Schull Sculpture – Anchor, Mermaid and Lunachán

The harbour town of Schull, in West Cork, is wonderfully located on a naturally sheltered inlet looking out to Long Island Bay and ‘Carbery’s Hundred Isles’. From the pier you can take the Foreshore Walk (above) – a significant community asset – and follow a route which encircles the settlement, passing, on the way, another surviving piece of sculpture from the West Cork Arts Centre Living Landscape exhibitions, dating from the 1980s to the 1990s and masterminded by Cóilín Murray. We are indebted to Cóilín for providing an archive of photographs to the Ballydehob Arts Museum, and for being willing to contribute his own memories of the installation of the West Cork Sculpture Trail, which has greatly helped in putting together the story of this venture, over a quarter of a century later.

This is the second in a series of posts being published simultaneously by Roaringwater Journal and the Ballydehob Arts Museum, celebrating an important aspect of art history in West Cork. The first article – Behold, Their Bright Shining Future Rising Before Them – discussed Michael Bulfin’s ‘Pyramid’ sculpture beside the N71 road at Skeaghanore East between Skibbereen and Ballydehob. That work can still be seen, but is in a very overgrown state. The subject today is a piece by Mick O’Sullivan, titled Anchor, Mermaid and Lunachán. This is at present a well preserved surviving work from the Sculpture Trail although, like many others, it has suffered in the past from vandalism.

Upper – this photograph dates from the time of installation of the Anchor sculpture in Schull: it was originally situated close to the water below the Sailing School. Lower – the restored Anchor sculpture (far left of picture) is now sited above the Foreshore Walk, by the top of the slipway

The Anchor has the remarkably realistic texture of a corroded and barnacle-encrusted ancient piece of ironwork which might have rested on the ocean bed for countless years… In reality, it is fabricated from glass-fibre resin and – if dropped into the sea – it would float!

It was, in fact, sent out to sea… Deliberately damaged in the late 1990s, it was broken into two parts and thrown in the water. The two sections ‘sailed’ side by side towards Long Island until they were rescued by one of the Schull fishing boats. Eventually the remains of the artwork arrived in Cóilín’s garden in Skeaghanore, awaiting a saviour.

Upper – Michael O’Sullivan at the launch of his ‘Anchor’ sculpture, together with Christine Choice, board member of WCAC. Lower – a 1982 watercolour by Michael O’Sullivan: St Brendan Discovers the Crystal Pool (IMMA Permanent Collection)

Michael O’Sullivan was born in Dublin in 1945. He gained a Diploma in Sculpture from the National College of Art and Design (NCAD), and was a lecturer there until his retirement. He has been greatly influenced in his life and art by the works of James Joyce, and is a noted scholar and lecturer on Joyce. Cóilín Murray and Michael O’Sullivan remain good friends and when the pieces of the anchor were recovered Michael came back to Schull to help in a restoration project on the sculpture instigated by a staff member at Schull College. The Anchor was reassembled and placed in its present position, where it is hopefully less vulnerable. A plaque there commemorates the 2000 ‘resurrection’ project and gives the names of the students who were closely involved in the reconstruction work.

The restored Anchor is appropriately located in the context of the Schull Sailing Centre

The word Lunachán – referring to the topmost part of the Anchor sculpture – is made up (by Michael)! I asked Cóilín for clarification and here is his response:

The word is an invention of his …Witty? ….
Amadán …in Irish …a bit of a fool …
Luna …the moon …
Lunachán …the reference to the moon and the howling at the full moon etc … Most of Mick’s work has layers and riddles…

Upper – the Lunachán today. Lower – Michael O’Sullivan and Lunachán – shortly after the sculpture was first installed in Schull

It’s good that the community in Schull was sufficiently enthusiastic about the restoration of this sculpture to support its reinstatement in the Millennium year. Twenty years later, perhaps we should consider a revival of the West Cork Sculpture Trail with new artwork to link in to the few surviving pieces? The overall Living Landscapes project – of which this was just one part – helped to give the West Cork Arts Centre its still vigorous identity and national reputation. Surely – when tourists return to the Wild Atlantic Way post-Covid – such a venture could provide a stimulating cooperation between art and landscape?

Schull-Under-The-Mountain, spring 2020

Kilcoe Castle – A Magnificent Reconstruction

Kilcoe Castle has been wonderfully restored and conserved by Jeremy Irons. His work allows us to see what a 15th century castle would have looked like in the landscape and has saved a precious piece of our heritage. This is important as there are so few castles that have been conserved here and lots that have disappeared or are in danger of doing so. Before you read on you might like to refresh your understanding of our West Cork castles, or Tower Houses, by reading When is a Castle?; Tower House Tutorial, Part 1; Tower House Tutorial, Part 2; or Illustrating the Tower House: A Guest Blog (sort of)

First of all, let’s address the issue of the colour of the exterior lime render, since this has been controversial. In fact, the only reason it’s been criticised is that people are not used to seeing castles as they originally stood, since the lime render has long ago disappeared from them, leaving the familiar bare stone walls that people have assumed was how they looked from the start. But all castles were rendered – without that they would have been porous and running with water inside and out.

This is JG O’Donoghue’s reconstruction drawing (used with permission) of what a fifteenth century tower house would have looked like. It was based on Kilcrea Castle. Note the white render and note also that another white castle can be seen in the distance

And the render was coloured! There is evidence of all kinds of additions that would have added colour, including animal fats, blood and hair, flour, shell, sand and stone rubble. The plasterer had his formula and also used what was available locally, materials that would increase cohesion and improve drying time. Irish places names abound in references to coloured castles – just Google the words “castle Ireland” and then put white, black, red, green in front of it and see how many there are. Or look for Irish equivalents, such as Castlederg – for Caisleán Dearg, meaning Red Castle. There’s even a Castleboy in Meath that comes from Caisleán Buí, meaning yellow castle. So the choice of colour was not idiosyncratic or random but well grounded in historical precedents. The render was essential to keep the castle dry and will have to be renewed occasionally as it does eventually wash away – which is why very few examples have survived from the fifteenth century.

The other reason to include colouring elements in the render was to make the castle stand out in the landscape. These were statement residences and the statement was one of power and prestige. They were meant to be seen from a long way off so that nobody could be in any doubt who was the most important person in the neighbourhood. In West Cork, they were also meant to be seen from other castles – those built either by members of the same or another family (the McCarthys, O’Mahonys, O’Driscolls, O’Sullivans or O’Donovans). Kilcoe was a McCarthy castle: the McCarthys were the overlords of all the West Cork clans and this castle was inserted right into the middle of territory controlled by the O’Mahony’s and the O’Driscolls as a constant reminder of the hierarchy. Accordingly, Kilcoe is the largest castle in Roaringwater Bay and has a unique design that incorporates an additional corner tower, distinguishing it from all the other castes around it. There is only one other West Cork castle of the same design – Dunmanus Castle on Dunmanus Bay, a castle of the O’Mahonys.

It was also important that castles could be seen from the water, because control of the fisheries was what gave the great West Cork families their vast wealth. Salted herring and pilchards were staples of the European diet in the Middle Ages because there were so many fasting days on which eating of meat was forbidden and because fresh food wasn’t always readily available in the winter. The O’Mahonys and O’Driscolls catered to the huge fleets of Spanish, French, Portuguese and British fishing boats that plied the waters of Roaringwater Bay, providing, for hefty fees, permission to fish in ‘their’ waters, fish processing facilities and salt in several ‘fish palaces’ along the shore, fresh water, and taverns with fine wines and (sorry) accommodating women. The McCarthy’s must have been involved in this lucrative trade too, but it is also likely that their objective in building Kilcoe was to keep an eye on the the ‘take’ so that they could extract, as befitted those at the top of the food chain, their due share from those who owed them submission and therefore were obligated to yield up hefty donations on a yearly basis.

Castles such as Kilcoe were heavily fortified. Mostly the inhabitants were worried about incursions by other Irish families. It was not until after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 that the forces of the British Crown came to lay siege to Kilcoe. Thanks to its defensive features and siting Kilcoe was able to hold out longer than any other West Cork castle. The McCarthys abandoned it after Kinsale but an O’Driscoll held on until finally surrendering in 1603. What were the features of this castle that allowed it to resist so successfully?

Fist of all, it was sited on a small island. Like a few other West Cork castles, it was connected by a causeway that could be destroyed at will, cutting off access to the castle. It was surrounded by a strong bawn wall, which is clearly visible now as it has been reconstructed. The wall was punctured by arrow loops and had a wall walk at the top where crenellations provided cover for archers. The roof of the tower also had a wall walk and crenellations – in this case they took the form of what became known as Irish Crenellations. These were stepped or ‘toothed’ battlements, with tall parts (merlons) behind which defenders could take cover and shorter parts (crenels) for shooting from. The crenellations have been expertly reconstructed as part of the restoration of the castle.

Heavy ordinance such as cannons were not yet staples of siege warfare in Ireland – it was Cromwell who unleashed their destructive force half a century later. When the castle finally surrendered, it was intact. Over the years, of course, it fell into disrepair and finally into ruin. It was shored up and some work was done by the Samuels family, but when they sold it to Jeremy Irons the restoration program got underway.

What Kilcoe Castle looked like before reconstruction

This is a private home and I have never been inside it. But if you are curious you can see lots of interior photographs here: https://jeremyirons.net/category/kilcoe-castle/. My objective in this post has been to emphasise the importance of the restoration of this magnificent tower house so that it will be a highlight of West Cork heritage for generations to come, as well as to acknowledge the solid research that went into the reconstruction program, resulting in a spectacular structure that is a superb and historically-accurate addition to our West Cork landscape. Thank you, Jeremy Irons and your team, from all of us in West Cork.

 

The Stone Circles of West Cork: Multiple Stone Circles

West Cork is home to a great concentration of prehistoric stone circles. While all of them share certain characteristics, there is a clear division between those containing only five stones and the multiples stone circles that contain seven or more, such as the Derreenataggart stone circle on the Beara, sketched by Peter Clarke, above. This post is about the multiple stone circles – I am leaving the five stone circles until next time. If you haven’t yet read The Stone Circles of West Cork: An Introduction, you might like to do that now before reading further.

Although we love getting out in the field and visiting ancient monuments, such as this stone circle at Maughnaclea, we have to confess that the sun doesn’t always shine

Although this post covers some of the same ground as the Introduction, my aim here is to concentrate on the larger circles and show you what they actually look like on the ground*. An online search for ‘West Cork Stone Circles’ will bring you to many pages of information about Drombeg but precious little else. Drombeg is a marvellous site and its excavation yielded much-needed information about stone circles, but it’s only one site – the one with the signposts and car park.

How about this one, for example, at Cappanaboule – it’s a bit of a hike and there’s no car park – but what a place!

Multiple stone circles in West Cork all fall under the heading of recumbent or axial circles, in which two portal stones (usually the tallest in the circle) stand opposite a recumbent and the line that passes through the portals and over the recumbent is considered to be the axis of the circles. However, within this predominant design, there are variations in how the builders decided to construct their circles.

A closer look at the Cappanaboule stone circle: ten of the original thirteen stones are still there and there’s a boulder burial in the middle

The most noticeable variation, of course, is the size of the circle and the number of stones it contains, from seven to an estimated nineteen. We don’t know why the builders made these choices, although as with most construction, size can be equated with wealth: building a stone circle was an arduous undertaking necessitating the ability to commandeer a significant labour force. Perhaps also a larger circle with more stones permitted finer gradations of alignments, if this was the purpose of the circle, or more expansive ceremonials within the boundary of the circle.

This is Gorteanish stone circle on the Sheep’s Head, only discovered in the 1990s when the Sheep’s Head Way trail was being cut. It’s hard to see what’s here because it’s so overgrown but it probably included 11 stones, four of which are still standing and two possible boulder burials, one inside and one outside the circle

The portals are normally the tallest stones in the circle but occasionally they are also set radially, or edge-on, to give the impression of a natural entrance.

This is one of the two stone circles in the townland of Knocks. It illustrates well the portal stones being radially set and being the tallest stones in the circle. In my photograph you are looking across the recumbent to the portals and in Peter’s sketch you are doing the opposite

In only three cases an extra pair of stones helps to emphasise the entry point by creating a short passage. One example of this is Carrigagrenane, which is also one of the largest circles at nineteen stones.

Carrigagrenane stone circle has double portals, creating a funnel or passage into the circle. This site is very overgrown and hard to locate so a lot of bracken-bashing was necessary to get this shot. Amanda is standing between the two outer portals

Conversely, the recumbent or axial stone is normally the lowest stone in the circle and the broadest (since it is set with its long axis parallel to the ground) but even here variation occurs. The axial stone at Ardgroom Outward, for example, is a pillar stone. Indeed, it can sometimes be difficult to decide where the axis line of the circle runs, if stones have fallen or are missing.

Ardgroom Outward stone circle, on the Beara is spectacularly sited. The axial stone, along with all the others in the circle, is a pillar stone rather than a recumbent. Note also the large monolith outside the circle to the right. The natural view-lines are to the north

Monoliths (single standing stones or blocks set on the ground) are present at some sites, either inside or outside the circle (as at Ardgroom Outward, above). Where they are inside they are placed off-centre. Where they are outside, they can be close to the circle or some way off but visible from it. These are usually called outliers.

This is the second stone circle in the townland of Knocks, the more southerly of the two. My photograph illustrates the line of sight over the recumbent, across a slightly off-centre monolith, to a radially set portal. Peter’s sketch illustrates the whole circle

Quartz is a stone of choice for some of these monoliths but it is interesting that quartz is never in use as a circle orthostat. 

The stone circle at Maulatanvally includes a large quartz conglomerate block within the circle. I was struck by how it was gleaming on a dull day

Standing stone pairs can also function as outliers to a multiple stone circle. At Dunbeacon this outlier pair is almost half a kilometre from the circle across the valley, but each is clearly visible from the other. Originally a third standing stone also stood within 50 metres of the standing stone pair, but it has now disappeared.

Dunbeacon stone circle, recently corralled inside a wooden fence. The natural view-line from this circle is to Mount Corrin to the east, rather than the south or west. The standing stone pair in Coolcoulaghta are located in front of the furthest house to the left in the photograph.

Another association is with boulder burials, sometimes found outside the circle, as in Bohonagh (see An Introduction) where the boulder burial capstone is quartz and contains cupmarks. At Ballyvacky (below) a boulder burial stands about 50 metres from the circle and a standing stone once stood beside it.

My photograph is taken from the Ballyvacky boulder burial, looking across to the stone circle. Peter’s sketch shows what is still standing – seven of the original nine stones. You can see that the remaining portal is radially set and that the recumbent is the largest stone in the circle

Boulder burials, as we have seen, are also found inside the circle: one of the most spectacular examples of this is at Breeny More (below) where a group of four boulder burial are set in a square within a large circle from which most of the stones are missing.

Finally, occasional stone circles will be surrounded by a fosse or shallow ditch. The most striking example is at Reenascreena, below.

Visiting stone circles, I am struck by features which appear to be similar at all or most of the sites. Many are situated on elevated sites with expansive views to the south and west. While this has been well documented by archaeologists, it’s one thing to read about it and yet another to visit several circles on one day and find yourself expecting a certain set of circumstances as you tune in to patterns in the sites themselves. What the orientation descriptions don’t mention, for example, is that the choice of location often features rising ground behind the circles which obscures the horizon to the north.

The rising ground behind Dunbeacon stone circle cuts off the view of Dunmanus Bay and concentrates the view-lines towards the east and south-east

Occasionally the higher ground obscuring the horizon is not to the north at all, but to the south or south-west – confounding our expectations that the obvious view-lines will be to the south and west. Cappanaboule is strikingly situated thus, as is Ardgroom Outward.

And then we have examples in fairly flat country with no really obvious view-lines. This can be complicated by surrounding forestry, as at Knockaneirk (above) where, if there was an obvious orientation over the recumbent it has long been hidden by tall tree.

Ardgroom Outward stone circle is dramatically silhouetted against the mountains of the Beara peninsula as you walk up the track towards it

Next time I will write about the five stone circles – there are as many of them as there are the multiple stone circles and while they share most of the same features they have their own special character.

*Most of these photographs (like the one of Breeny More, above) were taken last year or in previous year, and many of them in the company of Amanda (Holy Wells of Cork and Kerry) and Peter (Hikelines) Clarke. I am indebted to Peter for the sketches. Not being able to get out into the field to visit and photograph more circles has been frustrated this year by Covid19 travel restrictions, so I have decided to go ahead and use what I have, rather than wait to add to my collection. 

A Hobby Horse in Ireland?

Surviving tradition in Ireland – a May garland seen on a threshold in Schull, West Cork. on May Day this year

We are in the month of May. How significant is that here in Ireland? Well, if it’s any indication, it’s a fact that Irish folklorist Kevin Danaher (1913 – 2002) gives far more space in his writings to May and traditional May customs than to any other single subject or season.

Kevin Danaher of Athea, Co Limerick, at the Irish folklore Commission in 1954. the photographer was Dorothea Lange, who features in this post

In the west of England, which has always had close links with Ireland in terms of language, culture and industry – the month of May has long been celebrated with a strong focus on the ‘Hobby Horse’, a phenomenon which bridges the worlds of superstition, spectacle and folklore. In two places – Padstow in Cornwall and Minehead in Somerset – Hobby Horse (or, colloquially ‘Obby Oss’) festivals are huge events – usually. In 2020, sadly, both had to be cancelled due to Covid19 restrictions: probably the first time in hundreds of years that they have not taken place. The Minehead Oss has a recorded history that goes back to at least 1465, while in Padstow they will tell you that the Obby Oss has been revered forever on the First of May with never a break.

The Padstow Oss has survived through peacetime and wartime. This rare photograph (above) – attributed to Joshua Barret – was taken in 1944, while the early 20th century photograph (below) of the Minehead Oss is my all time favourite of a folk custom: the Oss always has and always will perambulate the town every year, even if no-one is interested in watching it!

As we find this very strong May tradition thriving (usually) in the west of England, we might expect to see an equivalent in Ireland, but you can’t immediately think of a Padstow or Minehead equivalent. Oh, yes – the Hobby Horse is purely Irish, in that there was once a now extinct breed – called a Hobby – which is said to have been the genetic source of all race horses since pre-Roman times!

. . . It is possible to trace the root of the Irish Hobby back to the northern Iberian Peninsula where this peculiar population of horse seemed to first be recognised about 700 BC, identified as the Celtic Horse. It was a small horse, gaited and exceedingly fast. It was the fastest horse in the known world back then, by 400 BC the Greeks called them the Thieldones and immortalized them on the frieze of the Parthenon, and this breed was already the Roman’s preferred steeds for racing. Pliny even writes about them in 77 AD, and we know when the Romans invaded Britain they brought those horses with them. But the Romans found that when they arrived they were met by the natives who had Celtic Horses already–horses which had been brought to Britain centuries earlier in trade from Spain by the Phoenicians for the metal mined there . . .

(Source – Sport Horse Breeder.com)

I won’t dwell on this idea that the Irish Hobby Horse was the ancestor of all modern pure bred sports horses – and was probably responsible for the innate Irish love of everything to do with horses and sport – as I am getting completely out of my depth here, and it’s all a bit off-topic anyway! Although, who knows how and where that name might have migrated over the centuries?

The culmination of the Padstow ceremony on May Day is the ‘meeting’ of the Red and Blue Oss at the huge maypole in the Town Square on the evening of the day (above). They have to close the town to all traffic because of the enormous crowds who attend, and you can see why the ‘social distancing’ rules could never have been applied to the event. Let’s hope that in future years ‘normality’ will have returned sufficiently to our lives to ensure that these ancient customs continue. In my lifetime I have been to Padstow on May Day at least thirty times, and also to Minehead on many occasions: I have good memories of them both.

In order to find a precedent in Ireland for a traditional Oss, I have mined the enormous archive that Kevin Danaher left behind in the Irish Folklore Commission, and I am pleased to report a whisper of success! Danaher uses various sources to summarise an account of traditions taking place in Ireland on May Day:

From the diary of Joshua Wight, a Quaker, we learn that so late as the middle of the eighteenth century, propitiatory rustic processions took place in the south of Ireland. The observer records, that about noon in the month of May, 1752, there passed through the streets of Limerick many thousand peasants marshalled in companies, representing various branches of agriculture…

 

And Thomas Crofton Croker (1825) tells us of what he calls mummers:

 

‘They consist of a number of the girls and young men of the village or neighbourhood, usually selected for their good looks, or their proficiency, – the females in the dance, the youths in hurling and other athletic exercises. They march in procession… Two of them bear each a holly-bush, in which are hung several new hurling-balls. the bush is decorated with a profusion of long ribbons which adds greatly to the gay and joyous, yet strictly rural appearance of the whole. The procession is always preceded by music; sometimes of the bagpipes, but more commonly of a military fife, with the addition of a drum or tambourine. A clown is, of course, in attendance: he wears a frightful mask, and bears a long pole, with shreds of cloth nail to the end of it, like a mop, which ever and anon he dips in a pool of water, or puddle, and besprinkles such of a crowd as press upon his compassions, much to the delights of the younger spectators… The Mummers during the day parade parade the neighbouring villages, dancing and receiving money. The evening, as might be expected, terminates with drinking’.

 

Patrick Kennedy, in The Banks of the Boru, describes a similar procession:

 

‘After a reasonable pause we had the delight of seeing twelve young men come forth, accompanied by the same number of young women, the boys dressed much more showily than the girls… To heighten the beauty of the spectacle, out sprung the fool and his wife, the first with some head-dress of skin, a frightful mask, and a goat’s beard descending from it. Though we knew that the big bluff, good-natured countenance of Paudh himself was behind the vizard, we could scarcely refrain from taking flight, not being able any more than other children to look on an ugly mask without extreme terror. His wife (little Tome Blanche, the tailor) was in an orange-tawny gown, flaming handkerchief and mob-cap, and had a tanned, ugly female mask, fitting pretty close to her face. Paudh’s first salute to his friends was a yell, a charge in various directions, and a general thrashing of the crowd with his pea-furnished bladder suspended from a long stick. Mrs Clown had a broom, and used it to some purpose when she found her friends disposed to crowd her.’

 

There is also mentioned by Sir William Wilde, together with something like a hobby horse (Popular Irish Superstitions, 67):

 

‘From Monaghan we have a graphic account of a somewhat similar proceeding: there the girls dressed up a churn-dash a s a “May babby” and the men, a pitchfork, with a mask, horse’s tail, a turnip head, and ragged old clothes, as a “May boy” but these customs have, we believe, long since become quite obsolete.’

The mask worn by the Obby Oss at Padstow could have evoked the description by Patrick Kennedy, above: some head-dress of skin, a frightful mask, and a goat’s beard descending from it . . . This particular representation, once used in the Padstow processions, is now a museum piece. So here I present my argument that we can find descriptive evidence of traditional Hobby Horses in Ireland as part of the May festivities. If anyone finds other instances or has direct personal experience or stories passed down which involve Hobby Horses, or activities which sound like the examples described in Danaher’s reports, above, please let me know.

April Flowers in the Magic Forest

Enchanting – that’s the word that comes to me when I think of The Magic Forest. Although at first I was drawn to the quirky art installations (see our post from five years ago), as I’ve become more interested in wildflowers I like to photograph them there, since it’s such a special habitat. So here is a selection of early spring photographs from the Magic Forest, to illustrate what a diverse and attractive plant life it hosts.

In their beautiful and comprehensive book, The Wild Flowers of Ireland: The Habitat Guide, Declan Dooge and Carsten Krieger describe what to expect in a native woodland. First and foremost, there are in fact very few native woodlands left in Ireland, of the kind of oak forests we might have seen in medieval times. However, the little woods that surround the Magic Forest fit their definition of an acid-soil natural woodland, with trees not so dense that light cannot penetrate, and lots of moisture underfoot giving ferns and mosses (below) a friendly environment. A visit to an undamaged native woodland, they state, is a remarkable experience.

While the Magic Forest is probably not as pristine and undamaged as it could be (it’s in the middle of farmed land, after all) it has been left to flourish intact for many years, thanks to the stewardship of Thomas Wiegandt, whose interventions have only added to the fairytale quality of the woods.

What we see inside is an excellent representation of an Irish woodland habitat in as unmanaged a situation as possible. Walking through it in early spring is an ethereal experience – I defy you not to be moved.

That is not to say that all the plants we find in it are all truly native – for example, the Yellow Archangel flower that flourishes here (above) is a garden escape that has naturalised widely across Ireland. There is a native Archangel, but we know this one is the introduced variety because of the silver markings on the leaves.

Dooge and Krieger point to the presence of Early Dog-violet (they call it Wood Violet) in woodland, but in fact what I have found in the Magic Forest are two types of violet – the Common Dog-violet (above) which is everywhere in West Cork right now, and the much less-seen Marsh Violet (below).

Because the Common Dog-violet can turn as it ages from its normal deep blue to the same pale lilac colour as the March Violet, you have to keep a sharp look-out for the differences, but once you see them together they are unmistakable.

One of the nicest aspects of walking in woodland is the soft carpet underfoot. In The Magic Forest this tends to be a bed of Opposite-Leaved Golden-saxifrage (above), which loves damp dark places. This is an interesting flower in that it has no actual petals. The Sepals are bright green and unfold to reveal the stamens which are brown-tipped inside their little bed but shed the brown cover and turn bright yellow when fully open.

Getting right down on the forest floor (a little undignified and hard on clothing) is well worth it as all kinds of flowers are emerging up through the undergrowth. Celandines and Bluebells mingle above, while Celandines and Wood-sorrel cover the banks of a tiny stream (below).

At this time of year, early spring, one of the most attractive species is Wood-sorrel, with its distinctive shamrock-shaped leaves. The delicate purple veining on the petals, leading down to a golden-yellow centre rewards close scrutiny.

Of course, at this time of year, what we all love to go into woodland to see are the Bluebells and The Magic Forest abounds in native Bluebells. If you are wondering what the differences are between Native and non-Native (Spanish) Bluebells, here’s how to tell: we know these are native Bluebells because they have a lovely scent, their petals curl back, the flowers only grow on one side of the stem (the weight of which gives them that characteristic curve over), the anthers are white and the leaves are quite fine. All of these points can be observed in the photograph below – except for the scent! 

Bugle is another flower that loves this kind of environment, although it’s not quite as specialised as the Bluebell – I have seen it on hedgebanks as well where it might be getting moisture but not a lot of shade. Below, the two enjoy each other’s company.

Zoë Devlin, on her website Wildflowers of Ireland (my go-to resource, both print and online, and the best and easiest all round book to introduce you to Irish wildflowers) tells us, In his ‘Complete Herbal’ of 1653, Nicholas Culpeper wrote of Ajuga reptans [Bugle]: ‘if the virtues of it make you fall in love with it (as they will if you be wise) keep a syrup of it to take inwardly, and an ointment and plaster of it to use outwardly, always by you’.  A hand lens is a must for this flower – close up the tiny orchid-like flowers open wide to show their tonsils.

in Southwest Ireland we have a special group of plant species known as the Lusitanian Flora. Here’s a good explanation of what this means from Wikipedia:

The Lusitanian flora is a small assemblage of plants that show a restricted and specific distribution in that they are mostly only to be found in the Iberian Peninsula or southwest Ireland. Generally, the plants are not found in England or western France even though suitable habitat almost certainly exists in those regions. . . . This biogeographical puzzle has been a topic of academic debate since the middle of the 19th century. Conflicting, and as yet unresolved theories centre on whether the Irish populations are a relict, surviving from before the last ice age or whether they have been transported there in the last 10,000 years.

For a complete list of the Lusitanian species, take a look at my other favourite website – Irish Wildflowers by Jenny Seawright.

This is a longwinded way to introduce St Patrick’s Cabbage, the Lusitanian wildflower that crops up in The Magic Forest. The photos I have of it in the forest were taken just after it had started to bloom (above) so the flowers are yet sparse (below). You can see photographs of them in a more advanced phase in this post.

The final flower I want to highlight is the Cuckooflower, which is found in abundance in the fields all around the Magic Forest and to my surprise even inside it, although this is not typically a woodland flower. It likes the damp but it generally prefers open meadows. Besides being delightful, it is where the Orange-tip Butterfly likes to lay its eggs so look out for tiny orangey eggs on the stems. The flower varies in colour from almost pure white to a deep pink.

There is a LOT to see in the Magic Forest – once we are all able to travel again I highly recommend a walk in it (see our original post for directions) – at any time of year. You won’t be disappointed. And thank you, Thomas, for this gift to West Cork!

Robert chose to write about the Magic Forest too this week, but from quite a different perspective! Here’s his post, Mixed Magic Messages.

 

Mixed Magic Messages

We first visited Thomas Wiegandt’s Magic Forest exactly five years ago. It’s just round the corner and over the hill from Ballydehob. As time has passed the walk has matured and mellowed: it’s the most picturesque and atmospheric place now – true magic! Thank you, Thomas, for creating this and for allowing anyone to access it (subject to lockdown limitations, of course)…

As a connoisseur of Irish signs and signage (have a look at my previous posts over the years), this walk is for me a delight and an abundant source of tangible examples from the world of human communication. There are explicit and comprehensible signs, enigmatic ones, symbolic messages, and allegories. It doesn’t matter whether we understand them, or even relate to them personally: it’s just all part of the magic of the forest.

Who are the messengers? That’s really up to you to decide. here are some that I can relate to:

Each time we visit the Magic Forest, we come back with a different set of images. It’s just that there is so much here, you take in what appeals to you at a particular time.

A pantheist might find Gods and Goddesses in this forest… Others might see relics of a fading industrial age. It all depends on your point of view.

The forest itself will take over in the end. It’s certainly the case that, through the years, nature is absorbing everything. But, surely, it’s not a battle – just a mutual enhancement. Finola is definitely on the side of the natural world.

A place to think, meditate – or make music!

The whole place is a collaboration between the arts and nature. Enjoy the journey!