Mizen Mountains 6 – Derrylahard East

The peak of Derrylahard East is perplexing. It’s on a continuation of the Eastern Mizen Ridge that runs from just west of Mount Corrin (which we visited exactly a year ago), takes in Letterlickey Cairn (ditto) and peters out close to the wind farm at Ballybane West (which we explored last October). At its highest point it overlooks Glanlough (from the Irish Gleann Locha – ‘Glen’ or ‘Meadow’ of the lake). We must not be confused or misled by another Glanlough nearby – on the Sheep’s Head peninsula, nor yet another in Co Kerry.

On the map above I have indicated Glanlough, which is central to our most recent peregrination. It is a mountain lake which has been virtually hidden over the last decades by thick commercial pine forests. Very recently, much of the forest has been felled, and views from the top of the ridge are now revealed: they are magnificent and far-reaching. In fact, from the high point we found we could see the 12 arched bridge at Ballydehob – which means. of course, that we can also see Derrylahard East from our own village.

The upper picture was taken from the Derrylahard East Peak with a lens stretched well beyond its limit, but you can see the 12 arched bridge and the sandboat quay house just below the centre of the view: Cape Clear is on the horizon. The lower picture was taken a while ago from the 12 arched bridge in Ballydehob, looking north towards the Derrylahard East Peak, which is swathed in cloud to the left of the rainbow.

We started the walk at the western end of the loop: we accessed it from a road that runs through the forestry from Barnageehy down to Durrus. As we gained the higher ground we could see the ridge path that would lead west through to Mount Corrin – currently closed due to storm damage. We turned uphill and kept close to the townland boundary. Below – Finola is correctly negotiating the stile by going backwards down the steps!

We followed the Sheep’s Head Barnageehy Loop Walk in an anti clockwise direction, circling the lake of Glanlough and looking out for the summit, which is known as Derrylahard East Peak, even though it appears to be within the townland of Glanlough. According to the 6″ OS map, which dates from the 1840s, there was once a trig point at this summit: a height of 990ft – 302 metres.

At the peak: Finola looking back towards Gabriel – always dominating the landscapes in West Cork – with the islands and ocean in the distance; Dunmanus Bay and the Sheep’s Head to the west, with the Beara Peninsula visible beyond; the view east encompassing the Ballybane West turbines and Mount Kidd.

Upper map: the 1904 OS showing Glanlough lake in context with the wider topography of West Cork. Above – the Down Survey, made between 1656 and 1658: this section covers the area shown in the OS above it, and is at a comparable scale. The red asterisk shows the position of the lake at Glanlough: I had hoped there might be some notation on the Down Survey that would give some insight into the name of Glanlough, but the old map is fascinating for the fact that very few of the names are familiar to us and barely a scattering of them can be easily equated with place names today.

I said at the outset that the peak of Derrylahard East is perplexing. For one thing, it is clearly in the townland of Glanlough, yet bears the name of the neighbouring townland. Then there is the altitude of the summit: mountainviews.ie shows two figures for the height above sea level: 301m (which I would – almost – agree with), but also the figure of 353.9m, which must be a mistake. Unless, of course, there is something preternatural in this small patch of West Cork territory: I’m thinking of the legend of the ‘floating’ islands in the lake on Mount Gabriel. According to John Abraham Jagoe, Vicar of Cape Clear – from the Church of Ireland Magazine 1826 – they float about up and down, east and north and south; but every Lady-day they come floating to the western point, and there they lie fixed under the crag that holds the track of the Angel’s foot…’ Perhaps our peak fluctuates at will to confuse us? The shape of the summit is also intriguing: we sensed there are traces of a circular platform and a number of loosely scattered stones – could there have been a megalithic structure here?

The views from this peak would justify it being marked out as a special site, and we could expect to find some stories recorded in the folklore archives, but no: the Duchas Schools Collections reveals nothing of the peak, the lake, nor the townland.

As we descended the track we were grateful that the recent forestry removal has opened up the extensive views to the south, over Roaringwater Bay, but we are also reminded of the devastation that this type of monoculture creates. The scarring of the landscape will last for years, until eventually covered by further spruce planting: then the views will vanish again.

As we left behind the havoc of the ravaged hillsides it was good to find some pastoral prospects, reminding us that West Cork always has unfolding delights and juxtapositions, wherever we wander.

Previous posts in this series:

Knockaphuca, Corrin, Letterlicky Cairn, Lisheennacreagh, Knockatassonig

Stained Glass Detectives – and a Find!

This is the story of what it takes sometimes to ferret out information about stained glass windows – often unsigned and undated and installed too far back for community memory to help. In this case, the window turned out to be a significant addition to the list of important Irish windows. Although it was I who first saw and photographed the windows in 2017, the detective work was largely done by my friend and colleague David Caron. David is the editor of the soon-to-be-published second edition of The Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass and the most knowledgeable stained glass scholar on this island. My own contribution to the Gazetteer focusses on the work of George Walsh, but I am in the habit of photographing stained glass wherever I go, and I often send interesting windows to David or to other colleagues. In 2019, going though my photos, I came across two images that piqued my curiosity and decided to send them to David.

St Colman’s Catholic Church in Macroom (above, photo courtesy of the Buildings of Ireland) is a fine example of Gothic Revival architecture. The original church was built in 1826 – a significant achievement in the period before Catholic Emancipation and especially considering the poverty of the majority of the Catholic population at the time – and remodelled and extended in the 1890s. It has several stained glass windows inside – an Earley, some Harry Clarke Studios from the period after Harry died (such as the one below), and others that are unsigned and possibly imported. A fairly standard assemblage for a church of this period.

What caught my attention, however, were two panels in the entry porch. Rather than being fitted into true windows, the two pieces are installed in back-lit cabinets. The backlighting wasn’t quite bright enough so the windows did not show to full advantage and it was hard to make out any detail. Nevertheless, they were arresting in their modernity and in how different they were to the other windows inside the church. The first, to the left of the door, is an image of St Colman of Cloyne, patron saint of the diocese and of the church itself. He is depicted with a harp, dressed in long robes and with large bare feet. The harp is a reference to his status as a noted bard or poet – medieval bards recited their compositions to the accompaniment of the harp. The figure is surrounded by glass panes of varying shapes mostly in shades of green, and an aura radiates around his head.

The glass to the right of the door is a depiction of the madonna and child. Mary wears a wimple with a fez-like top and a long robe in olive green. She is seated and in her lap is the Christ child with one hand raised in blessing. He wears a crown and a white robe. Their faces are similar with a small mouth, long noise and heavy eyebrows (see lead image). Mary’s large foot rests on a crescent moon and her head and Jesus’ are surrounded  by an aura. Like Colman, the figures are set within irregularly shaped pieces of coloured glass in shades of green.

David decided to track down the mystery of who had made these windows and finally managed to get in touch with Fr O’Donnell, a retired Parish Priest who was very helpful indeed. He remembered that the windows had been made by a “Swedish woman from Skibbereen”. I got on the case and through a series of inquiries found Carin MacCana, who no longer does stained glass but still lives in West Cork. Below is an example of her previous stained glass work from the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, based around the sea creatures of Lough Hyne.

Carin confirmed that she had indeed done one of the windows. Wait, what? One of the windows? Yes, in fact she had been asked to match her window, St Colman, as closely as possible to the existing Madonna and Child window but she did not know who had done that one. Meanwhile, the enterprising Fr O’Donnell (now 90) was making good on his resolve to improve the backlighting. In the course of this, the signature ‘K’ was noticed on the back of the Marian panel. Fr O’Donnell recalled that the Madonna and Child had been presented by the artist Thomas Ryan, PRHA, in memory of a friend of his, a local doctor. Armed with this information, David went back to Carin who then remembered that she had been told the name of the artist was Richard King.

 Richard King in his studio, courtesy of the Capuchin Archives. The 1975 volume has extensive images and moving obituaries for King, beginning on page 169: he was the magazine’s chief artist.

Although I have written about Richard King before (see Richard King in Mayo and Discovering Richard King), I am no expert – but we know who is! David immediately consulted Ruth Sheehy. Ruth has recently published her magisterial study The Life and Work of Richard King: Religion, Nationalism and Modernism – an engaging, erudite and exhaustive study of King’s artistic output, including his stained glass. This is my well-thumbed copy.

She was delighted to confirm that this was indeed the work of Richard King, and that it was a panel she knew existed, but had never managed to find. She pointed us to a similar panel – a ‘twin’ – that King made for the Church of the Holy Cross in Aberaeron in Wales. That panel has been well documented by Martin Crampin, artist and academic, who is the acknowledged expert on Welsh stained glass. He has kindly given me permission to reproduce his photo of that window, “Our Lady of Ireland”, below. For more on that window, see his listing here: http://stainedglass.llgc.org.uk/object/970 and also his blog post about this and another Richard King window in Wales: https://stainedglasswales.wordpress.com/2020/12/17/richard-king/

Of the Welsh window, dating to 1958, in her book, Ruth says:

The Virgin Mary seated with the Christ-child shown in red, is depicted as an Irish woman with a blue shawl around her head and shoulders. The two figures are seen in the centre against a background of large areas of vibrant colour and cubist-abstract shapes. As King knew and admired Mainie Jellett’s art, he would have been aware of her meditative and indirect approach to religious themes as shown by The Ninth Hour. . . Although King’s interpretation of figuration and non-figuration was somewhat different from that of Jellett, the stained glass window of Our Lady of Ireland shows him experimenting with a cubist-abstract approach to form, light and colour which suggests an adaptation of her style.

Mainie Jellett’s The Ninth Hour, 1941, oil on canvas, Collection Dublin City Gallery The Hugh Lane

Regarding the Macroom window, which dates to 1963, Ruth wrote to us in an email:

The Virgin and Child are depicted here as King and Queen of Heaven and this image has similarities with another work by King entitled ‘Our Lady of Ireland’ c. 1958 which is reproduced in the book. The half moon at the Virgin’s feet refers to her immaculate conception. The red and white halo behind the Christ child wearing a crown indicates that his kingship is based on his ultimate Cross and resurrection and is not of this world.. . . . The large hands and feet of the figures and their expressive quality would suggest the influences of Evie Hone and modern German stained glass on King’s stylistic development at this period.

Fr O’Donnell has now had the windows cleaned and installed much improved back-lighting. The results are wonderful and allow us to see the windows properly, as both Carin MacCana and Richard King intended. Carin has done an outstanding job of matching King’s style, which is why we all assumed in the beginning of the hunt for answers, that this was a pair of windows done by the same artist. The colours of the St Colman window, instead of being muddy and autumnal now glow in golds, blues and greens.

As for King’s Madonna and Child window, the colours are quite different from how they appeared before. The background is dominated by light yellows and pale blues and greens, while Mary’s robe is not olive green but a brilliant azure – and it is now obvious that the ‘fez’ is a crown. The red and white halo (a favourite symbol of King’s) is also clearer now. Both of these windows beautifully illustrate the importance of proper back-lighting.

It isn’t every day that you can be part of rediscovering a ‘lost’ work of art – what a privilege it has been to be part of this journey.

What The Forest Was Hiding

There are new forests going in all around us here in West Cork. While Ireland desperately need more trees, mostly in this area they seem to be sitka spruce – a species we have come to dislike intensely since it creates an ecological zone which does not appear to support much biodiversity; it covers, hides and damages much of our historical and archaeological heritage; and it creates dense dark patches on the landscape.

Contrast the biodiversity of a forest of sitka spruce with a planting of deciduous trees

At the end of their growing cycle – 30 to 50 years – the forest is clear-felled, creating an ugly and hazardous environment into which new seedlings are planted. Best practice forestry nowadays is supposed to mix in broad-leaves species, leave nurse logs and open spaces, keep streams clear and accommodate natural habitat throughout the planting.

In our recent walk through a clear-felled forest we saw little evidence of best practice – indeed the seedlings were already in place, in serried ranks and all one species (above). 

In this forest, explored last year, a clearing has been left for a ruined cottage

While an identified and recorded national monument is given a clearing (usually inadequate) in a plantation, other parts of our heritage are simply hidden, destroyed or damaged by the heavy equipment. Alerted by a friend (thank you, Lydia!) we took a walk yesterday on a clear-felled stretch of hillside, to see what the forest had been hiding.

The townland is Derryconnell, between Schull and Ballydehob so it’s within our 5K travel limit. We parked by the gate and walked up the well-maintained forestry road, with the clear-felled landscape all around us. It’s hard not be emotionally impacted by how devastated a landscape like this appears. Clear-cutting is highly controversial, with its proponents arguing that it can be done in an environmentally-positive and sustainable way. I have no idea, because I have no expertise in this area, if this particular patch has been cut using good science – perhaps others can comment.

The trees had been cut after 30 years of growth – I counted the tree rings

We soon saw what we were looking for – the end walls of old stone buildings. We walked up to each in turn, marvelling that they were still to be seen where they had once been completely hidden by trees. There was a west building, a middle set of two (below), and an east building.

It’s hard to know when stone structures like this were last lived in or used and it’s tempting to call something like this the remains of a famine village. However, some of them had cement detailing that indicated they may have been abandoned more recently than their ruinous appearance suggested. Lydia had noticed some late nineteenth or early twentieth century delph – in her photograph some bits looked hand-painted and some looked like transfer ware. 

I went back to early OS maps and Griffith’s Valuation to see if I could put a date on what I was looking at. The earliest map, the Historic 6 inch, dates from 1829 to 1841. It clearly shows (above, on the right, near the red townland boundary) the middle two side-by-side buildings, so we can say for certain that whoever was living in the side-by-side set at the time the map was made, lived through the Famine. The house showed signs of later renovation (cement rendering around a window) so it may have been occupied or used into the twentieth century. 

Above: The two buildings, house (closer) and barn, showing the cement rendering outside the window

These two middle buildings formed a smallholding, with a clearly defined haggard outside the right-hand building. Along this haggard and leading to the house was an old green road (below). We’d like to go back sometime and trace how far this goes – it looked very inviting. 

The right-hand building of the two (below) had two doors but no fireplaces and therefore was most likely in use as a barn. It’s a substantial building but with few features except for a ledge along one wall.

The left-hand building (below) was clearly a house, with a fireplace at each end. The larger fireplace had fallen and the collapse indicated that it had been a tall chimney. This was the principal room of the house, where most of the living and all of the cooking took place.

The other room also had a fireplace and this was a curious small affair, with the flue accommodated entirely within the thickness of the end wall.

Top: the end wall with its small fireplace; Middle: the flue within the walls; Bottom: the top of the wall showing the flue exiting

The easternmost building was very broken down and overgrown and it was hard to make out its features, but we did manage to establish that it had the same kind of small in-the-wall fireplace as the previous cottage, as well as some concrete detailing.

This is the latest of the structures, only showing up on the map that dates from the late 1880s to 1913. The map shows a longish building, with two projections at the rear, neither of which have survived. Given that it’s the newest building, it’s perhaps surprising that it hasn’t fared any better than the others.

The east building on the Historic 25″ map, showing that it was constructed after the 1840s but before 1913. On this map you can also make out the green road that runs behind the middle set of buildings

Finally, the westernmost building, which may or may not appear on any of the maps, has two distinct ‘rooms,’ neither of which has a fireplace, although outwardly it bears the appearance of a house/barn combination (below). There’s a small black dot on the earliest map (the Historic 6”) about where this structure is now, but it doesn’t seem substantial enough for what’s on the ground. Therefore, it seems that this building, or most of it, is also later in date and may even post-date the map from the turn of the 20th century.

Who lived on this section of land? To answer this question we can turn to Griffith’s Valuation. This was a survey of Irish land that took place between 1848 and 1864, to establish the value of property for taxation purposes. The results are online and searchable by townland. The map tells us that the land we are looking at was parcel number 2 in the townland of Derryconnell (below). It was occupied by several tenants, despite the fact that only the side-by-side set of houses are on Griffith’s map. Perhaps the other tenancies refer to the renting of fields. 

What Griffith’s Valuation shows for parcel 2 is that William, Michael and Jeremiah Coghlan rented land from Thomas Cave, and in turn rented land (probably single fields) to Patrick Tuohy, Denis Driscoll, Ellen Spillane, Thomas Sheahan and Michael Sheehan. The Coghlans therefore acted as middlemen between Cave and their renters, illustrating one of the problems with the land systems at the time with the poorest having to pay enough so that a middleman (sometimes a series of them) could get their cut. 

We don’t know much about Thomas S Cave, but he owned extensive property around this area much of which had previously been part of Lord Audley’s mining interests. Beside the Derryconnell lands, he also owned plots in Rossbrin, Cappaghglass and Foilnamuck – all areas associated with mining – and he owned and may have lived in Cappagh House, a beautiful period property we featured in our post on the mine chimney that blew down and now lived in by our lovely neighbours Mark and Terri O’Mahoney and their family. Below is an old photograph of that house and the chimney as it stood then.

This has turned to be a little meander though history, geography and ecology and all the more enjoyable as I didn’t expect to be so stimulated when we set out for a simple walk within our 5K limit. Once again, thanks to Lydia, friend and fellow history buff, for the information on where to go, how to get there, and what to look out for.

Back to the Irish Canals

Our readers with good memories may remember a long-running series I penned five years ago, about the canals of Ireland. I revisited that series recently – for a Trasna na Tíre talk* – and realised that I had left it incomplete back in 2017! What better time to finish off the journey than now – when we can only travel outside our lockdown limits through virtual technology?

In 2016 Finola and I explored part of the Irish canal system, following in the footsteps of Tom and Angela Rolt who had voyaged the same way exactly 70 years before, in 1946. They were pioneers in their day, as boating for ‘pleasure’ on the canals was rare. In their book Green & Silver they also managed to capture, in words and photographs, the essence of a decaying transport system in Ireland immediately following WWII, and our travels tried to give an impression of the considerable transformation of inland waterways in Ireland since their time. We traversed, on road and on foot, their voyage around the Shannon Navigation, and the Grand and Royal Canals.

The upper photograph was taken by Angela Rolt in 1946: it shows the Rolt’s boat moored up in sleepy Robertstown (Grand Canal), receiving the attentions of a crowd of small children who had never seen a pleasure cruiser before. Below that is the photo of Robertstown we took in 2016, seventy years later. Our own travels in that year, however, omitted the Rolt’s journey through Dublin, when they had to pass across the Liffey and Dublin Port to get from the Grand Canal to the Royal Canal. The header is an extract from a 19th century map of the docks area in Dublin.

That’s the ‘Green & Silver’ route, above, which the Rolts travelled in 1946. Starting from Athlone they went anti-clockwise around the triangle formed by the Shannon Navigation, Grand Canal; and Royal Canal. This involved crossing the Liffey in Dublin

We have visited Dublin many times in recent years, and I managed to take photographs to complement those of the Rolts, in order to finally complete the ‘Green & Silver’ series today. First, however, let’s try to get an idea of the scale of Dublin Port by comparing aerial views, like by like, of that district and our own Rossbrin Cove in West Cork. The scale and area of each of these two photographs is exactly the same (1600 hectares): the demography (population and land use) couldn’t be more different.

. . . After tea we journeyed on through Landestown and Digby Bridge Locks to the Leinster aqueduct over the River Liffey. It was an attractive pound, the canal skirting a ridge of high ground on our right with a view over the valley to the left until it turned to cross the river. As there was little traffic about, we stopped for a few moments on the aqueduct, an impressive structure of four arches, to look down at the swift flowing peat-stained waters which we next should see, and enter, in the heart of Dublin . . .

Green & Silver by L T C Rolt, Chapter 6
Top – early print of the Leinster Aqueduct, Grand Canal; lower – the Rolts pause to admire the structure as they cross the Liffey on the aqueduct

. . . The day before we were due to leave our moorings at Grand Canal Dock I thought it as well to reconnoitre the entrance from the Liffey into the Royal Canal at Spencer Dock, North Wall. The channel into the tidal lock was barred by an enormous rolling lift bridge over which an endless procession of cars and lorries was rattling and thundering. To my eyes it appeared as though this formidable barrier was seldom or never moved. In any case it seemed optimistic to suppose that this ponderous mechanism would be operated, and the traffic along North Wall suspended, merely to allow the passage of our small craft. Looking up at the dock I saw yet another obstacle; a drawbridge this time operated by two steel beams high overhead which looked at this distance, with their long rods linking beams to bridge, like a pair of slender, long-beaked birds. This carried Sherriff Street, another busy thoroughfare, across the dock . . .

GREEN & SILVER BY L T C ROLT, CHAPTER 8
Top – Tom Rolt surveying the Scherzer style ‘rolling lift bridge’ located at the entrance to Spencer Dock, Royal Canal, in 1946. It was erected by the firm of Spencer & Co of Melksham, Wiltshire, in 1912. The bridge was worked by an electric motor – now removed. Lower – the bridge in the present day

. . . It looked as if our passage bade fair to dislocate the traffic of Dublin. I thereupon visited the engineers department of Corus Iompair Eireann at Westland Row Station where I tactfully suggested that if I came up to North Wall at low tide we might just be able to get under the bridge there, but I was received with helpful courtesy and matters were quickly arranged. Of course the bridge would be lifted, that was no trouble at all. And when did I wish to come up the river. To-morrow? High tide was at noon; if I would undertake to be at the bridge at that time it would be opened at once. Arrangements were made on the spot by telephone . . .

GREEN & SILVER BY L T C ROLT, CHAPTER 8
Upper – Angela Rolt’s photograph of the Sherriff Street lift bridge at Spencer Dock, Royal Canal, in 1946; centre – the lift bridge today (courtesy  William Murphy aka Infomatique). Lower – the overhead beam lift bridge mechanism is a principle often found on canal navigations: here is a more vernacular example on the Barrow Navigation (from Ireland of the Welcomes, 1971)

. . . Next morning we crossed the waters of the outer basin and entered the tidal lock. Actually there are three locks of different sizes here, side by side, and we entered the smallest of them which was on our port side. The lower gates opened, we paid a final farewell to the Grand Canal, and were soon dancing over the little waves of the Liffey mouth. It was our one brief taste of salt water. Having made sure that no steamers were on the move to or from the quays, we headed straight across the channel and came up the river close to the North Wall side. We swung straight in and got our lines onto the quay wall precisely at the time appointed. Everything went like clockwork. The bridgeman clambered up into his overhead cabin, men appeared from nowhere armed with red flag to stop the traffic and in a few moments, with a rumble of machinery, the bridge opened remarkable swiftly. We passed through into the tidal lock, and the bridge as quickly closed behind us. While the lock was filling, I paid my dues, two pounds for the ninety-two miles and forty-seven locks to Richmond Harbour. This done, the Sherriff Street Bridge drew up with similar despatch and we sailed through to begin our journey on the Royal Canal. Probably very few of the thousands who pass over the North Wall Bridge or board the steamer for Liverpool or Glasgow at the nearby quay suspect that this is the gateway of a forgotten water road which leads through the heart of Ireland . . .

GREEN & SILVER BY L T C ROLT, CHAPTER 8

Grand Canal Dock, Dublin – photographs which we took in 2014 (above). The decline which was apparent then continues to this day. Currently there is a plan to sell much of the land for redevelopment. It goes without saying that navigable water will need to be retained to allow access from the Grand Canal itself to the Liffey. Below – another context for the Port of Dublin in the 1950s!

The Heinkel Kabine ‘bubble car’ was designed by the same company which produced German long-range heavy bombers during the Second World War: this famous micro-car was manufactured for a short time between 1956 and 1958 under licence in Dundalk’s Great Northern Railway Ireland (GNRI) works. More than 6,000 were manufactured here.

The beauty of the rural Royal Canal: Chaigneau Bridge, Ballybranigan, Co Longford in 2016

The previous series of Roaringwater Journal posts on Irish waterways can be found (in reverse order) here.

*Robert’s Trasna na Tíre talk can be reached on this link.

O’Donovan Country (Sweet Ilen – Part 6)

Here’s a forerunner to Roaringwater Journal (above)! Philip Dixon Hardy lived from 1794 to 1875 and described himself as a poet, bookseller, printer, and publisher. He was the first to use a steam-powered printing press in Ireland and was the editor of The Dublin Penny Journal which was published every Saturday between 1832 and 1836. If you scroll through the contents you will see articles on all aspects of Irish life and accounts of many of his travels through the Irish countryside, including a series of ‘Rides through County Cork’. He was undoubtedly a man after our own hearts!

Continuing our own series of travels, exploring the Ilen River, we can’t help comparing our impressions of Castle Donovan (above) – which overlooks the Ilen after it has cascaded down from the summit of Mullaghmesha and broadened out to cross the plains of Cork County – with those that are recorded by Philip Dixon Hardy as he journeyed over the same terrain in 1828, almost two centuries ago.

The upper picture is taken from the Ilen plain looking north, with the castle tower set against the high mountains beyond. Above is our earliest known photograph of the castle: it comes from the Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland, and could date from the 1880s. Juxtapose this with the Dublin Penny Journal view, 50 years before that, shown under our header at the top of the page. Bear in mind that Hardy carried out most of his travels on foot:

. . . We will now suppose the the tourist who rejoiceth in the splendour of a wheel carriage has proceeded without any interruption to Bantry. We will act in the charitable capacity of guides to the humbler pedestrian. Him we would advise to select the old, or northern road, leaving Dunmanway to the west. Thence it proceeds to the lofty hill of Mielane, and surmounting a rising ground beyond this eminence, the vale of Castle Donovan (which forms the subject of our sketch) opens on the sight. It is hard to conceive of any thing more wild, more desolate, more lonely, than this savage vale. … I reached the eminence which commands it from the east, about two in the afternoon of a warm sunny day. Trees there are none in this district, and the heathy covering of the hills was incapable of showing any marks of the advancing season. In the centre of the vale beneath me, was the tall, castellated tower; an extensive marshy meadow lay beyond it, bounded by the steep rocky hills of Mullaugh-Nesha, and its peaked brethren. . .

Philip Dixon Hardy, 1828, from The Dublin Penny Journal

The Castle itself has a fairly well recorded history, although its origins are unclear. James N Healy – The Castles of County Cork, The Mercier Press 1988 – suggests that the first fortification on this site dates from the early 13th century, but the present building is more likely to be 16th century. There is a carved stone in a window embrasure on an upper floor which bears the date 1626, but Healy suggests that this marks a later restoration of the castle, and gives a probable date of construction between 1560 and 1584.

The castle was traditionally the seat of the Clann Cathail sept of the O’Donovans, and was first named ‘Sowagh’. I can’t find any origin for this name. Healy gives an intriguing story:

. . . A local story is told of how O’Donovan and his ally MacCarthy Duna hanged a protestant woman at the castle in 1641, as a result of which the curse of a corroding drip from the main arch was placed on the building. This would not cease until the demise of the last of the family: the castle does not appear to have been lived in again.

James N Healey – 1988 The Castles of County Cork

It is recorded that Cromwell’s officers attacked the castle and it was left in ruins. Returning to The Dublin Penny Journal, Philip Dixon Hardy describes his exploration of the remains:

. . . I diverged from the road to examine the old castle; it is founded on a rough rock whose surface, forming the floor of the vaulted hall of the castle, retains all its original inequalities. Strange notions of comfort must our ancestors have had! Here were men, possessed of a large tract of country, sufficiently wealthy to build several castles; and in this one, the constant residence for many years of a principal branch of the family, the floor of the hall is bare rock, which never has been levelled, and which is intersected with two or three ridgy indentations, nearly two feet in depth, and extending almost the whole length of the apartment!

PHILIP DIXON HARDY, 1828, FROM THE DUBLIN PENNY JOURNAL

This is what Hardy is referring to – in fact it’s not ‘the vaulted hall of the castle’! It’s the lowest floor – at ground level – and was in all likelihood a store or cattle shed. It might even have been a dungeon. The main ‘hall’ of the castle is on an upper level.

The castle structure was stabilised by the OPW and public access to the grounds was granted in 2013. Restoration works included the replacement of key elements of the masonry to prevent further decay. The ‘peep-hole’ above allows a view by a sentry located just inside the entry door of who might be standing outside: perhaps an undesirable character (below):

When you visit Castle Donovan, look over the low wall to the west of the tower itself. You will see an archaeological feature which is quite rare today, but was once common all over Ireland from early times: a cereal-drying kiln (also called a corn-drying or grain drying kiln).

What is a cereal-drying kiln? Here is a good summary, from Irish Archaeology. It looks almost megalithic – and the earliest one dated so far goes back to the Bronze Age, but there are many that are medieval, and this one at Castle Donovan is likely to be contemporary with the castle itself. The structure has a fire-pit (below) and trays of cereal were placed above the fire, and in this case under a capstone, presumably protecting the corn from wind and rain.

This extract from the 25″ Ordnance Survey map (late 19th century) shows the castle overlooking the Ilen River and, to the south, the bridge and the old school. To finish off this episode in the Ilen series, we will pause at this bridge. There’s plenty to see – good views back to the castle from the arches of the stone bridge; the site of the old National School. There is no sign of the building today, but there is a memorial stone:

This is from the Duchas Schools Folklore Collection, dating from 1937:

. . . Walkers: it was no uncommon thing for people to walk to and from Cork in olden times – often carrying baskets. Tradition has it that a woman Magg Hourihan of Deelis did the double journey on foot in one day (approximately 90 miles). Biddy Regan of Castledonovan is credited with the same feat – The occasion in both cases being the payment of Rent (which at that time was often paid through Cork butter factors). Herewith is a direction given to people who were unacquainted with the road – Bí ag dul soir, soir, soir – go bfeidir séipéal ar thaobh do láimhe deise ni fada uait Corcaig annsan.


Seán Ó Súilleabháin, múinteoir Deelish Co Cork

Previous episodes in this series: Sweet Ilen : Sweet Ilen – Part 2 : Sweet Ilen – Part 3 : Sweet Ilen – Part 4 : Sweet Ilen – Part 5

Another Gate Post (Vernacular Gates of West Cork 2)

The hand-forged wrought iron farm gate, featured in last week’s post, was once ubiquitous around West Cork, mostly made by local blacksmiths. Perhaps enterprising blacksmiths also mass-produced gates, which were then sold by local shops. In Ballydehob, for example, around 1890, Wolfe’s shop was selling this gate, captured by the photographer Robert French and now part of the Lawrence Collection at the National Library of Ireland (used with their permission).

To understand the technology and skill that went into making and repairing these gates, take a look at this video, the follow-on to last week’s, from Shem Caulfield in Kilkenny. (If you haven’t already seen Part 1, check back on it now for diagrams of what I will be talking about.)

Forge-welding, as illustrated in the video, can be seen in this gate (below), located on the Twelve Arch Bridge in Ballydehob, separating the bridge from what was once the railway station. [Or so I thought – read on to see how mistaken I was.]

The hooped strengthening bars are a very common element in West Cork vernacular gates, but in this case, you can clearly see that the loops have been added by forge-welding. The other thing about this gate is the perfection and uniformity of the twists – a very skilful job indeed. And not a rivet in sight – each joint appears to be forge-welded. [EDIT: I got this SO wrong. This is not an example of forge welding, but “a dodgy repair job with an arc welder” – thanks to Pat O’Driscoll for putting me straight. I think we can take it this is NOT a hand-forged gate but a more recent example – machine made, given the perfection of the twists. I am adding this clarification rather than deleting the photograph and text to show that we are all still learning!]

A more common, and perhaps more traditional approach was to make these looped strengthening bars by bending one continuous length of iron and attaching them to the cross bars with rivets. This beautiful gate (above), still in situ in Ballybane, near Ballydehob, illustrates this.

In this photograph you can see that the cross bars are joined to the slapping stile with a mortice and tenon joint. In the forge the stile is heated until a hole can be punched through it. The end of the bar is inserted into this hole and then hammered flat to fix it in place.

Using the same mortice and tenon technique, a heel is affixed to the top (and sometimes the bottom bar) to further strengthen and hang the gate and prevent sagging. Across the road from this gate is an identical one (below) where only half the original gate remains – how wonderful that it is still kept in place!

Entrance gates performed a different function than a farm or field gate. The height of a field gate accommodated the head of a horse or a cow to look over it. Entrance gates, understandably, were often made to deter anyone from going over them. They were taller and certainly less inviting to a climber. I spotted this lovely red set in Rossmore – you can see all the traits of the hand-forged gate in them.

But entrance gates were also designed to make a more prestigious statement about the people going through them or the house behind them. This beautiful set of gates (below) is on the road up to Brow Head and is definitely made to impress. My favourite part is that there is a discrete pedestrian gate built in to them.

Finally, a couple of garden gates – perfect for leaning across for the chat with the neighbours. This one is next door to me, rescued and re-purposed by my friend Hildegard. I love the way the stiles have been split – such a simple way to create a decorative element.

And how about this one, spotted at Coolkelure? A few simple twists and a couple of scrolls and you’ve got a pretty little gate that will last forever.

Over the course of the twentieth century hand-forged entrance gates gave way to cast-iron gates made in foundries and eventually to mass-produced and imported varieties, bought from a catalogue. Meanwhile, farmers bought the tubular steel gates that are everywhere around us. When you see those gates, remember that they have probably replaced a hand-forged example of the blacksmith’s skill, such as the ones in Brian Lalor’s engraving below, which conjures up for me such a feeling for a lost tradition.

© Brian Lalor, used with permission