Watsons of Youghal – Revivalist Masters Part 2

In Part 1 I laid out the background to the Watsons of Youghal Revivalist-style windows, a design innovation for which they should be particularly celebrated. In this post I will provide further examples and tell you where you can see some.

The Watson Archive is housed at the Crawford Gallery in Cork. In it are original cartoons showing the careful working out of interlace patterns and of lettering styles. Since these cartoons are on long pieces of paper which remained rolled or folded in storage for many years, they are in fragile condition and therefore what one consults in the Crawford Archive is the file of photographs of these papers. While not ideal, this at least allows serious students of stained glass to see some of the original work upon which the windows were assembled. There are also smaller drawings and paintings – these were done as original designs from which the cartoons could be drawn and from which the colours could be worked out.

It’s a real thrill to come across a window that is based on one of those designs: see above and below for a perfect match! Incorporation of interlacing can also help to identify an un-signed window as being a Watson: it was what set them apart, when the figures themselves – the saints or angels – might be well-nigh indistinguishable from those of other stained glass manufacturers.

Interlacing is the preferred word for the complex looping and braiding of ribbons, which twist in and out and around each other and often end in the head of a fantastical animal. Artists studied the Book of Kells and other illuminated manuscripts, copied the elaborate decorations and eventually figured out their own designs. Just walk through any older cemetery in Ireland to see the craftsmanship with which many crosses were carved with interlace motifs.  So it was with Watsons: they became expert at fitting and filling spaces in a window with Revivalist designs.

One of the best places to see Watson Revivalist windows, because it’s a small space and you can get close to the windows, is the Oratory at Gougane Barra. The vision for the building was that of Fr Patrick Hurley who developed the ‘ancient’ monastic settlement on the island, a scholarly man well versed in the Revivalist art and literature of the period who specified that the oratory itself would be built in the Neo-Romanesque style based on 12th century Irish churches such as Cormac’s Chapel (see this post for more on this). In the Oratory all the windows except a Marian image depict Irish saints, some of whom are local to Cork (Finbarr [above], Fachtna [below], Gobnait and Eltin).

Another West Cork church with Watson Revivalist windows is in Ardfield, south of Clonakilty. I used some of these in my Symbols and Stories post so take a look at those now. Note that, in contrast with the Gougane Barra Oratory, the iconography in Ardfield is essentially International-Catholic (St James, Jesus, Mary), very much in line with the Devotional Revolution which I described in my post Saints and Soupers: the Story of Teampall na mBocht (Part 7, the New Catholicism). Instead of repeating the Ardfield images here I will send you instead to the little country church in Castletown-Kinneagh, near Enniskeane, and one of my favourite windows – the Infant of Prague. In the extensive renovation of this church the parishioners, ably led by Fr Tom Hayes, worked hard to save this window from a porch which had to be demolished and re-located it in a light box inside the church. While not perfect for back-lighting, this has the great advantage of allowing the viewer to get really close to the window to observe the painting techniques and the details. 

Next we will stop by St Ita’s church in Gortroe, near Youghal. Here you will find one of Watson’s Revivalist windows dedicated to that same Blessed Thaddeus McCarthy (below) about whom Fr Hurley wrote in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society and whose travails I described in my Post Thaddeus McCarthy, The Bishop Who Never Was. In the sanctuary is a three light window, the Sacred Heart flanked by Thaddeus and St Ita, while a Lourdes window occupies the south wall (a detail from that window is my lead image in this post).

Protestant churches were also attracted to Revivalist touches and one of the most interesting windows I’ve seen is in St John’s Church of Ireland in Knight’s Town on Valentia Island in Kerry. The two light window depicts the angels of Prayer and Praise, with book and harp. The angels are beautiful if over-familiar depictions, but it is the surround that shows how Watsons worked hard to customise windows according to the wishes of the clients.*

The windows commemorate James and Anne Graves. James Graves was the first Superintendent of the Anglo-American telegraph station on Valentia and he held the post for forty years. Accordingly, the framing surround of each window shows not only nicely worked-out interlace but the telegraph cable, punctuated by cross sections of that cable in red and green. Marine rope, telegraph poles and ceramic insulators also make an appearance, and the international telegraph alphabet is represented by black dots on a white background. The window was executed in 1912 and cost thirty five pounds.

So far I have illustrated this post from windows in small churches, but the very large Catholic Church of St Carthage in Lismore, Co Waterford, has several very fine Revivalist windows. Some are credited to Cox and Buckley and were completed in the 1890s; others were done after the company had changed its name to J Watson and Co. The church itself, in a flamboyant Lombardo-Romanesque style, is well worth a visit and the windows certainly enliven the interior. The iconography is a mixture of International-Catholic and Celtic-Revival/local iconography, with, for example, the Archangel Michael and St Carthage (see Part 1) side by side.

I included a detail from the Vision of St Ita window in Part 1, but it’s worth having a look at more of that window. The end of the nineteenth century saw the publication of many texts related to Irish saints – translations from Irish by such scholars as Whitley Stokes (see my post on The White Hound of Brigown) and Canon John O’Hanlon – and these became the religious equivalent of the stories of Finn McCool, Cuchulainn and the great Irish mythology cycles as written by Standish O’Grady and others at the time. St Ita was the foremost female saint of Ireland after St Brigid, and she is traditionally thought to have come from Waterford. She was given to visions and raptures and this is what is depicted here. And just look at those wonderful birds in the canopy above her head.

This demonstrates the popularity of these hagiographies with Irish Catholics and their clergy at the time – the artists responsible for these windows had to make sure they were well read on the lives of Irish saints. Both the Columcille window (above) and the Patrick window (below) exuberantly display their artist’s knowledge of the lives and deeds of these saints as well as their immersion in all the tropes of Celtic Revival imagery (wolfhound, anyone?).

The Rose Window has a panoply of Irish Saints (including Saint Otteran, Patron Saint of Atheists!) each one occupying one of the rays of the rose with cherubs encased in interlace. As they say in property ads – must be seen to be appreciated.

My final window astounded me when I first saw it – in fact I think it was my introduction to Watson’s use of interlace and it really is a virtuoso performance. I’ve used the bottom panel from it further back in the post to demonstrate how a cartoon ends up as a window, but the whole window deserves pride of place. It’s in the Catholic church in Inchigeelagh, Co Cork, and so we have circled back again to St Finbarr of Gougane Barra – an excellent place to stop.

I’ve included illustrations in this post from Cork, Kerry and Waterford but I would be interested to hear from anyone who has found Watson Revivalist windows anywhere.

Part 1 of this post is here

Watsons of Youghal – Revivalist Masters Part 1

The stained glass firm of J Watson & Co of Youghal not only represented a new type of Irish-based business when it started to operate in the 1880s but developed a uniquely Irish style of stained glass (see above). I introduced this topic in my post Symbols and Stories: Looking at Stained Glass, but I want to develop it properly in this post and provide further illustrations in the next. Watsons was first opened by Michael Buckley, who had Irish connections, as a branch of Cox, Sons, Buckley and Co of London but was eventually bought out by James Watson, a Yorkshire stained glass artisan who had come to work there a decade earlier. Members of the Watson family continued to make windows right up to 2012.*

This St Eltin window in Gougane Barra has been attributed to Michael Buckley. Note the Revivalist elements

Based in Youghal, the firm supplied stained glass all over Ireland, but especially in Munster. They competed with other new firms which had set up church supply and decorating businesses, mostly in Dublin. These included Joshua Clarke (father of Harry), James Pearse (father of Patrick and Willy) and the Earley Brothers, Thomas and John. All of them had learned the trade in Britain and some started as agents for such companies as Mayer of Munich and London or Hardman of Birmingham, but eventually employed their own artists and glaziers.

This is one of many Light of the World windows that Watsons produced, in St Brendan’s of Bantry Church of Ireland. Note the conventional Gothic canopies . This was a universal favourite, especially in Protestant churches and all the stained glass manufacturers had a version

This was a boom period for Irish church building and stained glass windows were, of course, one of the expressions of faith that could enliven and decorate the interiors. They also offered an opportunity for both clerical and lay people to contribute to the church and to commemorate deceased family members (and occasionally to commission an ego-stroking window for themselves).

Catherine O’Brien of An Túr Gloine painted this window for Kilcoe Church of the Most Holy Rosary in West Cork. Note the introduction of some interlacing as a minor element in the design. Patrick and Brigid, as the male and female patron saints of Ireland were always in demand for church windows

The choice of iconography for the window was dictated either by didactic imperatives (e.g. the Holy Family as a model to be emulated by the faithful) or by devotion to a particular saint, international, Biblical or local, or by church politics (e.g. Papal authority).  This was also the period when the Celtic Revival was in full swing and artists of all kinds were busy crowding graveyards with Celtic crosses, stitching Book of Kells symbols onto vestments, and painting illuminated addresses with complicated knotwork. Buying from Irish firms, once they were able to supply the orders, quickly became preferred.

Harry Clarke did not incorporate much interlacing into his windows, but this one, of St Fachtna, in Castletownshend Church of Ireland, shows that he knew well how to do it

Nowadays the term Celtic is suspect: we no longer believe that the evidence exists for an Iron-Age invasion of a tall blonde race from the continent. Archaeologists and Art Historians often now use the term Medieval Insular Art, however Celtic Revival, as shorthand for the domination of a certain decorative style (as well as the re-discovery of a great literary tradition and the craze for antiquarianism) at the end of the nineteenth century and into the Irish Arts and Crafts period, is so well understood that I use the term, and ‘Revivalist’,  here in that spirit.

Contrast the canopies in this window, with its intricate interlacing, with the conventional Gothic canopies of the Light of the World window above. Watson’s executed this one for Charleville Catholic Church

In her in-depth analysis of the Watson Archives, art historian Vera Ryan has demonstrated that orders for stained glass often stipulated that instead of the gothic canopies favoured by the English and German manufactures, windows should contain Celtic (or even ‘Keltic’) artwork. While other firms included some minor elements of interlacing in a design (see the Brigid and Fachtna windows above), no Irish stained glass firm delivered on this request better than Watsons of Youghal – it became one of their hallmarks and a real selling point for Irish clergy of both Catholic and Church of Ireland persuasions.

Models artists could learn from: Upper – a detail from St Manchan’s shrine, a replica of which was housed in the National Museum. Lower – The Christ Enthroned Page from the Book of Kells

This was the most popular style of art at the time for all kinds of objects and it’s not hard to understand why. First of all, the interlacing itself is delightful, quirky and complex and full of tiny surprises. Secondly, the Revivalist motifs were taken from a rich treasury of sacred and secular Medieval objects that formed the nucleus of the displays in the National Museum, which opened its doors in 1877. The Tara Brooch (below), for example, created a sensation when it was found it 1850 and became instantly iconic, with thousands of copies being made.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, here was now a truly indigenous art of which we could be justly proud. In an era of evolving nationalism, images conjuring up a glorious Christian past, replete with our own saints, literature and high art, was a reminder of what we had once been and what we had lost as a nation.

The Shrine of St Patrick’s Bell – not only a beautiful object but a potent symbol of what was seen as a Golden Age in Ireland of learning and piety

While their figurative designs remained conventional – think bearded men in long robes or saintly women in nuns’ habits, all in the style of renaissance paintings – the artists at Watsons had fun developing increasingly elaborate frames and canopies to surround their figures. Added to this was a mastery of Irish lettering styles, deployed to great effect whether the text was in Irish, English or Latin.

The use of interlacing and an Irish lettering style. Two continuous ribbons link the upper and lower surrounds, with the corner interlacing twisting around them. The Irish script was still being taught to us in school in the 1950s and 60s 

The net result was the development, in the hands of the expert and talented designers and painters at the Watson studio, of a hybrid style of stained glass window unique to Ireland – the overlayering of conventional objects of worship with the originally pre-Christian and later Early Christian/Early Medieval decorative style that came to be labelled ‘Celtic Revival’ at the end of the nineteenth century.

St Carthage, from his eponymous Catholic church in Lismore, Co Waterford. Details include the Book of Lismore, the Lismore Crozier (on display at the National Museum) and a whole galaxy of interlace motifs for the clothing and decorative surround

Next week – examples of Watsons’ use of Revivalist motifs and where to go to see them, as well as some original cartoons, now housed in the Crawford Gallery in Cork. I leave you with a detail from one of the windows employing interlace and lettering – but can you spot the signature?

*Much gratitude to Vera Ryan who has generously shared her Watson expertise with me, and to the Crawford Art Gallery for allowing access to the Watson Archive. I recommend Vera Ryan’s article Divine Light: A Century of Stained Glass in the Summer 2015 edition of the Irish Arts Review for those who would like to learn more about Watsons of Youghal.

Part 2 is here.

Rejecting those Earthly Dignities: Irish Women Saints by Harry Clarke

I’ve been struck by the absence of sacred women in the iconography of stained glass windows in Irish Protestant churches. Sure, there’s the odd window devoted to or including Mary (such as Nativity scenes) or Bridget, or images of women as Charity or Hope, but for windows depicting women who are venerated for their piety or leadership or courage you have to visit Catholic churches in Ireland. 

The top picture is St Dympna, depicted with a sword – it is a tradition to depict martyrs with the instrument of their death. She looks wide-eyed and innocent – she was only 15 when she died. Above is St Fanchea, bearing a rose and with a kindly expression

We’ve written already about Bridget here and here and about Gobnait: Bridget is considered the female equivalent of Patrick in being the most widely known and celebrated of the Irish women saints. Gobnait is a good example of a local saint, in this case she is associated with the Muskerry area of Cork. When you read the lives of Irish saints, women and men, you are reading accounts written many centuries after they lived, often a mixture of tradition, mythology, folklore and reconstructed hagiography. 

Harry Clarke, as I have discovered before, had a thing for red hair and gave St Dympna a particularly glowing crop. Here she shelters her patients, the mentally ill poor who came to her hospital

Robert and I have been travelling in Ireland and visiting stained glass here and there, and in the process discovering more unfamiliar Irish saints. Harry Clarke, Ireland’s incomparable stained glass artist of the early part of the 20th century, was often asked to depict local saints and always did as much research as he could into their lives, to enable him to tell their stories and use appropriate elements and symbols. [For more posts about the genius of Harry Clarke, Ireland’s most famous stained glass artist, go to our Navigation page and scroll down to C5.] In Carrickmacross (Co Monaghan) this week I found three Harry Clarke windows illustrating three Irish female saints, two of whom I had never heard of before. Let’s start with the one I thought I knew because I’ve had friends with that name – St Dympna.

Dympna flees her father’s house. Following her is the court jester, his wife, bearing medicines, and Gerebran, her confessor

Dympna was the daughter of an Irish King called Damon. When his wife died, her father became unhinged and decided he would only marry the one who was as beautiful as her – his own daughter Dympna. Horrified, she fled with her confessor, Gerebran, and travelled to Gheel in Belgium. There she established a hospital and tended to the poor and sick. But her father found her and in his rage beheaded first the faithful Gerebran and then, when she refused to yield to him, his daughter.

Harry Clarke did not shy away from depicting the grizzly end of Dympna and Gerebran

She is venerated in Ireland and in Belgium, and particularly associated with care of the sick and those who are mentally ill. She is also a patron saint for those who have suffered incest. There are shrines and hospitals named for her in Belgium, Ireland and the United Stares. She is also known as St Davnet, and there are hospitals and holy wells with this name.

If you’d like to know more about St Dympna, take a look at this post from the wonderful Ali Isaac.

St Ceara is the subject of one window with two lights

Like Dympna, Ceara was of royal blood and established her first monastery in present-day Westmeath on land granted by St Fintan – or perhaps in Kilkeary near Nenagh in Tipperary at the behest of Brendan of Clonfert. You see, there may have been two Cearas and over time their stories were conflated. To add to the confusion, St Ceara, also known as Ciara, is known to have been an abbess who founded a monastery near the spot currently better known as Kilcrea Friary in Cork.

St Ceara and her virgins

Harry Clarke in his windows chooses to depict her as beautiful and royal, in one window carrying her monastery and in the other (below) sumptuously dressed and appearing more the princess than the holy woman.

St Fanchea was the sister of St Enda of Aran, and they share the two lights of one window. St Fanchea was famed for her holiness and founded a monastery in Fermanagh. Enda was a warrior-king but was finally won over by the piety of his sister and converted when he came to see her in her convent.

Fanchea and her brother, Enda of Aran

For a full (and graphic!) account of the brother and sister relationship, see the marvellous post in Omnia Sanctorum Hiberniae, a fabulous blog for anyone interested in obscure Irish saints. Marcella starts her story of Fanchea this way:

Aengus, son of Natfraich, King of Munster, is said to have desired Fanchea’s hand in marriage. Notwithstanding all his pressing entreaties, however, and rejecting those earthly dignities to which she might be advanced by yielding to his suit, the holy virgin’s mind was intent on a life of celibacy, and on those rewards promised by Christ to his spouses.

St Fanchea stops her brother, Enda, and turns him from his warrior ways

I’d love to hear from readers who have their own favourite women saints, especially Irish ones.

High Drama!

tower in context

If you suffer from vertigo or claustrophobia – or both – then you won’t want to follow us in the adventure we had this week while returning from a visit to Dublin: climbing to the top of an Irish Round Tower! Overcoming any tendencies we might have had towards these phobias, we arrived at the roof of the 32.6 metre high Kildare tower and marvelled at being able to stand on the summit of a piece of architecture over a thousand years old. Kildare has the second highest Round Tower still extant in Ireland: the highest is at Kilmacduagh, Co Galway, at 34.9 metres; however, Kildare now lacks a conical cap, which it might once have had. If so, it would just tip in as the highest of all the towers.

Kildare Round Tower: note the battlemented top - probably added in an 18th century restoration, the romanesque doorway and the granite base. The upper stonework is limestone and sandstone

Kildare Round Tower: note the battlemented top – probably added in an 18th century restoration, the romanesque doorway and the granite base. The upper stonework is limestone and sandstone

The print above – dating from 1788 – shows the ruins of St Brigid’s Church, which was fully restored as a Church of Ireland Cathedral a hundred years later. We looked down on this from our vantage point atop the Tower – and had a good view of the (also restored) Fire Temple where a perpetual flame, lit by the Saint, was kept burning for hundreds of years, finally being extinguished by the shenanigans of Henry VIII.

Looking down on Kildare Cathedral, with St Brigid's 'Fire Temple' in the grounds

Looking down on Kildare Cathedral, with St Brigid’s ‘Fire Temple’ in the grounds

You’ll have heard me talk about St Brigid many times: she’s second only to St Patrick in the Irish Martyrology. In fact, as probably the most influential woman in Irish history, I’m going to declare her as quite the equal of St Patrick: she’s often enough described as one of the Patron Saints of Ireland. You will also know that she is surrounded by folklore and traditional customs, such as the making of her Cross on her day, the First of February.

St Brigid’s Cross – left, at her Holy Well and right, a textile in the Solas Bhride Centre, Kildare

Back to the adventure (although the whole day was adventurous!) – climbing the tower was hard going. There were a series of near-vertical ladders to be negotiated: each one took us to a higher timber platform, six floors in all. At the top of each ladder we had to squeeze ourselves through a narrow opening; this, and the confines of the tower interior – only two metres or so across – certainly challenged the claustrophobiac in me.

The restricted space also made us question some of the theories about the uses of these towers, which are always located at ecclesiastical sites. The definitive work on them is, as it happens, written by someone who also lives in West Cork – just a little distance from Nead an Iolair: Brian Lalor. Brian has led a very full life, involving architecture, archaeology, sketching and printing (his etchings are exquisite). He is also the author of a number of books, many of which are on our own shelves, including The Irish Round Tower, published by The Collins Press, 1999 and 2005.

lalor

Brian is unequivocal in his assertion that the primary purpose for round towers was to house the monastery bell. He also suggests that a secondary function would be as a safe storage place for the monastic treasures: the entrance door was always raised at a considerable height above the surrounding ground level, requiring steps or a ladder to gain access. In the times when they were constructed they would have been visually impressive – and could be seen from a great distance. They would have acted as signposts for travellers who might have been searching for the hospitality which monastic communities always offered. Brian discounts some of the more bizarre theories for the towers – for example, that they might have been places of safe refuge for the monks if under threat of attack by Vikings – or that they are simply phallic symbols! Lastly, Brian considers – and gives some credence to – the idea that the towers were monumental buildings of prestige and local aristocratic patronage: certainly, they required considerable expense and effort to construct.

centre entrance

As is often the case with our days out, one adventure led on to another. When we came down from the tower we found that St Brigid’s Cathedral had closed for lunch. But we knew that the Saint’s trail also involved a Holy Well and we had heard that there was a new building devoted to the work of Brigid just outside Kildare.

Solas Brhíde Centre

Solas Brhíde Centre

Robert with Phil, one of the Sisters who conceived the project

Robert with Phil, one of the Sisters who conceived the project

We were very impressed with the Solas Bhríde Centre: a small group of Brigidine Sisters has put together the project to build a Christian Spirituality Centre which unfolds the legacy of St Brigid and shows that it is still relevant in the present day. We were shown around the Centre by one of these Sisters, Phil, who pointed out that Brigid was attuned to the natural world and would have appreciated that the new building (designed by Solearth Ecological Architecture) is conceived on ecologically sound terms using sustainable materials and techniques which care for the wellbeing of the Earth. The plan of the building is appropriately inspired by the shape of a St Brigid’s Cross.

Architect's drawing of the newly completed building

Architect’s drawing of the newly completed building

The next stop on our itinerary was the nearby Holy Well – a popular place of pilgrimage and veneration on St Brigid’s Day:

Finally, we arrived back at the Cathedral. I’m always a little disappointed by restorations – particularly those which were carried out in Victorian times; nevertheless there are some impressive features. The possibly twelfth century font is one of them (below left), and another has to be the hidden Sheelagh-na-gig under the lip of Bishop Wellesley’s tomb (below right). I reached under to feel this little carving, and was then told by the Cathedral’s guardian that anyone who touches the effigy is ensured everlasting fertility!

The excellent Heritage Centre opposite the Cathedral entrance is informative about the town’s history and the important connections with this special Saint. There is much more to be discovered – and written – in respect of St Brigid, and other places in Ireland which are connected with her still to be visited. Do go to Kildare and, at the very least, suspend your phobias sufficiently to allow you to climb the ancient Round Tower. But make sure you go between May and September – and not during the lunch hour…

tower poster

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.

stamp

March Miscellany

shovel

Another selection of Irish ‘normalities’ which have caught my English eye over the last few months (the previous selection is here). They have amused me, surprised me and sometimes baffled me. I have the greatest respect for their ‘Irishness’ – a unique outlook on life and culture from a small island which has made a big mark on the world. Mostly the images need no commentary but I have provided a little information for the curious at the end of the post.

them jobs

holy water

scrap

sprigging

ford hare

red light

shrine

luckyhouse

posterity

till he comes

walker

walking

offerings

Most of the images are from our own neighbourhood, but the spectacular wells and shrines – including the one above (to St Brigid) were seen on our trip to Clare. Can’t resist just one more image: it’s the view we enjoy every day from Nead an Iolair, constantly changing and always arresting.

panorama