Knockdrum Stone Fort

There is no firm line that denotes where our most south-westerly Irish peninsula begins. Our series, Mizen Magic, has reported on walks, roads, views, history and archaeology which can definitely be defined as belonging to the Mizen (which we tend to think of as being to the west of, and including, its ‘gateway’ – Ballydehob). Perhaps we should start a series titled Magic Beyond The Mizen – in which case this would be the first: a report on a very prominent site about half an hour’s drive along the coast east of where we live: a historic structure – built within the last 2,000 years – but which contains evidence of much older human activity.

Here is an overhead view – the best way to see and understand the layout and construction of Knockdrum Stone Fort, which occupies a superb hilltop location in the townland of Farrandau between Skibbereen and Castletownshend. Thank you, Dennis Horgan – our professional West Cork aerial photographer – for allowing us to use this image: have a look at his website for other examples of his work, and for details of his excellent photographs and books.

The Fort is located on a high ridge (although not on the summit of the ridge) with far-reaching views both inland and to the south, over the sea. The header picture looks from the Fort out to the west over Castlehaven to Galley Head in the far distance; the view in the picture above is due south – looking towards Horse Island, and the stone wall of the Fort is in the foreground. From these breathtaking vistas it’s reasonable to conjecture that Knockdrum Fort has a strategic siting, providing views of anyone approaching from the sea, and able to signal their arrival to dwellers in the ‘interior’ – the lands to the north. We cannot know for sure that stone fort structures had this – or any other – specific purpose: many theories have been advanced. Comparison with other examples is worthwhile. One of the largest stone forts in Ireland is Staigue Fort, near Sneem in County Kerry.

Staigue Fort (above) has a diameter of 27.5 metres, the present wall height is 5.5 metres, and the wall thickness is 4 metres. At Knockdrum the diameter is 22.5 metres, the present wall height is 2 metres and the wall thickness around 3 metres. The Duchas information board at Staigue says:

. . . This is one of the largest and finest stone forts in Ireland and was probably built in the early centuries AD before Christianity came to Ireland. It must have been the home of a very wealthy landowner or chieftain who had a great need for security . . . The fort was the home of the chieftain’s family, guards and servants, and would have been full of houses, out-buildings, and possibly tents or other temporary structures. No buildings survive today . . .

The picture above shows the present interior of Knockdrum Fort: the stone walls are likely to delineate a former building here. In the corner of the inner stone enclosure is the entrance to a ‘souterrain’ – a series of underground passageways. The souterrain is outlined on the following drawing of the Stone Fort which was made in 1930 after a detailed investigation of it by Vice Admiral Henry Boyle Somerville, the younger brother of writer and artist Edith Somerville of Castletownshend. Boyle, his life and his tragic death, is the subject of Finola’s complementary post today.

Finola is also discussing Boyle Somerville’s interest in the alignments of archaeological structures. In Boyle’s paper for The Journal of The Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 1931 (title page below), he presents the evidence that this Fort is on a solar alignment.

Boyle sets out the case for an alignment based on the Knockdrum Fort:

. . . This conception of the earlier use of the site of the cathair [the stone fort] for purposes which may perhaps be termed “religious,” seems to be borne out by the following fact. At a horizontal distance of about 600 yards to the E.S.E of the cathair, and at 210′ difference of level below it, there is a small rocky ridge standing up from the surrounding grass land. The name of the ridge is “Peakeen Cnoc Dromin,” The little peak of the white-backed hill . . .

The following paragraphs and photos are from the Journal paper:

Finola and I are familiar with the Peakeen Cnoc Dromin from our researches into Rock Art: the uppermost stone (which does appear similar to the capstone of a fallen dolmen) is heavily cupmarked. The photos of the Peakeen (above) were taken before we had any idea that they might form an alignment connected with Knockdrum Stone Fort. We will have to revisit again at Bealltaine. Boyle confirmed his alignment theory by personal observation:

He went on to suggest:

. . . It is one of the clearest instances of intentional orientation between two ancient, and artificially formed monuments that can be imagined . . .

Of course, it can’t be the case that a cupmarked stone dating from anywhere between 3,000 to 5,000 years ago was in any way connected with a stone fort that dates from the early part of the first millennium AD. However, I have as yet omitted an important piece of information: at Knockdrum Fort, high up on the hill, are two further ancient cupmarked stones – and significant ones: the larger also exhibits Rock Art. Somerville illustrated them in 1930, and Finola recorded them in detail in 1973.

Images above are of the stones recorded at Knockdrum: topmost is Boyle’s drawing from 1930. Below Finola’s drawings are photographs of the large stone lying by the Fort entrance today: it is known that this has been moved, possibly during Somerville’s time. The old photograph immediately above is from the Coghill Family Archive and shows Arthur Townshend beside the stone, which is standing. Arthur was born in 1863: this photograph may record the occasion of the expedition by the young Somervilles and ‘their cousin’ (quite possibly Arthur) to Knockdrum described below, which took place in 1875. It is the presence of Rock Art and cupmarks at the Fort itself which tells us that the site must have had significance in far earlier times (perhaps that’s why the fort was sited in that location – rather than on the summit of the ridge), and Boyle’s reported alignment would have been with the carved rocks (or the important location that they marked) rather than with the comparatively modern stone fort.

The souterrain in the enclosure of Knockdrum Fort (entrance in top photograph – ‘chimney’ in lower photograph) was explored in 1875, as Boyle recounts:

The ‘band of three youthful archaeologists’ are likely to have been Somervilles: Edith (the eldest, then 17), Boyle (then 12 – it was he who was lowered down into the discovered ‘cave’ by his ankles!) and, probably, a cousin. Great adventures, which would undoubtedly raise eyebrows today.

Within the fort enclosure is this cross-marked stone. It was apparently leaning against the wall in Boyle’s days, but has now been embedded close to the entrance. We visit this site often: this time we noted some significant disruption to the upper level of the dry stone walling, possibly caused by the fierce storm winds earlier this year. Compare the detail below with Dennis Horgan’s aerial view above, taken a few years ago.

Some damage has also been suffered to retaining walls on the green boreen leading to the Fort from the main Skibereen – Castletownshend road (a walking route only), and on the stone walls beside the 99 steps which take you from the green path to the top of the hill. These are passable with care, but it is hoped that this monument – which is in State ownership – will be deservedly returned to good order before too long: it is one of the historic wonders of West Cork.

Boyle Somerville: Ireland’s First Archaeoastronomer

Henry Boyle Townshend Somerville (1863 – 1936) is mostly know in Ireland now for how he died, murdered by the IRA in 1936. And that’s a tragedy in many ways, not least of which is that the notoriety of his death has obscured his important contributions to Irish archaeology and especially to the once-controversial field of archaeoastronomy, of which he was a distinguished pioneer. [The portrait above is by Walter Stoneman and used with permission from the National Portrait Gallery under a Creative Commons License.]

Boyle was about 30 in this photograph. This illustration is from Somerville and Ross: A Biography by Maurice Collis. The family lived in Drishane House, below, in Castletownshend, West Cork. 

Boyle was one of the famous Castletownshend family of Somervilles that included Edith, the writer with Violet Martin of the Irish RM stories. He was her favourite brother and companion on youthful adventures, including the incursions into the souterrain at Knockdrum Fort, armed only with a poker and a candle. See Robert’s companion piece about this ancient site.

Boyle drew the first proper survey of Drombeg and his observations established the winter solstice orientation. Today, crowds gather to witness this spectacular event

He went off to sea in 1877 at the early age of 13 – seafaring was in the Somerville blood – and rose through the ranks of Commander, Captain and finally Vice-Admiral. Throughout his time in the navy he was engaged in surveying and in hydrographic, intelligence and research projects all over the world. He collected ethnographic materials (now in the Pitt-Rivers Museum) and wrote papers on his experiences.

Another one of Boyle’s stone circle solar events, this one occurs at the autumn equinox at Bohonagh

But it was astronomy that fired his imagination, and specifically the astronomy of ancient sites. Following on the work of astronomer Norman Lockyer, he surveyed monuments in Scotland and Ireland and demonstrated that many of them had significant solar, stellar and lunar orientations. His 1927 paper, simply titled Orientation, in the first issue of Antiquity is a readable and well-argued essay that argues for the acceptance of the importance of calendrical observations to early farming communities.

The Bohonagh complex of monuments as Boyle described them – a stone circle, a cup-marked stone and a boulder burial

It is hard to remember now that the scientific community of the time was dismissive, but even the writer of his obituary in the journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland could not resist a patronising summation:

He was an accomplished surveyor and careful observer, and if the theories as to the orientation of megaliths which he held are not universally accepted, his investigations have resulted in presentations of an accuracy too often absent from the surveys of many writers on those subjects.

Makes him sound like a crank, doesn’t it? But let’s go back to that bit about being an ‘accomplished surveyor and careful observer.’ In paper after paper, he did just that – carefully observed and documented the archaeological monuments of West Cork and elsewhere. It was he who first described the West Cork Stone Circles and coined the term recumbent, providing properly surveyed plans and making careful notes of the way in which they offered sightings to solar events at significant times of the year through the axis provided by the line running from the ‘entrance’ through the ‘recumbent.’ (For an explantation of how this all works, see our post Ancient Calendars.)

Reenascreena Stone Circle with its surrounding shallow fosse

Take a look at a couple of his papers for the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society. The first, on Five Stone Circles, is a good example of how he conducted his surveys. The second, titled Prehistorics sets out the case for a proper classification system for megalithic structures. Most of the terms he recommends, such as Standing Stone, Stone Row, Stone Circle, Passage Grave and Cup-Marked Stone are familiar to us and in everyday use now and he probably didn’t coin the terms. However, one of his terms never gained acceptance, and I think that’s a pity. It’s the charmingly named ‘Clochtogle’ and it’s what we now call a Boulder Burial. But in fact Clochtogle is a better term in being simply descriptive rather than assigning a function, since, as he points out in his paper, and as I pointed out in this post, there is precious little evidence that points to these monuments being burial places and they seem singularly unsuited for that function.

The Rathruane Clochtogle

Clochtogle is based on the Irish term cloch tógáil (cluck toe-gawl) which simply means raised up or lifted stone. We have lots of them in West Cork. In looking at the photograph of the Rathruane clochtogle (do you think this term might still catch on?) I am struck by how it seems to mirror the shape of Mount Gabriel in the background. Boyle, in his writings, did point out that not every monument was oriented to quarter or cross-quarter calendrical events: some, he said, may have other traditions reflected in their orientations. In our own investigations of West Cork monuments we are constantly struck by how many encompass views of Mount Gabriel.

Brian Lacey has an excellent paper in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland* in which he describes Boyle Somerville as an important and distinguished. . .Irish archaeologist. . .and one of the founders of international archaeoastronomy. He details his various contributions to the field, and does not shy away from mentioning his less-than-scientific interest in ley-lines and also in the use of a medium to communicate with the builders of Drombeg. Edith, along with most of their circle (and indeed many of the literati of the time) routinely used mediums and ouija boards. After his death, as her biographer Maurice Collis puts it, Edith ‘lost no time in getting into touch with Boyle.’ But this does not detract from Boyle’s ultimate contributions: Without any doubt, states Lacey, Boyle Somerville was an extremely important and internationally-influential Irish archaeologist for his time. He deserves to be remembered better and celebrated with pride in this country.

Boyle’s death, at the hands of an IRA hit squad, triggered a national outcry. There’s a good account of it here so I won’t repeat the information that is widely available. I will emphasise, though, that the murder horrified the local community and brought together Catholic and Protestant in mourning the death of one who was highly regarded and universally respected in Castletownshend. Edith determined to raise a monument to the memory of her beloved brother and the notion that took was to erect a bench outside the entrance to Drishane House for the use and enjoyment of the village. She asked Seamus Murphy to execute it, one of his first commissions. Next time you come by, linger at this spot and reflect on the life of Vice-Admiral Boyle Somerville. Accomplished, erudite, decorated and distinguished, he is remembered by those who knew him by the simple and deeply moving words Cómharsa Maith – Good Neighbour.

*The Skibbereen and District Historical Journal, Vol 7, 2011, also has a paper by Brian Lacey about Boyle Somerville, substantially similar to the one in the RSAI Journal. It is not available online.

 

Castle Haven

The entrance to Castle Haven. Horse Island is separated from the mainland by the charmingly named Flea Channel.

The entrance to Castle Haven. Horse Island is separated from the mainland by the charmingly named Flea Channel

South West of Skibbereen lies a deeply indented section of the coast known as Castle Haven. It is perhaps best known for the town that clings to the steep hill on its west side – Castletownshend. We have written much about Castletownshend itself, about Edith Somerviille and about the lovely St Barrahane’s Church and its Harry Clarke windows. But the whole inlet is an explorer’s paradise, yielding up its treasure to us on successive visits so this post will be about other things to see around the Haven.

Castle Haven

Catle Haven on a misty day. The inlet was guarded by two castles: this one at Raheen and another at the entrance to the Haven

The Haven is shallow at its top end, but up to the spit of land that runs across it near Reen Pier, it provides a deep and sheltered harbour for boats, and a popular sailing ground. We like to drive down the road that runs above the eastern side of the Haven. It’s twisty and a bit treacherous but at a certain point it presents a view of the whole inlet, dominated by Raheen Castle.

Raheen Castle

This was a castle of the O’Donovan clan, built in the late 16th or early 17th century. It didn’t last long – it was attacked by Cromwellian forces in 1649 and the collapsed upper stories may be the result of cannonball damage.

Raheen Corner machicolation

Continuing to the end of the east side brings you past Reen to the wonderful harbours of Myross and Squince, but that’s a post for another day. Now we’ll return to the west side of the inlet and visit two spectacular archaeological sites, Knockdrum Fort and the Gurranes Stone Row, before proceeding down into Castletownshend.

Knockdrum interior and views to north

The interior of Knockdrum Stone Fort, with square hut site in the middle. The fort commands panoramic views across the countryside and out to sea

To get to Knockdrum Fort, you have to park at the large church about 2km before the village. Walk downhill about half a kilometre until you get to the signposted green road to the fort. A pleasant trudge brings you to a set of steps and these lead up to the site. This is an excellent example of an early medieval stone fort – the kind of fortified homestead that marked the residence of a family of high status before the Normans taught us how to build tower houses.  From this site there are striking views across Castle Haven.

Entrance to Knockdrum

The entrance to Knockdrum Fort, looking towards the entrance to Castle Haven. Outisde the entrance is this large rock, covered in cup-and-ring art

But there’s more to this place than just the fort. There’s an early Medieval cross slab just inside the entrance, and a fine example of 4000 or 5000 year old rock art just outside it. There’s another piece, a cupmarked stone, inside the fort, lying on the ground. All three are here thanks to the activities of Boyle Somerville, a keen amateur archaeologist and brother of Edith Somerville who lived in Drishane House, just below the fort. Farmers who found such items would bring them to him and he placed them here for safekeeping. Also inside the fort you will see evidence of a souterrain – an underground passage used for storage when the fort was active.

Knockdrum cross slab

If you look north across the valley once at Knockdrum you will see a stone row on a nearby hill. These are the Garranes ‘Fingers’. (They are on private land so you should seek permission to visit and make sure there are no bulls in the fields.) The best way to access them is to tramp through the fields across the road from the entrance to Knockdrum. It’s well worth the effort – once you get up to them you will see that more uprights are now lying on the ground. This was originally an alignment of at least five stones, unusually tall and thin, positioned so that they would be visible on the skyline from many directions.

Gurranes Fingers

Drive down towards the village now, until you get to the entrance to Drishane House. To the right of the gate is a bench dedicated to Boyle Somerville. In 1936 he was shot dead by the IRA, who claimed he was recruiting local young men for the British Navy. He was liked and respected locally and, outraged by the deed, the people of Castletownshend raised money for this memorial. If the house is open (there will be a sign) this is a wonderful place to visit. For a small charge you can wander around the extensive grounds and visit the Edith Somerville Museum. We love to go in spring, when the bluebells provide a vivid carpet and a photographer’s paradise.

Drishane house driveway in spring

Drishane House driveway in the spring, with the giant macrocarpa (a Californian cypress tree)

Down to the village now and up to the church. But this time, instead of heading inside to see the Clarke windows, or behind the church to view the graves of Somerville and Ross, cross the graveyard until you find a gate at the far side and head east along the edge of the field towards the water. There you will find the remains of a structure labelled as a star-shaped fort on the OS map. Nowhere near as enormous as the massive star-shaped Charles Fort in Kinsale, nevertheless it is a reminder of a time when the sleepy village was not as peaceful as it is now. Dating to the 1650s, not a lot remains, just enough to confirm that this was a structure built for defence. Along the way you might also see a ruined square tower, known as Swift’s Tower. This was built as a belvedere, (a place to admire the view) and legend has it that Dean Swift visited and liked to write there.

Left is the remains of a bastioned fort, labelled as a ‘Star-Shaped Fort’ on the OS map. Right is the belvedere, where Swift is said to have written

Drive back out of town now and take the left turn after the entrance to Drishane House. Follow this road for about a kilometre to a sharp left turn, just before a small crossroads and turn left down a narrow road that ends at the sea. A tower house used to guard this part of the Haven but nothing remains of it now except a stump covered in ivy and brambles. But wander around the graveyard and admire the picturesque siting of the old church, already in ruins by the mid-1600s. This is a good example of a classic West Cork graveyard. Most graves are marked by simple stones at the head and foot, with no inscriptions. 

Castlehaven Graveyard atmosphere

There are some family plots and some more elaborate memorials, including one for Ellen Buckley, second wife of O’Donovan Rossa (although his name, interestingly, does not appear on the headstone).

Castlehave graveyard, old church

To the immediate left of the graveyard you will find a stile leading to a green path. Take this path and walk up though the luxuriant woods past a rushing stream until you come to a little wooden bridge.

Path by the stream

On the other side is a holy well, cut into the hillside and decorated with ribbons and fishing floats. Make a wish, or say a prayer – this is a special place and still visited and maintained by local people.

Take OS Discovery Map 89 with you. Most of the sites I describe are actually marked on it. But if you get lost, have fun, and let us know what you discovered!

Path through woods

The Gift of Harry Clarke

The Gift

This post was inspired by a gift from my oldest and dearest friend – three books on stained glass passed on to me because he is moving from his home of the last 65 years, a home in which I spent much happy time. A loyal reader of our blog, he knows of my  enthusiasm for stained glass, an obsession I shared with his late wife, the wonderful Vera, whom I still carry in my heart.

The Kendal Coghill Window, Church of St Barrahane, Castletownshend, Co Cork

The Kendal Coghill Window, Church of St Barrahane, Castletownshend, Co Cork

One of the books is the exhaustive and erudite study of Harry Clarke by Nicola Gordon Bowe. The other two are more general, although each of them devotes a section to the work of Harry Clarke. My initial intention was to look at Harry Clarke as a illustrator, with special reference to his portraiture, using a variety of windows as examples. I may still do that in the future. However, I’ve decided that for now, just one window perfectly illuminates what I want to say about Harry Clarke this time. It’s a window we have both used before in posts (Robert in his Martinmas piece, and I in a couple of places) – the Kendal Coghill window from St Barrahane’s in Castletownshend. Through this window I hope to show you the unique genius of Harry Clare, but also how he drew from life and from great art to create his stained glass panels. (For more on Harry Clarke’s life, see my previous post, The Nativity – by Harry Clarke.)

Kendal Coghill, drawn by his niece, Edith Somerville

Kendal Coghill, drawn by his niece, Edith Somerville

Who was Kendal Coghill? He was born and bred in Castletownshend, Edith Somerville’s uncle and a distinguished soldier, rising to the rank of Colonel. He served in India, where he took a kindly and active interest in the young Irish soldiers in his regiment. One of his melancholy duties was writing to their mothers to advise of their deaths. He was also “excitable and flamboyant”, writes Gifford Lewis in her excellent book, Somerville and Ross: The World of the Irish R.M.. As one of the leaders of the amateur spiritualist movement in Castletownshend he introduced Edith and her brother Cameron to automatic writing. By all accounts he was generous and warm hearted and it was his compassion that the window was to emphasise. The two subjects were chosen carefully – Saint King Louis IX of France, and St Martin of Tours. Coghill could trace his ancestry to King Louis, famed for his beneficence, and St Martin was the patron saint of soldiers.

Contrasting styles

Contrasting styles

The first thing that strikes you upon entering St Barrahane’s is the contrast between this window and the others (by Powells of London) on the south side. Alongside the conventional Powells the Clarke blazes with colour and with detail. Every square inch is individually worked, there are no repeated patterns or conventional scrolls. Examine the borders, for example, filled with abstract and colourful motifs, never recurring.

St Louis detail: each motif in the border is uniquely designed and coloured. The robe intrudes in front of the border, lending a £D effect.

St Louis detail: each motif in the border is uniquely designed and coloured. The robe intrudes in front of the border, lending a 3D effect

chokiHarry’s habit of placing figures at different heights adds visual interest to the side-by-side panels and may have been influenced by Japanese pillar prints, which were also a major factor in the design aesthetic of Frank Lloyd Wright. A church window is by its very nature long and narrow and the design challenge this poses had first been explored by Japanese artists whose woodblock prints were hung vertically on walls, or fixed to house posts. Contrast the static, forward-facing, identically scaled figures in the Powell window with the dynamic composition of the Clarke panels. The St Martin figure, in particular contains two figures and manages to tell a whole story, like this example of a pillar print.

The choice of the window and the management of the commission rested with Edith Somerville. Harry Clarke stayed with her in Drishane while executing the final placement and she liked him very much. Beside the Kendall Coghill window which is the subject of this post there are two other Clarke windows in St Barrahane’s. But St Barrahane’s, as Gifford Lewis explains, is not…”typically Protestant. High Church, Anglo-Catholic influence is in restrained evidence besides the astounding blaze of Clarke’s windows. Jem Barlow, the medium, claimed that at a service one Sunday in St Barrahane’s the spirit figure of Aunt Sidney appeared, caught sight of the Clarke windows, started, then exclaimed “Romish!” and dissolved.”

Above St Louis,

Above St Louis, “a parade of the poor and diseased”

Saint Louis occupies the left panel. He is depicted with an alms purse in his left hand and a crucifix instead of a sceptre in his right hand. Look carefully – above him are the poor and sick that were the objects of his constant charity. Here’s what Nicola Gordon Bowe has to say about this section of the window:

Dimly visible…is a small procession of the heads and shoulders of the poor and diseased who used to feed at his table. These again show Harry’s unique ability to depict the gruesome, macabre and palsied in an exquisite manner…The seven men depicted, old, bereft, angry or leprous, are painted on shades of sea-greens and blues, mauves and grey-greens, in fine detail with strong lines and a few brilliant touches, like the grotesque green man’s profiled head capped in fiery ruby, the leper helmeted in clear turquoise with silver carbuncles, and the aged cripple on the right in ruby and gold chequers.

Poor men

This section, it seems was likely influenced by a painting that Harry was familiar with from visits to the National Gallery in London – Pieter Bruegel’s Adoration of the Kings

Detail from Pieter Bruegel's Adoration of the Kings

Detail from Pieter Bruegel’s Adoration of the Kings

The ship in which he sailed to the crusades is depicted above King Louis.

Ship

Saint Martin, in the right panel, is depicted in the act of cutting his cloak in two, to give half to a beggar. Martin’s face is archetypal Clarke – the beard, the aquiline nose, and the large eyes filled with compassion for the beggar.

St Martin of Tours

St Martin of Tours

The helmet is worth a closer look. First of all, it is beautifully and finely decorated in the niello style, and second, it is topped with a tiny figure, sphinx-like, with long wings. Nicola Gordon Bowe points to the influence of Burne-Jones here, to the helmet worn by Perseus in The Doom Fulfilled.

Burne Jones' The Doom Fulfilled

Burne Jones’ The Doom Fulfilled

Clarke also found his inspiration in life drawing. He used himself for a model occasionally, but also ordinary people from the streets of Dublin. The beggar may have been based on one familiar to him. His face is dignified despite his wretched condition and his patches are rendered in as exquisite detail as is the Saint’s armour.

Beggar

The beggar may have been based on a familiar Dublin figure

The beggar's hand

The beggar’s hand

Finally, at the very top of the window two haloed figures look down. Harry Clarke had a thing for red hair and this is a perfect example of how he used that preference to good effect. Once again, although the figures are similar in size, there is no repetition – these are no ‘standard’ angels – each has his own wonderful garments and stance.

Red haired angels

Stained glass artists typically sketch their designs on paper first and these images are referred to as cartoons. Harry Clarke’s cartoons for the Coghill windows must still exist. Nicola Gordon Bowe describes them as drawn “loosely in thick charcoal, the design boldly expressed with detailing and shading minimal, but still conveying a good idea of how every part of the window would look.” The finished window, she says, “reveals a new freedom of treatment, the painting on the glass reflecting the free drawing of the cartoons.” This is an artist and craftsman working at the height of his powers – an interesting subject for the question that Robert poses in his post this week.

Saint Martin, armour detail

Saint Martin, armour detail

Shenanigans

running fox

The word shenanigan (a deceitful confidence trick, or mischief) is considered by some to be derived from the Irish expression sionnachuighim, meaning ‘I play the Fox’. That’s by no means the only definition of shenanigan that you’ll find, but – for me – it’s a good one.

The Red Fox stops by Nead an Iolair on most days. He’s such a frequent visitor that he’s trodden a furrow across the lawn – which he follows meticulously in order to keep his feet dry: he’s a fastidious creature is our Ferdia.

It’s a bit unkind, perhaps, to always think that the Fox is up to some kind of shenanigans. That would be playing up to his reputation of being cunning or sly. Our Ferdia is pretty open about why he takes an interest in us – purely and simply, it’s his stomach. His patter is always the same: he stands at the window and presses his nose against the glass, managing to look somehow downtrodden or neglected (we know he isn’t at all – in fact his current winter coat is magnificent: not just red, but with a silver grey sheen, and his legs, paws and ears are a beautifully velvety black).

on the wall 2

The Irish word for Fox is Sionnach, and there are stories that this animal was brought over here by the Vikings, who reputedly used them for hunting. Now the tables are turned: in Ireland Fox hunting is a legal sport (which it no longer is in Scotland, Wales and England), and we have very occasionally seen The Hunt crossing the fields during our travels. If you read the highly amusing Irish RM by Somerville and Ross you will quickly gather that actually apprehending a Fox is something very rare for The Hunt: more usually it results in a loss of balance, life or dignity for the participants. This is probably a realistic picture: Edith Somerville was herself a MFH and therefore had considerable experience in the matter.

Well, Ferdia’s ploy usually works, and he frequently deprives us of the last morsel on our own plates. I’m sure I’ve heard him chuckling to himself as he disappears off into the fields clutching a bone or three. Foxes are good family animals: generations can live together for a few seasons, helping to look after the succeeding offspring – the collective noun for Foxes is A Skulk. Ferdia himself has got his act together: if we give him some scraps he’ll eat a good chunk first and then carry the rest off home – which I’ve worked out is quite a distance away. That’s fair enough: as Alpha Male and number one provider it wouldn’t do if he was debilitated with hunger.

We have on occasion seen Ferdia lead another Fox into the garden – either a wife or a daughter, but they are so nervous that their visits are rare and short. Ferdia, on the other hand, is totally confident that he’s got us wrapped around his little finger… In the summer he has been sitting out with us on the terrace, passing the time of day in a very relaxed fashion.

img4954Only yesterday I noticed our Fox sorting out some scraps on the lawn. Suddenly, there came into view two magpies. As I watched, one of them hopped around to the front of Ferdia and he stopped what he was doing to chase it away. Immediately, the other Magpie jumped in and took a good helping. Ferdia rushed at this competitor, and Magpie number One hopped in and had his share… From which I deduce that the cunning of Magpies is equal to that of the Red Fox.

In folklore, the Fox has a big presence. The animal is said to be able to foresee events including the weather and its barking is said to be a sure sign of rain (the only time we heard Ferdia bark was when we hadn’t noticed him standing at the window).

It is thought to be unlucky to meet a woman with red hair when setting out in the morning, especially if you are a fisherman. We may assume that the woman is a Fox in disguise.

There are legends about both St Ciarán and St Brigid finding and taming a Fox, and there are medieval carvings in churches showing Foxes: in one instance a Fox is in a pulpit preaching to Geese!

Where does the word Fox come from? One theory is that it derives from the French word faux – false. Interestingly there is also a possible link to the flower – Fuschia – so prolific in the Irish hedgerows. Theories abound, but we know that the Fox is above us in the night sky, in the constellation of Vulpecula – once known as Vulpecula cum Ansere – Fox and Goose.

Vulpecula

The story of Fox and Goose has been immortalised in what is reputedly one of the oldest folk songs in the English Language: The Fox or Daddy Fox. This version is from the 14th century:

‘Pax Uobis quod the fox,

‘for I am comyn to toowne’

It fell ageyns the next nyght

the fox yede to with all his myghte,

with-outen cole or candlelight,

whan that he cam vnto the town.

When he cam all in the yarde,

soore te geys were ill a-frede;

‘I shall macke some of youre berde,

or that I goo from the toowne!’

when he cam all in the croofte,

there he stalkyd wundirfull soofte;

‘for here haue I be frayed full ofte

whan that i haue come to toowne.’

he hente a goose all be the heye,

faste the goos began to creye!

oowte yede men as they myght heye,

and seyde, ‘fals fox, ley it doowne!’

‘Nay,’ he said, ‘soo mot I the

sche shall go vnto the wode with me;

sche and I wnther a tre,

e-mange the beryis browne.

I haue a wyf, and sche lyeth seke;

many smale whelppis sche haue to eke

many bonys they must pike

will they ley a-downe.’

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Here’s a more accessible version:

The fox went out on a chilly chilly night

He prayed to the moon to give him light

He had many many miles to go that night

Before he reached the town-o, town-o town-o,

Many many miles to go that night before he reached the town-o.

He ran ’til he came to a great big pen

Where the ducks and the geese were kept therein

He said a couple of you will grease my chin

Before I leave this town o, town o, town o

A couple of you will grease my chin before I leave this town-o.

He grabbed the grey goose by the neck

And he threw a duck all across his back

He never did heed the quivvy quivvy quack

Nor the legs all a dang-ling down-o, down-o, down-o

He never did heed the quivvy quivvy quack

Nor the legs all a dang-ling down-o.

Old mother Flipper Flopper jumped out of bed

Out of the window she pushed her little head

Cryin’ O John, O John the grey goose is gone

And the fox is away to his den-o, den-o, den-o

O John, O John the grey goose is gone

And the fox is away to his den-o.

Well, the fox he came to his very own den

And there were the little ones, eight, nine, ten

Saying Daddy you better go back again

‘Cause it must be a mighty fine town-o, town-o, town-o

Saying Daddy you better go back again

‘Cause it must be a mighty fine town-o.

Well, the fox and his wife without any strife

Cut up the goose without any knife,

They never had such a supper in their life

And the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o

They never had such a supper in their life

And the little ones chewed on the bones-o.

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Three Pilgrims in West Cork

Glebe Church, on the Ilen River

Glebe Church, on the Ilen River

The guest speaker at this Thursday’s Skibbereen Historical Society meeting was Louise Nugent, speaking on the topic of Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland. We became familiar with Louise’s work though her blog of the same title – a blog which manages to be consistently erudite and down-to-earth and entertaining all at once – and suggested her as a speaker. This also gave us the opportunity to meet Louise in person (she is as engaging and as knowledgeable as her blog) and, the next day, show her a little bit of our part of West Cork.

One of the great delights of following Louise’s blog is realising that the concept of pilgrimage – a spiritual journey undertaken for a variety of purposes – is still very much alive in Ireland. Local veneration of shrines, relics and holy wells is common and often involves a mass or prayers on special days. The “journey” involves going to the shrine, and sometimes moving around it in a set pattern or round. Larger scale pilgrimages, such as the annual trek up Croagh Patrick or a stay at Lough Derg in Donegal or a Novena at Holy Cross Abbey, transcend the local and attract pilgrims from around Ireland. In her talk, Louise also described the popularity of pilgrimage in Medieval times to holy sites outside Ireland such as York, Santiago de Compostela, Rome, or Jerusalem. Those who completed the Santiago Camino wore scallop shells to signify their pilgrim status, an image we had just seen the previous weekend in Cork in the Cathedral of St Mary and St Anne, where we came across a shrine to Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy. There was a statue, a painting, scrolls, but most fascinating of all a reliquary containing a leg bone! Blessed Thaddeus lived in the 15th Century and was appointed a bishop twice but was never able to take up his see because of the activities of the rival clan O’Driscoll.

On our day with Louise we concentrated on the area around Skibbereen. We started off by visiting the 18th Century Church at Glebe, on the banks of the River Ilen. The church and graveyard enjoy a picturesque and peaceful setting and a wander around the graveyard yielded interesting headstones.

Holy Rosary Church at Aughadown, window detail

Holy Rosary Church at Aughadown, window detail

From there we went to the ruined medieval church at Kilcoe, stopping for a quick peak at the notable windows in the Church of the Most Holy Rosary at Aughadown. They deserve a fuller description at a future date, so for now I will include a detail from the rose window at the back of the church, designed and executed by the Harry Clarke studios in 1941.

The church at the tip of the Kilcoe Peninsula was already a ruin in the early 17th century. Although a simple rectangular structure, the pointed arched doorway and the tiny ogival windows mark it as medieval, perhaps as early as 14th or 15th century. Romantic and atmospheric as it is, it has the added advantage of a clear view of Kilcoe Castle, famously restored by Jeremy Irons and gently glowing in the afternoon light as we were there.

Two of the three pilgrims at a holy well

Two of the three pilgrims at a holy well

Louise’s special interest is in holy wells and several audience members the night before had come forward with information about local wells and the practices and beliefs associated with them. Two of the best known and most beloved local wells are situated close to each other at Lough Hyne. Robert is writing about these wells this week so I will leave the detailed description to him.

Our final stop was the village of Castletownshend and the Church of St Barrahane, filling two different functions. First, Louise had been to visit a holy well dedicated to St. Martin of Tours in Clare, and we wanted to show her the Harry Clarke window that Robert had described in his Martinmas post. Second, a trip to St Barrahane’s is always a pilgrimage of a different sort for me, as it is the final resting place of three of my heroes. The first two, of course, are the writing team of Somerville and Ross – more about them in this post. The third is Vice-Admiral Boyle Somerville, brother of Edith and a keen amateur archaeologist worthy of a post to himself in the future.

St Louis: detail of Harry Clarke window in St Barrahanes, Castletownshend

St Louis: detail of Harry Clarke window in St Barrahanes, Castletownshend

Come back soon, Louise – these two pilgrims have lots more to show you!