Timoleague Tour

We had a great afternoon yesterday, exploring aspects of the history of Timoleague, in West Cork. Our Finola Finlay (above) was involved in an event organised by the Glass Society of Ireland . . . a professional all-island, non-profit association that opens a window onto the contemporary Irish Glass Community . . . The day’s proceedings were centred around the ecclesiastical buildings in the town, the earliest of which is the Franciscan Friary, now a substantial ruin beside the Argideen River.

This view of the ruined ‘abbey’, above, dates from 1830. It is located on the site of an early Christian monastic settlement founded by Saint Molaga, from whom the town of Timoleague derives its name. A story that I heard for the first time yesterday was told by local historian Donal Whooley: the Saint was trying to found his community back in the sixth century, but everything that he and his followers built fell down the following day. According to legend, it was originally to be built a mile west of Timoleague, but all work done on that site by day would fall down by morning. Interpreting this as God’s wish that the church should be built elsewhere, Molaga fixed a blessed candle on a sheaf of corn, and floated it down the Argideen river, siting his settlement on the spot that it came ashore, on the big bend in the waterway where the Friary ruins can be found today. Here is a view from the great three-light window which looks out to the east over the river. Finola told us that, in its heyday, this window would have been filled with beautiful medieval glass, bringing light and colour into the substantial nave of the church.

That’s Donal, above, leading our group of almost fifty keenly attentive people who shared an interest in the town and its history. To the right (in a blue jacket) is Father Patrick Hickey. He told us of the symbolism of the cockerel you can see on the large headstone in the nave (below), dating from 1821. Evidently some of the disciples were standing together while Christ was being crucified: nearby stood a pot in which a rooster was being boiled for supper. Judas reportedly said: do you think there’s any chance that our Lord will rise again? Mrs Judas retorted: there’s about as much chance of that as there is of that rooster jumping out of the pot and crowing! At which point – of course – the cockerel did just that!

It was the custom to place burials in ruined church buildings. Here’s another fine headstone in Timoleague Abbey, to Michael Deasy, ” . . . who departed this life on the 23 December 1755, aged 33. May he rest in peace. Amen . . . “

Lively discussions ensued on the efficacy of wart wells, and Donal suggested that this repurposed bullaun stone, above could be the oldest human element on the whole site!

Here’s an aerial overview of the geography of Timoleague. The Friary ruin is only one of many historic sites of interest which caught our interest yesterday. It was Finola’s task to introduce us (or those of us who had never seen it) to the little Church of the Ascension.

This building is currently undergoing major improvement works: the lime rendered tower has created a striking landmark in the town. This work has become necessary by water penetration through the stonework leading to deterioration of the fabric. The conservation project is led by a hard-working Parish committee who also served us delicious tea and cakes since the tour was a fund-raiser for their efforts.

You can see Finola addressing us in this little Protestant church in the header picture. Above is one example of the fine early glass here, this one by Clayton and Bell. For a fuller description of this church and its many stories, read our post here.

The early OS map extracts, above, give further context to the town’s history. The top map dates from the 1830s and comparison of the plan forms of the Church and Chapel buildings with those in the lower map, which dates from c1900, and then the present day aerial view (higher up the page) shows the degree of change which has taken place. We finished our town tour in the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here’s Finola standing outside it, below, prior to giving us an introduction to the history of the building, and its windows.

The fine Harry Clarke Studio window (one panel of which is shown in the upper picture) is a ‘must-see’, as is the mosaic work from the same church. The building work for this Catholic church, replacing an earlier chapel, dates from 1912.

Father Patrick Hickey nicely rounded off our day of Timoleague history by showing us the replica of the ‘Timoleague Chalice’ (above). The replica is kept in this Catholic church. According to Fr Hickey, ‘back in the penal days’ three monks were found floating in an open boat just off the island of Cape Clear. They had with them a box, or trunk. They were brought ashore but two of them died. The other asked that the box be kept on the island – but unopened – until he could return to retrieve it. He never returned, and in later years another visiting Priest said it could be opened. Inside was a gold chalice – blackened with age – and some liturgical vestments. The vestments fell to dust immediately, but the chalice was sent away for inspection, and was confirmed as coming from the Friary at Timoleague, where the replica is now kept.

Here is another ‘souvenir’ of Timoleague – it’s an extract from a poem written in Irish: The Mourner’s Soliloquy in the Ruined Abbey of Timoleague. The poet, Seághan Ó Coileáin, ” . . . was a Gaelic-language poet born in County Cork, in a time of faded Irish glory. He lived as a village schoolmaster, with a large family and no patron . . . “

Abroad one night in loneliness I stroll’d,
Along the wave-worn beach my footpath lay;
Struggling the while with sorrows yet untold,
Yielding to cares that wore my strength away:
On as I mov’d, my wayward musings ran
O’er the strange turns that mark the fleeting life of man.

The little stars shone sweetly in the sky;
Not one faint murmur rose from sea or shore;
The wind with silent wing went slowly by,
As tho’ some secret on its path it bore:
All, all was calm, — tree, flower, and shrub stood still,
And the soft moonlight slept on valley and on hill.

Pevsner’s Cork

Have you heard of the Pevsner Guides? It’s shorthand for a series of books, originally conceived and written in England by Nikolaus Pevsner, about significant buildings. But not just buildings – their context and surroundings, like that of Holy Trinity Church, above.

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.

The Guide is now in the car, where it will live along with the Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass, as our essential companions on our peregrinations.

“Easter” Island!

What better place to spend Easter Day than at the ‘Easter end’ of Long Island? We can see the island – out there in Roaringwater Bay – from our home here at Nead an Iolair. The lighthouse on the end of the island faces us – and winks through the night with the character of 3 quick flashes every 10 seconds. The narrow headland on which it stands bears the name ‘Copper Point’ – and so does the lighthouse.

This aerial view shows Long Island in its context – a part of Roaringwater Bay and its ‘Carbery’s Hundred Islands’. Its neighbours to the east are Castle Island and Horse Island – all in our view – (that’s our view, below).

A closer aerial view of the island, above. It’s accessed by a regular ferry which leaves Colla Pier, a short distance from Schull town. The ferry arrives at Long Island Pier: there it is, on the pier (below).

Our destination on this Easter Sunday was Castaway East – the furthest house on the ‘Easter’ end of the island. We have taken you there before, when we organised a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in July of last year. The hosts there are Tracy and Peter, who served us brilliantly for that occasion, and also for the Wildflower Walks which Finola led last June: the Castaway crew provided a superb picnic for everyone, delivered to us at the island’s western end. This time we decided that we would test Tracy and Peter’s skills by ordering up an Easter Sunday lunch to celebrate a ‘special’ birthday for our good friend, Peter Clarke.

Amanda Clarke, Finola and birthday boy Peter, looking forward to a morning coffee (with delicious Easter treats) after arriving at Castaway East. We had an upstairs room in the Castaway house, with a good view over the island. Before lunch we had an opportunity to explore part of the island we had never been to before, heading down to Copper Point.

Why is it called ‘Copper Point’? Because there was a copper mine close by, one of many such enterprises that were seen in West Cork in the nineteenth century. Explorations on the island were started in the 1840s by the Cornish mining engineer Captain William Thomas: he wrote a Roaringwater Journal post for us a couple of years ago! William sank a trial shaft for 10 fathoms (60 feet) and extended a level south from this shaft for 3 fathoms. No metal bearing lode was found, and the mine was abandoned. Traces of these workings can still be seen not far from the lighthouse. It’s slightly ironic, perhaps, that the name ‘Copper Point’ arrived from somewhere and stuck.

It’s a wild landscape – but very beautiful and imbued with atmosphere. We certainly worked up a good appetite while on our morning walk, and returned to the house with great expectations.

All those expectations were far exceeded when we sat down to our meal. We had a room to ourselves, attractively furnished and comfortable, with a welcome wood-burning stove on the go in one corner. Tracy and Peter have spent considerable time and energy upgrading what was a very run-down cottage, and have used locally available materials with impressive imagination.

Tracy – in charge of the culinary delights – had worked out a menu which was entirely tailored to our various tastes (and dislikes) – and it was brilliant! All the courses were exemplary.

The main was a Sunday roast to make your mouths water… Fillets of pork for the three of us who are not vegetarian, and a miraculous stuffed filo pastry pie for Amanda. The accompanying vegetables were prepared without any meaty elements – so we could all savour them in equal measure.

Peter was delighted with every aspect of his celebratory meal – we all were! The choux bun dessert was unbelievable; not a morsel was left behind. The riches never stopped: for our after-dinner coffee we went outside to the terrace-with-a-view and enjoyed home-made fondants and biscuits.

I think you’ve got the message… Sunday lunch at Castaway East is a very special experience indeed. Combine it with a good walk on a beautiful and atmospheric West Cork island and you will have a day you will always remember. If you want the experience for yourselves give Tracy and Peter a shout: they will be delighted to organise it for you.

Contact Tracy & Peter Collins on +353 872966489 or email simplytracy@icloud.com – They also have a campsite!

Séamus Murphy: At Home in Cork

This is Cork city in the 1940s. The subject of today’s post is a Cork man – the sculptor Séamus Murphy. Born in 1907 near Mallow, Murphy took classes at the Crawford School of Art before apprenticing as a stone carver at O’Connell’s Stone Yard in Blackpool, a parish in the city, for seven years. Murphy and his work could occupy several posts, but today we concentrate on his only architectural building project, the Church of the Annunciation in Blackpool. Séamus Murphy can fairly claim to be the ‘sculptural designer’ of this building – as he conceived the way it would appear – while the architect Edmond Patrick O’Flynn most likely carried out the technical drawings and specifications.

According to the Murphy family, Séamus found inspiration for Blackpool from pictures of churches in South America. In particular, the roughly textured render on the external walls is said to have derived from the adobe finish common in Spanish missionary churches there. The Cork church was commenced in January 1945, and the picture above (courtesy of Cork City Library) dates from around that time. The picture below – also courtesy Cork City Library – shows the dedication ceremony in the church on 7 October 1945.

This picture of Séamus, above, is from the RTE archives. The Blackpool project is a good area of study, as the church shows the sculptor’s ability to conceive large, three-dimensional spaces as well as his skills in producing his own figurative and relief works, a number of which are used in the church furnishings: they are of polished Portland stone.

While the church is a valuable repository of Séamus Murphy’s design and carving skills, the work of many other contemporary artists can also be found in the building. The stained glass windows are from the Harry Clarke Studios, designed by William Dowling.

Particularly striking is the crucifix window at the east end. Above is the original cartoon (courtesy of Trinity College Library Dublin) by Dowling, side-by-side with an image of the window today. All the windows are of fine quality.

Examples of the ‘opus sectile’ Stations of the Cross are shown above. According to the Blackpool Parish website these were the work of Richard King. Finola has written extensively about this artist, who managed the Clarke studios after Harry’s death. She is also now researching the art-form of ‘Stations of the Cross’. In fact, researchers believe that these stations at Blackpool were carried out by William Dowling at the Harry Clarke Studios. Richard King was no longer working for the Studios in 1945, although he had produced designs of a similar style for Belvedere College SJ, Dublin, in 1939.

A full view of the east end of the church. The interior has changed very little over 77 years and is, therefore, a great tribute to Séamus Murphy and the the commissioning family of William Dwyer, then head of the nearby Sunbeam Wolsey factory. Dwyer funded the whole project as a memorial to his daughter Maeve who had sadly passed away in 1943.

This fine font cover was carved by hand by Bart, a younger brother of Séamus.

Murphy’s Church of the Annunciation is certainly a landmark building – not just for Cork, but for the whole of Ireland. And Séamus himself must rank as one of the outstanding artists of the Free State. You will come across his distinctive work in many locations; I will be directing you to some of them in future posts.

Many thanks to Orla Murphy for giving me valuable insights on her father’s works

Evolving Cork – The Great Exhibitions

Here’s a fine view over the city of Cork, taken early one morning from the grounds of the Montenotte Hotel, on Middle Glanmire Rd. It reminded me that way back in 2016 I mentioned in Roaringwater Journal the fact that Cork City has over the years hosted a number of world-class fairs. The first was in the mid nineteenth century:

This engraving from the Illustrated London News shows the ‘Fine Arts Hall’ which was part of the Cork National Industrial Exhibition held in 1852:

. . . The site of the Cork Exhibition was the Corn Market, where ships carrying visitors and goods could dock and unload at the entrance gates. The old Corn Exchange building, lent for the occasion, formed one end of the structure, while a new mart served as a principal show room. This ran across the southern part of the old building, parallel to the quay, for 300 feet in length and 30 feet in breadth, giving the impression of a contemporary railway station, even to the strip of glass along the roof to admit daylight. By the opening day ad hoc extensions had been added which converted the original elongated T – shape into a cross, with covered galleries and passageways running from the central structure to an adjacent building used as a hall for banquets, balls and public lectures . . .

A C Davies – Irish Economic and Social History, Vol 2, 1975

. . . The exhibition remained open for three months, until 10 September. The opening ceremony had been performed by the Lord Lieutenant after a procession watched by the townspeople, ‘in all the pomp and circumstance of majesty, with waving banners, prancing horses, peals of artillery, and multitudinous shouts’. At first attendance was sparse. It rained steadily for the whole of the first week, but then the weather improved and the number of visitors increased. It amounted to about 140,000. Ten thousand free admissions were granted to children from over seventy schools in the area . . .

A C Davies – Irish Economic and Social History, Vol 2, 1975

When the 1852 exhibition closed, the people of Cork decided their city should have a venue suitable for the holding of public lectures, meetings and concerts. Within a few years the building above was constructed. Known as the The Athenaeum, it was designed by Sir john Benson, who had been responsible for the Great Hall of the Cork Exhibition. It is said that many of the materials which had been used in Benson’s exhibition hall were salvaged and re-used in The Athenaeum. The new building was renamed The Munster Hall in 1875 and then became the Cork Opera House in 1877. It survived until 1955, when it was destroyed by fire. The present Opera House, on the same site, was opened by President Eamon de Valera in 1965. It was extensively remodelled, with the glazed facade added, in 2000.

Half a century later Cork city embarked on another major ‘world fair’ class event. In 1902 the Lord Mayor of Cork, Edward Fitzgerald, presided over creating Cork International Exhibition, which ran from May to October. Reclaimed marshland beside the river at Mardyke was used for the site, which occupied an area of about 44 acres. Here are the ‘leading lights’ of the exhibition organisers, with Fitzgerald on the right:

This exhibition was considered such a success that it was repeated the following year – 1903 – and the site plan above bears this date. The artist’s aerial view of the site, below, gives a good impression of the extent of the grounds. Note the ‘switchback railway’ to the left: this was a precursor to roller-coaster fairground rides and was immensely popular…

…As was the ‘Water Chute’ from which it was unlikely that you would emerge dry!

Such attractions were very popular with the general public, but the exhibition had a more serious commercial side:

Several large exhibition halls and pavilions housed a range of industrial and agricultural exhibits from many countries including Canada, Turkey and China. There were displays of industrial and agricultural machinery as well as horticulture, fisheries, art, craft and ceramics . . . The Irish Department of Agricultural and Technical Instruction had a strong presence at The Exhibition with exhibits on dairying, cheese-making, cottage gardening, forestry, bee-keeping, poultry, fruit and vegetable drying and preserving . . .

National Museum of Ireland Collections & Research

Hadji Bey is a name that will be familiar to any Cork person with a sweet tooth! The true story goes that Armenian immigrants Harutun Batmazian and his wife Esther chose Cork as their new home during the early years of the 20th century, after escaping the persecution and violence against Armenian Christians taking place in the Ottoman Empire at the time. In 1902, the Batmazians participated in the Cork International Exhibition and introduced their Turkish Delight – a skill Harutun learned while studying in Istanbul – to the market. Although they spoke no English at the time, the city was to became their home and the popularity of their sweets – still made in Ireland today – is legendary. After their success at the Exhibition they opened a shop on MacCurtain Street: this survived for many decades.

Turkish Delight is just one success story from Cork’s International Exhibitions. The 1902 event attracted nearly two million visitors. Surely, it’s time for another one?

After all the clamour and excitement had died down the Exhibition buildings (below) were dismantled and auctioned off. In 1906 the park and Shrubberies House were taken over by Cork Corporation with the proviso that the Corporation would levy a rate of half penny in the pound for annual upkeep and maintenance.  A further proviso stipulated that the Shrubberies House would be used by the Corporation as a municipal museum. Today we can all enjoy enjoy Fitzgerald’s Park and the Cork Public Museum, where Finola and I put on an exhibition about Rock Art back in 2015.

If you want to know more, I thoroughly recommend this book, written by Daniel Breen (now Curator of the Cork Public Museum) and Tom Spalding, published by the Irish Academic Press.

681 Days!

Yes – it has been 681 says since Covid-19 hit us and our world changed. From today, 22 January 2022, most restrictions in the state are gone, apart from the continuing need to wear masks in certain public places. Hopefully that West Cork sky over our house this morning, above, is a good omen for us. Today’s paper shows the stark tally:

The population of the Republic of Ireland as I write this is 5,023,337 (no doubt that is changing by the minute). That tells the story: 22.6% of the people here have had the virus. And of course it hasn’t gone away yet… But at least “social and economic life can begin to return to normal” says the Taoiseach. In order to mark the significance of the moment, my post looks back to our experiences over the last 681 days: in particular, how our lives changed at the beginning of the outbreak.

These two images of Ballydehob, taken at the beginning of April, 2020, sum up the shock of empty streets, closed businesses and everyone being advised to isolate. It all seemed very bleak: our movements were initially restricted to 2km from home, then that increased to a radius of 5km. If you lived in rural areas – as we do – you were permitted to travel beyond those distances if you needed to in order to shop or use essential services. We breached those rules on occasion – sometimes to get exercise in the deserted countryside all around us.

As the days went by, an amazing spring emerged, with day after day of beautiful weather. Human activity was curtailed, but the natural world continued along its course as though nothing was awry!

We humans are pretty adaptable. It was amazing to see the ingenuity of folks creating outlets for their energies without having to mix. Food-on-the-go blossomed as a craft industry: here are some examples.

We were very impressed with many of the examples we encountered – and which have survived over the months. Hopefully they will carry on, as casual coffee stalls in the middle of nowhere are welcome to us in our travelling. Pre-pandemic they were probably frowned upon by ‘the authorities’ – and they are certainly regulated – but ‘authority’ would have had to be very hard-hearted to close down these little lifelines. In our experience, every one we encountered was well-run, and spotless. It was an incidental opportunity to have a distanced ‘chat’: always a source of good local information on how others were coping.

We took the opportunity to climb – and descend – Knockaphuka during the pandemic. It’s a mountain a short distance from Nead an Iolair, but a little outside the limit. No-one was watching! I suppose being restricted to our immediate environment for so long – day after day – made us re-assess it, and our lives. Certainly we have got to know the fine detail of the beautiful place we call home.

Here’s a social issue: we couldn’t get a haircut for months! Finola kept me in trim, but it was a relief when salons were once again allowed to operate, albeit with some restrictions.

This is us having coffee on our own terrace, looking out over Roaringwater Bay in the wonderful spring of that first pandemic year. In fact, each of the two last years has been benign – with a few exceptional winter storms. We would have felt less relaxed if we had had persistent rain (which sometimes happens).

A sprig of green appears on a doorstep on May Day, 2020: a sign that we all still want to continue the old (perhaps ancient) traditions… There were ups and downs: things eased as the year went by and then the new variations came in. Numbers went down and we breathed out. Then they soared – especially with the Omicron variant, and everything went haywire again. Let’s hope that the present easing is here to stay. But the future can never be told…