A Flying Priest, and Rolls of Butter

Last week Finola reported on a journey over the mountains on the ‘Priest’s Leap’ road from Kenmare, Co Kerry to Bantry, in West Cork. We received a fusilade of comments from readers who told us we hadn’t seen half of what there is to be found on this road so, on the very first day of September, we were off again, this time getting a different perspective by travelling the other way. Before we left Bantry we had to find the very spot where the priest – being pursued by soldiers – landed after he and his horse leapt off the highest summit of the road which has been named after him.

It’s great that this stone has been left untouched by the modern roadmakers, so that all can see the hoof marks to this day. I calculated that, 400 years ago, the priest was airborne for a distance of some 12 kilometres as the crow (or horse!) flies – considerably more than some of those early aviators of the 20th century were credited with!

If you are not of a nervous disposition, and don’t mind travelling a narrow, single-track mountain road for some 15 kilometres, probably sharing it only with a few sheep, then to pass over this route is one of Ireland’s most spectacular experiences. Choose your day, though: we were lucky to have hot sun and clear views the whole way. If you survive it to the top, you are right on the Cork – Kerry border: in the photo below, the fence going on up the hill is exactly on that border line (and the point at which the priest and his horse took off is to the right of it at the peak). Stop and look around: the views in every direction are stunning.

After we crossed the border into Kerry we came downhill and stopped again at the remote, picturesque Feaghna burial ground in the townland of Garranes. On our last visit we were completely unaware of the existence of an unusual archaeological site nearby – one which has a number of traditions associated with it.

Popularly known as the ‘Rolls of Butter’ this site is technically a ‘Bullaun Stone’. These are fairly widespread over Ireland, but their original function is not known for sure. Here’s a summary from the National Monuments Service:

. . . The term ‘bullaun’ (from the Irish word ‘bullán’, which means a round hollow in a stone, or a bowl) is applied to boulders of stone or bedrock with hemispherical hollows or basin-like depressions, which may have functioned as mortars. They are frequently associated with ecclesiastical sites and holy wells and so may have been used for religious purposes. Other examples which do not appear to have ecclesiastical associations can be found in bedrock or outcrop in upland contexts, often under blanket bog, and are known as bedrock mortars. They date from the prehistoric period to the early medieval period  . . .

A drawing by the 19th century antiquarian W F Wakeman of a Bullaun Stone at Killinagh in Co Cavan. Here, the stones are known as ‘cursing stones’ – a term also applied by some commentators to the Feaghna site at Garranes. Interestingly, the Cavan site is also referred to as ‘St Brigid’s Stones’, while the Rolls of Butter are associated with the local saint, Fiachna. Beliefs – stories – are, of course, as fascinating as any archaeological evidence, and have to be investigated. Here, they abound – and are best learned from local sources: in this link folklorist Matt Sullivan has put together an entertaining selection of local opinion about the Rolls of Butter.

A few years ago I wrote a post covering some bullauns, ‘cursing stones’ and ‘curing stones’ – but at that time I wasn’t aware of these examples just a mere priest’s leap away from our own home.

There is much more archaeology and history in this mountainous country: here (above) in the townland of Erneen, the view from the road across one of the many remote glens shows up former enclosures and ‘hut sites’, which the National Monuments Service describes thus:

. . . A structure, usually discernible as a low, stone foundation or earthen bank enclosing a circular, oval or subrectangular area, generally less then 5m in maximum dimension. The remains are generally too insubstantial to classify as a house but the majority probably functioned as dwellings. These may date to any period from prehistory (c. 8000 BC – AD 400) to the medieval period (5th-16th centuries AD) . . .

It’s intriguing to think that these beautiful natural landscapes which appear so lonely to us were occupied hundreds – perhaps thousands – of years ago. It’s likely that they have changed very little over all that time: history is clearly set out for us as we travel over this ancient way.

The days are shortening, and we still didn’t have time to explore everything the Priest’s Leap road has to reveal. We’ll be back again before too long – in search of more stories.

Tiny Ireland

Bunratty Castle

If you live around here or have visited Ireland you’ve seen them in all the best gift shops: Tiny Ireland – those intriguing paper models of Irish buildings and towns that make the perfect gift.

Top photograph: Bunratty Castle. Above: Skibbereen, the model and the real thing, and Tiny Cobh

They say that a true craftsperson makes it look easy. But this week we visited Tiny Ireland in her studio and found out first hand just how much talent and research and imagination goes into every single detail.

Anke with boxed Gallarus

Anke shows us her Tiny Gallarus

And who is Tiny Ireland? Meet Anke Eckardt. She’s lived here in West Cork since she was a little girl, plays a mean tin whistle, is an artist, a master joiner and boat builder and joint owner with Rui of West Cork Boats. The idea for Tiny Ireland came to her when she made some paper models with and for her son Fionn to complement his train set. That was ten years ago. She has been making models ever since, but devoting herself seriously to it for the last five years.

Designer at work – Anke in her studio. Full marks for anyone who can guess the pub she’s working on.

Anke starts with familiarising herself with the town or village. She wanders round with her camera, talks to everyone, gets a feel for the place, and then does extensive research on the history of the area. In the case of West Cork, like any other native she already knows every inch of it – the stories, the atmosphere, the iconic buildings, the colours and contours of the landscape. She tries to capture that same sense of place wherever she goes.

UCC

GPOTop: Both Anke and I went to University College Cork and the Quad holds a special place in our hearts. Bottom: Anke’s contribution to the 1916 commemorations – the General Post Office in Dublin

Back in the studio she decides on which buildings to use and starts drawing and painting and figuring out what should go where on the model and what extra details to include. Each building occupies one sheet in the kit. Anke wants each sheet to be a beautiful object in itself, to be poured over before you even start the scoring and cutting process. Can you imagine the cleverness it takes to construct even one building? Add to that all the little details that go into making it unique and contributing to its cultural and geographic character.

Glucksman Gallery in box

Not just traditional buildings! Here is the ultra-modern Glucksman Gallery at UCC

We came home with a Tiny Kenmare kit so that we could experience the assembly process first hand. Not only was this great fun but it gave us additional insights into both the craft of model making and the lovely additional details that Anke has inserted into each piece – details that extend the model into little bits of history.

Robert assembles Packie’s Pub

The second Kenmare building we assembled was O’Donnabháin’s pub and guest house (pronounce it O Dunn-eh-vawn’s). Look around the side – Anke has added the image of a funeral coming over a suspension bridge. Curious, I looked up what this was all about and found that Kenmare did indeed have the first suspension bridge ever built in Ireland – read an amusing account of its history here – and that the funeral was a real one, that of an IRA man murdered by the Black and Tans in 1921.

Kenmare Funeral

On the shelfKenmare is as scenic and colourful as any town anywhere has a right to be. It’s a great shopping town too, with wonderful cafes and pubs, and right on the justly-famed Ring of Kerry.

Colourful Kenmare 1

Every model Anke makes is unique and delightful. Individual pubs, shops, castles, etc are often made at the request of the owner. Here’s one for Tigh Neachtain in Galway. Anke showed us a draft of the Explanation sheet that goes with it. It’s an object lesson in how one building can encompass the story of a town. Richard Martin, by the way, is better known to history as Humanity Dick.

Tig Neachtain

Tig Neachtain ExplanationFor tourists, Tiny Ireland models make the perfect gift, light and packable and chock full of the real Ireland. For all of us, making one engages us in a creative act that comes out of the rich imagination and artistic talent of Anke Eckardt.

Tiny Bantry

Evans InteriorTiny Bantry – note Miss Evans traditional shop on the right. Here’s what it’s like inside. For more on this and other traditional Irish shops, see Shopping for Memories

And it’s not just models. Recently Anke has started to produce charming watercolours of the traditional shops and pubs she loves. We in Ballydehob have loved her posts on our wonderful old shopfronts. Here’s an example – Just drive down our main street and you can’t miss The Chestnut Tree.

chestnut-tree

Happy cutting and glueing!

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