News from The Pale

The European City of Dublin

The European City of Dublin

We are in  Dublin for a few days. Some of you will remember my piece on the expression Beyond the Pale: now I can report from The Pale itself. In some ways Dublin is quite like any other capital city in the world – it has its shops and shows – but in others it is unmistakably Irish. The National Museum, for example, has one of the greatest collection of Bronze Age artefacts anywhere – and some Rock Art

Gold Lunula from County Kerry - a 4,500 year old artefact in the National Museum

Gold Lunula from County Kerry – a 4,500 year old artefact in the National Museum

…while Trinity College Library, Dublin, is the home of the Book of Kells – an equally impressive medieval treasure. This unfinished manuscript dates possibly from the eighth century and tradition has it that it could have been begun by St Columba himself and that it was worked on for at least three centuries.


The Book of Kells

Away from the centre of things we discovered a little gem: Cabinteely Park. This publicly accessible amenity spans 45 hectares and provides city dwellers with walks, woodland, playground and cafe. It was once the estate of the Earls of Clare and now belongs to the local council. The ‘big house’ itself still stands and is undergoing slow restoration. The park is within minutes of where we are staying, and provides us with evening walks in the sunshine – and breakfast treats.

City Amenity: Cabinteely Park

City Amenity: Cabinteely Park

Being an Irish city, the music sessions are good. We went to O’Donoghue’s pub on Friday lunchtime and found 18 musicians gathered: fiddles, concertinas, flutes – and even a bagpipes played by a Scottish visitor.

Trad Session at O'Donoghue's

Trad Session at O’Donoghue’s

In the heart of Dublin City is St Stephen’s Green – which presents a collection  of statues of various Irish figures who are known to the world through the arts: Oscar Wilde, W B Yeats, James Joyce et al, but also nationalists who fought for the cause of Irish independence.

Remembering Irish History in St Stepen's Green

Remembering Irish History in St Stephen’s Green

At present the media is full of the state visit of the President of Ireland to Britain: it can only be a good thing that the two nations should become closer, and it’s great to hear the pretty universal enthusiasm for it from this side of the Irish Sea. So while this new era of better relations is taking off, I am dismayed to read of the rise of nationalistic right wing politics in Britain itself: could these lunatic press-inspired extremists really derail Britain’s place in the European Union? Will common sense ultimately prevail? I can only look on from the shores of a very firmly European country and hope.

Dublin Doorway

Dublin Doorway






Beyond the Pale


‘The Pale’ was an expression first noted down in the early 15th Century to describe the ‘safe’ area around Dublin which was kept fortified and garrisoned by the English monarchs of the time. When we last looked into Irish history [my post: here] Henry II had brought the Norman knights into Ireland and in due course they settled and assimilated with the local populations, in spite of The Statute of Kilkenny which, in 1366 decreed that inter-marriage between English settlers and Irish natives was forbidden. It also forbade the settlers using the Irish language and adopting Irish modes of dress or other customs. In reality such laws were impracticable, unworkable and largely ignored.

Ireland_1450To be ‘outside the Pale’ meant to be outside a safe zone. Down here in West Cork we are a very long way ‘outside the Pale’ – a map shows West Cork and Kerry in 1450 as an isolated area in the south west of the island surrounded by Hiberno-Norman Earls and Lords. In that time there were local factions protecting their interests by building castles and fortified tower houses all along the wild and rugged coastline.  I have referred to castles a few times in my previous posts: Rosbrin, just around the corner from Ard Glas – home of The Scholar Prince Finian O’Mahon and a great centre of learning in the Sixteenth Century; another O’Mahony castle at Drumnea – close to the Bardic School – and the place where the two sons of the King of Spain were drowned and turned into swans. Opposite us is Kilcoe Castle, superbly restored from a completely ruined condition by Jeremy Irons [have a look inside it here]: this was a castle of the McCarthy clan. Further to the east are the remains of a number of O’Driscoll castles.

On a crystal clear day last week Finola and I went out to find the remotest of all the West Cork castles: Dunlough. This structure sits on a lonely promontory at the tip of the Mizen Peninsula – Ireland’s most south westerly point. We travelled as far as the snaking lane would take us, then headed on foot across the fields and past the farmhouses that were the end of the civilised world here. Eventually we were clambering over an isolated and untamed landscape of rock outcrops with the Atlantic roaring below us. Our first sighting of Dunlough as we pulled ourselves up to the top of a ridge and looked over was breathtakingly dramatic.


The promontory – in earlier times the site of an Iron Age fort – is known as ‘Three Castle Head’, because of the O’Mahony structure which was now presented to us: there are three square towers or keeps linked by enclosing walls. The castle was founded in 1207 and is  built entirely of dry stone masonry. It is remarkable how much of this still stands after 800 years of facing up to the prevailing weather. There is also an artificial freshwater lake beside the walls, probably established at the same time as the buildings, to provide drinking water for the inhabitants and their cattle and – perhaps – a stock of freshwater fish.


In its time the castle must have supported and sheltered a sizeable population. Today – and for us – it seems one of the most beautiful and lonely places on earth. We walked in awe around the ruins and watched a large flock of Black Backed Gulls foraging on the lake. Perhaps they are the spirits of those who lived their lives out in that extraordinary wilderness?