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 . . .

Susan’s Burren

Valerian

Valerian provides a carpet of red in a Burren field

We want ‘A Susan Day’, we told her – and what a day we got! Readers may remember our visit (Showing off West Cork) from Susan Byron of Ireland’s Hidden Gems. We’ve been planning a return visit ever since, so that Susan could show us HER Burren. 

Fields of Stone

I’ve written about the Burren before – the unique karst limestone landscape full of heritage and wildflowers in West Clare. But this time we had the benefit of Susan’s intimate knowledge of the place – she lives there and has been exploring it for years. Since we only had one full day, she planned an outing that covered everything we love about this part of Ireland – you’ll see what I mean.

DESTINATION
Our destination: Turlough Hill

Leaving the car in a convenient spot, we set off up a long green road, Susan pointing out the wildflowers as we walked, here and throughout the day. We stopped at numerous places to admire features in the landscape: Corcomroe Abbey, for example, lay below us in all its medieval glory.

Corcomroe

Corcomroe – a wonderful site to visit if you’re in this area

Our first real stop was St Colman’s Holy Well. It’s a beauty, with all the remote wildness that lends such atmosphere to these ancient sacred spots. One of our blogging heroes, Ali Isaac of the wonderfully researched and entertaining site Aliisaacstoryteller had visited this same route a couple of weeks earlier. We were walking in her footsteps, although in reverse. She tells of her journey here and has extensive details about the holy well and St Colman here.

St Colman's well

St Colman's Well 2

Robert and Susan at Colman’s Well and a peek into the interior of the well

Ali had walked through the Burren in time to see the last of the electric blue Gentians that grow here and in the Alps. They were gone by the time we got there, but we were not disappointed in the wildflowers, which were everywhere underfoot in the most prodigal abundance.

Carpet of Orchids

Bloody Cranesbill, left, and a white orchid

Brilliant magenta Bloody Cranesbill jostled with delicate Orchids and tiny yellow Potentilla (or Cinquefoil), while Wild Thyme scented the air. One field was awash in Valerian. A rare Lesser Butterfly Orchid was spotted in the long grass and lovely Burnet Roses in a hedge.

Clockwise from top left: Burnet Rose, Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Mountain Avens and Spotted Orchid

Milkworth

Milkworth lurking in the grasses

Hiking up Turlough Hill was an excellent opportunity to see how the Burren is laid out. From below, it looks like bare rock, but as you ascend, you realise that the hills are stepped in a series of terraces, the evidence of retreating beach levels after the ice age. These terraces provide important forage for sheep and cattle, who, in turn, help in the regeneration of the plant life. The going isn’t easy – we didn’t stick to any defined path but simply clambered up the steep slopes. The flat parts had been deeply rutted by cattle hoofs – we had to be vigilant to prevent stumbles and ankle injuries.

Turlough Terraces

But the rewards were enormous – ever-increasing panoramas of North Clare, across Galway Bay and south into the hinterland.

Cattle enclosure?

We had an objective in mind. At the top of Turlough Hill, and most visible in arial photographs, is a prehistoric ‘village’ of over 150 hut sites and some larger enclosures. On the summit is an enormous cairn.

Turlough Hill

Turlough Hill 2

Hut site and cairn

From the top: An aerial image of the hut circles and cairn (look closely!)  from the National Monuments Service, a hut circle looking north to the sea, a hut circle looking towards the cairn

This mysterious site has been the subject of an initial investigation to establish the extent of it. The report had this to say:

Even though the hut sites, in a morphological sense, are domestic in character, it is very hard to see their role and function as primarily domestic, considering their location on this inaccessible and exposed hilltop. The activity that required the building of about 150 hut sites on this inaccessible and extremely windy summit, consisting mainly of bare bedrock, was most likely of a strong social and/or ritual character, with few direct links to secular way of life.

Susan on Cairn

This will give you a sense of how huge the cairn is

Earlier this year, Dr Stefan Bergh of UCG conducted a preliminary excavation within the hut-site concentration. You can read about that in this Irish Times piece. We saw the neatly back-filled trench, and look forward to his results.

Trench

Coming down, as all hikers know, is often more difficult than going up – the knees certainly protest! In this case, some chunks of it were accomplished by dint of sliding down on my butt and picking the thorns out afterwards. Oh – and the tick! Do check yourself after all walks in long grass where cattle and sheep have been grazing.

From the Cairn

The view from the cairn

We ended up at an early medieval site that quickly banished all thoughts of aching muscles – Oughtmama, of the Seven Churches. Meaning The Breast of the High Pass, there are actually only three churches at Oughtmama, but they pre-date the 12th century Cistercian foundation at Corcomroe, and as such they are excellent examples of early monastic structures in the Romanesque tradition.

Oughtmama Churches

There are several examples of churches built with ‘cyclopean’ masonry in Clare, and here at Oughtmama you can see the huge stones used in the courses of the outer walls that give it this name. Associated with St Colman (of the Holy Well) these churches probably fell into decline after Corcomroe was completed.

We hiked back to the car in the soft afternoon sunlight. It’s hard to believe that one day could be so packed with experiences. Thank you, Susan, for sharing YOUR Burren with us. We’ll be back – we’ll let you know when to put the kettle on again.

Wild Thyme

Wild Mountain Thyme

Cloyne Connections

sir edward fanshawe 1856

During our anniversary trip to Ballymaloe (over the other side of Cork) we couldn’t resist a diversion to Cloyne, where Finola remembered having visited a round tower in her youth, just a few years ago. At that time it was possible to climb up inside the tower, after calling in at the local post office to collect the key. Round towers are a significant archaeological feature of Ireland and I like the enigma of them: no-one knows quite when they were built or why (a bit like Rock Art), but there are 65 of them still standing in the Republic in various states of repair. We proceeded to the post office to be told that it had been possible to climb up the tower up until ‘just a few years ago’ – now, health and safety regulations prevented it. Later, I read an account of someone who went to see this tower in 2004, 10 years before, and was told that it had been possible to climb up the tower ‘just a few years ago’… which shows that time and memory are relative.

tower

Although we were disappointed in our aspirations to climb the tower, our visit to the post office turned up a very friendly lady who said that she held the key to the adjacent cathedral, and would be pleased to let us go in there instead.St Colman's Cathedral at Cloyne - a print from 1853St Colman’s Cathedral at Cloyne – a print from 1853

Cloyne Cathedral: the worship area, a small part of the large building

Cloyne Cathedral: the worship area, a small part of the large building

An 11th century gilt bronze cross was found in the Cathedral grounds

An 11th century gilt bronze ‘pilgrims cross’ was found in the Cathedral grounds

The Cathedral of St Colman in Cloyne is well worth a visit. To this Englishman the term ‘cathedral’ conjures up images of Gothic magnificence with soaring spires, arches and intricate buttressing – and set picturesquely within a medieval city centre; this, however, is a humbler structure – although grand in size – constructed in 1250 and located in a somewhat overgrown graveyard in the back streets of a small East Cork town. For more detailed information on the cathedral, have a look at the excellent blog Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland.

blue flowers

Every day you should learn something new, and until then I had heard nothing of St Colman: St Colman mac Lenene lived in the sixth century and was a friend of St Finbarr, who we have encountered previously. He founded his monastery in Cloyne in 560 here and the cathedral is built over a network of caves, now inaccessible but used in the penal days by priests as a secret underground link from Cloyne House to the Catholic graveyard in order to say mass for the people.

pye window

A window by artist Patrick Pye

Nor did I know anything about the Bishop of Cloyne whose alabaster effigy rests in the north transept of the cathedral, watchfully guarded by a wonderfully personable Lion: it all made me think about how I would like the world to remember me after I’m gone…

bishop b

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne – with Guardian

You may know – or you may not – that it was Bishop Berkeley who gave his name to the University of California, Berkeley, although he gets a very scant mention on the University’s website. George Berkeley (correctly pronounced bark-lee) was born on 12 March 1685 in Kilkenny and was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he later became a lecturer in Greek. He was a radical thinker and philosopher whose best known achievement was the advancement of a theory he called Immaterialism, also known as Subjective Idealism. This theory denies the existence of material substance and contends that familiar objects like tables and chairs are only ideas in the minds of perceivers, and as a result cannot exist without being perceived.

 

He left the British Isles for the American Colonies in 1729, settling in Rhode Island but determined to found a Utopian city in Bermuda based in principles which he set out. One was: …for the better supplying of churches in our foreign plantations and for converting the savage Americans to Christianity… while …being in Bermuda would prevent the Native American youngsters from “returning to their brutal customs, before they were thoroughly imbued with good principles and habits.”

The 'Bermuda Group' - George Berkeley with his family on Rhode Island

The ‘Bermuda Group’ – George Berkeley with his family and friends on Rhode Island (John Smibert)

Berkeley’s social experiments didn’t get off the ground, mainly due to lack of funding, and he returned to London in 1732 and then to Ireland where he was appointed Bishop of Cloyne in 1734, a post which he retained until his death in 1752.

It's a long way to Indian Rock: Berkeley, California - named after the Bishop of Cloyne

It’s a long way to Indian Rock: Berkeley, California – named after the Bishop of Cloyne

George Berkeley wrote Verses on the Prospect of Planting Arts and Learning in America – inspired by the colonisation of the New World: …Westward the course of empire takes its way; The first four Acts already past, A fifth shall close the Drama with the day; Time’s noblest offspring is the last…  and it was these lines that were remembered when the city and University of Berkeley were founded in 1866. This Californian institution ‘…became a catalyst of economic growth and social innovation — the place where vitamin E was discovered, a lost Scarlatti opera found, the flu virus identified, and the nation’s first no-fault divorce law drafted…’

graves

From the time of Colman and Finnbarr Cloyne was a great centre of ecclesiastical power. Today the cathedral is a Church of Ireland (Protestant) house and in need of maintenance and repair – a problem for a small population of worshippers. The churchyard is overgrown, and a sanctuary for wild flowers; the ancient gravestones are leaning and barely decipherable. All in all, a place – like so many in Ireland – imbued with a fascinating history which embraces the world.

St Colman

St Colman