The Rocky Road to Nowhere

The road from Cork to Crookhaven – one of the most westerly communities in the whole of Europe – ran into the sea here at Rock Island. The picture above shows the remote settlement in the distance across an expanse of water, and the stone steps in the foreground are literally the end of the road that was laid out by Sir Richard John Griffith – Engineer of Public Works in Cork, Kerry and Limerick – between 1822 and 1830.

Upper – map showing Rock Island today: note the R591 road which now goes around the north side of Crookhaven Bay to reach the village. Lower – the Cassini map of c1848, showing Griffith’s Road – the direct route across Rock Island to the Landing Place at the western point: from there you went by water to Crookhaven Quay

Griffith’s brief as Engineer was to lay out many miles of new roads in some of the most inaccessible parts of the three counties. But even in his day travelling through the hinterland of Ireland was risky and uncomfortable: always far better to go by water along the coast – at least the passage was direct and relatively smooth in calm weather, while the byroads of the day were at best circuitous and muddy. Here’s an extract from a report by Griffith dated 1824:

. . . Richard Griffith, Road Engineer, Progress Report, Skibbereen to Crookhaven, Wheeled Carts now Appear, where heretofore Loads were carried on the Backs of Horses, New Entrance to Town Of Bandon, Road From Courtmacsherry to Timoleague, Road from Clonakilty to New Fishery Pier At Ring, New Road Skibbereen to Bantry, Macroom to Killarney, with a Note on The System of Labour Organisation Used . . .

Connections by water: a telephoto view of Crookhaven, taken from above the ‘Landing Place’ at the west end of Rock Island

A few years ago, Finola wrote about the Butter Roads, an eighteenth century venture to serve the hub of Cork – and its international Butter Market – from the wilds of Ireland’s rural hinterland. Griffith and his contemporaries improved on this network during the nineteenth century: what we have today – especially here in West Cork – is an updating of Griffith’s system, with a few improved main roads connecting up with the web of winding boreens which then accessed the scattered townlands and farms – and still do.

An engraving signed W T Green from A History of the City and County of Cork by Mary Cusack, Cork 1875

Born in Dublin in 1784, Richard Griffith exerted a great influence over the whole of Ireland during his lifetime. He was fascinated by the relatively new science of geology and studied in London and Edinburgh. I was particularly interested to see that he spent some time in Cornwall, studying mine engineering and mining techniques. Returning to Ireland in 1808, He was appointed Engineer to the Bog Commissioners and over the following four years wrote detailed accounts of the geology of various parts of the country, including Clare, Cork , Kerry, Leitrim, Mayo, Sligo and Wicklow. He became Professor of Geology and Mining at the Royal Dublin Society in 1812, and Inspector-General of His Majesty’s Royal Mines in Ireland at about the same time. The first edition of his Geological Map of Ireland was published in 1815.This was revised and republished a number of times over the following 40 years, and was the work he considered his major achievement.

Sir Richard Griffith 1784 – 1878: left – plaque at his Dublin birthplace; right – portrait from 1854

You will see from Finola’s post today that we visited Rock Island during the week in the good company of Aidan Power who has written an account of the place. It’s wonderful to get a guided tour with an enthusiastic expert. It was Aidan who sparked my imagination when he pointed out that a mail boat was rowed over from Crookhaven every day to the Landing Place at Rock Island – and was the regular and reliable means of communication between that village and the rest of Cork.

This drawing of Rock island by Brocas is dated 1837, and clearly shows, on the right hand side, Griffith’s Road leading down to the Landing Place, the principal connection with Crookhaven

There’s a lot more of Griffith’s story to be told: particularly his appointment as Boundary Commissioner in 1824, a post he held for 41 years. This resulted in the full recording of all townland boundaries and designations – although these were often anglicised at the time, resulting in the loss of many local traditional names. He died in 1878 at the age of 94. On his grave in Mount Jerome Cemetery is the epitaph . . . Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, Serving the Lord . . .

Griffith’s Road on Rocky Island is lost to a grassy track (upper picture and on the left in the lower picture) but is still traceable and remains theoretically a public highway! You can at least still follow it on foot to the point where it becomes a series of rocky steps that finish in the sea. You will have quite a wait for the Crookhaven mailboat today, however.

George Victor Du Noyer at the Crawford Gallery

I had been aware of George Victor Du Noyer’s antiquarian drawings from my days as a student, but that did not prepare me for the Du Noyer exhibition currently running at the Crawford – it’s nothing short of breathtaking. Du Noyer, it turns out, was far far more than an antiquarian: he was a nineteenth century Renaissance man, artistic, talented, curious, scientific and learned in equal proportions. Stones, Slabs and Seascapes is curated by Peter Murray (recently retired director of the Crawford) and co-curated by Petra Coffey of the Geological Survey.  If you do nothing else this winter, get to Cork to see this exhibition!

I’ve decided to annotate the images with quotes in italics (image follows quote) from the outstanding exhibition catalogue which is a collection of essays, each written from a slightly different perspective. I’ve tried to show representative samples of Du Noyer’s work, mostly from the exhibition. A couple of illustrations are from elsewhere. I’m not going to say a lot about Du Noyer’s life – there’s an excellent summary (with some additional photographs) by Fiona Ahern on the Maynooth University Library website.

From a cultural studies and critical theory perspective, the principal interest in Du Noyer lies also in seeing how, as an Irish artist, he responded to the international debates of his day: to the Devonian controversy, to the widening gap between ‘uniformitarianists’ and ‘catastrophists’, and to the urgent search by geologists and astronomers during his lifetime to explain the origins of the planet Earth. The ability of Du Noyer to traverse conventions of representation – he moved easily from picturesque watercolours, to scientific cross-sections of landscape – reflects a similar flux in nineteenth-century learning, where advances in science co-existed with a desire to adhere to traditional modes of representation. (From the Introduction by Peter Murray and Petra Coffey)

In contrast with other artists’ depiction of Ireland at this time (many of them English), Du Noyer’s sketches lack the stereotyping that is all too common in art of that period. Based on eyewitness observation, his drawings lack elements of caricature and satire often perceptible in depictions of Ireland by artists who tended to work from preconceived ideas. (From the Introduction by Peter Murray and Petra Coffey)

Throughout a long and productive lifetime, during which he depicted a myriad of objects and places in Ireland, George Victor Du Noyer compiled a databank of images that not only formed part of the new awareness of Irish national identity that emerged in the early nineteenth century, but also revealed the potential of art to frame revolutionary narratives relating to geology, natural history and human evolution . . . Du Noyer was one of those who helped construct this new narrative. He documented towns and villages, prehistoric sites and ruined monasteries. He had a keen interest in the natural environment, in methods of transport . . . artefacts connected with food preparation, cooking, eating and drinking. (From the Foreword by Peter Murray)

As  industrial production began to dominate people’s everyday view of the world, the aesthetics of handmade objects fell into sharp relief. Du Noyer delighted in depicting such objects, from every age, from simple ‘Killick’ anchors of wood and stone, to querns for grinding corn and wooden drinking vessels. Removed from their original context and preserved in glass cases in museums, these objects had begun to lose much of their original meaning. In illustrating them, Du Noyer not only committed their image to paper but also highlighted philosophical questions relating to the passing of time and the formation of both individual and collective memory. (From the Foreword by Peter Murray)

When he was visiting Belfast in 1837, he bought some apples in the market thinking they were Irish apples (they were not) and he painted them magnificently, enhanced with gum Arabic. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

From 1842 to 1843 . . . he accepted private work, as he was able to produce art work in many media . . . He illustrated Hall’s Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, etc (Vol.2, 1842). (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) was established on 1st April, 1845 . . . Du Noyer had been introduced to the new study of the earth – geology – and it was to shape his life thereafter. Despite having no formal training or qualifications in geology he was to become extremely competent in his calling with the added bonus of being better able than most to record graphically what he saw . . . From now on, Du Noyer never put down his geological hammer, pencil, paper and watercolours . . . (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

Du Noyer published papers in many journals, including the Archaeological Journal. His most important work was ‘On the remains of ancient stone-built fortresses and habitations to the west of Dingle, Couny Kerry’, published in 1858. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

The purpose of a scientific illustration is to reflect accurately the key features of a fossil, animal, plant or landscape. It can be a far cry from the conventional artist’s view, where the essence can be more important than the reality. (From The Scientific Illustrations of George Victor Du Noyer by Nigel T Monaghan)

Du Noyer’s scientific landscapes emphasise the geology, showing rocks accurately in terms of bed thickness, irregularity, angles of dip, faults and major joints, with no less attention to detail in his rendition of the soil cover, vegetation and the human impact on the countryside. (From The Scientific Illustrations of George Victor Du Noyer by Nigel T Monaghan)

. . . when Du Noyer worked with the [Ordnance] Survey, he would go out in all weathers to sketch antiquities surviving in the landscape, some of which are now in a more parlous condition than when he drew them, while others have disappeared entirely… (From Du Noyer’s Treasures in the Royal Irish Academy by Peter Harbison)

In 1837 Du Noyer painted a series of large watercolours depicting typologies of Bronze Age spears and axeheads, and early Christian artefacts, such as brooches, bells, devotional crosses, and figures clearly prised off reliquaries. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

in 1837 and 1838, Du Noyer drew a series of palaeontological monochrome-wash watercolours, depicting fossils of ancient life forms, including seashells, whorls, spirals and other simple shapes, images that were lithographed for Portlock’s Report on the Geology of Londonderry . . . Portlock’s publication, at over 500 pages, was, literally, ground-breaking in terms of the study of fossils in Britain and Ireland. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In May 1850, he painted four panoramic watercolours from the top of Carrickbyrne Hill . . . [and] also painted a panoramic watercolour, ‘View of Ballyhack and Arthurstown from Passage’. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In 1867 . . . after many years working for the Geological Survey of Ireland as an assistant surveyor, Du Noyer was appointed District Surveyor and posted to a field station in County Antrim . . . His article, ‘Notes on the stratigraphical position of the Giant’s Causeway, and the structure of the Basaltic Cliffs immediately adjoining it,’ had been published in The Geologist in 1860. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In total, Du Noyer left some five thousand works of art, in pencil and watercolour. At his best, he combined an objective scientific approach with a sublime artistic vision. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

The exhibition runs from November 17th, 2017 to February 24th, 2018 at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and then from March to September 2018 at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Catalogue published by Crawford Art Gallery, available from their book shop.