A few years ago, on one April day after a bleak, harsh winter that had gales, hurricanes, blizzards and unceasing bitter east winds thrown at us – the sun came out! We were out too, and headed up to the Beara Peninsula to see if we could remember what sun-soaked landscapes felt like… They felt great!
Header – the glories of Cork and Kerry combine on the spectacular Beara; top photograph – finally, after a long,harsh winter, we see the spring blossoms appearing; middle – a wayside shrine on the road out from Glengariff; bottom – Hungry Hill dominates the views as we head west on the peninsula
You will remember our previous visits to the Beara: there are not enough superlatives for what it has to offer in the way of stunning scenery and colour. None of these photographs have been enhanced – what you see is exactly what we saw on the day – and it’s what you will see, too, if you choose aright (although even on dull days we always find plenty to interest us).
Top photograph – St Kentigern’s Church is in the centre of one of Ireland’s most colourful villages; middle – the sunlight plays games with the beautiful windows by glass artist George Walsh; bottom – light from the windows dances on the pews
Just a taster of the treats in store in Eyeries: on a beautiful spring day there was hardly a soul around, but we were still able to find an ice cream in O’Sullivan’s!
Our second objective was to travel into the hills and find Ardgroom Outward stone circle. The trail involves farm gates, stiles and a lot of mud – but the 9 stone circle (named locally ‘Canfea’) is a fine, almost intact monument with wide vistas to mountain and sea. The impressive outlier stone is 3.2m in height.
The magnificent Ardgroom Outward (or ‘Canfea’) stone circle is accessible via a marked, boggy path: the vistas from the site make the journey worthwhile. Finola is dwarfed by the huge outlier!
It’s barely a skip up to Eyeries from Nead an Iolair, so we had to carry on around the peninsula and take in the almost surreal views of oceans, lakes and mountains before dipping into Kerry and then heading over the top back into Cork county and down the Healy Pass – surely one of Ireland’s most spectacular road trips.
Returning home – with the evening sun setting gloriously over Roaringwater Bay – we reflected that there can’t be many places in the world where a single day can offer such a feast to satisfy all the senses.
You’ll all know that Ballydehob is the true centre of art in West Cork. Our posts about the Ballydehob Arts Museum (BAM) set out the history of the community from the 1950s onwards. Artists settled in the environs – some camping out in the hills, and many of them remain connected with the area to this day. Local residents were at first amused – or bemused – by this ‘invasion’, but it soon became an accepted part of the character of the village.
Right at this moment, an innovative installation is in place on the water in Ballydehob, just above the 12 arch viaduct and by the road bridge that comes into the town from the east. This is where the two rivers meet, the Bawnknockane and Rathraune, giving the town its name: Béal Átha an Dá Chab, which literally means Mouth of the Two River Fords.
In summary, this art installation by Muireann Levis offers you a close experience of the water accompanied by a sensory soundtrack which is projected into the bay through a series of loudspeakers. The name of the project is Inbhear, which translates simply as Estuary. The way you experience the water is by climbing on board one of the ‘pedalo’ boats that were a common scene on the water here in Ballydehob back in the late 20th century. I remember seeing them on the estuary when I visited West Cork in that time, but they have not been in active use since then, so we were delighted to be among the first to experience their revival, a couple of days ago.
The pedalos have been kept safe and required only a little maintenance before coming back into service. Wouldn’t it be great to think that they might be brought out again on occasion? They are colourful and brimming with character. Have a look at these further examples from the historical archives of ‘pedal powered boats’; the first dates from 1930 in Stockholm, and the second is in Michigan, dated 1963.
Interestingly, the pedalos which we are seeing today were actually assembled in Ballydehob. They were made as part of a government employment scheme, and some were destined to be used in Barley Cove, with a small ‘fleet’ being set up in Ballydehob Bay. The latter deteriorated, but the Barley Cove boats have been stored well, and were recovered for this installation. So it’s a remote deja vu for these craft.
The meeting of the Bawnknockane and Rathraune rivers (above) creates an inner tidal pool – between the three-arched road bridge and the old railway viaduct, and this is where the installation has been set up.
. . . Working with field, hydro-phonic and electromagnetic recordings of the rivers and their many tributaries, Muireann invites us in to a relearning of her childhood environment, creating a piece that draws us closer to the everyday presence of water and elevates its endless subtleties . . . Inbhear, the Irish for “estuary”, finds meaning in its Old Irish roots where it translates to “a carrying in”. It offers a focal point for the carrying in and meeting of old and new identities, both social and environmental . . .
Inbhear event publicity
Finola shot these two videos while we were out on the water experiencing the event, and the soundtracks give an impression of what we could hear while we were afloat:
It may be too late for you to book this event: it’s only happening for a few days. Let’s hope that there’s a demand for a re-run in the near future: it’s such a celebration of so many aspects of Ballydehob, not least as a centre of pedalo boat production back in the day: who knew?
It’s very apt that I should be writing the post on this weekend, as we have just celebrated another Ballydehob event: the annual Cruinniú Bád (boat gathering) which happens at the quay around the highest tide of the summer:
With many thanks to Muireann Levis for inspiring the installation, and to Cormac Levis and William Swanton for information on the history of Ballydehob’s pedalo boats. We should also acknowledge the tireless endeavours of Eleanor Regan and the late Kevin Heaps who operated the pedalos getting on for forty years ago. William told me that Ballydehob Community Council has long been petitioning for the ‘Slob’ below the historic quay to be dredged to allow more boats to use that quay through the year. The sight of boats, small or large, on the water as visitors enter the village from the west would undoubtedly encourage enhanced footfall to the shops and hostelries of this remarkable community
August has roared into West Cork bringing gorgeous weather and a plethora of can’t-miss events. I am wrecked already and we are only a week in! As I type we are in the middle of the marvellous West Cork History Festival. Yesterday Micheál Martin, our Taoiseach, came for the afternoon, as he has done several times in the past. He’s a former history teacher and very supportive of our Festival. He spoke compellingly in a few introductory remarks about our need for a nuanced view of Irish history, one that no longer depends on a single narrative. It was an honour to have him there – no fuss, very discrete security detail, and giving us his whole attention. (Above, Simon and Victoria Kingston, visionary Festival Founders, with their children Rory and Constance, and An Taoiseach.)
The theme of the first day was Black 47 – its the 175th anniversary of the worst year of the Famine – and I am struck anew by the horror of it all (That’s Lilian Lucy Davidson’s harrowing depiction, titled Gorta, above, which featured in the Coming Home Exhibition in Uillinn in 2018). Take a look at the Festival Program to see the range of what we were offered today. It’s a blended festival this year: a small in-house audience but anyone can register for the program online. It’s a high-quality production too – several pony-tailed and bearded young men in black were in command of all that. You can still buy tickets for the online portion – they will be good for two weeks. The luminous Jessie Kennedy, a long-time Festival collaborator, has assembled the Celestial Quartet, and together they have devised a selection of classical and newly-composed music to honour Agnes Clerke, the famous astronomer who grew up in Skibbereen during the Famine. Read all about her in my post From Skibbereen to the Moon.
The festival continues today with an emphasis on the Bandon Valley Killings – a traumatic episode in our West Cork History that deserves a full examination 100 years later.
On a more cheerful note, yesterday marked the opening of what is consistently the best art and craft show in West Cork, year after year. It’s calledWest Cork Creates, is located in the O’Driscoll building in Skibbereen, and is curated by Alison Ospina and her jury panel. The calibre is as high as you will find anywhere. Above, for example, is Hilary Nunan’s work, which mixes fibres with acrylic paint – these are titled Grasses. Below is New Age Medieval, a painting by Carin MacCana. I wrote about Carin’s stained glass work in this post – she is now retired from teaching and has stated to devote her time to painting. She and Penny Dixie share an extension of the Gallery for their own show as well.
Dubhaltach Ó Colmán has several striking metal sculptures in the show (above). His work goes from strength to strength. But perhaps our favourite were the two deckchairs below, reclaimed by Suzanne McGuirk and covered with her own exquisite organic linen woven fabric. They are soon to grace the terrace of our own home!
In Schull, the Blue House Gallery has just opened an exhibition of work by John Doherty. A photorealist painter, John’s work draws you in initially with its detailed representation of everyday objects: it’s nostalgia, you think at first, before it dawns on you that, as the Taylor Gallery says of his work: His images, coupled with the wry wit of their titles, point towards the human stories that exist behind the facades that represent a meticulous examination of the half-forgotten life of the past. No, that’s not a photograph, below, of Connolly’s of Skibbereen – it’s one of John’s paintings.
And in our small village of Ballydehob we have not one but four exhibitions, all worth visiting right now! Starting from the top of the main street, let’s first drop by The Working Artists Studio, who are currently hosting the sculptor Denis O’Connor. He’ll be giving a talk on Friday and we intend to be there.
Of his work he says:
Process and Making are central to my sculpture, working in an intuitive, physically dynamic way, trying to develop new ways of defining my language of sculpture. I work with the medium of steel towards creating physical forms [rocks and boulders] which begin to transcend a sense of how elements of the landscape are made but also its physical vulnerability and hostility.
Finally, a new-ish addition to the village, the Kilcoe Studios is hosting Timpeallacht (it means surroundings or environment) in which all the items have been made from local and natural materials.
There’s more – much more – but this will give you a flavour of how we are spending our time right now. Next up for us is the superb Ellen Hutchins Festival. No wonder I’m exhausted – and blissed out. I will leave you with a ‘Head’ from the indefatigable Angela Brady – regular readers will remember we took a glass workshop with her.
BAM – the Ballydehob Arts Museum – is open through the summer. Make sure you don’t miss the impressive exhibition that’s on at the moment. It shows the work of West Cork art creators Ian and Lynn Wright (shown above with Eleanor Flegg). They were part of the ‘invasion’ of artists who came to the Ballydehob area from the 1960s onwards, and who are now featured in what is perhaps Ireland’s smallest art gallery, situated in Bank House, the headquarters of the Ballydehob Community Council.
You will find out all about the Museum here and here. Curator Brian Lalor (who featured in last week’s post) and Director Robert Harris (that’s me!) have put together a new exhibition this summer, following two years of absence due to Covid.
The ad above (from the early 1980s, I think) shows how Ian and Lynn’s work was being marketed at that time. They called themselves Cors it’s Ceramics, and they definitely projected a cheeky identity, making one-off ceramics – basins, bidets, loos and bathroom accessories: unique, appealing and often erotic. Their work was popular, and their production processes couldn’t keep up with demand! Today, the Wrights are producing more measured ceramics: Lynn produces beautiful large bowls, while Ian uses human body moulds to make impressive torso casts. Examples of all their working styles can be seen in the present Museum exhibition.
The Museum display is stunning. It brings together – probably for the first time ever – an eclectic extravaganza of the Wright’s output over half a century: examples of work small and large. There are no complete bathroom settings here: those that survive are still installed in the domestic settings for which they were commissioned. But we are fortunate that we have had access to the Wrights’ own collection of their work, which they have freely lent to the Museum. We do, of course, also have photographic records of other examples.
The Exhibition was formally opened earlier this year by Eleanor Flegg, and it can now be viewed for free whenever the Ballydehob Tourism Office is open. Through the summer this is usually from Monday to Saturday – 11am to 1pm, and from 2pm to 5pm. However, please check before visiting, as the office is staffed only by volunteers, and we can’t guarantee those hours at all times. It’s best to ring this number to confirm that it will be open: 028 25922.
A lot of effort has gone into making this exhibition. It’s on for the rest of this season, so please don’t miss it. It is the aim of the Ballydehob Arts Museum to celebrate the very special projects that have been carried out over decades to give the village its reputation as an artistic centre of excellence. Nowhere else can you find the full flavour of what has made this community so special.
This photo (above) appeared in the Mail on Sunday newspaper in 1983. Lynn and Ian are on the left and right respectively. The occasion is a ‘body casting party’ in the Wright’s garden.
Mount Gabriel is, I believe, a rarely regarded topographical prominence on the Mizen. Yet it is impossible to ignore: the summit can be seen from most parts of this western peninsula. And, for those visitors who do notice it – and make the effort to scale its heights, it presents the most spectacular of views over rugged landscapes to the oceans beyond.
Brian Lalor has chosen to make this peak the centrepiece of his new exhibition, which opened in Schull’s Blue House Gallery at the weekend: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Gabriel. You have to see it. The works are for sale, so it will be impossible, probably, to assemble them as one entity ever again. (Unless, perhaps, in a hundred years time – if there is still an intellectual world in existence – Brian’s genius will be fully recognised and appreciated, and an astute curator will raid collections from all over the world in order to put this canon back together as a centenary project).
The works themselves draw attention to some of Brian’s many artistic talents: conté crayon drawings, exquisite watercolour sketches and linocut prints. They make an impressive whole on the walls of Schull’s eccentric gallery, which is a jumble of smallish rooms, a staircase and landing, with a minimalist shop-window frontage. Circumnavigating the spaces is a revealing and stimulating experience.
Returning to the subject matter of the work, Brian – General Editor of Gill & Macmillan’s mammoth 2003 volume The Encyclopaedia of Ireland – and considered a prime authority on Ireland’s art heritage and its place in world culture, is familiar with artists’ legacies from many other domains. He grew up in a household which contained significant pieces of Japanese art and was au fait from a young age with the concept of ukiyo-e – the floating world. His early awareness of the arts of Japan provided the source of inspiration for this exhibition: Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, woodblock prints which date from the early 1830s. Here are Fine Wind, Clear Morning (upper) and Inume Pass (lower) from the series:
Fuji is one of Japan’s Holy Mountains. Brian’s juxtaposition is brilliant: our Mount Gabriel has to be a holy place. It is named after an Archangel, who is said to have descended to the mountain top to view the unsurpassed beauty of West Cork’s landscapes, the reputation of which had reached to Heaven even back in those days. In so doing he left behind his footprint, which is still to be seen on the summit.
The Archangel was not the only biblical character to visit Gabriel: Satan himself touched down, but stumbled on a large rock. In a fit of temper he picked up the rock and threw it far off into the sea beyond. This caused such a hazard to shipping that we have had to erect a lighthouse on it. Here is Finola’s photographic view of The Fastnet, taken at sunset. For me, it has a suitably print-like quality . . .
Legends attached to Gabriel include many that attribute Irish heroes to activities on the summit. Finn MacCool, for example, is also credited with throwing large rocks from the mountain, including this fine boulder burial at Rathruane:
Brian’s observation and humour are not missing from this exhibition. He has included a cabinet of ‘artefacts’ distilled from his own explorations on the mountain. These make reference to the ancient history of the site and its connection with copper extraction in the Bronze Age and in medieval times, and also the twentieth century manifestations of air traffic control technology (known as ‘Gabriel’s Balls’) . . .
I am particularly taken with Brian’s linocut series – a limited edition of only ten of each print. They provide the ‘fine detail’ in the overall assemblage, and work so well together on the back wall of the largest room.
The detail print, above, shows Brian’s representation of archaeological finds connected with ancient copper mining which have been found during excavations on the mountain.
As ‘Guest Curator’ of this exhibition I was delighted to introduce it to an eager audience on the opening night in Schull (above). The show only runs until the 3rd of August, so please rush over in order not to miss it. It is (for me) the highlight of West Cork’s summer offerings!
The gallery also has on show some work by other West Cork artists, well worth exploration, so don’t miss them when you go. I can’t resist finishing with one of them: this work (below) by Keith Payne – Sego Canyon. Keith has always been fascinated by ‘Rock Art’ in all parts of the world, and painted this based on his visit to a collection of petroglyphs on a cliff-face in Utah. It’s very apt, I think, to see this work in the context of the Brian Lalor exhibition. Below it is our own photograph of 5,000 year old Rock Art at Derreenaclough, West Cork – discovered only a few years ago. I am personally of the opinion that the siting of this rock in full view of ‘sacred’ Mount Gabriel is purely intentional!
A fully illustrated catalogue is available to purchase in the gallery
The Tailor and Ansty is a classic book by Eric Cross (below) – beautifully written, hilarious, and capturing the couple in all their humorous (Tailor), crotchety (Ansty) and big-hearted glory. The story didn’t have a happy ending (see Robert’s post) and Ireland will forever be ashamed of that episode in our priest-ridden history, but this post will concentrate on happier times.
As David pointed out to me, if there are any doubt as to who this is, Eric Cross’s description of the Tailor in his usual place by the fire should clinch it (look closely).
At one side of the fire is an upturned butter-box. This is the Tailor’s fireside seat. It is placed so that its opening is between his legs, and here he sits, never upon a chair.
Like everything else in the house it has a name. The Tailor refers to it always as ‘Cornucopia’ and explains that a long time ago a Greek king gave such a box to a ‘jolly cupper’, who gave him a drink when he was thirsty, telling her that whenever she was in the want of anything she had but to look inside and she would find it there. . . .
Whatever Amalthea’s horn held, the Tailor’s ‘Cornucopia’ almost rivals it for contents. Beneath the axe with the insecure ahead, with which he chops wood upon the hearthstone, and the goose-wing with which he sweeps up the ashes, there is a collection of bits of cloth, cords, tins, bits of tools and such like things, out of which he can always find a makeshift for almost anything. . .
Behind ‘Cornucopia’, against the wall, is the settle. In the corner of this, directly behind the Tailor, is the office. This is his accumulation of correspondence over the years. There are letters, photos, postcards from all over the world, stacked up into a pile. Here, too, is his box of cuttings from papers. There are paragraphs cut from newspapers relating to people he knows mixed up with accounts of freak calves and suchlike wonders. Between the arms of the settle and the wall or his pipes. Each pipe, each letter and each photo recalls a friend.
Seamus Murphy was counted as a special friend and came often to visit. At this time (1936) Seamus was making a name for himself as one of Ireland’s foremost sculptors. Here he is in 1934, courtesy of his family who maintain the site https://seamusmurphysculptor.com/wp/
Seamus proposed to do a bust (or busht, as Ansty called it) of the Tailor’s head and the Tailor was immediately agreeable. Chapter fourteen of The Tailor and Ansty relates what fun he had with this project.
‘Dammit, man, it was ever said that two heads are better than one, and the one I have now I have had for 75 years and it is getting the worse for wear. Of course I’ll have a new one’.
All the apparatus and materials were assembled, and the Tailor inspected them with the interest of a fellow craftsman. Ansty ignored the business in the beginning. Her only interest in it was her resentment of the invasion of the Room – ‘with all the old clay and mortar to make a new devil’ – and making fresh disorder of her disorder.
The Room at last justified the Tailor’s name for it, and did become for a while ‘The Studio.’ For an hour or so each day he posed and talked and commented. The measurements interested him and he linked this part of the business with his own craft.
‘Many’s the time that I have measured a man’s body for a new suit of clothes, but I never thought that the day would come when I would be measured myself for a new head.’
‘I think that we will have a rest for a while,’ suggested Seamus during one session.
‘The devil a rest do I need. Do you know that I feel it less than I did the time the whole of my body was making before I was born. There is a considerable improvement in this method. A man can smoke and take it easy and chat away for himself.’
The Tailor is visited by his friend the Sheep, a man given to worry, who wonders if it is an unlucky thing for a man to have his image made and asks how it is to be done. The Tailor explains the process:
‘Yerra, manalive. It’s easy enough. You stick your head into a pot of stirabout, and when it is cold you pull out your head and melt the metal and pour it into the hold your head made. Then you eat up the stirabout and you find your new head inside the pot.’
The exchange with his friend, Dan Bedam, captures all the wit and divilment of the Tailor. Having assured Dan Bedam that there’s a new method of making people because the young people are failing at the job, and the population of the country is going down he responds to Dan’s wonderment.
‘Dam, I was thinking, Tailor, will you be able to use it? Will you be able to talk and smoke and see with it?’
‘Thon amon dieul! What the hell do you think that I am having it made for? Do you think that I want to become a dummy? I tell you that when I have this head I will be a different man. You have often heard tell that you cannot put a young head on old shoulders. Well, this is what it is. I was thinking of having it done the other way at first. Of having a new body fitted to my old head, but the expense for the bronze was too much, so I am starting with the head first. Then I thought that the new brains would not be so good as the old ones. Then I thought that the old ones had done a power of thinking in their time and it would be better after all to make a start with the head.’
Dan was lost in wonderment for awhile.
‘Bedam, but Seamus Murphy must be a clever man.’
‘Clever! I should think he is. He is as good as Daniel O’Connell and Owen Roe put together. They were good enough in the old-fashioned way, but before he’s finished he’ll have the whole of Ireland populated again. It’s a much quicker way than the way you had of going about the business, Dan.’
Eric Cross gives an account of the unveiling, with the whole valley there to see it and The Saint (Fr Traynor) giving a speech. The image, of the busht, above, is from the marvellous Catalogue of Seamus’s work published by the Crawford Gallery.
It was a great night. The drink flowed and the tongues were loosened. The Tailor sang and everyone sang and soon the busht was forgotten. But the Tailor keeps in touch with it still. He has cuttings from the papers relating to it, and he follows it round from exhibition to exhibition in the newspapers.
Nor has Ansty forgotten. Now and again she contemplates the Tailor for a moment or two and wonders, and then expresses her thoughts, ‘and to think that Seamus made a busht of that old devil as though he was a saint in a church. The man must be half cracked. As cracked as himself. Glory be! and to think that he wouldn’t settle the leak in the chimney for me, and he with the good mortar and plaster, making a busht’.
Seamus was a friend to the end – he made the marvellous tombstone that can be seen in the graveyard at Gougane Barra. On it he carved the words A Star Danced and Under That Was I Born.
By the way, if you want to see how one of the casts looks in situ, here is a marvellous post by Don Ross, a Guide at Farmleigh House in the Phoenix Park. Thank you Don – you were one of the inspirations for this post, along with a recent conversations with Seamus’s daughter Orla and her husband, Ted.
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