Finding The Cailleach

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 . . .


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cailleach

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 . . .

https://www.irishcentral.com

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 . . .


https://www.irishcentral.com

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 . . .

Schools Folklore Collection – Informant Mrs J Peyton Aged 58

. . . 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 . . .

SCHOOLS FOLKLORE COLLECTION – INFORMANT MRS J PEYTON AGED 58

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 . . .

SCHOOLS FOLKLORE COLLECTION – INFORMANT Danial Houlihan, Croumphane, Eyeries

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
.
Mise Éire – Patrick Pearse – 1912

When Harry Met Edith: Part 1 – “Like a Living Flame”

St Barrahane’s Church of Ireland in Castletownshend, West Cork, is unique in many ways and a national treasure, not least because of its three Harry Clarke stained glass windows. I have written about the St Luke window and also about the St Louis/St Martin window. Both are gems. But for some reason I have not yet properly written about the East Window and it seems fitting to start that post now, since Harry Clarke died 92 years ago this week at the all-too-young age of 41.

The East Window, the largest part of which comprises a nativity scene, was one of the first commissions Harry received after he burst on the scene in 1916 with his series of saints for the newly opened Hiberno-Romanesque Arts and Crafts masterpiece that was the Honan Chapel at University College Cork. That’s a small detail from his Joseph window for the Honan, below.

The Somerville siblings had been planning for a long time to commission a new window to honour their grandparents, the existing one being hideous and gloomy. In 1907 they had requested a new design from the Manchester firm of Walter J Pearce, but had not followed up with a commission. Besides her intense dislike of the ‘Berlin Woolwork’ (as the family called the despised stained glass) Edith Somerville thought the window openings themselves too long and narrow and felt they should be shortened to produce a more pleasing proportion for a stained glass scene. However, none of the schemes progressed beyond the Somerville siblings procuring permission from the church committee to remove and sell the offending window and replace it with a more suitable memorial to their grandparents.

This illustration is from Somerville and Ross: A Biography by Maurice Collis.

On January 14th 1917 Cameron, the oldest of the family and hence the one who had to have final approval over expenditures like this, went to see “Bertie’s windows”. Sir Bertram Windle was the President of University College Cork and a first cousin to the Somervilles (below, captured from the UCC website). He had worked with Sir John O’Connell to actualise the Honan Bequest which resulted in the building of the Honan Chapel with the inclusion of stained glass windows by An Túr Gloine and by Harry Clarke.

Cameron records in his diary:

Bertie took me to see his jewel of a chapel – quite the best modern building I have seen – & the windows – all but one – very good & some – the Clarke windows- supremely lovely. I have never seen such glass except in 14th century windows – the whole chapel simple & lovely nothing mean or tawdry […] After luncheon went again to the Chapel for another look at the windows.

The Edith OEnone Somerville archive in Drishane :
a catalogue and an evaluative essay /
by Otto Rauchbauer

Edith Somerville got up to see the windows for herself in March. Edith was already an established writer and artist, who had studied in France and was familiar with modern art movements. At that point in her life she was slowly coming to herself again, after a period of intense mourning on the death in 1915 of her beloved cousin and collaborator, Violet Martin with whom she had written a series of highly successful novels and stories under the name Somerville and Ross.

Violet Florence Martin, in an 1886 portrait by Edith Somerville, from the National Portrait Gallery, used under license

Her own artistic knowledge and sensibilities are evident in her reaction to the windows. She wrote to Cameron: 

They certainly are very wonderful in colour, & some of them beautiful in all respects. I preferred the Western three-light window [Brigid, Patrick and Columcille] & I almost disliked the blue one, & the Aubrey Beardsley female face [Gobnait] thought horrible; so modern and conventionally unconventional. The green western light was lovely and a nice design, I like 2 of the left side ones (Brigid and Patrick]. I thought the eastern Purser window just moderate (i.e. not among high class tho’ much better than average). There is to me a slight faint of coarseness in Clerke’s [sic] work. Not much finesse, though the actual glass has a quality of burning and furious brilliance that I have never seen anywhere else. The blue robe, for instance, hits your eye like a living flame or a blast of wind. Perfectly amazing, but not quite pleasant. I can rave about some of his qualities with anyone, but I am not quite a whole-hogger. However, I expect he will be artist enough to adapt his work to the church & to realise how to get harmony into it. His windows have a kind of hellish splendour – in a chapel dedicated to the Infernal Deities they would be exactly right, gorgeous and sinful. . . If that young man. . . went mad it would not surprise me, but I hope he won’t before he does our window for us.

The Edith OEnone Somerville archive in Drishane :
a catalogue and an evaluative essay /
by Otto Rauchbauer

Was it St Ita’s blue robe (above) that struck Edith so forcefully – like a living flame or a blast of wind – ? Or was it perhaps, the one worn by Gobnait, patron saint of beekeepers, cleverly worked out as a series of honeycomb shapes (below). In either case, this deep blue was one of Harry’s hallmarks – he went to great lengths to procure good blue glass.

We can unpack a lot in Edith’s letter to Cameron. For a start, it seems that Cameron had already decided, no doubt influenced by Bertie, that Harry Clarke was the artist who should do the East Window. Edith’s reaction, while often credited with being the deciding factor in choosing Clarke, was after the fact, and both more moderate and more judicious than Cameron’s. Her comments are enough to make me wonder, if the decisions had been hers to make, whether Harry would have been engaged. She was insistent, in a further letter to Cameron, that something more of ‘harmony’ and less of intensity than the Honan windows (as exemplified by his Gobnait portrait, below) would be appropriate for Castletownshend. In fact, shortly after seeing Harry’s work at the Honan, it seems that Cameron had deputed their cousin Egerton Coghill (see my post about Egerton and the St Luke window) to approach Harry, whom he appears to have known personally, but after that initial meeting, it was Edith who took charge of the process. This made sense since Cameron was not living in Castletownshend at that time, but in London. Things moved quickly – even before she had seen his work for herself, she had sent him a tracing of the East window (perhaps one that had been prepared for the proposed Pearce commission) and thereafter it was she who communicated with Harry. 

He responded to getting the tracing in a letter of Feb 1, 1917.*

Thank you for your letter and tracing of the East window of Castlehaven Church. I clearly understand your ideas about shortening the existing window but I hesitate to support your doing so until I see the church – I like long openings and the window may only look out of scale by being filled with inferior glass – I do think you would be unwise to make the three openings into two if you are going to have single figures and not subjects or a subject. Were the existing window or openings left I would have room to put small subjects from the lives of the selected saints at the top and bottom of each opening – were the windows shortened I would have room for the figure only. I am judging from the tracing and cannot tell until I saw the actual window with the light etc – the trees may present difficulties.

The approximate cost of filling the existing window with single figures and small subjects – figures to be of S Brigid S Finbarr and Barrahane will be £315 and if it were shortened by 3‘6“ the cost will be – £252.

I will be in Cork in the early spring and if it were convenient to you, could meet you at Castlehaven Church –

If you are anxious to place the commission at once I will go down any day next week (after Tuesday) that you suggest.

I do my work from start to finish myself and so take longer then is generally expected over a window – Your window would take about six months and could be started on a date mutually agreed-upon should I have the pleasure of doing it –

I greatly appreciate your asking me about the work

Letter from Harry Clarke to Edith Somerville,
Somerville Archives, Drishane House

Harry did indeed come to Castletownshend  – a diary entry records it was April 4 and he stayed to lunch, although another source says that he stayed overnight and that Edith found him shy but liked him enormously. At this time, Edith was nearing 60, (dressed as Master of the Fox Hounds, below) whereas Harry was 27. She referred to him as ‘our window boy’ in a subsequent letter to Cameron.

The letter refers to the dimensions of the window – Harry didn’t mind  the shape at all – “I like long openings.” But Edith, very much the painter, had been taken by the more horizontal orientation of windows she had seen in Exeter Cathedral, such as the Old Testament window below) and really wanted to change the windows by making them shorter and perhaps even cutting them down to two-lights. As we will see, she realised part of this ambition, but not all.

Although the decision that Harry was to do the window was now made, that’s not to say that all went smoothly from this point on. Edith had a hard time being decisive about the iconography she wanted (St Finbarr didn’t make the final cut), and at one point Cameron managed to lose Harry’s design for the window and she had to ask him to do it again. Also, there was the matter of cost, and how the rest of the family felt about it all. We’ll get into all that in the next post, as well as the elements of the window that Harry designed. Here’s a sneak preview.

*I have to record here my debt of gratitude to Thomas Somerville and the Somerville Archives, for permission to view and quote from letters from Harry Clarke to Edith Somerville and from Edith to Cameron. It is an enormous privilege (and quite a thrill) to have original material to work from.

An Artist’s Encounter with West Cork

Perhaps this book review is a little late arriving? The book was – after all – published by Brandon of Dingle in 1990: thirty two years ago! The artist, and I, were in our forties then. But – don’t hesitate – although it’s out of print you can find copies readily available on many booksellers’ websites. You can spend a Euro (the postage will cost four times that!) or many Euros: but it’s well worth whatever you have to pay.

Here it is: a modestly sized paperback volume. But it punches well above its weight. It is beautifully written, and exquisitely illustrated. For everyone who is interested in West Cork, Ireland or the art of engraving it’s a must for your bookshelves. And, historically, it’s fascinating: the cover picture, above, shows Tig na nGaedheal (locally known as Brendan’s) – once described as ‘the greatest and most famous sweet shop ever in Skibbereen’. Sadly, Martha Houlihan, who ran it with her husband Brendan, passed away a little while ago and the shop is no longer trading. It’s still a significant feature in the town streetscape (below). Note the figures looking out of the door and window in Brian’s etching – a typical humorous touch.

The book includes nigh on a hundred of Brian’s engravings. This is only a fraction of the huge body of work he has created in his lifetime to date, and he’s never idle. It’s good to know that Uillinn – the West Cork Arts Centre gallery – has a retrospective of Brian’s work in the pipeline. It will be impossible to show more than a fraction of the art he has produced so far, but we certainly look forward to experiencing that selection.

What I personally enjoy about Brian’s works in this book is the atmospherics that they create. Take, for example, The Dark Edge of Europe, above. The breadth of its content is overwhelming: it’s the landscape of West Cork summed up in gradations of grey, with coastline, lanes, settlements, hills and distant mountains, focussed on a foreground which features an ancient hill-fort. A tale of occupation and morphology: an eternal human story. The illustrations in the book are accompanied and amplified by wonderfully crafted written descriptions.

. . . Defining the high spots in the ribs of land, and distributed with apparent regularity all over this landscape, were lush green rings. Single, and occasionally double or triple concentric rings of grassy banks, these features resembled a giant’s game of quoits, forgotten and left to decorate the landscape. The gargantuan quoits are of course the ring forts or fairy rings of the Irish countryside, and outlined the forms taken by the rural farmsteads and dwellings from pre-Christian times down to the sixteenth century. Each ring represented an earthen rampart on high ground, with perhaps a dry moat or further rampart encircling some wattle huts. Simple and utilitarian, this form of dwelling satisfied the political and practical exigencies of the day – or aeon, for that matter. Rural life was lived in the midst of the land, without congregating in towns or villages . . .

The Land of Heart’s Desire: West of West, Brian lalor

Mount Gabriel dominates much of the landscape in our part of West Cork. Brian’s view, above, is titled Mount Gabriel Gorse Fires. The artist ‘discovered’ remote West Cork back in the 1970s. In the book he describes the journey:

. . . The road wound away into the distance, a ribbon of reflected light, and the weaving shapes of the blackthorns threw a black Gothic tracery across the landscape. The immediate surrounding had a silvery sharpness, the precision of a lunar landscape; brightly outlined walls enclosed pools of darkness. We were no longer at the door to West Cork but in its very interior. We had arrived . . .

Well Met By Moonlight: West of West, Brian Lalor

Essential to the intimate knowledge of West Cork’s landscape is the sea – and the coastline which encompasses it. This view is titled Rock Island & Crookhaven. Brian enhances the rendering with a description:

. . . From the heights of Brow Head the outline of Rock Island at the mouth of the harbour resembles a partially submerged submarine, its twin customs-observation buildings the conning towers of this strange naval mammoth. An ill-assorted collection of buildings adhere like barnacles to the back of this submarine: the roofless lighthouse barracks, a defunct fish factory and an abandoned, rambling Victorian mansion suggest an unfavourable location. Wedged in the little cove in front of the mansion is the hulk of an old wooden trawler. A graveyard of vanished days and forgotten hopes . . .

Coastline: West of West, Brian Lalor

Ballydehob’s 12-arch bridge – or railway viaduct – must be one of the most profusely illustrated and photographed features of West Cork. The Schull, Ballydehob and Skibbereen tramway was a significant piece of transport infrastructure that ran from 1886 until 1947. It’s a fascinating piece of Victorian engineering, the first 3ft gauge railway line to be built in Ireland. Everything about it was eccentric: here’s one of my RWJ posts setting out the history of the line. Brian has a little anecdote well worth the recounting:

. . . As it is one of the most pleasing architectural features of the local landscape, I drew the Twelve Arch Bridge on many occasions and it reappears in a variety of forms amongst these etchings. One village magnate commissioned me to do a large picture of this monument for his new house. The price was agreed and the picture eventually produced. I had chosen an angle which showed the bridge emerging as it does from thickets of brambles and conifers on either side of the water. Delicate fronds of foliage wound in the foreground of the picture and the subject itself basked in the distance, looking solid and ancient. I was quite pleased with the results. When I presented it to my patron he gazed at it in silence for a long time. Then with a large and calloused hand he ran his index finger across the view a number of times, shaking his head slowly as he did so. ‘No. no good at all, It won’t do,’ he muttered more to himself than me. He had been counting the arches. In my enthusiasm for the atmosphere of the piece the accurately rendered number of the arches had become obscured, those on the extreme edges becoming partially lost in the undergrowth. The commission was rejected. If you are paying for twelve arches you don’t want to be short-changed with ten and two halves!

Coastline: West of West, Brian Lalor

Fastnet. An iconic silhouette – perhaps a fish-eye view? The lighthouse is a ubiquitous element of structure which can be seen from all the waters and islands of Roaring Water Bay. Brian’s words:

. . . Roaring Water Bay encompasses an area of about a hundred square miles of water between Baltimore in the east and Crookhaven in the west. The tortuous coastline of the bay, as of much of the rest of West Cork, is punctuated by small coves, each with an old stone pier or miniature harbour. Up to the mid-nineteenth century these were the arteries of communication and trade and a wide array of lighters, barges, rowboats and yawls plied the coast, ferrying freight around the rim of the land rather than through it. Never far from the safety of land, they darted from port to port with the assurance of safe harbours at frequent intervals to reduce the threat from treacherous seas. Today, however, only the yachtsman holds this perspective on the land; it is a medieval cartographer’s view of the world: good on outlines, vague concerning the interior . . .

Coastline: West of West, Brian Lalor

The eye of the artist searches out ways to tell a story or unfold a scene in graphic simplicity. This is St Brendan Crookhaven: a simple church that is dear to the hearts of mariners, and has long been so.

Stone Circle and Child Sacrifice is a thought-provoking piece. These ancient sites date back thousands of years: there are many here, beyond the West. We wonder at them, and can only guess at the significance they had to their constructors.

. . . The Landscape of the mind, which co-exists, interlocks and overlaps with the geographer’s vision, is an intangible, ephemeral thing. You may encounter it unexpectedly on a moonlit night or on some deserted headland, or perhaps in the dim light of a public bar. In this part of the world, soaked in memories and half-memories of the past, much is implied rather than stated. Like the collective unconscious, the landscape, too, is composed of a multitude of intertwining details. This collection of etchings of West Cork is concerned with those details: with small corners of towns and villages, with oddly-shaped fields and erratic skylines. Each etching is a vignette of landscape, architecture or environment. The pictures are organized around a number of themes yet the material as a whole has such an overall unity that what illustrates one section also has relevance for another. The point which they make is a collective one . . .

WELL MET BY MOONLIGHT: WEST OF WEST, BRIAN LALOR

Brian’s book is as much about the human side of West Cork as it is about the natural or supernatural. He illustrates towns – Kinsale, above – and the landscape. For me, this is a very significant little volume: the travels described within it echo my own journeying through this most special of places. Thank you, Brian, for so vividly enhancing my appreciation of West Cork.

Kilcoe

The Tailor and Artists

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.

People flocked to visit the Tailor and no matter who you were – neighbour, stranger or famous person – you were sure of a welcome, a cup of tea, and a taste of the Tailor’s way with stories and earthy humour. Among those who came were prominent artists of the day, including Nano Reid and Seamus Murphy. Nano, it is thought, would cycle all the way from Ardnagashel, where she was staying with her lifelong friend Patricia Hutchins (yes – the same family as our beloved Ellen Hutchins). This is her painting, only recently identified as depicting the Tailor – my sincere appreciation to David Britton for the image and all the information. David runs one of those pages that convince you that Facebook still has the power to be a force for good in the world.

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.

H V Morton’s Ireland – Part 2

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.

H V Morton’s Ireland – Part 1

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