Aweigh in Kerry

ursine setting

Adrift on the shoreline of Ballycarnahan townland in County Kerry is a most wonderful piece of architecture. It is a ship shaped house, seemingly half buried in the sand dunes, its prow and bridge emerging and facing one of Ireland’s most spectacular views.

view to derrynane

The view from the Ship House: across the water is Derrynane, the home of ‘Ireland’s Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell (soon to be featured on Roaringwater Journal). The Kerry mountains make a splendid backdrop

The house in the dunes was built as a holiday home by Francis and Ros Horgan of Macroom in the early 1950s. It is still owned by the Horgan family. As an architect myself I wondered about the history of the design: did the inspired idea of the ‘ship’ come from the clients? Or was it dreamed up by the architect? In which case the clients would have to be commended for going along with such a daring (and witty) concept.

from the road

Houses made from boats and marooned forever on dry land are not unknown: below are a couple from California; the Kerry house, however, is a purpose-built ‘one off’. Architectural ‘ship’ symbolism can also be found elsewhere in Ireland: the new Library in Dun Laoghaire by Carr Cotter + Neassens Architects has a definite nautical theme, appropriate for its site overlooking Dublin’s Dun Laoghaire Harbour.

green arks

Lexicon

Dun Laoghaire’s new library – the Lexicon – in the right of the picture above, acknowledges its maritime setting (photograph courtesy The Irish Times)

We were in Kerry visiting cousins of Finola: all of them were brought up in Lamb’s Head, just beside the Ship House. They were a mine of information on the house, which had been built by their grandfather Crohane Donnelly (he was named after the local saint) at a cost of one thousand pounds. Over breakfast this morning at Lamb’s Head, enjoying the same view across the bay to Derrynane House, I was delighted when cousin Annie came in with a newspaper cutting from the Daily Mirror dating from St Patrick’s Day 1969: the headline was Ahoy! It’s the Cosy Home that is Always Ship Shape, and it was all about the Ship House.

elevation

The house is named St Anne. I gleaned from the newspaper article that …she was one of Mrs Horgan’s favourite saints. A mass was celebrated when the house was “launched”, after the site had originally been blessed by Cardinal Griffin…

The upper deck of the three tier house – the wheelhouse – has a ship’s wheel which came from the HMS Pluto, which was being broken up in Cork. The lower deck, within the concrete ‘hull’, houses a garage and workshop, is known as ‘the hold’ and is lit by portholes. There is even a gangplank leading to the front door!

Quoting the Mirror: …Mrs Hogan, a quietly humorous Irishwoman in her fifties, explained how it all came about. “I’ve always had a great love for this spot, since I first came here at the age of five,” she said. ‘My husband and I used to come here every year for our holidays. We both loved the sea and boats.” She said that Mr Horgan, an engineering director and farmer from Macroom, Co Cork, worked on the plans with an architect. “First of all it was going to be a round house, then it just evolved into a ship. But,” she smiled, “I think that was what my husband wanted in the first place…”

from the driveway

sand dunes

In 1969 …The house now sprouts a TV aerial and has mains electricity. But Mrs Gorgan rather regrets it. “When we had a diesel engine for lighting, it used to chug-chug away. At night, looking across the bay, you felt you were sailing in a real ship right out at sea. I miss the diesel for that…”

bridge

Perhaps one day I will get to have a look inside the ship house – I wonder how the rooms are laid out? As well as bringing in the electric there are some obvious upgrades which have taken place – there are modern windows installed and the roof looks to have been renewed. But it’s still a holiday home, owned and used by the Horgan’s children. It must be one of the most unusual and eccentric holiday hideaways in Ireland!

Stop Press Since publishing this post yesterday, Cousin Annie has forwarded some more information. An album of photographs which were taken during the construction process was reproduced in the Caherdaniel Parish Magazine in 2014, with the permission of the Horgan family (owners) and the Donnelly family (builders). It’s a great contemporary record of an unusual project and some of those photographs are put together in this slide show – thanks, Annie!

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Here’s the final picture from that collection, worthy of a place of its own. It shows the completed project and the Donellys who built it. Crohane Donnelly, Annie’s grandfather, is on the left…

ship24 complete

head on

Ros Horgan (pictured below in the Mirror article) deserves the last word: …Her eyes twinkled. “The archaeologists in years to come are going to have a lot of trouble with this one. They are going to ask: ‘In what era did they have concrete ships?’…”

Thanks to all Finola’s Kerry cousins and their families for their memories and information on the Ship House, and for the wonderful hospitality which they heaped upon us during our visit. And thank you to Finola for allowing me to use her superb picture on the header, which would otherwise have featured in her own Into The Kingdom post!

Ros Horgan

 

Into the Kingdom

To the Skelligs

The Kingdom? No, we didn’t go to Britain – we went to Kerry. It’s always been called the Kingdom, possibly based on ancient Irish precedents, although other theories abound. Many people think it’s because of the sheer magnificence of the scenery, and I wouldn’t disagree.

Ballinskelligs Bay

Ballinskelligs Bay. The first photograph is also Ballinskelligs Bay, with a glimpse of the famous Skelligs Islands in the background – subject of a future post, we hope!

Our journey took us on the Ring of Kerry, along the south side of the Iveragh Peninsula, by the sea. This is prime tourist territory – bus after bus passed us and every lay-by was thronged with camera-wielding tourists, including us. We came back through the middle of the peninsula, through deep valleys and high mountain passes.

To Ballaghbeama

Not for the tour busses!

These are not roads that busses can manoeuvre through, so we had it mostly to ourselves, the locals, and a few tourists armed with small cars and good maps. I love this Iveragh backcountry. It’s where I spent my student days, conducting my research. I even recognised the place where I crashed my Honda 50 into a bog.

Ballaghasheen Pass

Although it seems totally mountainous, vast sheltered valleys occupy some of the hinterland of the Iveragh Peninsula  

We visited two stone forts, the mighty Staigue and the lesser-known Loher, and of course some rock art. Staigue Fort is generally reckoned to be Iron Age (about 250AD), while Loher, although very similar, was built later, around the 9th Century.

Staigue Interior and outlook

Loher Stone Fort
Staigue Fort (upper), at the head of a long valley, commands views to the sea. Loher is also strategically sited with extensive views all around.

We toured Daniel O’Connell’s House at Derrynane and took the Nature Trail walk along the dunes, using the app developed by local man Vincent Hyland.

Shoreline walk

Wild flowers a-plenty on the dunes at Derrynane. Top: Sea Pinks and Sea Sandwort. Bottom: Pyramidal Orchid and Kidney Vetch

We searched in vain for the holy well devoted to Saint Crohane, patron saint of Caherdaniel – we’ll have to go back with Amanda to help us find it.

Across to the Beara

We didn’t find St Crohane’s well but when we finished our search, in twilight, this is what was waiting for us. The mountain range in the background is the Beara Peninsula in Cork

In fact, the primary purpose of our trip was to re-connect with cousins that I haven’t seen for about 45 years. The last time I saw Annie and her siblings they were kids, and we were all piled on to a donkey and cart in a vain attempt to get from Lamb’s Head to Staigue Fort. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that the donkey came out the winner. Most of the family still live around Caherdaniel, in jaw- dropping surroundings, and we were accommodated and hosted with true Kerry hospitality.

The view from Annie's

Top: The view from Annie’s house, across to Lamb’s Head where the family grew up

Along the way we saw a house shaped like a ship (Robert has more – much more – about this!), had our first experience of bottle-feeding a lamb, and we watched Rex the sheepdog gently herd a flock of chickens into their pen for the night. We visited my cousin Betty’s grave – she died a few months ago, the heart of the family, much mourned. It was, we hope, the first of many visits, back and forth.

Abbey Island

Abbey Island, Betty’s last resting place, must be one of Ireland’s most beautiful graveyards. To access it, you must walk across the sand and keep an eye out for high tides. The original monastic site was founded by St Finian in the sixth Century, although the ruined church, Ahamore Abbey, probably dates from the 10th Century.

This post is to give you a flavour for our neighbouring county and to show you why it is justly famous for its history and archaeology, but most of all for what is surely some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

Lamb's Head to Scariff and Deenish IslandsScarrif and Deenish are the two islands out from Derrynane Bay. Uninhabited for 40 years, they are the site of salmon farms now. We walked down Lamb’s Head to get a better view of them.

Tiny green fields

As in West Cork, everywhere in Kerry you can see the traces of tiny settlements. Abandoned long ago, possibly after the famine, each field may have provided enough potatoes for one family. Now only the sheep graze peacefully.

Ballaghbeama Gap

We headed home through the Ballaghbeama Gap. On the south side is Ireland’s greatest concentration of prehistoric rock art. We wrote about this in our post Derrynablaha Expedition.

Down from Ballaghbeama

Heading down towards Derrynablaha and home

Derrynane Sunset

It was hard to leave Derrynane!

1916 and 485

485

We’re in Dublin this week, at the height of the centenary commemorations for the Easter Rising of 1916. There is much to do and see but I’ve decided to focus on a place where the men and women who died in the struggle for Irish freedom are remembered every day – Glasnevin, our ‘national cemetery.’

Work in progress

This part of the cemetery is still a work in progress. Slowly but surely all areas are being reclaimed and restored

Glasnevin is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions – a cemetery, imagine! This is all the more remarkable when you realise that only a few years ago it was a tangled mess of weeds and ivy with row upon row of broken and fallen headstones, neglected and unsung. Now, after an extensive restoration project there is a handsome new museum (the world’s first cemetery museum) and avenues of statuary and bowers the like of which you might see in Paris.

Glasnevin Statuary

But of course it’s who is buried here that marks it as a focus for this year of commemoration. The giants of Irish history – poets and politicians, painters and writers, priests and suffragists – can all be found here. And, most impressively, all religions. Daniel O’Connell, whose crypt and round tower dominate the scene, helped to found this graveyard as a burial place for all denominations.

Tower and Cross

Daniel O’Connell’s round tower rises above all other monuments

The history of headstone trends can be read in this graveyard too. Victorian statuary and sylvan avenues dominate the earlier periods but it was all Celtic Crosses and Maids of Erin at the turn of the century. The modern period has brought austere and understated granite slabs. 

Casey Memorial

Restored MonumentThe Celtic Revival was not just about literature – trends in art extended to gravestone designs. The top one above is the gravestone of John Keegan Casey, author of soul stirring national ballads and songs; the lower one commemorates several different patriots

Outlaws and Felons

Last year, the focus was on O’Donovan Rossa (see my posts about Rossa here and here and here). The oration at his graveside in Glasnevin was given by Patrick Pearse: it was re-printed and widely distributed and is usually credited with marking an important starting point to the 1916 Rising, one year later.

Rossa Oration

An actor re-enacts the oration given by Patrick Pearse in 1915 at the graveside of O’Donovan Rossa

Many of the participants in that rising found their final resting place here in Glasnevin, although not the leaders who were immediately executed, most of whom were buried in quicklime at Arbour Hill cemetery, in what was once a prison yard. But here are Eamon de Valera, Countess Markievicz, Thomas Ashe, Harry Boland, Cathal Brugha, Austin Stack, Sir Roger Casement, Elizabeth O’Farrell (see below) and many more. They were men and women, Catholic and Protestant: although the new state that grew from independence was predominantly Catholic, many Protestants numbered in the ranks of the revolutionaries. See the always entertaining Come Here To Me blog for a thorough investigation of this. Of all the graves the most famous belongs to Michael Collins, about whom Robert has written. Collins’ grave has the distinction of being the most visited in the cemetery, and always has fresh flowers on it. 

Michael Collins Gra ve

But the most startling and important association that Glasnevin Cemetery has with 1916 is not captured by the roll call of the leaders and foot soldiers of the IRB and Volunteers who fought in the various actions. No – the real story here is in the sheer numbers of people who died during that conflict and who were buried here. That number (so far) is 485 men, women and children.

Museum

The modern Glasnevin Museum houses displays, vast records, and a visitor centre

This number is the result of a massive research effort by Glasnevin Trust.** Here is what their website has to say about their findings:

This major research work has revealed many interesting and previously unknown facts. The majority of the dead were civilians, 54% of the total dead, caught up in the fighting. British Army dead accounted for 26% of those killed while the rebel forces had 16% of the casualties. The remaining percentage is made up of members of the Dublin Metropolitan Police and Royal Irish Constabulary. The numbers of civilians killed each day steadily increased, peaking on the final day of the rebellion 29 April when 45 died. This was also the most violent day of the rebellion during which 78 people lost their lives. 26 April, the day of the Battle of Mount Street Bridge, was the worst for the British Army losing 30 men during the fighting throughout the city. The rebels also suffered their worst casualties on this day with 13 men killed. For the police the day of the Battle of Ashbourne, 28 April, proved to be their worst.

The vast majority of those killed were buried at Glasnevin Cemetery in the aftermath of the fighting. The staff of the cemetery struggled to deal with the large numbers of bodies being brought for burial. Despite great strain they succeeded in giving all a dignified burial and recorded their details in our registers.

Celtic Crosses

If you’re in Dublin, do go on a tour of Glasnevin Cemetery. And when you’re there, stop at the new memorial to all those who died in the 1916 Rising (to be unveiled in early April), and reflect not only upon the insurgents or the soldiers and policemen, but upon the innocents. It is fitting that their lives and their deaths should also form part of what we remember and understand about that week of conflict.

Much has been written lately about the many women who played active roles in the Rising. One of those was Elizabeth O’Farrell, the nurse who carried the white flag of surrender out of the GPO – and who was almost airbrushed from history

And that planned new memorial – a ‘necrology wall’ listing the 485? It is, inevitably, controversial. Depending on what you read it is either a bewildering, ‘bizarre’ and revisionist decision, or a brave new effort to recognise all the dead equally and non-judgementally. But perhaps that is, after all, the job of a cemetery. 

One-Million-Dubliners

And if you can’t get to Glasnevin, try to see the film One Million Dubliners. It’s a brilliant, moving, evocative and beautifully made film that will show you why this historic cemetery has so rightly earned its place as one of Ireland’s major tourist attractions.

** The first photograph in this post is the front cover of the research report 1916 Necrology by the Glasnevin Trust

A Tale of Four Churches

Kilcoe Medieval Church

Kilcoe Medieval Church

Kilcoe is a magical place. The story of its four churches leads us from the dawn of Christianity in Ireland through turbulent times and many centuries when religious differences and sectarian strife marked all aspects of life in Ireland.

The four churches: 1, Kilcoe Medieval Church  2, Mass Rock 3, Kilcoe 19th Century Church 4, Kilcoe Modern Church of the Most Holy Rosary

The four churches: 1, Kilcoe Medieval Church. 2, Mass Rock. 3, Kilcoe 19th Century Church. 4. Kilcoe Modern Church of the Most Holy Rosary

We love going down to the Medieval church at Kilcoe or wandering the boreens along the Roaringwater River. Those boreens are now part of the Fastnet Trail Network and last weekend, at the Launch, we were treated to a talk about the locality from Fr Patrick Hickey, Parish Priest of Timoleague and a noted scholar of West Cork History. This blog post was inspired by that talk – thank you, Fr Hickey!

Inside the church, showing the ogival windows, the altar, piscina or stoup, and a small recessed cupboard

Inside the church, showing the ogival windows, the altar, piscina or stoup, and a small recessed cupboard

Kilcoe gets its name from St Coch, a nun said to be a colleague of St Ciarán of Cape Clear, who preached Christianity in Ireland before St Patrick, in the 5th Century. It is possible she founded a church here, but what we do know is that one was built in Medieval times – a building that still exists although the ivy is doing its best to take it over.

It’s a beautiful and atmospheric place, on the water, overlooking Roaringwater Bay. Two castles are in view: Kilcoe and Rincolisky, a McCarthy and an O’Driscoll Castle respectively. Each has a fascinating history that deserves a post of its own sometime. Some special features remain in this ruined church – windows with carved ogees, a lovely arched doorway, a piscina (for washing vessels) or stoup (for washing hands), a recess for storing vessels and the remains of a possible altar.

We don’t know exactly when this church was built or by whom, but we do know it was in ruins by 1615. Perhaps it was destroyed by the same forces that laid siege to Kilcoe Castle after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 – a period that marked the end of the Old Gaelic Order in West Cork.

The Medieval church, with Kilcoe Castle in the background.

The Church, with Kilcoe Castle in the background

The rise of the Protestant Ascendancy class in the aftermath of that fateful battle privileged the Church of Ireland (transplanted Anglicanism) over the Catholic faith and a series of new laws, gradually getting harsher, were designed to suppress ‘Romanism’. This culminated in the enactment, in 1695, of the infamous Penal Laws. While attendance at mass was initially tolerated, churches could only be built from wood and away from roads. Eventually, priests were expelled from Ireland and after that mass had to be held in secret, with priests moving from hiding place to hiding place. At Roaringwater Pier Fr Hickey talked of the typical cargo of the smuggling ships that plied their trade from there: each ship to arrive from France would be carrying tobacco, brandy – and a priest!

From this period we find the Mass Rocks scattered around rural Ireland, identified on the basis of local tradition. The one at Ardura Beg is just up from a tiny pier that would have offered possibility of a quick escape. Many stories have come down of lookouts warning of the approach of the ‘red coats’ and the miraculous ways in which priests would make their escape. (See here and here for examples.)

Sheona and Amanda examine the mass rock at Ardura Beg

Sheona and Amanda examine the mass rock at Ardura Beg

Places of worship must be located where they are accessible and the first two are close by the sea, which afforded the easiest travel routes in Ireland for most of its history. However, roads were constructed eventually and the next two churches were located along these new routes. The first one, we’ll call it the Old Church, was built along the new road that led from Skibbereen to the Beara Peninsula. After 1778 the anti-Catholic laws were gradually relaxed, although it was not until 1829 that full Catholic Emancipation was won by Daniel O’Connell. The Old Church was probably built around 1800 and was a simple ‘barn-style’ edifice which served an impoverished and famine-stricken populace for a hundred years.

Left, the Old Church near Roaringwater Pier. Right, an example of a simple ‘barn style’ church in West Cork

By the turn of the 20th Century it was deemed unfit for purpose. Nowadays it is a gentle green space, lovingly tended and in use as a grotto. Children were buried there – it was not a cillín, but a consecrated graveyard – and a memorial remembers them now.

Grotto and Chirdren Memorial. A place for contemplation

Grotto and Children’s Memorial. A place for contemplation

Catholic Emancipation ushered in a long period of church building by the newly-confident Catholic majority. The new road from Skibbereen to Ballydehob was constructed at the end of the 19th century and the New Church was built there in 1905, right beside the bridge over the Roaringwater River.

Kilcoe Church and Bridge

Bridge over Roaringwater River

The two styles of churches common at the time were Neo-Gothic, Influenced by continental cathedrals, and Hiberno-Romanesque which took its inspiration from the Early Medieval Romanesque style of Old Ireland and featured wonderful doorways and round towers. The Kilcoe New Church, the Church of the Most Holy Rosary, was built in the Neo-Gothic style, with a large rose window at the eastern end.

Kilcoe, Church of the Most Holy Rosary

Kilcoe, Church of the Most Holy Rosary

Originally the side-aisles did not have seats – poorer people could stand there for mass, while those who could afford a penny would occupy the pews. As the church fund grew, thought was put into ornamentation and stained glass was commissioned for several windows. The rose window was executed by the Harry Clarke Studios in 1943 and shows scenes from the life of Christ and of Mary.

The Rose Window, by the Harry Clarke Studio

The Rose Window, by the Harry Clarke Studio

The Altar and side windows were the work of Sarah Purser’s Tower of Glass. The choice of stained glass – from Dublin-based Celtic Revival artists rather than the English or Continental firms that supplied most church glass at the time –  was a choice that demonstrates the nationalistic feelings that were rife in West Cork at the time.

Irish History is written large on her landscape. In this one small area – these sites are within a couple of kilometres of each other – we see encapsulated sixteen hundred years of history, starting with St Coch and ending with the latest incarnation of a church at Kilcoe. Their beauty and their peaceful settings have been hard won. They should serve to remind us that peace and tolerance must always be cherished and safeguarded.

Rincolisky Castle from Kilcoe Medieval Church

Rincolisky Castle from Kilcoe Medieval Church