It’s Been Five Years! Finola’s Favourite Posts

I can hardly believe it – we’ve been doing this for five years now and we’re nowhere near running out of ideas for posts. And have you read Robert’s post? Imagine being called a 21st Century Robert LLoyd Praeger! Thrilled. But in fact as I dip into Praeger again I recognise in us the same impulse he had – to wander the land and discover all that it has to offer.

Amazing what you stumble across in the countryside, like this holy well and its offerings

One of the wonderful things about blogging like this is how much you LEARN every day, about Ireland, our neighbours, the ground we walk upon, the history and archaeology to be discovered around every corner, the wisdom of country people, the humour and expressiveness of Irish speech, the breathtaking beauty of the landscape. So where on earth to begin?

Our interest in archaeological sites led us to hike to the highest point on Cape Clear Island to see the sparse remains of a neolithic passage grave – and what a spectacular view there was from it, towards Sherkin Island and all the way down the coast of West Cork

Like many, I sat in churches as a child unaware of the architectural splendours around me. One of the delights of returning as an adult is discovering Irish stained glass, really seeing it for the first time. Harry Clarke, of course, is always a favourite, but I have been thrilled to discover other artists too: Richard King, George Walsh, the artisans of the Tower of Glass. There will be lots more posts about stained glass in the future as I unearth more treasure.

A recent discovery, George Walsh windows in a rural church in West Cork. This is his rendering of the Archangel Michael defeating the devil as a dragon

Going back to my roots as an archaeologist has been an extraordinary journey – so much has changed, so much has not. I started out in archaeology in the 70’s, although life got in the way of that career eventually. It was a small profession then: it exploded in the 80s and 90s with the advent of huge building projects, then contracted again when the recession hit.

I love the quiet little sites you find when you least expect them – this is a wedge tomb in the middle of a field. It has cupmarks all over one of the capstones

I have gone back to researching prehistoric rock art and finding that, while some excellent work has been done in this field over the last 40 years, there is a lot of scope still for an independent researcher to contribute to our appreciation of this little-known aspect of Irish prehistory. Along with our exhibitions, I’ve written several posts (not all of them happy) on this topic, and we are currently working on a paper for the Journal of the Bantry Historical and Archaeological Society on a special group of rock art panels at Ballybane.

Castlemehigan, one of our favourite rock art sites, with views right back over the Mizen Peninsula to Mount Gabriel

When I studied at UCC under Professor O’Kelly the emphasis was firmly on prehistory and we spent little time on medieval structures (or later ones, heaven forbid!). But when you are free to pursue whatever tickles your fancy, you find yourself wandering down a variety of rabbit holes. I became fascinated with Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture and with the tower houses (we just call them castles) that dot the countryside around here and the later iteration of the Big House – fortified manors. Visiting these intriguing ruins all over West Cork (and Ireland) has given me a whole new appreciation for how we lived and what we believed in the past.

This is the ruined romanesque church of Aghadoe in Killarney. It’s got this lovely doorway, but what makes it particularly meaningful for me is that my great-grandparents are buried in the graveyard it stands in

Ross Castle in Killarney against an evening sky

Living in West Cork is great FUN – there is always something to do and a new adventure around the corner. Many of the adventures we’ve had have been shared with our friends and fellow bloggers Amanda and Peter Clarke (Holy Wells of Cork and Hikelines). Visiting holy wells has introduced us to parts of Cork we might never have seen, to obscure saints with fascinating backstories and to folk practices that endure in the deep countryside. Walking the Sheep’s Head (my lead photograph, top of page), in all seasons, reminds us that you don’t have to go far to be immersed in jaw-dropping scenery and reminders of our ancient and more recent history.

The holy well of St Teskin, an East Cork saint

Lest you think that this is all sounding a bit academic, the posts that have been most fun to write were the ones on how we speak around here (and how you, too, can learn the basics of West Cork lingo), the ones in which I lamented my encounters with Irish bureaucracy, especially when it came to my driver’s license!

I still haven’t calmed down about the driver’s license – what they put me through, when I could have been driving THIS!

And I loved doing the posts about the tradition of painting our houses in arresting colours. With the colourful houses series, I feel a bit like a chronicler of a vanishing tradition – each time I look for one of my favourite pink or lime creations it seems to have been repainted a ‘tasteful’ variant on beige. Long live those brilliant colours – we would be poorer without them!

The town of Dingle is proudly keeping alive the tradition of painting each building a vibrant colour. – it’s a feast for the eyes

Finally, one of my greatest joys in the last couple of years has been to go for a walk with my camera and photograph the abundant wildflowers of West Cork. From someone who barely knew a daffodil from a daisy, I have developed a passion for the natural glories I see in the hedges, fields and yes, waste grounds, around me.

Just a typical roadside verge in West Cork

We adore West Cork, but we are also fearful for it as we see the pressures farmers face to make their land more and more productive. Inevitably, this means bringing in a rock breaker and turning the field into a mono-culture grass carpet. What we lose in this process – we humans, the bees and insects we depend on, the birds, and our heritage – is incalculable.

This tiny raised bog is home to some very interesting flowers, including the carnivorous Sundew

Here’s to many more adventures!

With friends like Susan Byron of Ireland’s Hidden Gems, or with my favourite travelling companion and blogging buddy, Robert!

Robert’s Favourite Posts

We had an unexpected – and unsolicited – accolade in the Irish Examiner last weekend! Tommy Barker wrote, in an article about Rossbrin (pictured above): “…The wonderful literary and visually rich website, http://www.roaringwaterjournal.com, by Rossbrin residents Robert Harris and Finola Finlay is a treasure, a sort of 21st century Robert Lloyd Praeger, online…” Of course, we went straight to our bookshelves to dip into our copy of Praeger’s The Way That I Went – An Irishman In Ireland, first published in 1937. Here’s an extract:

…At the southern end of this land of great mountain promontories, in West Cork, you find yourself in a little-known and tourist-free region of much charm. You stay on Sherkin Island (Inis Oircín, little pig’s island) or Cape Clear Island, at Schull (Scoil, a school) or far out at Crookhaven: and you walk and boat and fish and lounge and bathe, and enjoy the glorious air and sea; towns and trams and telephones seem like bad dreams, or like fugitive glimpses of an earlier and inferior existence. A meandering railway penetrates to Schull, and roads are as good as you could expect them to be in so lonely a country. All is furzy heath and rocky knolls, little fields and white cottages and illimitable sea, foam-rimmed where it meets the land, its horizon broken only by the fantastic fragment of rock crowned by a tall lighthouse which is the famous Fastnet…

Yes – that’s our West Cork alright (above is a view of the Mizen taken from Mount Gabriel). We hope that, over five years of writing this journal, we have indeed given a good account of this wonderful place which we are privileged to call ‘home’. Certainly, there is nowhere we would rather be. But Roaringwater Journal has not just been about West Cork: we have covered a fair bit of Irish culture and history as well. Last week’s post set out the six most popular articles that we have written in terms of readership numbers; today we are both reviewing our own personal favourites (see Finola’s here) and there is lots to choose from: 466 posts to date! All of them are listed by category in the Navigation pages.

Foremost in my own mind in terms of personal satisfaction is the series I wrote last year: Green & Silver. There have been nine posts in all, starting with my review of a book which I first read in 1963, when I won it as an essay-writing prize at school. The book, Green & Silver, told the story of a journey around the Irish canal system in 1946 (the year I was born), undertaken by an English engineer and writer, L T C ‘Tom’ Rolt and his wife, Angela. When I wrote the review 70 years had passed since the Rolts made that journey. Finola and I conceived the idea of retracing the steps of the Rolts, although not by boat: we drove and walked. It was to be an exercise in tracking the passing of time. We would find the location of every photograph that Angela Rolt had taken in 1946, and take a new one, so that we could compare the changes that had occurred over seven decades. There were many: the canals themselves, which were then near-derelict in places have now been well restored, and the island of Ireland has today an amazing but probably under-appreciated asset: a cross-border system of navigable waterways which connects Waterford, Limerick, Dublin, Belfast and Coleraine.

Canal port: Richmond Harbour, Co Longford. Upper picture taken by Angela Rolt in 1946; lower picture, the same view taken 70 years on

I have always had an obsession with wildlife, and one of my favourite posts summarises what wonderful natural things we have all around us here: The Wild  Side. We have written about the birds – choughs, eagles, sparrowhawks – and the little ones that come to our feeder and keep us entertained.

We will never forget our good friend Ferdia, who arrived on our doorstep on the day we moved into Nead an Iolair, and was a regular visitor (usually daily) over several years. Sadly, foxes don’t live for long in the wild, and he has now passed away. He was a very fine dog-fox and was undoubtedly the head of a large family. We hoped that one of his offspring might have taken his place on our terrace, but I suppose he just could never be replaced.

Of course, the pasture and coastline that surrounds us has fine creatures of the domesticated variety, too! (left and right below).

I have family roots in Cornwall and, during my time living here, I have become aware of many links between that westernmost peninsula of Britain and West Cork. In fact, those links go back into prehistory: in the Bronze Age – three and a half thousand years ago – copper was mined on the slopes of Mount Gabriel – a stone’s throw from where we live – and was mixed with tin from Cornwall to make the all-important ‘supermetal’ of Bronze. Another link which I was so pleased to find was that Cornwall’s Patron Saint – St Piran – was actually born and brought up on Cape Clear – the island we look out to across Roaringwater Bay. Read all about it here.

The little church at Perranzabuloe in Cornwall (now inundated by sand) marks the spot where St Ciarán from Cape Clear landed to start his mission. Because of a difference in the Irish and Cornish languages, he became known as St Piran over there. He lived to the age of 208!

Stirring up those links led to my life being taken over in the summer of this year by organising (together with Ann Davoren and the team at the West Cork Arts Centre) an exhibition of the work of three contemporary Cornish artists which was held in Uillinn, Skibbereen’s amazing new gallery. The exhibition ran with the title of West meets West and heralds future collaborations and visits to Cornwall by West Cork artists. This link opens the series of posts that report on all this.

My time here in West Cork – and in Ireland – has heightened my interest in all things medieval, particularly architecture. Finola has written a highly researched and detailed series on the Irish Romanesque style, and our travels to carry out this research have been enjoyable and instructive. I have taken a liking to High Crosses, most of them probably over a thousand years old. They are always found in the context of fascinating early ecclesiastical sites. If you want to know more, have a look at the posts: so far we have explored Moone (above), Durrow (below), Monasterboice, and Castledermot. There are many more to add to this list – and to keep us busy over the next few years.

That’s quite enough for one post! It would be possible to write several on how we have been inspired by our explorations in search of material. Somehow, though, our hearts always come back to our very own piece of Irish soil: Nead an Iolair (Nest of the Eagles). Here it is, and here are the eagles flying over it! You’ll find more about them here.

Your Favourite Posts of 2016

Horses at Caherdaniel

It’s that time of the year again! The wonders of technology enable us to know which of our posts have received the most views: we can see how many people clicked on each article although we don’t specifically know who you are! This is great for us, because we can get an idea of what you – our readers – like to see and this helps us when considering what to write in the future. Not that we necessarily always respond to the statistics, because sometimes we just think there are things that you need to know about, regardless of their potential popularity or otherwise!

Not in the ‘top ten’ – but through the year Finola has expanded – and passed on to you – her knowledge of the wildflowers that make the hedgerows and verges of West Cork so colourful (bee in fuschia, left), while Robert has used the Olympic year of 2016 to examine the history of some sporting events in Ireland (Tailteann Games 1924, right)

So, during this year, Finola and I have published exactly 100 articles for Roaringwater Journal: that’s almost one each every week. It’s fascinating for us to look back and see where we have been, what turns our interests have taken, and of course to see how well (or otherwise) our writing was received. Statistics are one thing, but it’s your comments that really inform us – so keep them coming…

From Outposts of Empire: memorials in St Barrahane’s Church, Castletownshend (left) and St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (right)

Top of the board are two posts from Finola: one from the beginning of the year – Outposts of Empire, which researched and reviewed some of the monuments that are to be found in Protestant churches, cathedrals and graveyards in County Cork and Dublin. It’s a rich history of often only distantly remembered soldiers and battles. Why is this such a popular post? Perhaps because 2016 has been the focus for commemorations: the centenary of the Easter rising, and the fact that one hundred years ago many Irishmen were dying in the Great War. That has rather coloured the whole year in Ireland and Finola’s post – which also mentions some of the experiences of her own family – probably touches on many fertile memories.

Skibb men

How are ye keeping?

The next post in popularity dates only from last week: Finola’s latest humorous exploration of how people speak in West Cork – How are you keeping? This has become our top ‘viral hit’ on our Facebook page with thousands of views and 69 shares to date… Finola describes it as her ‘latest instalment of the How to Sound Like You’re From West Cork course’. The fifth of the series so far, it’s hilarious and has clearly captured the imaginations of our local readers.

key

Fourknocks, Boyne Valley: fetch the key and let yourself in…

To balance things out a bit the next two posts in popularity have come from Robert: Aweigh in Kerry – which delighted in the discovery of a boat-shaped house (pictured on the page header – an architectural gem) – and Fourknocks – the Little Giant, an account of a very unusual archaeological site in the Boyne Valley, north of Dublin. We were very taken by this site and its eccentricities: in order to gain access we had to collect the key (from a farm a mile away – and leaving a deposit of 20 euros) and let ourselves into the tomb which has some beautiful rock carvings.

East Window and Apse

Magnificent mosaic work in the Church of the Ascension, Timoleague

Next up is Finola’s Mosaics and Maharajas – an exploration of a wonderful church in Timoleague with walls decorated in mosaic tiling. But there’s also a strange and poignant story which this church reveals to us (read the post)… And – what’s in a name? Well, perhaps the more bizarre – or seductive or beguiling – the title of a post is, the more hits it gets! Finola’s The Murdering Glen (a valley north of Bantry, again, with a story attached) certainly attracted a lot of attention.

On the walk

looking towards west

Upper picture – the murdering Glen; lower picture – Robert’s imagining of the Cape Clear Stone restored to its rightful place on the island…

Robert’s report on the passage tomb on the summit of Cape Clear – and the story of the carved stone that’s now in the Cork Public Museum comes next: Cape Clear – the Stone that Moved, closely followed by Finola’s post on the historic walled town of Youghal in East Cork: Youghal’s Walls. Then we had ‘Auf der Waltz” – The Journeymen, a popular piece about two German apprentice blacksmiths who passed through West Cork this summer as part of their three year travels through Europe gaining experience towards becoming masters of their trade. This was also written by Robert.

on hungry hill

The Journeymen exploring beautiful West Cork: Hungry Hill (photo by Dietrich Eckardt)

Rather than list all the other posts in some sort of ‘order of popularity’, let’s round up with our own favourites. Finola has been enthusiastically researching stained glass windows in churches – wherever we travel. Besides her continuing respect for Harry Clarke – probably Ireland’s finest artist in this medium – she has discovered the identity and work of artists who inherited his mantle when he passed away (far too young) in 1931. The Harry Clarke Studios continued on until 1973 and also produced some stunning work. Have a look at Discovering Richard King to appreciate just one of the artists who followed after Harry. Another of Finola’s great posts on this medium – The Christmas Story, One Window at a Time – appeared only two weeks ago.

HC Studio, Athlone

The spectacular stained glass work of Richard King, a small detail from Sts Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Athlone

For myself, the subject that has engaged me most this year is my Travel by Water’ series: seven posts (so far) on the Irish Canals inspired by my review of Green & Silver – a book which I was given as a prize at school in 1963! We retraced the steps of L T C Rolt, the author of the book, and his wife Angela who took some very atmospheric photographs as they travelled around the Irish waterways in 1946 – exactly 70 years ago. To celebrate my own 70th birthday this year we attempted to replicate each of the photographs as closely as possible with present-day views of the same scenes. The venture has turned out to be a real social history of Ireland and the changes that have happened during that interval of time.

ballycowan sunset

Travel by Water – ghostly reflections beside the Grand Canal at Ballycowan

So thank you to all of you – our readers. Without you our work on Roaringwater Journal would have been pointless. With you – and with the value of your comments and discussions – we feel the whole exercise is well worthwhile – so, please, let us know your own personal favourites… We certainly intend to keep the Journal going for a few years yet! Don’t forget, there is a full index in the Navigation Page – here. And, I’m sure you all know by now, anything highlighted in blue is a link to something else: either another one of our posts in the Journal, or to another relevant source of information on the subject. Good hunting!

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Your Favourite Posts of 2015

Ross Castle, Killarney

Ross Castle, Killarney

At the end of each year we like to look back at our most-read posts and do a re-cap for our readers. Last year you liked what we wrote about islands, nostalgia, festivals, and the beauty of the Mizen Peninsula.

Did you drive past the Woman in White?

Did you drive past the Woman in White?

Despite all the hours we put into researching topics and sourcing images, this year it was a spur-of-the-moment post done for the sheer fun of it that came the closest we’ve ever come to a viral hit. Yes – that post on the Leap Scarecrows. The little village of Leap went all out and you could just sense the enjoyment that the scarecrow-makers had dreaming up their concoctions.

The One-Armed Michael Davitt

The One-Armed Michael Davitt

We love writing about history and some of your favourites fell under this heading. Robert wrote about Michael Davitt after a visit to his museum in Mayo. His powerful message of peaceful civil resistance struck home with us both.

Where Agnes grew up: Bridge Street, Skibbereen, 19th Century. National Library Collection

Where Agnes grew up: Bridge Street, Skibbereen, 19th Century. National Library Collection

Finola stayed in West Cork, and wrote about the life of Agnes Mary Clerke who grew up in Skibbereen and went on to become a formidable astro-physicist and science writer.

The Elizabethan-era fortified house at Gearhameen, near Durrus

The Elizabethan-era fortified house at Gearhameen, near Durrus

West Cork abounds in reminders of the medieval period. Tower houses and castles stand as ruined sentinels all along the coast. But we also have a type of dwelling known as a fortified house – the largest example is Coppinger’s Court near Rosscarbery – and our post, Trading Up in Tudor Times, set out the main characteristics of these impressive mansions.

Along the Butter Road walk - part of the new Fastnet Trail System

Along the Butter Road walk – part of the new Fastnet Trail System

A local group has been hard at work developing a new system of trails in our vicinity and this summer it was successfully launched. The trails use existing boreens, for the most part, and are filled with unexpected delights and wonderful vistas. Robert introduced the new trail system to our readers in his post Closer Encounters – Fastnet Trails.

'Tis far from induction hobs you were reared

Tis far from induction hobs you were reared

We love to laugh at ourselves in Ireland, and Finola’s post You’re Grand, heavily influenced by the hilarious Tara Flynn and her book of the same name, must have raised some chuckles. Tara has a new book out now, Giving Out Yards, equally hilarious and insightful about us Irish and what makes us tick – or actually, what ticks us off.

Derrynablaha landscape - changed and unchanged

Derrynablaha landscape – changed and unchanged

Archaeology is one of our big topics, and this year three posts made the most-read list. Our account of the expedition we undertook with colleagues to Derrynablaha – a wild mountain valley in Kerry full of rock art – was a hit with many readers. You also enjoyed our account of our visit to the Ceide Fields in Mayo, and Finola’s musings about the humble cupmark and its place in the rock art pantheon.

Skibbereen hosted a wildly successful National Digital Week

Skibbereen hosted a wildly successful National Digital Week

We enjoyed participating in the first ever Digital Skibbereen event – a wonderfully organised set of experiences designed to showcase how Skibbereen is poised for the digital era.

In the Magic Forest

In the Magic Forest

Our readers love to hear about things to do and places to go in West Cork. Robert wrote about our day in the Magic Forest, a feast for the senses and great fun for the whole family. Earlier in the year, in A Mumuration, he described our outing to Ballyvourney to take part in the ancient rituals associated with the celebration of St Gobnait.

Making the Rounds at Saint Gobnait's Shrine on the Feast Day

Making the Rounds at Saint Gobnait’s Shrine on the Feast Day

And what about our own favourites, even if they didn’t make it to the most-read list?

The Infant of Prague - in Prague

The Infant of Prague – in Prague

Robert’s was his post on The Infant of Prague – he was fascinated by the little statues that are so ubiquitous in West Cork houses and was delighted to find the original in Prague and learn about its significance. Our discovery of Oldcourt, with its traditional boatyard and long history was also a highlight.

Old boat at Oldcourt

Old boat at Oldcourt

After dithering for hours, Finola decided that her trio of posts on our West Cork tower houses (When is a Castle?, Tower House Tutorial Part 1 and Tower House Tutorial Part 2) were the most fun to write, because she learned so much and because she got to scramble around old ruins with her camera – possibly her favourite activity in the world.

Dunmanus Castle

Dunmanus Castle

How about you, Dear Reader? Did you have a favourite this year?

And don’t forget, especially if you’re relatively new to this blog, you can check out the Navigation Page to see what topics you might like to pursue.