Circumnavigation

It’s a hop and a step from down here on the Mizen (Ireland’s most south-westerly point) up to the top of the island: people are doing it all the time, on foot, by bicycle, by boat… We thought we’d do it as a road trip – in fact, why wouldn’t we circumnavigate the whole of Ireland? We did – it took us three weeks.

Header – the Dark Hedges, Ballymoney, County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Planted by the Stuart family in the eighteenth century to enhance their Georgian mansion of Gracehill, it is now much visited as it features in Game of Thrones. It’s good to know that traffic can no longer go through this avenue, as it has suffered damage in recent times. Above, one of the many byroads that we sought out on our journey around the island: this one is the loop road behind Ben Bulben in County Sligo

It was a most fascinating and educational trip, particularly for me: most of the places I had never visited before. Finola was more familiar with her own country, although for her it was a voyage of rediscovery. In many cases she saw how much had changed over years of boom and bust, while elsewhere her memories were reawakened.

A voyage of rediscovery: Finola’s Great Grandparents are buried here in Killough, County Down, Northern Ireland

This is but a short summary of our travels: a taster. Many of the places we visited will feature in future posts here. As you can imagine, Archaeology, Romanesque architecture, stained glass, saintly shrines, pilgrimage sites, holy wells, stunningly beautiful land- and sea-scapes, and social history were prominent in our must-see itinerary. But we found we were also following in the footsteps of Irish poets. And British eccentrics.

Craftworks: we visited the Belleek Pottery, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland – which has been operating continuously since 1884 (upper), and (lower) Glebe Mill, Kilcar, County Donegal – where we could watch traditional handweaving on enormous looms

I prefer to stay off the more heavily trafficked tourist spots, but we made exceptions for Europe’s highest sea cliffs at Slieve League, County Donegal (three times the height of the Cliffs of Moher! Beautiful and very wet) and for the Giant’s Causeway. After all, this features strongly in the stories of Finn McCool. I thought that the inevitable crowds were catered for very well and – if you are prepared to walk away from the main site – you can have the spectacular cliff paths largely to yourselves. In Northern Ireland I was very struck by what an asset the National Trust is, for it preserves and makes accessible so many properties and areas of outstanding beauty. If only the Republic had a similar well funded body…

Top – the cliffs at Slieve League. Lower – Giant’s Causeway on a stormy day, and souvenirs in the National Trust’s Causeway Visitor Centre

It would, perhaps, be unreasonable to pick out a ‘best’ destination that we visited, but I must say that I was probably most impressed by the medieval sites: we took in many. It’s amazing that right off the beaten track you can find stunning ancient carvings and artefacts tucked away and – sometimes – not even signposted.

Upper – the superb High Cross at Durrow has been protected and conserved, but it’s not signposted from the busy road that passes nearby. Centre – the beautiful shrine that holds the relic of the True Cross in St Peter’s Church, Drogheda, County Louth: the same church holds the head and remains of Saint Oliver Plunkett. Lower – 13th century font in St Flannan’s Cathedral, Killaloe, County Clare

Our travels were punctuated with a whole variety of experiences, impossible to summarise in one short post. We took in Derry – the only completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples in Europe: we walked the whole length of the early seventeenth century structure. Belfast was intriguing. We undertook the Titanic Experience, and were duly impressed with the building and the exhibitions. We also toured the whole city in the hop-on-hop-off bus: a full two hour tour of everything with a thoroughly enlightening commentary – a good way to keep out of the rain!

Upper – the Peace Bridge in Derry. Lower – the Titanic Experience, Belfast: the exhibition and the building. The external shot is taken from the enormous slipway which was used to launch the ship

We’ve only just got our breath back from all the travelling (although we always went at a leisurely pace with plenty of stops for investigation and coffee). Between us we took well over 5,000 photographs! You’ll see a good few of them in due course.

Often it’s the simple things that impress the most: just little vignettes of Irish life. We would thoroughly recommend a slow exploration of this land – ambling along the byroads and keeping a weather eye open for new experiences. Have a good time!

We are not averse to the odd selfie! Here we are on Carlingford Lough with the Mountains of Mourne behind us… Today it’s an invisible border between Northern Ireland and the Republic: what does the future hold?

Irish Romanesque – an Introduction

This post will introduce you to one of the most exciting aspects of our architectural heritage – the building style known as Romanesque, which in Ireland became the dominant form in the 12th Century. Characterised by flamboyant doorways and elaborate carvings, it replaced an earlier and much plainer indigenous Irish church-building form of which few unmodified traces remain.

An early church at Liathmore, Co Tipperary. Note the square doorway with a simple linteled top. The projections of the sidewalls beyond the gables, known as antae, are a feature common to many early churches

Most churches in the Early Christian (or Early Medieval) era in Ireland were probably built of wood, although some early stone examples survive, such as the one Robert wrote about in his post Molaga of the Bees. Defining characteristics of these churches were their relative plainness – one rectangular space, often quite small, with a linteled portal, one or two small windows, projecting antae, and finials atop the gables.

Leaba Molaga, or Molaga’s Bed – note the antae and small linteled doorway. The reconstruction drawing in the leading photograph above is based on this building

Besides Molaga’s Bed, we have seen several of these early churches on our travels – last year at Oughtmama when we spent a day with Susan Byron (see Susan’s Burren) in Clare, and earlier this year when we stopped off the M8 to visit the churches at Liathmore. This week we saw two more, one at Ardfert and another at Kilmalkedar, both in Kerry. (Robert also writes about Kilmalkedar this week, although concentrating on other aspects). However, in each case, the native form has been modified by the influence of the Romanesque style.

Both photographs were taken at Oughtmama in Co Clare. In the first, a simple linteled doorway leads into a large nave, which was later modified with the addition of a chancel, accessed through a Romanesque arch. In the second, the small doorway, although no bigger than the first example, is in the Romanesque, arched, style

Romanesque was the pan-European architectural style of the 11th century. More than just a construction method, it was an ideological movement. After a period known generally as the Dark Ages in Europe, the renaissance of scholarship and art in the 11th century harkened back to the idea of the antique Christian culture, with all the construction and engineering skills of the Romans. As in every era, the elite wished to associate themselves with this and Romanesque architecture gained popularity for great buildings such as cathedrals and castles.

A great Romanesque Church, Sant’ Ambrogio, in Milan. The Romanesque period of its construction dates to the 12th century – about the same time as Cormac’s Chapel in Cashel, generally reckoned to be the high point of Irish Romanesque architecture, was being built. More on Cormac’s Chapel in the next post

This was a period when people, especially clergy, from all over Europe travelled to great pilgrimage sites such as Compostela or Rome and this helped to spread ideas within the Christian world. In Europe the Romanesque style was well established by the mid 1000s and flourished until it was gradually replace by Gothic beginning in the mid-12th century. It took longer to reach Ireland, and didn’t really become the dominant church-building style until the 12th century.

This is one of two Romanesque sites at Ardfert. We are looking through the chancel arch into the nave. Note the roll-mouldings where antae would once have been, and also the small arched west doorway

In Ireland the simple rectangular stone-built early medieval churches with their antae, linteled entrances and finialed gables were gradually replaced or modified starting in the mid 1000’s. Romanesque churches become nave-and-chancel buildings rather than one rectangular room. The chancel is separated from the nave by a rounded arch, and windows have similar arched tops and are deeply splayed on the inside, often asymmetrically.

Kilmalkedar church in Kerry. While antae remain, the portal is now in the full Romanesque style  with an arch, a couple of receding ‘orders’, chevron carvings and a carved head

The doorway is in the west wall (on the opposite side to the chancel and the altar) and is now arched rather than linteled. The walls of the nave may have blind arcading. There is clear evidence that they were painted – a few vestigial examples survive in Ireland.

At Kilmalkedar, the finials still top the gables. The stone roof can be clearly seen, or at least what remains of it

The roof are sometimes stone, and may contain attic-type spaces.

Two examples of Romanesque arched windows. The first (from Kilmalkedar) is topped by a simple arch hewn from one stone. In the second example the arch is more sophisticated. It is constructed using voussoirs – precisely cut wedge-shaped stones – which are beautifully carved with geometric and foliate shapes

But the real glory of the Romanesque building style, and what makes it so attractive for visitors are the carvings – a feature that is curiously absent from the Early Medieval church forms that preceded the Romanesque. (I say ‘curiously’ because other forms of stone carving, such as our wonderful high crosses, are well known from pre-Romanesque contexts in Ireland, as well as decorative metalwork and manuscripts.) Doorways, chancel arches and window surrounds are often carved with a variety of floral and geometric motifs (especially chevrons), while heads of humans and animals are found around doorways and arches, and occasionally outside. 

The chancel arch and blind arcading at Kilmalkedar

This post is just an introduction to Irish Romanesque, intended to cover the basics of the form and get you comfortable with the terminology. I have deliberately avoided talking about the carvings and the more spectacular of the sites. But in my next post on this topic I will concentrate on the doorways. There are many fine examples, from the simple to the elaborate – they are truly one of the wonders of our Irish architectural heritage. Here’s a sneak peek…

And by the way – this post is a celebration of sorts: it’s the 400th post in Roaringwater Journal! Our first post ever was in October 2012. With a five month hiatus (in order to move countries) we’ve been blogging faithfully week after week ever since. Our practice is that we, Robert and Finola, publish one post each every Sunday (and update the Table of Contents on the Navigation Page as we go along). We love the way this lends a shape to our week; we love the research and the photography; we love your feedback, both here and on our Facebook Page. Thank you, our wonderful readers, for sticking with us. Long may it continue!

Susan’s Burren

Valerian

Valerian provides a carpet of red in a Burren field

We want ‘A Susan Day’, we told her – and what a day we got! Readers may remember our visit (Showing off West Cork) from Susan Byron of Ireland’s Hidden Gems. We’ve been planning a return visit ever since, so that Susan could show us HER Burren. 

Fields of Stone

I’ve written about the Burren before – the unique karst limestone landscape full of heritage and wildflowers in West Clare. But this time we had the benefit of Susan’s intimate knowledge of the place – she lives there and has been exploring it for years. Since we only had one full day, she planned an outing that covered everything we love about this part of Ireland – you’ll see what I mean.

DESTINATION
Our destination: Turlough Hill

Leaving the car in a convenient spot, we set off up a long green road, Susan pointing out the wildflowers as we walked, here and throughout the day. We stopped at numerous places to admire features in the landscape: Corcomroe Abbey, for example, lay below us in all its medieval glory.

Corcomroe

Corcomroe – a wonderful site to visit if you’re in this area

Our first real stop was St Colman’s Holy Well. It’s a beauty, with all the remote wildness that lends such atmosphere to these ancient sacred spots. One of our blogging heroes, Ali Isaac of the wonderfully researched and entertaining site Aliisaacstoryteller had visited this same route a couple of weeks earlier. We were walking in her footsteps, although in reverse. She tells of her journey here and has extensive details about the holy well and St Colman here.

St Colman's well

St Colman's Well 2

Robert and Susan at Colman’s Well and a peek into the interior of the well

Ali had walked through the Burren in time to see the last of the electric blue Gentians that grow here and in the Alps. They were gone by the time we got there, but we were not disappointed in the wildflowers, which were everywhere underfoot in the most prodigal abundance.

Carpet of Orchids

Bloody Cranesbill, left, and a white orchid

Brilliant magenta Bloody Cranesbill jostled with delicate Orchids and tiny yellow Potentilla (or Cinquefoil), while Wild Thyme scented the air. One field was awash in Valerian. A rare Lesser Butterfly Orchid was spotted in the long grass and lovely Burnet Roses in a hedge.

Clockwise from top left: Burnet Rose, Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Mountain Avens and Spotted Orchid

Milkworth

Milkworth lurking in the grasses

Hiking up Turlough Hill was an excellent opportunity to see how the Burren is laid out. From below, it looks like bare rock, but as you ascend, you realise that the hills are stepped in a series of terraces, the evidence of retreating beach levels after the ice age. These terraces provide important forage for sheep and cattle, who, in turn, help in the regeneration of the plant life. The going isn’t easy – we didn’t stick to any defined path but simply clambered up the steep slopes. The flat parts had been deeply rutted by cattle hoofs – we had to be vigilant to prevent stumbles and ankle injuries.

Turlough Terraces

But the rewards were enormous – ever-increasing panoramas of North Clare, across Galway Bay and south into the hinterland.

Cattle enclosure?

We had an objective in mind. At the top of Turlough Hill, and most visible in arial photographs, is a prehistoric ‘village’ of over 150 hut sites and some larger enclosures. On the summit is an enormous cairn.

Turlough Hill

Turlough Hill 2

Hut site and cairn

From the top: An aerial image of the hut circles and cairn (look closely!)  from the National Monuments Service, a hut circle looking north to the sea, a hut circle looking towards the cairn

This mysterious site has been the subject of an initial investigation to establish the extent of it. The report had this to say:

Even though the hut sites, in a morphological sense, are domestic in character, it is very hard to see their role and function as primarily domestic, considering their location on this inaccessible and exposed hilltop. The activity that required the building of about 150 hut sites on this inaccessible and extremely windy summit, consisting mainly of bare bedrock, was most likely of a strong social and/or ritual character, with few direct links to secular way of life.

Susan on Cairn

This will give you a sense of how huge the cairn is

Earlier this year, Dr Stefan Bergh of UCG conducted a preliminary excavation within the hut-site concentration. You can read about that in this Irish Times piece. We saw the neatly back-filled trench, and look forward to his results.

Trench

Coming down, as all hikers know, is often more difficult than going up – the knees certainly protest! In this case, some chunks of it were accomplished by dint of sliding down on my butt and picking the thorns out afterwards. Oh – and the tick! Do check yourself after all walks in long grass where cattle and sheep have been grazing.

From the Cairn

The view from the cairn

We ended up at an early medieval site that quickly banished all thoughts of aching muscles – Oughtmama, of the Seven Churches. Meaning The Breast of the High Pass, there are actually only three churches at Oughtmama, but they pre-date the 12th century Cistercian foundation at Corcomroe, and as such they are excellent examples of early monastic structures in the Romanesque tradition.

Oughtmama Churches

There are several examples of churches built with ‘cyclopean’ masonry in Clare, and here at Oughtmama you can see the huge stones used in the courses of the outer walls that give it this name. Associated with St Colman (of the Holy Well) these churches probably fell into decline after Corcomroe was completed.

We hiked back to the car in the soft afternoon sunlight. It’s hard to believe that one day could be so packed with experiences. Thank you, Susan, for sharing YOUR Burren with us. We’ll be back – we’ll let you know when to put the kettle on again.

Wild Thyme

Wild Mountain Thyme

Atlantic Winter

Dingle Beach

When St Brendan of Clonfert set out to discover America in 512 he and his fellow monks had to face the enormity of the Atlantic Ocean in tiny boats built out of wood and oxhides, sealed with animal fat. Up here in Nead an Iolair our view out to the islands of Roaringwater Bay and beyond is dominated by that same ocean and – sometimes – we feel just as small. This year the winter gales have started early, and spates of fierce westerlies have been throwing the Atlantic straight at our windows. The tiles rattle alarmingly while we are tucked up in bed at night. At these times I think of the Saint and what he had to face. But, like Brendan, we always survive the storms, and often wake up in the morning to a calm, clear day – except that you can hear the constant ‘roaring’ of the open sea out over the bay.

celebrating massOn their way to the New World – Saint Brendan and his companions take advantage of a passing Atlantic denizen to celebrate Mass…

The Atlantic has shaped Ireland. The sea is omnipresent: poets have written about it, storytellers have woven tales around it, and composers have tried to capture its spirit in music. Here’s a small section from the impressive ‘Brendan Voyage’ written by Shaun Davey for orchestra and Uillinn pipes – it’s the haunting second movement, played by Liam O’Flynn with the Irish National Youth Orchestra, at a performance in Cork City Hall. It makes me think of the wonderful sunrise on that calm day after the storm…

Brendan Voyage

Long Island Beacon

Brow Head

Mizen Head

Our own Atlantic: telescopic view of a storm battering Long Island, taken from our garden at Nead an Iolair (top), Brow Head, near Crookhaven (centre), and the impressive land and seascape at Mizen Head – Ireland’s most south-westerly point (lower picture). At the head of this page you can see the huge rollers that come into Dingle Bay, Co Kerry

Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea:
Green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux
Conjured by that strong gale-warning voice,
Collapse into a sibilant penumbra.
Midnight and closedown. Sirens of the tundra,
Of eel-road, seal-road, keel-road, whale-road, raise
Their wind-compounded keen behind the baize
And drive the trawlers to the lee of Wicklow.
L’Etoile, Le Guillemot, La Belle Hélène
Nursed their bright names this morning in the bay
That toiled like mortar. It was marvellous
And actual, I said out loud, “A haven,”
The word deepening, clearing, like the sky
Elsewhere on Minches, Cromarty, The Faroes.

Glanmore Sonnets VII, taken from Field Work by Seamus Heaney, published by Faber and Faber Ltd

Seamus Heaney was deeply affected by the seascape of his native Ireland. Anyone who works on or beside the sea is aware of the resonant names from the Shipping Forecasts, and the poet has used those names here to introduce his word-picture of the elemental Atlantic.

Near Malin Head 2

On the Beara

Donegal Beach

Atlantic contrasts from Mizen to Malin: near Malin Head – Ireland’s most northerly point (top), off the Beara (centre) and a beach in Donegal (lower)

A later traveller over the Atlantic waters was Chistopher Columbus in the 15th century. On the way he looked out for St Brendan’s Isle, a spectral island situated in the North Atlantic somewhere off the coast of Africa. It appeared on numerous maps in Columbus’ time, often referred to as La isla de SamborombónThe first mention of the island was in the ninth-century Latin text Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abatis (Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot), from whence it became firmly implanted into Irish mythology. St Brendan took a little party of monks to the island to say Mass: when they returned after a few days to the rest of the flotilla, they were told that they had been away for a year! The phantom island was seen on and off by mariners for years until in 1723 a priest performed the rite of exorcism towards it during one of its apparitions behind low cloud… You can see St Brendan’s Isle for yourselves, above the wonderful giant fish in the second picture down.

Dingle Peninsula

Coast Road

Dingle peninsula (top), and Coast Road in Donegal (lower)

I was pleased to find this Irish Times video made by Peter Cox when he was fundraising for his book Atlantic Light: spectacular photographs of the coastline on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. The excellent aerial views in this film are all taken by a drone… Look out for places you will have seen in our blogs!

atlantic video

We are privileged that the Atlantic Ocean is the abiding but ever-changing feature in our daily lives. It must affect us in unknown ways: I do know that, wherever I go in this world, I will – like Saint Brendan – always be drawn back here to our wonderful safe haven…

St-Brendan-Coin1

 

Murphy wins by a neck!

High Stakes

Romping home! Dirty Dick Murphy winning the Salthill Fiesta, Galway, in June 1977 (photograph Connacht Tribune)

In the All-Ireland Name Stakes we’ve always known that Murphy is the front runner. In fact it’s the most popular surname, significantly outnumbering the next in line: Kelly. This was the case in 1890 – when the Registrar General of Births, Marriages and Deaths, Robert Matheson, compiled the first comprehensive analysis of names for the whole of Ireland. Then, there were 62,600 Murphys and 55,900 Kellys in a population of 4.7 million. More recently the phone network company Eircom published A Survey of Irish Surnames 1992-97 compiled by Sean J Murphy from telephone directory records in the Republic and Northern Ireland (making it comparable to the 1890 study): this showed 70,900 Murphys and 59,800 Kellys in a total population of 5.3 million.

The race

Runner-up! A Kelly, perhaps… from the collection of photographer Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh, who documented life in rural Ireland between the 1930s and the 1950s

So Murphy wins – by a margin. Let’s have look at the name: Ó Murchadha (or in modern Irish Ó Murchú) means ‘sea warrior’ (Irish Medieval History gives Murchú as ‘hound of the sea’). Most of the Murphys are evidently here in County Cork, with Counties Wexford and Kilkenny next up. There are O’Murphys – mainly confined to Ulster, where the family were part of the tribe claiming descent from Eoghan, son of Niall of the Nine Hostages, who was responsible for kidnapping St Patrick and bringing him to Ireland. Otherwise the Murphys usually trace their ancestry back to Diarmait Mac Murchadha – King of Uí Cheinnsealaig and King of Laigin (Leinster) who lived in the twelfth century and was himself descended from the High King Brian Boru through his father’s grandmother.

Key players in Murphy geneaology and Irish history: Brian Boru, Diarmait Mac Murchadha and Henry II

Diarmait Mac Murchadha was deprived of his titles by the then High King of Ireland, Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, and asked the English King, Henry II, to help him retrieve them. In return, Mac Murchada pledged an oath of allegiance to Henry, who sent troops in support. As a further thanks for his reinstatement, Mac Murchada’s daughter Aoife was married to Richard de Clare, the second Earl of Pembroke, popularly known as ‘Strongbow‘. The result of all this was that the Normans came to Ireland – and stayed – and it’s all thanks to the Murphys!

murphy's irish stout

We mustn’t forget Murphy’s Irish Stout! (advertisement by BBH London)

Now let’s look at some famous Murphys. Father John Murphy – an Irish freedom fighter – is immortalised in the ballad Boolavogue. Fr John was born in 1753 and studied for the priesthood in Seville as this was the time of the Penal Laws when Catholics were persecuted in Ireland. He returned to his homeland in 1785 and there he was only known as ‘Mister Murphy’: Irish priests were not styled as ‘Father’ until the 1860s. John Murphy led a group of rebels against English forces in the 1798 uprising. He was captured, tortured and brutally executed at Tullow, Co Carlow. Here is a rendering of the beautiful elegy Boolavogue composed by Patrick Joseph McCall in 1898, the centenary of the Rebellion, played on the pipes by Davy Spillane, with Aly Bain on fiddle:

Boolavogue is a town in Co Wexford where the rebels secured their first victory before they were captured. Here are the words to the ballad:

At Boolavogue, as the sun was setting
O’er the bright May meadows of Shelmalier,
A rebel hand set the heather blazing
And brought the neighbours from far and near.
Then Father Murphy, from old Kilcormack,
Spurred up the rocks with a warning cry;
“Arm! Arm!” he cried, “For I’ve come to lead you,
For Ireland’s freedom we fight or die.”

He led us on against the coming soldiers,
And the cowardly Yeomen we put to flight;
‘Twas at the Harrow the boys of Wexford
Showed Booky’s Regiment how men could fight.
Look out for hirelings, King George of England,
Search ev’ry kingdom where breathes a slave,
For Father Murphy of the County Wexford
Sweeps o’er the land like a mighty wave.

We took Camolin and Enniscorthy,
And Wexford storming drove out our foes;
‘Twas at Sliabh Coillte our pikes were reeking
With the crimson stream of the beaten Yeos.
At Tubberneering and Ballyellis
Full many a Hessian lay in his gore;
Ah, Father Murphy, had aid come over
The green flag floated from shore to shore!

At Vinegar Hill, o’er the pleasant Slaney,
Our heroes vainly stood back to back,
And the Yeos at Tullow took Father Murphy
And burned his body upon the rack.
God grant you glory, brave Father Murphy
And open heaven to all your men;
The cause that called you may call tomorrow
In another fight for the Green again.

Two of my Murphy heroes are musicians: Denis Murphy (1912 – 1974) was a great fiddle player from the Sliabh Luachra area of Cork and Kerry. There were so many Murphy families in that area that Denis’s father Bill was always known as ‘Bill the Waiver’ because his people had been weavers of flax in olden times. I have Denis in my collection of Irish music cd’s but was never able to hear him playing live. I did meet my other hero, however, on my first visit to Ireland back in 1975. That’s Paddy Murphy (1913 – 1992), the renowned concertina player from Co Clare. I was privileged to be taken out to a private session in a remote townland somewhere north of Kilmihil. There, in a bar which seemed like someone’s front parlour, I heard Paddy play and talk of his family history and his very individual virtuoso style of playing an instrument which I have been trying to master for the last 50 years!

Noted traditional musicians: Denis Murphy (left) from the Sliabh Luachra and Paddy Murphy (right) from County Clare

Next is someone we have met before, in our posts on Saint Gobnait and The Tailor and Ansty: that’s the sculptor Seamus Murphy (1907 – 1975). This Murphy, from Burnfort near Mallow, Co Cork, became Professor of Sculpture at the Royal Hibernian Academy. He is also known for his book, Stone Mad, which was published in 1950.

Murphy in studio

Seamus Murphy in his studio: pictures top and lower left are from the collection of photographer Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh, who documented life in rural Ireland between the 1930s and the 1950s

The last Murphy that I want to mention (and there could be so many) is, perhaps, an unexpected one – she is Marie-Louise O’Murphy, who lived from 1737 to 1814. Although she was born and died in France she was of Irish extraction: her grandfather Daniel, a former army officer, had left his home in Cork for Rouen, where he worked as a master shoe-maker. When just in her teens, the physical features of young Mlle O’Murphy were spotted by Giacomo Casanova, who recommended her to King Louis XV. As a result she became the King’s Petite maîtresse – little mistress (or, rather, one of them) and bore him a daughter. However, the King’s favourite, Madame de Pompadour, decided that Marie-Louise’s presence in the royal household was too challenging and she was sent off to the country to marry a nobleman – and also received a handsome dowry for life. Marie-Louise O’Murphy (who was given the name of Marie-Louise Morphy de Boisfailly – possibly to raise her status in Versailles) is familiar to us as the artist’s model for François Boucher’s Resting Girl, painted in 1751. The canvas is now in the Wallraf Richartz Museum, Cologne.

A colourful note on which to end our survey on the Murphys of Ireland (and beyond), perhaps. We apologise to all the thousands of Murphys who we have not mentioned, but we’d like to hear from any of them…

Racing stamps

 

 

Up the Airy Mountain…

Shadow and light

…down the rushy glen – we daren’t go a-hunting for fear of little men! We were hunting mountains last week when we travelled up the west coast of Ireland with a visiting friend – finding some of the best scenery this country has to offer.

Connemara 2

If you look down on the island from above (as in this view from NASA, below) the lie of the land is very clear: the high points are all around the perimeters, yellow and brown in colour, with lower green plains in the centre.

nasa imageIf you lived in a country like Canada, then Ireland’s mountains should seem like mere gentle slopes. Our highest peak is not too far from us, up in Kerry, Carrauntoohil (Irish: Corrán Tuathail – this could mean Tuathal’s sickle or fang, Tuathal having been a common Irish name in medieval times) and this is only 1038 metres to the summit. However, the overriding characteristic of Irish mountains is that they often sweep steeply down to the sea or to a lough and are therefore visually spectacular in their settings.

We live in the far south-west: our mountains form the backbone of each of the peninsulas: The Mizen, Sheep’s Head, Beara, Iveragh and Dingle, largely Old Red Sandstone with some Carboniferous Limestone north of Killarney. Our travels took us up to Clare – very distinctive exposed limestone ‘pavements’ and mountain tops – and then to the complexities of granite, schists and gneisses found in the district of Connemara.

Connemara 3

Connemara fence

The four pictures above show the elements of the landscape in Connemara, Co Galway: quiet boreens, reflective water and dramatic mountains

The Irish landscape -and, particularly, her mountains – has long been the inspiration for artists and poets. The work of Paul Henry (1877 – 1958) is sparse and flat, yet expertly captures the character of the high lands of the west. It has been used over and over again in tourist advertising campaigns.

Paul Henry’s work was part of popular culture during his lifetime (above): now his art is very collectible and can be found in international galleries (below)

Killary Harbour

Killary Harbour, Connemara (above) and in Paul Henry’s landscape (above left) is said to be Ireland’s only true fjord (a flooded valley cut by glacial erosion which outlets to the sea): in the foreground are mussel ropes

irish mountain postcard

We stayed in the Lough Inagh Lodge – a comfortable hotel with great character and superb views to the mountains. There I was pleased to discover two original oil paintings by Leon O’Kennedy (1900 – 1979), a little known artist  who travelled mainly in the west of Ireland and, evidently, sold his work by knocking on doors. The hotel’s paintings might have arrived in this way as they depict local views: the prism shaped peat stacks are still very much in evidence in Connemara.

O Kennedy 1

O Kennedy 2

Connemara (which derives from Conmhaicne Mara meaning: descendants of Con Mhac, of the sea) is partly in County Galway and partly in County Mayo, in the province of Connacht. We were there only two days and barely did it justice. We intend to return and get to know it more intimately. In terms of our tour of Ireland’s mountainous districts it was the icing on the cake, but that in no way lessens the particular beauty of the other places we encountered – the strangely haunting limestone heights of Clare and the perennial grandeur of Killarney: all are experiences not to be missed.

rainbow over burren

Killarney

Limestone landscape in the Burren, Clare (top) and the lakes of Killarney, Kerry (above)

Fairy Tree

…By the craggy hillside,

Through the mosses bare,

They have planted thorn-trees,

For pleasure here and there.

Is any man so daring

As dig them up in spite,

He shall find their sharpest thorns

In his bed at night.

Up the airy mountain,

Down the rushy glen,

We daren’t go a-hunting

For fear of little men.

Wee folk, good folk,

Trooping all together;

Green jacket, red cap,

And white owl’s feather!

from The Fairies by William Allingham