As we are approaching the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas I thought it fitting to give you Twelve views of Ballydehob’s iconic viaduct. Our West Cork village of Ballydehob has many claims to fame. It has been the centre of a great Irish art movement in the mid-twentieth century (have a look at this site). But earlier – between 1886 and 1947 – it was an important stop on the Schull & Skibbereen Tramway. This was a three-foot gauge railway line which must have been a great wonder to those who witnessed it in its heyday. There are fragments of it still to be seen, but its most monumental structure remains with us: the twelve-arched viaduct at Ballydehob.
Above: Brian Lalor was one of the creatives who settled in Ballydehob back in the artists’ heyday (he is still here today). The railway viaduct was a great source of visual inspiration to him and to his artist colleagues.
Here (above) is another Lalor work depicting the viaduct (many thanks, Brian). Behind the arches in this print you can see the former commercial buildings on the wharf, now converted to private use. At first glance you might think what a fine masonry structure this is. In fact, most of it is mass concrete. Look at the close-up view of the arches below: they are cast and faced in concrete, albeit the arch-stones are made to look like masonry. Only the facing infills and the parapets are actually of stone. This is quite an innovative construction for its time. Barring earthquake it’s certain to endure.
I was not surprised to find how often images of this engineering feat have inspired artists and others working in creative fields. Here’s a particularly fine example from the days of the artist settlement around the village in the mid-twentieth century (below): this one is a batik by Nora Golden.
I really like this moody photograph by Finola: it demonstrates the elemental nature which repetition and shadow gives to the scene. (Below): we have to see the way over the top, now a public footpath. The railway was a single track narrow-gauge at this point.
How better to look at the bridge in context than this view from Aerial Photographer Tom Vaughan. Thank you, Tom, for allowing us to use this magnificent image. Here’s the link to his own website. You will find excellent gifts for the connoisseur here. The last of our ‘Twelve Arches’ (for now) has to show us the bridge in its rightful use. I think this postcard – from the Lawrence Archive -dates from the early 1900s. I can’t resist quoting the caption for the rail buffs among you!
. . . A Schull-bound train has stopped especially for the photographer: this is Ballydehob viaduct looking north. The train comprises GABRIEL, bogie coaches Nos 5 and &, brake vans Nos 31, 32 and 38 . . .
The Schull & Skibbereen Railway – James I C Boyd – Oakwood Press 1999
Morton’s book – dating from December 1930 – deserves a further look as a view of Ireland from an English perspective back in the early part of the last century (here’s the first part of this review). What was going on, historically, in the young Free State at that time? Firstly, I was surprised to learn that there was a Governor-General (Seanascal Shaorstát Éireann) whose role was to be ‘the British monarch’s representative in Ireland’. While this was largely a ceremonial role (and was paralleled in Canada and Australia at the time), this continuing official link with a King was understandably unpopular. The first holder of the post was former Irish Parliamentary Party MP Timothy Healy, a Bantry man. Healy held the role between 1922 and 1928, and it was taken over by James McNeill, who retained it until 1932 – there’s a British Pathé newsreel on McNeill’s inauguration (below). The last holder of the office was Domhnall Ua Buachalla: In December 1936, when King Edward VIII abdicated, the Irish cabinet took the decision to abolish the governorship-general and emphasise the separation of the country from any sense of British heritage.
Through the 1930s, Ireland projected its image as a newly created modern state, but also consciously presented itself romantically as a pastorally idyllic country with a rich history and esoteric folk culture. This, of course, cast an eye on the potential for attracting tourism, and Morton’s book concentrates on this heritage, particularly in the choice of photographs. He writes on this relationship:
. . . It is one of Ireland’s many misfortunes that the common people of England have never been taught anything about her, have never shown any interest in her and, apart from a small section of well-to-do people, have never travelled in this beautiful island. I would like to hope that this book of mine may help, in no matter how small a way, to encourage English people to spend their holidays in Ireland and make friends with its irresistible inhabitants. Friendship and sympathy between two such warm-hearted and kindly people would be a fitting end to centuries of political misunderstanding . . .
H V Morton – In search of Ireland 1930
From ‘In Search of Ireland’ – above: Two Connemara Girls. Below: Glendalough.
Today, the British obsession with its nationalist roots – which we are calling ‘Brexit’ – threatens all the compromise and hard work which has been expended on positively and peacefully resolving the ‘Irish Question’ over the past few decades. Interestingly, in 1930, H V Morton had something to say about Northern Ireland, which has some uncanny resonances with today’s imminent problems:
. . . It happens that when you are in Donegal you can look south into Northern Ireland, and when you are in either Londonderry, Tyrone or Fermanagh you can look north into Southern Ireland! This is no doubt an excellent joke except to those who have to live in it! It must be exasperating to find yourself barred by a customs barrier from the country town in which you have always enjoyed free trading. But as long as it profits the Free State to build up her enterprise behind a tariff wall, or as long as Northern Ireland remains outside the Free State (which, I am told, will be for ever), this inconvenient and costly boundary with its double line of officials will remain, the only frontier in the British Isles . . .
H V Morton – In search of Ireland 1930
From ‘In Search of Ireland’ – above: Plain of Tipperary. Below: Middle Lake, Killarney.
Having read my way through Morton’s book on Ireland (which I picked up on a stall in Skibbereen market), I am left with very mixed feelings about its author. I am partly influenced, I think, by what I have noted elsewhere about the man and his life. In particular, picking up on his apparent sympathy with the Nazis during the Hitler years, but also becoming aware that he and his second wife, Violet Mary (they married in 1934) emigrated to South Africa after the Second World War, became citizens, and apparently endorsed Apartheid.
Above: the cloth cover of the sixth edition of Morton’s Ireland book, dating to 1934. Below: H V Morton is still a much collected writer.
Ultimately, I feel that Morton doesn’t have the depth I’m looking for in any respected scribe on Irish matters. He is, foremost, a journalist – and crafts his words for maximum effect. Perhaps this is unkind, but his views seem to me almost theatrical: taking a romantic stance that will appeal to tourists, he sets a tone that is slightly imbued with a sense of superiority, although he does not hesitate to be critical of the British position as he saw it at the time of writing. I am quoting his last paragraph – ‘saying good-bye to Ireland’ to try to defend my stance, which I fully accept is just a personal viewpoint.
. . . When my feet first trod Irish soil I felt that I had come to a magic country and now, as I said good-bye, I knew it truly as an enchanted island. That minor note which is like a vibration in the air, something that lives in the light and in the water and in the soil, runs through every Irish thing, but, like the cry of a bat, it is too high to be heard. But a man is conscious of it everywhere. Ireland of the Sorrows is no more. The sun sets, and the hill grows dark. I know that in the West at this moment men are raking the ashes of the turf fires. In thousands of little white cabins they are kneeling before the wide hearth, piling up the ashes around the red glow, and in the morning there will be new light. The shadows have fallen over the fields of Meath. The air is grey with night. St Patrick rises up over the mounds of Tara, his hands uplifted. And in the silence and the darkness I listen again for that hidden music. It is not for my ears. I hear nothing but the night wind in the grass; and I say good-bye to Ireland . . .
H V Morton – In search of Ireland 1930
From ‘In Search of Ireland’ – above: Cork South Bridge. Endpiece: Ardmore Round Tower, County Waterford – 12th century.
Don’t be put off by my own standpoint. This book is an important Irish travelogue and sets a scene of a particular time in Irish history (ninety years ago) viewed from a close neighbour’s perspective.
In Search of Ireland was first published in 1930. It’s always interesting to read the accounts of an English traveller in Ireland. I used to be one once, but I’m now – happily – permanently here. And a citizen! I really don’t want to be anywhere else in this turbulent world.
I recently happened upon this book – and was immediately attracted by the cover, and the many photographs it contains, which date mainly from the 1920s. But let’s start off finding out who the author is.
Henry Canova Vollam Morton was born in Lancashire, England, in 1892. He was the son of Joseph Morton, editor of the Birmingham Mail, and followed his father into journalism. Morton served in the First World War and then worked in London, for the Evening Standard and the Daily Express. While with the latter he ‘scooped’ the story of the discovery of Tutankhamen’s tomb at Luxor in 1923 and reaped celebrity from that event. After this he started writing books, mainly about travel. Between 1925 and his death in 1979 some 55 books were published. His work appealed to a popular audience. The book about him, above – written after his death – suggests another side to this man: he had secretly been a Nazi sympathiser and another writer, Max Hastings, gleaned this entry from Morton’s private diaries of 1941 – “I am appalled to discover how many of Hitler’s theories appeal to me”.
Morton travelled in Ireland during the 1920s and wrote many articles about his journeys, which became the substance of this book. The book’s endpapers (top) present a map showing the route he followed in his car: he appears to have foolishly omitted the best part of Ireland – our own West Cork! The lower photograph (above) is simply captioned ‘Fair Day’ and is credited to a Dublin photographer (Thomas Mason). I cannot identify the location, although it seems a little familiar. In the book it is juxtaposed close to an account of Kenmare.
The upper photograph is titled ‘Market Day in Connemara’, and the lower one is ‘The Claddagh, Galway’. Most of the photographs are accredited to publishers or newspapers: H V Morton only provided a brace of pictures himself. They are below – ‘Cormac’s Chapel, Cashel’ and ‘An Archway in Killarney’:
From the dust-jacket of my nineteenth edition (which was published in 1945):
. . . In this book H V Morton describes a first visit to Ireland – not the tragi-comic Ireland of 19th century fiction, but the new Ireland. His charming book is the record of a motor-car tour right round the island, and in the course of his delightfully haphazard wanderings, he discourses on the Irish landscape, Irish people, Irish history, falls in love with Kerry and Connemara, attends a wake in Mayo, and crosses the hills of Donegal into Northern Ireland . . .
Frontispiece – In Search of Ireland by H V Morton
This is the first of two posts about H V Morton’s book. Next time around I will quote further from his text to try and give you an insight into this complex man, but also show you more of the illustrations from the book. None of us can resist looking so directly into the past!
From ‘In Search of Ireland’ – above: Connemara Girl
As a retired couple we often get asked what we find to do all day. How do you spend your time? Perhaps there’s a subtle sub-text of ‘way out there in the wilds of West Cork.’ Well, it’s only half way through the month and we have had numerous experiences already in June, including many that revolve around art and music so I thought I would highlight them in this post to give you a flavour of the Wilds.
Robert has written extensively about the thriving art scene established first by the artists and hippies that made West Cork their home starting in the 60’s, a legacy that is celebrated in the Ballydehob Arts Museum. But it’s as true now as it was then and just in our small villages of Schull and Ballydehob we have been to several exhibitions over the last couple of weeks. I am always drawn to photography and I was bowled over in particular by three exhibitions.
Oliver Nares is exhibiting at the moment in the Working Artists Studio in Ballydehob. The first three photographs in this post are his. The first two are Flutes and the one above is Tambourine. Oliver captures his images live and, as Pól Ó’Cólmán astutely noted at the opening, he photographs the music, not the musicians. Unbelievably, this is Oliver’s first ever exhibition – if the reaction is anything to go by, it won’t be his last!
Another exhibition that left me breathless was Richard Breathnach’s The Bog in the Bale at the Blue House Gallery. Everyone who comes to see this has the same reaction – what is this? An Oil Painting? An abstract? Richard’s photography, which included many many hours of lying in a bog waiting for just the right image, captures the reflections of a bog in those ubiquitous black plastic silage bales – the results are extraordinary and you can see more on his website.
Meanwhile, the Aisling Gallery, situated over Rosie’s Pub in Ballydehob, has an exhibition focused on All Things Maritime. Chris O’Dell’s iconic image of Cobh (above), taken from the sea, is only one of several of his photographs, and the photographs of others, on display in this show. Chris is a distinguished cinematographer who has worked in television and cinema and is now recording his archive.
We went to Kenmare to see the new Butter Market Gallery, recently opened. (OK – that’s in Kerry, not West Cork, but sure it’s only the next parish over.) With a Modern Irish Sculpture show as its premier event, we weren’t disappointed!
One of the standout artists in the Kenmare show for us was Ayelet Lalor – that’s her large piece above destined now for a hotel. Back in West Cork we were delighted that the Blue House Gallery in Schull devoted prime space in their latest show to her work. Titled A Life at Odds, Ayelet uses her iconic female heads to explore her own heritage and influences with an eclectic conglomeration of media including concrete, ceramics, cutlery, garden forks and industrial brooms! The results are both captivating and provocative.
On to the music – our regular Friday sessions have resumed in Ballydehob after two years. It’s always great fun for Robert to participate in these and even more so now as they are earlier in the evening (starting at 7 rather than at 9) so he’s full of beans as he heads off with his melodeon and concertina. His post last week had a clip of them all playing. The Fastnet Maritime and Folk Festival is on here at the moment, so the village is full of musicians, including Jackie Daly and Matt Cranitch, about whom Robert wrote in his post Learning from the Masters – check that out to see some of their playing. For now, a tiny clip of John and Uwe from one of the sessions on tin whistle and flute playing Carolan’s Draught.
A couple of days ago we went over to the Beara to meet up with our friend Susan Byron, of Ireland’s Hidden Gems and her group of American tourists. Among them was Bob, who played us over the Healy Pass.
Finally, for something completely different, we travelled to the Beara again today to hear the wonderful David Syme in one of his legendary Living Room Concerts. If you ever get a chance to do this, grab it! Here he is playing the Chopin Etude “Tristess”. This is his own recording on YouTube, and if you Google David Syme and choose video, you’ll get lots more that will give you a flavour of what we heard this afternoon.
Among the pyrotechnics of Chopin, Schubert, Brahms, Bach and Gershwin, David told us a moving story about his Ukrainian-Jewish grandmother and played us a gentle piece called Jewish Prayer for Healing by Debbie Friedman. I will leave you with a short clip from his performance.
What better place to spend Easter Day than at the ‘Easter end’ of Long Island? We can see the island – out there in Roaringwater Bay – from our home here at Nead an Iolair. The lighthouse on the end of the island faces us – and winks through the night with the character of 3 quick flashes every 10 seconds. The narrow headland on which it stands bears the name ‘Copper Point’ – and so does the lighthouse.
This aerial view shows Long Island in its context – a part of Roaringwater Bay and its ‘Carbery’s Hundred Islands’. Its neighbours to the east are Castle Island and Horse Island – all in our view – (that’s our view, below).
A closer aerial view of the island, above. It’s accessed by a regular ferry which leaves Colla Pier, a short distance from Schull town. The ferry arrives at Long Island Pier: there it is, on the pier (below).
Our destination on this Easter Sunday was Castaway East – the furthest house on the ‘Easter’ end of the island. We have taken you there before, when we organised a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in July of last year. The hosts there are Tracy and Peter, who served us brilliantly for that occasion, and also for the Wildflower Walks which Finola led last June: the Castaway crew provided a superb picnic for everyone, delivered to us at the island’s western end. This time we decided that we would test Tracy and Peter’s skills by ordering up an Easter Sunday lunch to celebrate a ‘special’ birthday for our good friend, Peter Clarke.
Amanda Clarke, Finola and birthday boy Peter, looking forward to a morning coffee (with delicious Easter treats) after arriving at Castaway East. We had an upstairs room in the Castaway house, with a good view over the island. Before lunch we had an opportunity to explore part of the island we had never been to before, heading down to Copper Point.
Why is it called ‘Copper Point’? Because there was a copper mine close by, one of many such enterprises that were seen in West Cork in the nineteenth century. Explorations on the island were started in the 1840s by the Cornish mining engineer Captain William Thomas: he wrote a Roaringwater Journal post for us a couple of years ago! William sank a trial shaft for 10 fathoms (60 feet) and extended a level south from this shaft for 3 fathoms. No metal bearing lode was found, and the mine was abandoned. Traces of these workings can still be seen not far from the lighthouse. It’s slightly ironic, perhaps, that the name ‘Copper Point’ arrived from somewhere and stuck.
It’s a wild landscape – but very beautiful and imbued with atmosphere. We certainly worked up a good appetite while on our morning walk, and returned to the house with great expectations.
All those expectations were far exceeded when we sat down to our meal. We had a room to ourselves, attractively furnished and comfortable, with a welcome wood-burning stove on the go in one corner. Tracy and Peter have spent considerable time and energy upgrading what was a very run-down cottage, and have used locally available materials with impressive imagination.
Tracy – in charge of the culinary delights – had worked out a menu which was entirely tailored to our various tastes (and dislikes) – and it was brilliant! All the courses were exemplary.
The main was a Sunday roast to make your mouths water… Fillets of pork for the three of us who are not vegetarian, and a miraculous stuffed filo pastry pie for Amanda. The accompanying vegetables were prepared without any meaty elements – so we could all savour them in equal measure.
Peter was delighted with every aspect of his celebratory meal – we all were! The choux bun dessert was unbelievable; not a morsel was left behind. The riches never stopped: for our after-dinner coffee we went outside to the terrace-with-a-view and enjoyed home-made fondants and biscuits.
I think you’ve got the message… Sunday lunch at Castaway East is a very special experience indeed. Combine it with a good walk on a beautiful and atmospheric West Cork island and you will have a day you will always remember. If you want the experience for yourselves give Tracy and Peter a shout: they will be delighted to organise it for you.
Contact Tracy & Peter Collins on +353 872966489 or email email@example.com – They also have a campsite!
Great Blasket, one of the islands in the parish of Dún Chaoin (Dunquin) off the west coast of Kerry, was the home and life-blood of a tenacious population of Irish families for many hundred years. One of these families – the Ferriters – claim that they controlled the islands as far back as the 13th century and had established a castle there. Whoever lived there had to be tough: the terrain is wild and there is little shelter. Nevertheless, the islanders clung to their territory, and their numbers expanded in the early 19th century when Lord Ventry of Dingle evicted many of his tenants from their holdings and those who left found island life – hard though it was – preferable to persecution.
We are fortunate that, during the early twentieth century, Great Blasket was visited by curious tourists and anthropologists. Among them was Robin Flower, who became Deputy-Keeper of Manuscripts in the British Museum from 1929 to 1944. He had many credits to his name, including Member of the Royal Irish Academy, Doctor of Literature of the National University of Ireland and also of Dublin University. Flower became the historian of the Blaskets, which he ‘immortalised’ through his lectures and writings – and many visits. To the people of the Great Blasket he was playfully known as ‘Bláithin’ – Little Flower – which he considered a great honour. I will write more on Robin Flower in a future post, but concentrate here on some of the photographs of island life which were recorded by likeminded researchers in the first half of the twentieth century. After 1954 there was nothing to record: life on the island, three miles from the mainland and involving an often treacherous crossing, became untenable. The whole remaining population was evacuated in that year, leaving their cottages and settlements to the ruinous ravages of the wild Atlantic gales.
The header picture is a wonderful statement of youth and vigour: island children photographed outside their school in 1932 by Thomas Waddicor. I can’t find anything about this man, but a lot of his work appears in the Dúchas Photographic Collection which was established in the 1930s, so I am assuming he was an active collector and researcher himself. The second picture is by our old friend Tomás Ó Muircheartach, who also spent time on the Blaskets in the 1930s. You will find more about him here. It shows the Blasket men in their fishing curraughs below the craggy rocks of the island. The pic above is also by Muircheartach, and shows Cáit Ruiséal and Máire Ruiséal being interviewed by a follklore collector at their fireside in 1942. I am not sure where this interview took place.
This photograph is also by Thomas Waddicor and dates from 1932. The caption given in the Dúchas Photographic Collection is interesting, if not entirely enlightening: Man, Great Blasket Island: Buffer, note stuffed peaked cap – an island custom.
Another from Waddicor, also 1932: Cáit at the Well. I think what strikes me most of all is how real and alive these people are – they certainly don’t seem in any way downtrodden or in danger of extinction: perhaps it’s just because they are ‘posing’ for the camera. But it’s salutary to think that they were only on the island for another generation or so.
These two photographs (above) are also by Thomas Waddicor and also from 1932. The top one is the ‘Wife and child of Séan the King’, and the lower is ‘Children of Séan the King’. We have a bit of a conundrum here as the last ‘King’ of the Blasket Islands passed away in 1929 (according to this Irish Times article). As Waddicor left behind no photograph of the ‘King’ himself, we have to assume that the lady in the upper photograph was a widow.
More ‘family’ photographs: the upper of the three is titled ‘Eilis and Brighid’; the centre is just given as ‘Family’, while the lower is ‘Fiddler and Woman’. All are by Waddicor from 1932.
This wonderful lady is also anonymous: sadly we can only know her by the title – ‘Great Blasket Woman’. Again, Waddicor 1932 – and, once more, she seems so full of life!
This is a picture of the Great Blasket Island School. We have some further information: while the folklorists and recorders were visiting the island in 1932, the older schoolchildren decided to interview each other about local customs and lore to mimic the visitors!
Further unnamed portraits: upper ‘Two Women Great Blasket’ and lower ‘Two Women gathering Heather’. From the Waddicor collection, 1932.
We’ll finish off with a few classics. This is Tomas O Criomhthain and it’s a photo from Muircheartach. Better known to us as Tomas O’Crohan, author of the classic book about the Blaskets:
. . . Tomas O’Crohan was born on the Great Blasket Island in 1865 and died there in 1937, a great master of his native Irish. He shared to the full the perilous life of a primitive community, yet possessed a shrewd and humorous detachment that enabled him to observe and describe the world. His book is a valuable description of a new vanished way of life; his sole purpose in writing it was in his own words, ‘to set down the character of the people about me so that somerecord of us might live after us, for the like of us will never be again’ . . .
The Islandman Book Review
We can’t discuss the Blaskets without mentioning Peig. That’s her, above, with folklorist Kenneth Jackson, taken by Thomas Waddicor in 1932. Peig Sayers was by all accounts a formidable lady but was also described by folklorist Seán Ó Súilleabháin, archivist for the Irish Folklore Commission, as ‘one of the greatest woman storytellers of recent times’. Peig was born in 1873 and died in 1958. She therefore experienced the abandonment of the island, although she had moved away from it in 1942. She was also not born on the island, but in Dunquin, Kerry, She married Pádraig Ó Guithín, a native islander, in 1892 and had eleven children, six of whom survived into adulthood. Sayers is most famous for her autobiography Peig, but also for folklore and stories which have been collected from her.
Finally, this an image of the Loganim Achive entry for Great Blasket Island, written in 1954.
I am grateful to the National Folklore Collection UCD for the use of the Thomas Waddicor images. It’s an incredible resource: this is just a small selection of the hundreds of images which have been archived
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