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

Ardtully and the Orpens

We took a few steps over the border – from Cork County to Kerry Kingdom – to search out some vestiges of architecture which relate to the Orpen family, which claimed it could trace its history back to the sixth century. Probably the best-known member of that clan – certainly in Ireland – was William Orpen (1878 – 1931). Orpen was a ‘naturally talented painter’ who spent much of the First World War as an officially commissioned artist, producing strikingly graphic images of that depraved conflict, including the Battle of the Somme, from direct experience in the trenches.

Upper – Zonnebeke 1918, and lower – Self portrait 1917 by Orpen. William Orpen’s grandfather was Sir Richard Theodore Orpen (1788-1876), Born and brought up in Dublin, this Orpen married Elizabeth Stack in 1819 and they built a large mansion on the site of an earlier castle and medieval monastery beside the meeting of the rivers Obeg and Roughty, in the townland of Ardtully, Co Kerry. In Irish, the name is Ard Tuilithe, meaning ‘high flood’.

The Orpen’s Grand Design project consisted of a 27-roomed two-storey dwelling with a tower, in what can be loosely described as the ‘Baronial’ style. The house was the family’s residence throughout the rest of Sir Richard’s life, and was inherited by one of his sons, Right Reverend Dr Raymond D’Audemar Stack Orpen, who was the last to live there.

It’s useful to compare the first OS 6″ map (top) – which dates from around 1840, prior to the construction of the new house, which was completed in 1847 – with (lower) the OS 25″ version, dating to the late 1800s. the house is clear there, as is the bridge over the rivers, built by an earlier Orpen generation: it bears the date 1786.

That’s the 1847 Ardtully House, above, in its heyday. The illustration is from The  County Seats of The Noblemen and Gentlemen of Great Britain and Ireland (published 1870). Here (below) is an aerial view of the dwelling within its immediate context. Below that is today’s view from the ‘Ardtully Old Bridge’.

The fine bridge once led to the Demesne; now it ignominiously ends in a field gate. The construction of it is worth a close look – there are some fascinating rocks and outcrops used in its foundation.

The house met its end in 1921 – a victim of IRA burnings. It stands, gaunt and crumbling: a symbol of a period in Irish history. It’s fully accessible, and the Kerry landscape is stunning on a wonderful sunny spring day. Well worth a visit.

The ‘Baronial’ style of architecture – sometimes called ‘Scottish Baronial’ is given short shrift by ‘The Irish Aesthete‘:

. . . Its architect unknown, the house is customarily summarised as being in the Scottish Baronial style but this seems more a flag of convenience than an accurate description. In truth Ardtully looks to have been a typically Victorian grab-bag of architectural elements, its most prominent feature being a castellated round tower and turret on the south-east corner. Looking towards the river Roughty, the entrance front features a porch topped by the Orpen coat of arms (now damaged), another attempt by Sir Richard to demonstrate his lineage. Inside the house looks to have contained the usual collection of reception and bedrooms ranged over two storeys, the roofline marked by a succession of stepped gables and dormers . . .

https://theirishaesthete.com/2017/08/07/ardtully/

Certainly, the house in its present state doesn’t present much grace. The architectural style was fairly short-lived, and was said to have its origins in France, with references to the Gothic Revival and romanticism. There are further examples extant in Ireland: the nearest (probably) is Blarney House, Co Cork, altogether a more elaborate project, designed and built by Sir Thomas Lanyon of Belfast for the Colthurst family of Ardrum. Surviving today – close to the well-known Blarney Castle, it was also completed in the 1840s.

I will finish this post with the only photograph I could find of Ardtully intact (courtesy http://www.sirwilliamorpen.com). Also have a look at this site.

“Easter” Island!

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 simplytracy@icloud.com – They also have a campsite!

West Cork Villages and Towns – Skibbereen

It was an ‘odd’ Olympic year – 2021. Firmly etched in my mind is the knowledge that years in which Olympic Games are held – like leap years – are divisible by 4! This one was different, because of Covid. But that didn’t prevent Ireland producing its heroes: gold for rowing and boxing, and bronze, also for rowing and boxing: a total of 8 sports heroes bringing medals home. If you will forgive the pun, the small country of Ireland punched well above its weight! All the rowers trained at the Skibbereen Rowing Club in West Cork, under the expert eye of their coach Dominic Casey. No surprise, then, that the town was in celebratory mood for weeks after the event, as you can see from many of my photographs, taken around the town at the end of August.

The town, from its situation in a wild, unenclosed part of the country, has frequently been the rendezvous of disaffected parties, but it has been much improved of late years, and is now a very flourishing place. It is situated on the southern bank of the river Ilen, and comprises seven streets; that part which extends into the parish of Abbeystrowry is called Bridgetown, and consists of three streets, one of which has been recently formed. The number of houses in the whole town is 1014, many of which, in the eastern part and in the parish of Creagh, are large and well built: the approaches have been much improved by the formation of new lines of road at each extremity . . .

LEWIS TOPOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IRELAND 1837

It’s interesting that Lewis – in 1837 – describes the number of houses as just over a thousand. He also states elsewhere that there were 4,429 inhabitants in 1691: in the 2011 census the town recorded a population of 2,568.

The first edition of the Ordnance Survey 6″ map was produced around 1840, just after the Lewis Topographical Dictionary was published. From the extract above, the layout of the town we know today had been broadly established by then. Compare this to today’s OS map (below) and the annotated aerial view.

There are a few theories as to the earliest origins of the town. Oft quoted is the story of the survivors from the sacking of Baltimore by Barbary Pirates in 1631 having moved upriver to found, or expand, the settlement that is now Skibbereen. It is likely that there was already a community on this part of the river, which was tidal and probably easily navigable up to its sheltered reaches at this point: at one time there were no less than five quays, warehouses and a Customs House within the town – this post will tell you more.

Skibbereen today is defined by its river – as it always has been. The waterside deserves a bit more attention – and is being opened up a little in some of the new civic improvement schemes that have been enabled by major flood relief works in the town. There are many opportunities yet to be explored.

All towns evolve and, hopefully, move into the future: Skibbereen – we’ll be keeping an eye on you! But it’s a great town already: it has the busiest market in West Cork on a Saturday; lively shopping streets; easy (and free) parking – and a very healthy ‘pavement cafe’ culture that has grown up during the pandemic, and is likely to continue to flourish. Let’s walk the streets and see the town as its best in the late summer sunshine . . .

Here at Roaringwater Journal we will always sing the praises of this town, and it has been the subject of a good deal of our historical research and writing. Have a look at our posts on Agnes Clerke, Ireland’s first and foremost female astronomer;  Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, the famed nationalist and Fenian: Uillinn – one of Ireland’s most innovative art galleries – here, here and here. We also must not forget that Skibbereen was at one time an important part of Ireland’s railway network: you could travel to and from Cork and Baltimore, and it was a terminus for the narrow gauge railway that trundled off to Schull, and whose loss is now much mourned.

I hope my post inspires you to explore this prominent West Cork town, if you haven’t already done so. It has historic foundations – too numerous to list in this one, short article. Choose a sunny afternoon – or go there to shelter from the infrequent showers. Whatever the day, make the Skibbereen Heritage Centre your starting point: you will find a wealth of information which will help to guide you on your way. The building itself is a piece of history: it used to be Skibbereen’s gas works!

The town name was familiar to me long before I settled in Ireland a decade ago. I lived in the fishing village of Newlyn, Cornwall, for many years and got to know the history of the artists’ colony in West Penwith, centred on that town and St Ives. One artist – Stanhope Alexander Forbes – was known as ‘The Father of the Newlyn School of Artists’ – he was Irish born, and lived from 1857 to 1947. I vividly remember one of his works, displayed in the Penlee Gallery in Penzance. It shows fishermen leaving Newlyn to follow the shoals of herring and pilchards to the waters of Roaringwater Bay. The title of that picture? Goodbye – Off To Skibbereen!

Previous posts in this series:

Bantry

Schull

Dzogchen Beara

There is a centre of Buddhism on the Beara Peninsula: we visited it for the first time during the week. It is very beautifully situated on the coast south of Allihies. You only have to look at the photograph above, taken at the centre, to realise that the location is a very important aspect of the whole project.

Sa Che or Tibetan Geomancy is the analysis of the earth — including water, space, air, light, trees, garden and home. The principles of Sa Che are to bring harmony and equilibrium, both in the natural environment and within the being, affording good health, wealth and enjoyment. These benefits flow on to our relationships and lifestyle

Pure Land Farms, California

I am using the aerial view, above, courtesy of Dzogchen Beara Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Centre. All the buildings in the lower part of the picture are within the centre, which was founded by Sogyal Rinpoche in 1987. On the lower right is The Spiritual Care Centre – opened by Ireland’s President, Mary McAleese in 2007 – which provides a safe and supportive environment for people living with a life-altering illness, recovering from treatment, facing the end of their life or experiencing bereavement, as well as their families, loved ones and others who care for them. It’s a special, culturally significant place – and you can see how its siting takes the fullest advantage of the impressive scenery.

That’s a Tibetan geomancy chart, above (courtesy of The Wellcome Foundation). It is traditionally used to work out how and where you should build your house – or any important structure: as you can see there is a Zodiac at its heart. As an architectural student back in the 1960s I was fascinated by this concept – then popularly termed Feng Shui – we all were. Throughout my working life I was always seeking to justify my clients’ demands to build in a certain place or in a certain way; I wince, today, when I see the building processes we have here in Ireland – our countryside is ravaged, in my view, by the excavator and the rock-breaker carving out great flat platforms whereon are placed ‘anywhere style’ bungalows or houses, rather than structures which try to flow and blend into the uneven natural landscapes. But I’d better get off my high horse, I suppose. This Buddhist centre on the Beara is an excellent example of buildings ‘fitting in’ to their surroundings.

Anyone can visit the centre: it has an excellent cafe which enjoys the unparalleled views, for a start, but there are gardens and grounds to wander around, and many events which everyone can attend: keep an eye on the website.

This shows one of the meditation rooms (courtesy of Dzogchen Beara Tibetan Buddhist Retreat Centre), with Pi Jun Taiwa in meditative posture. Below is a satellite image of the site showing its proximity to the coast and, below that, an extract from the 1840 OS map. I was intrigued to know what the buildings are that are shown occupying the site in those times. I have been unable to find the answer but wonder if they were connected to mining: the great copper-mining centre of Allihies is situated inland from here, but there are said to be ore-bearing lodes at Dooneen point, south-west of the new Centre.

An exciting venture happening at Dzogchen Beara right now is the construction of the first Buddhist temple in Ireland! It’s a relatively long-term project – with progress held up by the Covid crisis. But we saw it under way and it promises to be an impressive modern building based in Tibetan tradition.

The site of the temple was consecrated in 2010 with a sacred fire ceremony. I was intrigued to read that the curving overhanging roofs are to be constructed from ‘Nordic Royal Copper’, a specially developed alloy containing zinc and aluminium: this should ensure that the copper retains its shining colour through all weathers: a traditional copper roof would become dulled and turn green after a few years. Instead, the roofs of this temple will shine like the ‘Beacon of Wisdom and Compassion’ that the architect imagined. At present, the building works are still very much in their unadorned basic form, but moving forward (below).

The Centre grounds already display a traditional ‘Stupa’. Originally, stupas stared out as sacred mounds or domes which were used to house the relics of the Buddha. Now they are symbolic structures which give special significance to their location, as here. They are always decorated with colourful prayer flags which serve to bless the surroundings. I can’t help seeing these flags in the same light as ‘rag trees’ often found by holy wells in Ireland. The processional way to the stupa is lined with tall prayer banners. And the whole stupa site also enjoys the wonderful views to the ocean.

The year continues to pour down on us glorious golden days – and we embrace them. Our journey to the Beara was memorable, and I have no doubt that we will be calling into the Dzogchen Centre on many future occasions: I certainly want to keep an architectural eye on the progress of the temple. By the way, an apt translation of Dzogchen is “great perfection”.