Above – Trafalgar Road, leading down to the harbour, Greystones, c1900. This seaside town is in Co Wicklow, and the connection with West Cork is that our ‘Big Fella’ – Michael Collins – had intended to set up home there once he had married Catherine (Kitty) Kiernan. Collins was staying in the Grand Hotel when he proposed to Kitty. That building is better known to us as the La Touche (photo below from the National Library of Ireland).
Above: la Touche, mid 20th century. Today, the hotel has been transformed into modern apartments (below). The fine original central building has been retained and upgraded:
Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan have been described as ‘star-crossed lovers’. The pair were first introduced by Michael’s cousin, Gearoid O’Sullivan, who was friendly at the time with Kathy’s sister, Maud. Kitty was also close to Harry Boland, who served as President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood from 1919 to 1920. Boland was a good friend of Collins.
Harry Boland (left), Michael Collins (centre) and Éamon de Valera (NLI public domain c1920). Collins and Kiernan announced their engagement in 1921 and planned to marry the following year, but the political upheavals of the time kept delaying the wedding. During this turbulent period, Collins had ‘grown quite fond of Greystones’, often spending time in the house of his aunt, Maisie O’Brien Twohig – Dysart, Kimberly Road. Ironically, this property backed on to the RIC station.
(Upper) Dysart – home of Michael Collins’ Aunt Maisie. (Lower) former RIC barracks and present-day Garda station, immediately adjacent to Dysart.
(Above) Kitty Kiernan. Collins and Kitty had planned to live in Brooklands, on Trafalgar Road, Greystones (below), after their marriage.
Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and Robert Barton were delegates to the Treaty Negotiations that ended the Irish War of Independence in December 1921. Before he left Greystones, it is recorded that Collins visited Fr Ignatius of the Congregation of the Passion:
. . . The facts are these: he [Collins] was staying at the Grand Hotel, Greystones, while I was giving a mission there. It was coming near the close of the Mission. Michael was very busy in Dublin, worked and worried almost beyond endurance. He got to Greystones one night very late and very tired. It was the eve of his departure to London, re the Pact. He got up the next morning as early as 5.30 am and came to the Church, and made a glorious General Confession and received Holy Communion. He said to me after Confession, “Say the Mass for Ireland, and God bless you, Father”. He crossed an hour or so later to London . . .
Patrick J Doyle PP, BMH.WS0807, pp 39-40, 90-91
(Above) St Brigid’s Church, Greystones. Fatefully, Collins was shot in West Cork on 22 August 1922. Collins “. . . One of the World’s greatest figures . . . Knightliest Soul of the Land . . .” was mourned by the nation, and – of course – by Kitty.
The de Valeras – Éamon and Sinéad (above, in 1910) – took a house in Greystones soon after the 1916 rising, situated on Kinlen Road in the Burnaby Estate. The house was built at the turn of the 20th century by Patrick Joseph (PJ) Kinlen, who lived there for a time himself. PJ built much of the Burnaby estate and Kinlen Road was named after him. They named the house Craigliath – it is now known as Edenmore (below).
A reason for the popularity of Greystones in the early 20th century was its relative proximity to the centre of Dublin, and the railway line which gave access to the city. If any readers have travelled on this line – which goes down the east coast as far as Wexford – you will know that the section between Bray and Greystones is one of the most adventurous railway journeys in the world! Engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it clings to the precipitous cliffs and ran on trestle-bridges and through a series of tunnels: there have been many incidents during its history, and the line has had to be reconstructed a few times to avoid the effects of erosion. (With thanks to the Greystones Guide for the image below):
A popular story tells how Éamon de Valera was travelling home from Harcourt Street to Greystones on the night of 17 May 1918. When the train reached Bray, the driver saw that “two detectives” (although some versions say it was a number of constables) had boarded the train a few carriages behind.
. . . [The driver] felt sure that the intention was to arrest de Valera that night in Greystones. He said that they would slow down the train coming into Greystones before they arrived at the station at a certain point, which they indicated to de Valera, and they advised him to jump out of the carriage on the off-side, and that he could easily get away, and afterwards they would put on speed . . .
However, de Valera chose not to accept this offer, and when the train arrived at Greystones, he was apprehended and arrested. The Irish Independent adds a few further details:
. . . Dev “. . . was taken to the waiting room under a heavy guard, and after being searched, was placed in a motor car and driven to Kingstown, where he was handed over to the military and placed on board the transport … for England” . . .
Irish Independent, 20 May 1918
(Above: Greystones Station – late 19h Century). Personally, I am unsurprised that de Valera did not accept the train driver’s offer. Jumping from a moving train is not a recommended course of action – especially when the terrain of that section of railway-line is so hazardous. De Valera was imprisoned in England but escaped and then went to America: his wife did not see him for three years. During this time Michael Collins visited her often in Greystones to bring her news and also to provide funds. Later she reportedly told her husband that she was ‘quite in love with Collins’. He grumpily responded: “…That’ll do. There are enough people in love with Michael Collins…” (Below – lantern slide of Greystones Harbour, 1900):
Of course, de Valera lived to tell his tale – he died on 29 August 1975, aged 92, having achieved the status of Taoiseach and President of Ireland – whereas Michael Collins did not: he was shot at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, at the age of 31. It is fair to say that he undoubtedly achieved the perhaps more fulfilling status of National Hero.
Greystones Harbour in 1911. With many thanks to the excellent Greystones Guide for invaluable free access to pictures and information.
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 . . .
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 . . .
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 . . .
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 . . .
. . . 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 . . .
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 . . .
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.
Why have we chosen this photograph to head up our ten year anniversary blogpost? That’s simple: the pic was taken on 15 October 2012. We had moved into Ard Glas – just outside Ballydehob – for a six-month rental to see how we liked West Cork!
But – what about the giant sparrow?
Wait a minute. We very obviously ended up liking West Cork so much that we bought a house in Cappaghglass (the townland next door to Ard Glas), and have stayed there ever since. As you can see, we have been thoroughly enjoying ourselves over the last decade:
Yes, but, that very large sparrow…?
Be patient! Believe it or not, we have kept the blog posts going, with hardly any interruption, ever since. This is Roaringwater Journal post number 968. In the last decade, our Journal has been viewed over 1.5 million times and we have acquired over 5,700 followers between our various platforms.
Our posts are all still there in the archives – and you can still read them. Search by using the three-bar icon on the home page and select All Pages-Navigation, or one of the other menus. Alternately, press the cog button under the Roaringwater Journal title at the top of the page, then scroll down to Archives. Roll down through all the months. Or enter a search term into the magnifying glass symbol next to the cog. That will show whether we have mentioned your chosen subject in any of our blogs. We warn you that some posts (especially the very early ones) haven’t survived the test of time perfectly: but we leave them in there because it’s all a bit of history.
Hang on! Of course, things change a bit as the years go by (although we don’t*). We have varied the layout of the blog, and the header etc. We had thought of refreshing it all again to celebrate this milestone but… ah, well – perhaps for the twentieth anniversary.
Another pic from 2012 (above) showing mixed weather conditions over Roaringwater Bay. It hasn’t always been sunshine here (have a look at this) but it always feels sunny to us – or just about to be sunny. One of our newest posts -here – shows us doing what we like the most, and always have: exploring remote and often forgotten West Cork byways.
Our regular readers will know that, over ten years, we have developed our interests to take in history, archaeology, rock art, stained glass, architecture, topography, folklore, wildflowers, art and culture, landscape and language… and very much more. We share our adventures often with Amanda and Peter Clarke, our fellow bloggers and friends – see Holy Wells of Cork and Kerry and Hikelines.
What of the next ten years? Well, we are trying to be innovative. This week we have introduced a ‘guest post’ for the first time: this one, by our friend Brian O’Riordan, explores the exploits of an intrepid 79-year old woman who sailed solo across the Atlantic to Ireland in 1994 , which falls right into our own interests, and – hopefully – yours too.
Ok – we have got the message! About the sparrow, that is. The original giant sparrow is one of two (a male and a female) which were created for the Olympic Park in Vancouver, Canada, in 2010 by the sculptor Myfanwy MacLeod. One was transported by our own photo magic to Ard Glas! Perhaps they are not relevant to West Cork, but they are meaningful to Finola and Robert, as we saw them together in Canada ten years ago – pic below. We have just recently returned from a visit to Canada, enjoying a long-awaited catch-up with Finola’s family there. We made sure to record our presence there with another photo-op (below the below).
* Hopefully this demonstrates how youthful we remain, imbibing as we do the stimulating West Cork air. Here’s to the next ten….!
Seán O’Sullivan showed me an international folktale known in Irish as ‘Ao Mhic an Bhradáin agus Ó Mhic an Bhradáin’ (‘Hugh and O, the Two Sons of the Salmon’) . . .
It was the earliest known folktale, first discovered on Egyptian papyrus 3,250 years before. During my years with the Commission hundreds of variants of that far-flung story were gathered in remote hamlets on the western seaboard of Ireland, in parts of Munster, in northwest Ulster and from a group of travelling people on the borders of Wicklow and Wexford . . .
I tried – without success – to find a translation of the story into English. So – nothing ventured nothing gained – I created my own version of the story! I distilled this from the Irish language (although my knowledge of Irish is but rudimentary), using dictionaries and online translation helpers and then putting the whole thing into a sort of vernacular tongue which seems to suit the subject. I think I have the gist of it right enough, but you’ll just have to go along with my own way of telling it. I first published it over two years ago, and feel it’s worth reviving again: perhaps there will be a new audience. I also delved into the Roaringwater Journal archives for a few illustrations to break up the text. For me, it’s a fine story: I hope you enjoy it!
Hugh and O, the Two Sons of the Salmon
It came about that there was a poor man whose only means of making a living was catching fish. If he came home with no fish, he wasn’t lucky: he could only do his best. The poor man had a wife, but no child came to them, and the years were on them.
Fisherman on Lough Skeagh 1946 (Irish Folklore Commission):
One day he was out fishing with his rod and took a fine salmon. It was hard work, but he reeled in the fish and was about to kill it when it spoke to him! “Don’t kill me’’ said the salmon, “Let me go and I will tell you a story of good fortune.”
The poor man was amazed to learn that the salmon could speak, but he replied: “I will hear the story and, if I am pleased, I will let you go.”
“Listen now”, said the salmon. “I know you have been upset that you have no children; I am glad to tell you that you will soon have two sons.”
“That is certain to be untrue”, said the fisherman.
“I am not telling you a lie”, said the salmon. “Let me go and you will see that I am telling you the truth.”
The fisherman cut the line and released the salmon. He returned home and told his wife the great news. She was not impressed. “It’s a pity you did not bring the salmon back with you for our supper: it’s clear that he was mocking you!”
Nevertheless, within the year the couple were surprised to have two sons. “Look now”, said the fisherman, “wasn’t it the truth that the salmon told me?”
“By my soul it was”, said the woman, “but what shall we call these two?”
“We will call them É Mhic and Ó Bhradáin” said the fisherman. And so it was. They were known as Hugh and O, the Two Sons of the Salmon. You could not put anything between them in looks, manner or speech.
As the boys grew, so did the luck of the fisherman. Every time he went out with his rod his catch increased fourfold, and they became rich enough that each boy could have a hawk, a greyhound and a horse. The boys also had the luck with their hunting.
At twenty years of age Hugh told his brother that he would leave and seek his fortune in the world. “If I am not back in twelve months, then come and find me,” he said.
Hugh took his hawk, his dog and his horse. Also, he did not forget his sword. He tackled the road and had good travels. On a day in winter he got lost in a wood, and stumbled on a fine castle in a clearing. “By the Devil”’ he said, “I’ll go in and wait out the night if no ill will is shown to me.”
Inside was a fair countrywoman and they began to converse until a terrible noise was heard, and the walls of the castle shook. The girl vanished and it wasn’t long before a big, strong, bad-tempered affair jumped into the room. “What kind of a person has the destiny to end his life in my castle?” he shouted.
“It doesn’t matter to you”, said Hugh. “What the heck, now I’m in I will stay here!”
The two laid into each other with their swords and, in the shock of the fight, the giant was turned to dust. In the morning it was raining all over the woods, and Hugh spent the day wandering. As evening fell, what should come to him but a hare? He took his horse and released the hound and the hawk but the hare outran them all and disappeared into a small cottage in the wood. “Why wouldn’t I go in?” said Hugh.
Inside was a fire in the grate and he sat down beside it. Soon the ugliest old woman he had ever seen came through the door. She made no blessing to him at all, only to look badly at him.
“Come in from the door”, says Hugh, “and share the fire with me.”
“I won’t come”, she said, “I would be scared!”
“What would you be scared of?” asks Hugh.
“That hawk, and I don’t trust the greyhound, and I wonder what this horse would do to me?”
“You are in no danger from them”, says Hugh “They are all honest. Come up and sit by the fire.”
“I will not”, she says, “unless they are all leashed.”
“Why don’t I bind them?” says Hugh. “But I have nothing to bind them with.”
“I’ll give you a way to bind them”, says she, and tore three snares of hair off her head. “Here”, she says, “Use these.”
He snapped a hair leash on the hawk – the old lady must have had very strong hair! And he tied the hound with another snare and the horse with the third. When he had done this the old woman produced a sword.
“Take care, my boy”, she said, “I know you were in the castle last night and you killed my son there. He would despise me unless I challenge you now.”
She wielded her sword and they fought a battle inside the cottage. The woman – who was small – had the advantage because Hugh could not properly swing his sword within the confines of the room. The old woman had the head start on him, and he called out to his hawk.
“Fade, squeeze, snare!” says the old woman. With that the snare closed on the hawk and it could not stir.
Hugh became angry and tried to get the better of the old lady, but it was no use. Soon he was tight-lipped, and called for the greyhound to come to his aid.
“Fade, squeeze, snare!” says the old woman. The snare clipped on the greyhound and she couldn’t move. The fight continued, and Hugh urged the horse to come to his aid.
“Fade, squeeze, snare!” says the old woman.
“I can’t help you”, said the horse, “The snare is too tight on me.”
Hugh’s anger intensified and he was about to take a final blow at her when the old woman took out a magic rod. She hit Hugh with the rod, and he turned into a stone in the middle of the floor. She struck another blow for the hawk, the greyhound and the horse, and there were three more stones in the floor.
The Giant’s Fingers, Co Cavan:
“Now”, she said, “I have avenged my son’s death, and these stones will stay here a long time before anyone will take them away!”
After a year Hugh had not returned home, and O said to his mother and father that he was going to look for him. “I fear something bad has happened to him”, he said.
“It will be little help to you or us if he is dead’’ said his father, but he would not be stopped. He seized his hawk, his dog and his horse, and never forgot to take his sword also.
He travelled a long way and a short way and one evening – why, shouldn’t he find himself in the same wood where his brother had been, and across the wood he found the same fine castle.
“I am tired after this day’s ride”, he said. “I’ll stay in this fine castle tonight, unless anyone puts me out of it.”
The first thing he saw was the fair countrywoman, who was surprised, thinking that he was Hugh – for the twin brothers looked exactly the same. “Where have you been?” she asked. Before he could answer a terrible noise and shaking filled the air and the girl disappeared. In bounced a much larger and stronger giant than the one which his brother had faced up to.
“What brought you to my castle uninvited?” he shouted. “And what kind of person are you to have the destiny to end your life here for a second time?”
“I was outside and had no place to go”, said O. “But I have no memory of ending my life here before.”
“Come here and I will make you remember”, said the giant, wielding his sword. It was a long night of fighting, but the eventual ruin of the thing was the despatch of the giant by the brother, who settled down and went to sleep.
Tomorrow morning he got up and searched the castle, but failed to find anyone else alive in it. He raised his horse, his dog and his hawk and went out hunting in the demesne.
As evening fell, what should come to him but a hare? He took his horse and released the hound and the hawk but the hare outran them all and disappeared into a small cottage in the wood. “Why wouldn’t I go in?” said O.
There was no-one inside but a fine red fire in the grate, and he sat down beside it. Soon the ugliest old woman he had ever seen came through the door. She made no blessing to him at all, only to look badly at him.
“Come in from the door”, says O, “and share the fire with me.”
“I won’t come”, she said, “I would be scared!”
“What would you be scared of?” asks O.
“This hawk, and I don’t trust the greyhound, and I wonder what that horse would do to me?”
“You are in no danger from them”, says O, “They are all honest. Come up and sit by the fire.”
“I will not”, she says, “unless they are all leashed.”
“Why don’t I bind them?” says O. “But I have nothing to bind them with.”
“I’ll give you a way to bind them”, says she, and tore three snares of hair off her head. “Here”, she says, “Use these.”
He pretended to bind them, but at the first opportunity he put the three hairs into the fire.
“Take care, you scoundrel”, she said, “there’s no doubt that you killed my son – the best son a woman ever had! You were in the castle last night”, she said,“ and my son is dead there today. You did it, for sure”.
“But what is your satisfaction?” says O, “I wouldn’t have killed him if he hadn’t tried to kill me.”
“I’ll tell you”, she said, “I’ll be happy.” She wielded her sword and they fought a battle inside the cottage. They both laid into the battle, and it was the greatest sword-wielding that any man had ever seen between any two, and they continued on ever and ever until O was in trouble. He saw that he was strained and he called for his hawk to come to his aid.
“Fade, squeeze, snare!” says the old woman.
“I can’t move”, said the snare, “because I’m here in the fire”. So the hawk jumped, and that was it for the woman – her eyes were out. This did not stop the battle between them and she very soon had the headache on O once more. He yelled out to the greyhound, “Give me help.”
“Fade, squeeze, snare!” says the old woman.
“I can’t help you”, said the snare, “because I’m here in the fire”. So the greyhound jumped in and took a piece out of the old woman’s leg. Yet she still gave her best and O was forced to call out for his horse.
“Fade, squeeze, snare!” says the old woman.
The snare spoke and said, “I’m here in the fire”. With that the horse came to his aid and didn’t the old lady explode with both her legs gone.
From then on it was O taking the lead. He raised his sword to strike the final blow: “Here’s an end for you,” he shouted.
“Hold on”, says she, “If you remove my head or my walls of life, your brother and his horse, his dog and his hawk will remain captive forever”.
“How can you bring them back?” he asked.
“There’s a magic wand, stuck under that rack by the fire. Hit these stones with the rod and they will come back as right as they ever have been.”
He made for the rod and the first thing was he had struck the witch and she turned to stone herself! Then he struck the other four stones and his brother, the hawk, the greyhound and the horse were back right as they had always been. There was the great reunion and the sharing of stories, then they were all for going back to the castle. “We have the magic wand now”, they said, “We can do whatever we like – let’s call and see what big lads there might be there now.”
There was the fair countrywoman, and wasn’t she surprised to see the two men standing there as alike as you could ever believe. O grabbed her for fear she would vanish as she had before. “Now”, he said “there’s something strange about you, for you left me before when the ground shook.”
“It’s like this”, she said, “ there are three of us here enchanted. The old woman comes every night and puts the magic on me, then in the days I have to do all the chores in the castle for her two sons. She didn’t come at all last night.”
Enchanted Woods (The Dark Hedges, Co Antrim):
“No”, says O, “and you will never see her again. I ended up with that old girl last night and I took the living breath from her. But tell us how you came to be here?”
“It’s too long to tell”, said the girl. “There were only the two of us, sisters – and the best times were when we were living with our father and mother: strong, rich and important. Our mother fell ill and knew that there was no cure. She called us to her bed and told us that she saw a disaster on the horizon. The old powers would come and put an enchantment on us, and take our castle. Our father asked how long we would stay enchanted, and if there was any cure. There was none, she said, unless the Sons of the Salmon would ever find us. The old powers came to take the castle from us. When we resisted the old woman struck us with a magic wand and we were turned into three stones – my father, my sister and I. Only I was released every day to carry out the chores. That is how we have lived our lives up to now, and if the old woman is dead then perhaps the magic is at an end.”
“She is dead”, said Hugh, “as we have survived the magic. Where are the stones that were made for you and your father?”
She showed them the stones. Hugh beat the magic wand on the stones and there were all three bounced up as well as they ever had been. Then their stories started together, with the father telling all that had taken place. “And now”, he said, “we believed that we would be captured forever unless the Sons of the Salmon lifted the magic. But you cannot be the Sons of the Salmon, yet the magic has been lifted!”
“That doesn’t matter now”, said Hugh. “but we are two brothers and you have these two daughters. Why wouldn’t we be the ones to marry them?”
“So be it”, said the father, “and I will divide my kingdom between you.”
“Perhaps we don’t need a kingdom”, said the brothers, “for our own father is a gentleman too. Now we should return to him to give him the news.”
And so it happened that the families were united. The gentleman who had been a fisherman remembered the story of his meeting with the salmon who could talk, and who had foretold the birth of the two boys. Of course it was these two who were the Sons of the Salmon. It was agreed that they should go and look for the salmon so that he could share the news. The fisherman went back with his line to the pool where he had the adventure in those far off days. What should happen but the salmon reappeared and spoke again! The long of it was that they struck the salmon with the magic wand and he turned into a fine gentleman who told them how he, also, had been put under an enchantment which could only be lifted by his own sons.
The short of it was that they all returned to the castle in the woods. They picked up the stone that was made from the old woman and took it to the pool where the salmon had spoken. “What would we do with her”, said O, “but put her where she put somebody else?”
They threw in the stone, and there was never trouble again in that castle or in that kingdom. The sun has always shone in everlasting summer, and the fields are only green. And the children’s children of those families have spread across the western lands and are the happiest of all peoples in all this world.
Endpiece from Irish writer and illustrator Robert Gibbings’ final book – Till I End My Song (1957):
Salmon of Knowledge by George Walsh
This story was reworked by Robert, based on a most ancient story, told in Irish
It would have been hard to miss the centenary of the death of Michael Collins over this past week. He was killed at Béal na Bláth, West Cork on 22 August 1922, during the Irish Civil War. His passing – and his life – has been the stuff of legend ever since. He’s buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, but the events this week were focussed on the place where his life ended – not far from where we live.
Micheál Martin – Taoiseach and Head of Government in Ireland – (on the left, above) and Leo Varadkar – Tánaiste and Deputy Head of Government – (on the right) presided over the ceremony at Béal na Bláth this week (picture courtesy of The Independent). This was an historic get-together as both men lead different parties – Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael respectively: these are in coalition at the moment, together with the Green Party. The Taoiseach said in his speech that the willingness of those of differing political views to try to find common ground was one of the great strengths of modern Ireland. In Collin’s time, a century ago, such coming together would have seemed extremely implausible.
This bust of Michael Collins is sited at his home place, Woodfield, Sam’s Cross in West Cork. There’s nothing left of the main house now (below): it was burned down during the Irish Civil War. But the original cottage still stands as a shell (it’s behind the trees in the background of the lower photo, to the right of the Public Works signpost). It was there that Collins was born.
We didn’t go to the official ceremony at Béal na Bláth on the 21st: many thousands of people attended. We were interested to visit a bit later in the week, to see how the site has been upgraded to mark the centenary. Previously, the memorial itself was gaunt and severe: here’s a pic from our visit in 2013:
It’s significantly different now: car parking has been rationalised and the commemorative cross is the main focus, with some significant hard landscaping. In our opinion, the works (by Cork County Council) have succeeded in focussing the main elements, and the scale is more human.
The new walling defining the edge of the memorial site is built from huge blocks of slate from Valentia Island Quarry, Co Kerry: “. . . the most westerly quarry in Europe . . .” The material is fittingly monumental. When we visited Valentia back in January 2019, we recorded the fact that this quarry has its very own Marian grotto:
We were interested – and pleased – to see that the upgraded memorial still gives space to ‘popular’ offerings. We maintain that Michael Collins is on his way to beatification, and he is already being treated as more than a fallen warrior (although that status is, in itself, heroic). Amongst the floral tributes are religious symbols, messages, and ‘relics’.
And – of course – the fateful spot (above) where Collins fell is still marked by the simple white stone which has been at this site for generations.
‘The Moment’ at which Collins was shot by an enemy bullet, captured in a dramatic painting (above), now on display in the Michael Collins Centre at Castleview, Clonakilty. No one has ever been held to account for the shooting, which was the only fatality on that day, and some have suggested that Collins was not intentionally targeted, and may have been the victim of an accidental ricochet. It’s most likely that we will never know the true story, but there’s no doubt that popular folklore has stepped in to fill the gaps.
The Michael Collins Centre (above) has been run for over 23 years by members of the Crowley family who are directly related to Collins. Visitors are given a comprehensive presentation on his life and times – and his death. There are many artefacts and memorabilia, including replicas of the vehicles which were in the convoy at Béal na Bláth. It’s also well worth looking out from the Museum grounds to the spectacular view across the Argideen River valley (below). Argidín means Little Silver River, and it flows from Reenascreena to Courtmacsherry.
We are keenly watching the progression of Michael Collin’s journey towards sainthood – or further. During the narrations we attended, we noted the descriptions of some of his followers as ‘apostles’. Also, we can’t ignore the fact that he foretold his own death (after he was sent to England to negotiate and sign the Anglo-Irish Treaty). His sister Mary Collins was nine years old when Michael was born in what she said were ” … miracle conditions, as there was no doctor and no trained nurse … mother and baby were well and comfortable … ” Michael was adored by the family, with his old Uncle Paddy predicting the future upon his birth, saying: “Be careful of this child, for he will be a great and mighty man when we are all forgotten” …
(Above) – a reminder of the ‘glory days’ – Michael Collins addressing huge crowds at a Free State demonstration in Cork City, 13 March 1922 (Wikimedia Commons). (Below) – Collins (behind the driver) leaving the Eldon Hotel, Skibbereen, 22 August 1922: the last known photograph of the hero (Cork Public Museum).
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
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