Gothic Revival – With Bells

A month ago I wrote of our first visit to Cobh, in County Cork, and told how impressed we were with the town and its architecture. I promised that Roaringwater Journal would revisit Cobh, and today I will concentrate on the splendour of the Cathedral, which dominates the skyline and looks across to the Lee Estuary. All shipping using the port, or passing up to Cork, will be aware of this spectacular building.

St Colmán’s Cathedral was conceived in the mid-Victorian era, when the Gothic revival style of architecture was in full swing. Popularity of the style was, perhaps, generated as a reaction to the society and machinery of the Industrial Revolution – all noise, smoke and progress – and harked back to a perception of medieval life when all seemed sylvan and pastoral and when everyone, from lords to artisans, knew their place: Medievalism meant a concentration on the trappings of chivalry, craftsmanship and decoration, particularly in religious buildings – although private houses for the very wealthy also explored the idiom: have a look at our post on Adare Manor.

Construction work on the Cathedral began in 1867. The designers were Edward Welby Pugin (son of Augustus Welby Pugin – probably the greatest of the British Victorian architects) and Irish-born George Coppinger Ashlin who was responsible for over 100 new churches in Ireland including those in Clonakilty and Skibbereen, here in West Cork. St Colmán’s was not completed, however, until 1915. The tower – 90 metres high – was the last element to be finished – old photographs above (emptyseas) and below left (National Archives of Ireland) show the Cathedral in use without it in the 1890s while the picture (below right – from the Michael O’Leary Private Collection) shows the tower under construction in 1914.

The Cathedral is dedicated to St Colmán of Cloyne, who founded the Diocese in the year 560. This saint is known as ‘The Poet Saint’ as he trained to be a bard for twelve years and entered the court of Aodh Caomh, High King of Munster, at Cashel. Influenced by St Brendan and St Ita, Colmán became a priest and then set up a monastery on the shores of the Lee, where Cobh now stands.  Our friend Amanda has told the story of this saint, and includes a piece from the Schools Folklore Collection, written by Padraigh Ua hAodha in the 1930s:

. . . When St Coleman was building the round tower in Cloyne a woman asked him what he was doing so high up. When he heard her speak he got such a shock he jumped from there to Kilva where the print of his feet are still to be seen on a stone. He jumped from there to Glen Iris Wood. When he landed he prayed to god to send him some water and immediately water sprang up at his feet. When he had drunk some he sprang from here to Cove  where there is a cathedral built called Saint Coleman’s. The spring that sprung up at his feet is now known as St Coleman’s Well . . .

The Cathedral contains an inscribed list of all the bishops of the Diocese, from St Colmán to the present day. This list includes Thaddeus McCarthy, bishop from 1490 to 1492 – Finola is telling his story today. The richness of the building is as evident inside as it is without. It’s an homage to fine detailing and craftsmanship and there is no corner free from it: unfortunately I could not find the names of the the artists, masons and carvers in any records. At least their skills are celebrated in their works.

Something you may not discover from a visit to St Colmán’s is the carillon which was built in to the new tower in 1916. A carillon is a giant musical instrument which, using a large mechanical keyboard and pedals, sounds a whole series of cast bells. In this cathedral there are 49 bells – making it the largest carillon in Ireland and Britain: the heaviest bell weighs 3.6 tons, and is named Colmán! Please watch this fascinating seven minute film about the carillon, and the man who plays it: his title is Carillonneur. Through the summer recitals are given and can, of course, be heard not only in the Cathedral, but over the whole town.

Visiting Cobh is itself a great experience, but allowing sufficient time to explore and appreciate the Neo-Gothic gem which is St Colmán’s Cathedral has to be the icing on the cake. Although only completed a hundred years ago, remember the long tradition of the saints who set up their foundations here in Ireland, keeping civilisation alive . . . while the Dark Ages settled on Europe . . .

Atlantic Winter

Dingle Beach

When St Brendan of Clonfert set out to discover America in 512 he and his fellow monks had to face the enormity of the Atlantic Ocean in tiny boats built out of wood and oxhides, sealed with animal fat. Up here in Nead an Iolair our view out to the islands of Roaringwater Bay and beyond is dominated by that same ocean and – sometimes – we feel just as small. This year the winter gales have started early, and spates of fierce westerlies have been throwing the Atlantic straight at our windows. The tiles rattle alarmingly while we are tucked up in bed at night. At these times I think of the Saint and what he had to face. But, like Brendan, we always survive the storms, and often wake up in the morning to a calm, clear day – except that you can hear the constant ‘roaring’ of the open sea out over the bay.

celebrating massOn their way to the New World – Saint Brendan and his companions take advantage of a passing Atlantic denizen to celebrate Mass…

The Atlantic has shaped Ireland. The sea is omnipresent: poets have written about it, storytellers have woven tales around it, and composers have tried to capture its spirit in music. Here’s a small section from the impressive ‘Brendan Voyage’ written by Shaun Davey for orchestra and Uillinn pipes – it’s the haunting second movement, played by Liam O’Flynn with the Irish National Youth Orchestra, at a performance in Cork City Hall. It makes me think of the wonderful sunrise on that calm day after the storm…

Brendan Voyage

Long Island Beacon

Brow Head

Mizen Head

Our own Atlantic: telescopic view of a storm battering Long Island, taken from our garden at Nead an Iolair (top), Brow Head, near Crookhaven (centre), and the impressive land and seascape at Mizen Head – Ireland’s most south-westerly point (lower picture). At the head of this page you can see the huge rollers that come into Dingle Bay, Co Kerry

Dogger, Rockall, Malin, Irish Sea:
Green, swift upsurges, North Atlantic flux
Conjured by that strong gale-warning voice,
Collapse into a sibilant penumbra.
Midnight and closedown. Sirens of the tundra,
Of eel-road, seal-road, keel-road, whale-road, raise
Their wind-compounded keen behind the baize
And drive the trawlers to the lee of Wicklow.
L’Etoile, Le Guillemot, La Belle Hélène
Nursed their bright names this morning in the bay
That toiled like mortar. It was marvellous
And actual, I said out loud, “A haven,”
The word deepening, clearing, like the sky
Elsewhere on Minches, Cromarty, The Faroes.

Glanmore Sonnets VII, taken from Field Work by Seamus Heaney, published by Faber and Faber Ltd

Seamus Heaney was deeply affected by the seascape of his native Ireland. Anyone who works on or beside the sea is aware of the resonant names from the Shipping Forecasts, and the poet has used those names here to introduce his word-picture of the elemental Atlantic.

Near Malin Head 2

On the Beara

Donegal Beach

Atlantic contrasts from Mizen to Malin: near Malin Head – Ireland’s most northerly point (top), off the Beara (centre) and a beach in Donegal (lower)

A later traveller over the Atlantic waters was Chistopher Columbus in the 15th century. On the way he looked out for St Brendan’s Isle, a spectral island situated in the North Atlantic somewhere off the coast of Africa. It appeared on numerous maps in Columbus’ time, often referred to as La isla de SamborombónThe first mention of the island was in the ninth-century Latin text Navigatio Sancti Brendani Abatis (Voyage of Saint Brendan the Abbot), from whence it became firmly implanted into Irish mythology. St Brendan took a little party of monks to the island to say Mass: when they returned after a few days to the rest of the flotilla, they were told that they had been away for a year! The phantom island was seen on and off by mariners for years until in 1723 a priest performed the rite of exorcism towards it during one of its apparitions behind low cloud… You can see St Brendan’s Isle for yourselves, above the wonderful giant fish in the second picture down.

Dingle Peninsula

Coast Road

Dingle peninsula (top), and Coast Road in Donegal (lower)

I was pleased to find this Irish Times video made by Peter Cox when he was fundraising for his book Atlantic Light: spectacular photographs of the coastline on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way. The excellent aerial views in this film are all taken by a drone… Look out for places you will have seen in our blogs!

atlantic video

We are privileged that the Atlantic Ocean is the abiding but ever-changing feature in our daily lives. It must affect us in unknown ways: I do know that, wherever I go in this world, I will – like Saint Brendan – always be drawn back here to our wonderful safe haven…

St-Brendan-Coin1

 

Uisce Beatha

fishy

Ireland is an island – a fairly small one. There’s a lot of water surrounding it (3,500 miles of coastline) and coming out of the sky. This abundance of water has shaped the natural landscape and coloured it emerald green. Not surprisingly, traditional life, history, culture and folklore in this country are imbued with watery references.

Schull Pier

Schull Pier

Down here in West Cork you are never more than a mile or two from the sea: it has historically provided defence, sustenance, isolation and wealth. When the O’Mahony and O’Driscoll clans ruled here in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries it was recorded that more than 500 large fishing boats from France, Spain, and Portugal were constantly harvesting the fish shoals off the Mizen. Each chieftain’s income from the foreign ships surpassed £1,000 annually by way of fishing rights, harbour dues and protection money (that’s about 3,000 cows in trading terms in those days). Today you can still see evidence that the bays, inlets and islands have long provided income and a means of transport to the local communities: there are small piers everywhere. There’s an ancient one – ruined but still visible – just below us at Ard Glas, and an hour’s walk along the water would take in half a dozen others mostly still maintained in good order and regularly used.

cunnamore-roscarberry

Piers at Cunnamore and Roscarberry

When we go up to the market in Bantry on a Friday morning to get our own fish fresh from the local quays we pass by the statue of St Brendan the Navigator. In the sixth century Brendan set out with forty other monks in a little boat to find the Island of Paradise; instead, they discovered America, returning after seven years to tell of their many adventures with sea monsters, miraculous islands and sirens. In the 1970s Tim Severin recreated Brendan’s twin masted boat using Irish ash and oak lashed together with two miles of leather thong and wrapped with 49 traditionally tanned ox hides sealed with wool grease. In this he sailed for a year via the Hebrides and Iceland to reach Newfoundland, thus proving that the legend could have been based on fact.

Colla Pier, Roaringwater Pier and St Brendan

Colla Pier, Roaringwater Pier and St Brendan

The 'lost' pier at Bealaclare

The ‘lost’ pier at Bealaclare

In 2010 two fishermen found a small canoe in the Boyne River. It’s reckoned to be 5,000 years old and may have carried stone for the building of the great passage tomb at Newgrange (that predates the Pyramids). That boat is only 3 metres long, but another canoe discovered in 1901 in Co Galway is even older and much bigger: 15 metres long, hollowed out from the trunk of a single oak tree that was over 2 metres in diameter: something that couldn’t be found in Ireland today. It probably had outriggers and could have been used to bring tin from Cornwall to mix with the locally mined copper, enabling the Bronze Age to take off. Fascinating.

Bronze Age Canoe

Bronze Age Canoe

Every day we look out over the water, and on all our walks we have glorious views over the bays, the Celtic Sea and the Atlantic. That’s a constant in our lives that I don’t think we could ever do without.

Oh – by the way: Uisce Beatha (pronounced Ish-kah Baahaa) – that translates literally as Water of Life – and, in Ireland, also as ‘Whisky’.

Turk Head Pier

Turk Head Pier