that, as there is an ogival window in the north-eastern part of the building which is thought to be fifteenth century, and some further architectural features which suggest an even earlier construction:

The north porch – where the ship scribings are – is likely to date from the early eighteenth century, so the ships could not be any older than this. They could have been drawn any time, perhaps, over three hundred years – but are most likely to have been from the earlier part of that period. It has even been suggested that they could have been made by the craftsmen who rendered the walls. Interestingly, ‘graffiti’ which shows ships in churches is not uncommon: there are further instances in Ireland, Britain, and other parts of the Christianised world. The following were traced from St Spas church, Nessebar, Bulgaria. They are possibly the closest examples I have found so far that resemble our main Schull scribing. Interestingly, only one is shown in ‘full sail’. Most examples of this type of graffiti show the vessels without sails, or with the sails furled. Our Schull example is undoubtedly under full sail – and this makes it rare. I attach a further image below the Bulgarian scribings: I have tried to enhance the contrast of the photograph.

What about ‘Who Made Them’? We don’t have an answer to that. We must remember that the Schull examples are a very small part of a very widespread phenomenon and, as I mentioned, there have been suggestions that the ships were a deliberate part of the construction process of the churches: they might have been drawn by the plasterers themselves. Masons left behind their own ‘marks’ on stone walls, ever since medieval times. A British project was started in 2010 to survey all types of ‘informal’ marking on stone and plaster found specifically in Norfolk.

These stone inscribed Masons’ marks are from the Norfolk survey. Below – from the same source – two images of ship graffiti from Cley-on-Sea, Norfolk:

Where do we go from here in our little review of this strange find in Schull? Well, it’s worth noting that these are not the only ‘ships in churches’ image that we find in the corpus of European-wide church architecture. I often remember going into churches and noticing model replicas of ships hanging from the ceiling! I don’t remember seeing such a thing in Ireland, but certainly in Britain and Scandinavia. Here is one from Denmark:

Strangely, I have never looked for an explanation of these. When you start reading about them, it is suggested that they are always in churches which are associated with the sea and with maritime communities, and the church models are seen as prophylactic votive offerings: representing and honouring the ships that the community sail in will prevent them from coming to harm. That begins to make sense, as does the idea that the plaster ship graffiti is also, perhaps, a preventative measure against disaster or ill-fortune.

That theory could be presented as a strong likelihood for finding ship graffiti in churches – but there’s a problem. There are as many examples of ship graffiti in churches which are located far inland as there are on or close by the coast. If you would like my own opinion on this whole quandary, take a look at the photo of Schull church, above. It is built on a mound, perhaps natural but maybe not, with its east wall facing outwards like a ship’s prow. Could there be a far wider symbolism in all this when it comes to the nature of a church building? Is it a stone representation of a vessel, captained by priest or parson, and crewed by the faithful of the community? A final thought on this: when you go into the main body of a church, you enter the Nave. Definition of a nave:

. . . The name of the main public area of the church, the nave, was derived directly from the Latin word navis, meaning ‘ship’ or ‘vessel’, and references dating back to the very earliest days of the Christian church direct that a church should be built ‘long . . . so it will be like a ship’ . . .


MATTHEW CHAMPION – MEDIEVAL SHIP GRAFFITI IN ENGLISH CHURCHES, 2015

An Artist’s Encounter with West Cork

Perhaps this book review is a little late arriving? The book was – after all – published by Brandon of Dingle in 1990: thirty two years ago! The artist, and I, were in our forties then. But – don’t hesitate – although it’s out of print you can find copies readily available on many booksellers’ websites. You can spend a Euro (the postage will cost four times that!) or many Euros: but it’s well worth whatever you have to pay.

Here it is: a modestly sized paperback volume. But it punches well above its weight. It is beautifully written, and exquisitely illustrated. For everyone who is interested in West Cork, Ireland or the art of engraving it’s a must for your bookshelves. And, historically, it’s fascinating: the cover picture, above, shows Tig na nGaedheal (locally known as Brendan’s) – once described as ‘the greatest and most famous sweet shop ever in Skibbereen’. Sadly, Martha Houlihan, who ran it with her husband Brendan, passed away a little while ago and the shop is no longer trading. It’s still a significant feature in the town streetscape (below). Note the figures looking out of the door and window in Brian’s etching – a typical humorous touch.

The book includes nigh on a hundred of Brian’s engravings. This is only a fraction of the huge body of work he has created in his lifetime to date, and he’s never idle. It’s good to know that Uillinn – the West Cork Arts Centre gallery – has a retrospective of Brian’s work in the pipeline. It will be impossible to show more than a fraction of the art he has produced so far, but we certainly look forward to experiencing that selection.

What I personally enjoy about Brian’s works in this book is the atmospherics that they create. Take, for example, The Dark Edge of Europe, above. The breadth of its content is overwhelming: it’s the landscape of West Cork summed up in gradations of grey, with coastline, lanes, settlements, hills and distant mountains, focussed on a foreground which features an ancient hill-fort. A tale of occupation and morphology: an eternal human story. The illustrations in the book are accompanied and amplified by wonderfully crafted written descriptions.

. . . Defining the high spots in the ribs of land, and distributed with apparent regularity all over this landscape, were lush green rings. Single, and occasionally double or triple concentric rings of grassy banks, these features resembled a giant’s game of quoits, forgotten and left to decorate the landscape. The gargantuan quoits are of course the ring forts or fairy rings of the Irish countryside, and outlined the forms taken by the rural farmsteads and dwellings from pre-Christian times down to the sixteenth century. Each ring represented an earthen rampart on high ground, with perhaps a dry moat or further rampart encircling some wattle huts. Simple and utilitarian, this form of dwelling satisfied the political and practical exigencies of the day – or aeon, for that matter. Rural life was lived in the midst of the land, without congregating in towns or villages . . .

The Land of Heart’s Desire: West of West, Brian lalor

Mount Gabriel dominates much of the landscape in our part of West Cork. Brian’s view, above, is titled Mount Gabriel Gorse Fires. The artist ‘discovered’ remote West Cork back in the 1970s. In the book he describes the journey:

. . . The road wound away into the distance, a ribbon of reflected light, and the weaving shapes of the blackthorns threw a black Gothic tracery across the landscape. The immediate surrounding had a silvery sharpness, the precision of a lunar landscape; brightly outlined walls enclosed pools of darkness. We were no longer at the door to West Cork but in its very interior. We had arrived . . .

Well Met By Moonlight: West of West, Brian Lalor

Essential to the intimate knowledge of West Cork’s landscape is the sea – and the coastline which encompasses it. This view is titled Rock Island & Crookhaven. Brian enhances the rendering with a description:

. . . From the heights of Brow Head the outline of Rock Island at the mouth of the harbour resembles a partially submerged submarine, its twin customs-observation buildings the conning towers of this strange naval mammoth. An ill-assorted collection of buildings adhere like barnacles to the back of this submarine: the roofless lighthouse barracks, a defunct fish factory and an abandoned, rambling Victorian mansion suggest an unfavourable location. Wedged in the little cove in front of the mansion is the hulk of an old wooden trawler. A graveyard of vanished days and forgotten hopes . . .

Coastline: West of West, Brian Lalor

Ballydehob’s 12-arch bridge – or railway viaduct – must be one of the most profusely illustrated and photographed features of West Cork. The Schull, Ballydehob and Skibbereen tramway was a significant piece of transport infrastructure that ran from 1886 until 1947. It’s a fascinating piece of Victorian engineering, the first 3ft gauge railway line to be built in Ireland. Everything about it was eccentric: here’s one of my RWJ posts setting out the history of the line. Brian has a little anecdote well worth the recounting:

. . . As it is one of the most pleasing architectural features of the local landscape, I drew the Twelve Arch Bridge on many occasions and it reappears in a variety of forms amongst these etchings. One village magnate commissioned me to do a large picture of this monument for his new house. The price was agreed and the picture eventually produced. I had chosen an angle which showed the bridge emerging as it does from thickets of brambles and conifers on either side of the water. Delicate fronds of foliage wound in the foreground of the picture and the subject itself basked in the distance, looking solid and ancient. I was quite pleased with the results. When I presented it to my patron he gazed at it in silence for a long time. Then with a large and calloused hand he ran his index finger across the view a number of times, shaking his head slowly as he did so. ‘No. no good at all, It won’t do,’ he muttered more to himself than me. He had been counting the arches. In my enthusiasm for the atmosphere of the piece the accurately rendered number of the arches had become obscured, those on the extreme edges becoming partially lost in the undergrowth. The commission was rejected. If you are paying for twelve arches you don’t want to be short-changed with ten and two halves!

Coastline: West of West, Brian Lalor

Fastnet. An iconic silhouette – perhaps a fish-eye view? The lighthouse is a ubiquitous element of structure which can be seen from all the waters and islands of Roaring Water Bay. Brian’s words:

. . . Roaring Water Bay encompasses an area of about a hundred square miles of water between Baltimore in the east and Crookhaven in the west. The tortuous coastline of the bay, as of much of the rest of West Cork, is punctuated by small coves, each with an old stone pier or miniature harbour. Up to the mid-nineteenth century these were the arteries of communication and trade and a wide array of lighters, barges, rowboats and yawls plied the coast, ferrying freight around the rim of the land rather than through it. Never far from the safety of land, they darted from port to port with the assurance of safe harbours at frequent intervals to reduce the threat from treacherous seas. Today, however, only the yachtsman holds this perspective on the land; it is a medieval cartographer’s view of the world: good on outlines, vague concerning the interior . . .

Coastline: West of West, Brian Lalor

The eye of the artist searches out ways to tell a story or unfold a scene in graphic simplicity. This is St Brendan Crookhaven: a simple church that is dear to the hearts of mariners, and has long been so.

Stone Circle and Child Sacrifice is a thought-provoking piece. These ancient sites date back thousands of years: there are many here, beyond the West. We wonder at them, and can only guess at the significance they had to their constructors.

. . . The Landscape of the mind, which co-exists, interlocks and overlaps with the geographer’s vision, is an intangible, ephemeral thing. You may encounter it unexpectedly on a moonlit night or on some deserted headland, or perhaps in the dim light of a public bar. In this part of the world, soaked in memories and half-memories of the past, much is implied rather than stated. Like the collective unconscious, the landscape, too, is composed of a multitude of intertwining details. This collection of etchings of West Cork is concerned with those details: with small corners of towns and villages, with oddly-shaped fields and erratic skylines. Each etching is a vignette of landscape, architecture or environment. The pictures are organized around a number of themes yet the material as a whole has such an overall unity that what illustrates one section also has relevance for another. The point which they make is a collective one . . .

WELL MET BY MOONLIGHT: WEST OF WEST, BRIAN LALOR

Brian’s book is as much about the human side of West Cork as it is about the natural or supernatural. He illustrates towns – Kinsale, above – and the landscape. For me, this is a very significant little volume: the travels described within it echo my own journeying through this most special of places. Thank you, Brian, for so vividly enhancing my appreciation of West Cork.

Kilcoe

The Down Survey – Closer to Home

Last week we gave a brief introduction to the wealth of historical material that we can find in the website devoted to the 17th century Down Surveyhere’s a link to that site, and another (here) to our previous article. The subject – and some of the deeper detail we can discover in the website – is well worth a further look.

The Down Survey (the above view of some of the islands out in Roaringwater Bay is extracted from it) was carried out between 1656 and 1658, and thus gives us an excellent picture of how terrain we are so personally familiar with was perceived pictorially in the mid 17th century. We don’t know who the surveyors were, except that they were under the command of Sir William Petty, ‘surgeon- general of the English army’. Ireland became one of the most-mapped countries in the world at that time, following the Cromwellian and Williamite land redistributions. The beneficiaries were the new landlords of the Ascendancy, who wanted to know exactly what they had acquired, and the initial emphasis was on boundaries and basic land-measurement.

We wanted to know what our little bit of West Cork looked like on those earliest maps. Our view is down toward Rossbrin Cove, below where we live, and our house is a mere blip on the contemporary aerial view at the top of the page. In the first example from the Down Survey mapping – under that view – the cove of ‘Rofsbrinine Harbour’ is marked, and the castle, whose remains still guard the harbour entrance to this day (above), is clearly shown.

This view looks across the channel from the site of Rossbrin Castle. Immediately in the foreground is Horse Island, while beyond is the distinctive profile of Cape Clear. Let’s look at the Down Survey entry for Cape Clear – with. for comparison – a modern map of that island below it.

That map, above, is taken from a nautical chart. It’s understandable that a 17th century map wouldn’t have the level of accuracy we would expect from a modern survey, but take a look, now, at this contemporary aerial view of Cape Clear Island:

It’s remarkable, I think, how strikingly the early map resembles the profile – if not the fine detail – of the modern chart – and also the shape of the island as shown on the aerial view. For example, the ‘Bill of Cape Clear’ shows up very clearly on the chart – the beak-like protrusion on the far western end of the land-mass – a feature which is represented as very similar on the 17th century version, and of course on the modern prospect. Here’s a view of Dún an Óir – Cape Clear’s castle – today:

Just to add to the experience, the above satellite view gives a more ‘flattened’ impression of what is really going on locally: compare this to the expanded view of our coastline from the Down Survey – note that ‘Cape Cleare’ is included on this extract:

As a further example, to finish off this brief overview (which will be continued in future posts) let’s have a look at the Down Survey entry for the Baltimore area – a little further along our coast, travelling east:

This is in fact the Down Survey entry for the Parishes of ‘Tullogh & Baltimore’. The first thing to note is that the north point is facing downwards! If you look at many of the survey pages the orientation varies considerably, and is probably more to do with what conveniently fits on a sheet than any attempt to be consistent. So that we can make an easier comparison with today’s terrain, I have also switched the orientation of this aerial view:

In my opinion it’s remarkable that the Down Survey maps do bear a very reasonable resemblance to the reality. Obviously, a great deal of detail is missing, but the purpose of the maps – to delineate land ownership – is satisfactorily served (albeit that this is to the benefit of the incoming English lords and landowners).

Here’s a view of the site of the medieval fish palace at Baltimore. The Down Survey comprises more than maps: there is other related material, including terriers. These particular terriers don’t have legs or tails – it’s a term for a written, descriptive survey of an estate: some english examples are recorded from the ninth century. Here’s the terrier for Baltimore within the Down Survey:

The terrier in this case is mainly a description of parcels of land, their owners, and the values. Here’s a closer example, from a terrier for ‘Skull’:

There’s a lot more of West Cork within the Down Survey archives. A future post will turn in greater detail to some of this material.