The Cork Heritage Book Series

How do you set about exploring your local heritage? If you’re lucky enough to live in Cork, you have some marvellous resources at your fingertips. Today I want to focus on a set of books that are a comprehensive, affordable, richly illustrated, engagingly written compendium of our fascinating history – the Heritage Series.

Dunlough Castle, also known as Three Castle Head, is an unusual example of a fortified curtain wall dating to the 15th century. It’s also, as you can see, incredibly beautiful – it’s written up in the Castles book.

County Cork has a Heritage Office and a County Heritage Officer, Conor Nelligan. He’s a Tour de Force of Heritage, indefatigable, knowledgeable, and committed to communication and consultation. He pens a regular newsletter to local history associations and interested individuals alerting us all to upcoming events, grants schemes, talks, festivals, and articles of interest. Typically, when a new volume in the heritage series is contemplated, he will send out a call for submissions and contributions.

Glanworth Bridge: “Typical of medieval bridges the arch spans are appealingly irregular, increasing in width towards the centre.” It is purported to be “the narrowest and oldest public bridge still in everyday use in Europe.”

The result is a rich collection of photographs, local information, stories and legends, expert analysis and historical detail. What’s amazing is that each volume only costs ten euro! They are available in all the local bookstores, but if you don’t live in Cork you can buy them online from the Skibbereen Heritage Centre.

This is the extraordinary Church of the Ascension in Timoleague. I first found out about it from the Heritage Churches book and wrote about it in two parts, Mosaics and Maharajas Part 1 and Part 2. The Christ the King window is by Clayton and Bell and dates to about 1900

Each book has either a lead author or an authorial team, benefitting greatly from the expertise of the overseers and the one-off contributors. Conor and his colleagues Mona Hallinan, Cork’s Conservation Officer, and Mary Sleeman, the County Archaeologist, steer each project through to completion. The result rather than piecemeal is seamless, with the volumes following a pattern for the most part of an introductory historical and architectural context followed by ‘exemplars’ of castles, or bridges, or whatever the focus of that book. 

Heritage houses come in all sizes, from  traditional thatched cottage glimpsed in North Cork, to Bantry House bathed in evening sunlight

This layout gives it the convenience of a guidebook – wherever you are in Cork you can decide what to see and read up on it – while not sacrificing the the social and political background in which the buildings were constructed. They are our constant companions while out and about or when planning an expedition.

The oldest church in Cork, I think, Labbamolaga. Robert wrote about this wonderful site in Molaga of the Bees

And talking of expeditions, we want to see more of those bridges! I’ve been browsing through the bridge book, learning about abutments and piers and cutwaters, not to mention different kinds of arches, and I am dying to see more of those exemplars. So look out, Dear Readers, for a future post on heritage bridges.

A picturesque clapper bridge near Ballyvourney . Is this the same bridge that Robert Gibbings engraved in “Sweet Cork of Thee” – see Robert’s post this week!

Well done, Cork County Heritage Unit – you can be justly proud of this excellent series!

Timoleague Friary, read more about it here

Your Favourite Posts of 2014

Cape Clear Harbour

Cape Clear Harbour

What were your favourite Roaringwater Journal blog posts of 2014?

Our blogging software provides a running count of visitors to Roaringwater Journal and it’s always fascinating to see which ones receive the most views. Some of them are our own favourites as well, and some can attribute their high numbers to being re-blogged by others, or to being shared on social media. So tell us, Dear Reader – did the software capture it – or do you have a different favourite from our top posts of 2014?

From the Whiddy Island high point

From the Whiddy Island high point

The top two posts of 2014 were the ones we wrote about our trips to Cape Clear and to Whiddy Islands. We loved our time on the islands and intend to go back often – our enthusiasm probably shone through. But it may also be that islands hold a mystique for us that is hard to define – out there in the dawn mist, mysterious and peaceful, whole worlds unto themselves. The islanders of West Cork are worried at the moment by cuts to their development officer funding, and need all the support we can give them. So if you live here, or are planning a trip, include one or more of these beautiful islands in your plans.

Timoleague Friary

Timoleague Friary

Next in popularity was our post on the Timoleague Friary. It’s an iconic piece of West Cork history and architecture – the only sizeable medieval religious ruins we have, perched on a picturesque estuary of the Arigideen River.

I've learned to look carefully for road signs

I’ve learned to look carefully for road signs

Finola’s frustration at the inflexible regulations that treated her like a novice driver, despite forty years of driving experience, must have struck a chord with you. Maybe you dropped by Driving Home the Point to sympathise with her plight, or maybe it was to chuckle over the numerous example of the routine flouting of the Irish rules of the road, or the bemusing driving conditions of many rural roads.

Evans of Bantry

Evans of Bantry

We have enormous nostalgia for the things we remember from our childhood, don’t we? In that vein, it’s not surprising that Shopping for Memories was such a popular post. These lovely old shops evoke a time when a whole variety of shops lined the main streets and our mothers went from the butchers to the greengrocers to the chemists to the haberdashers and, if we were lucky, to the sweet shop on a daily basis.

Carraig Abhainn Gardens

Carraig Abhainn Gardens

But sadly, the numbers of these old-fashioned shops are dwindling. This year we said goodbye to Wiseman’s in Durrus, no longer able to compete against the hardware shops of Bantry. Fortunately, their wonderful Carraig Abhainn Gardens are still open behind the shop – and our description of this hidden gem was one of your favourite posts of the year.

A group of posts on festivals came next. We wrote about the question our friends asked us when we decided to move here, What on earth will you find to DO? We answered in a series of posts describing some of the local events and festivals we have taken in this year – the Ballydehob Jazz Festival and Arts and Culture Festival (which included our own Rock Art Exhibition), traditional music Festivals in Baltimore, Bantry and Ballydehob, and a host of musical and theatrical events. One day all of you retirees out there are going to discover that moving to West Cork is the best decision you can make!

The next group of posts centred on the Mizen – the Mizen Magic posts where we concentrated on aspects of the Mizen Peninsula that delight us – the Beaches, Brow Head, the Butter Road, Mount Gabriel, the Gortnagrough Folk Museum, and the history and archaeology of this beautiful part of Ireland.

How are ye?

How are ye?

In fairness, like, it looks like ye would have enjoyed our take on how to speak like ye’re from West Cork. Those little posteens made you happy out.

Ye must be a fierce active crowd altogether because you really got a kick out of Finola’s description of her day of sailing and (perhaps her personal favourite in the activities department) her moonlight kayaking on Lough Hyne.

Happy New Year from Robert and Finola!

Happy New Year from Robert and Finola!

And our own personal favourite of 2014? Robert’s post on the Sky Garden, of course! If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll have to do so to find out why this was the highlight of our year in West Cork.

Timoleague Friary

Timoleague Friary

If you take the coast road from West Cork to Cork City, you go through Timoleague, a beautiful village at the top of Courtmacsherry Bay. This little town has a main street of colourful houses and shops, a large and imposing Catholic church with notable stained glass windows, a medieval bridge spanning the inlet, and lovely walkways by the Arigideen River.

Looking across the river to the Friary

Looking across the river to the Friary

What makes us stop, though, no matter how often we have visited it before, is the Friary. Perched on a knoll overlooking the river, this Franciscan establishment was built in the 13th or 14th Century, and subsequently enlarged and extended. It somehow managed to survive the reformation but was finally abandoned when it was burned in 1642.

The Franciscans first arrived in Ireland about 1230. The order spread quickly and in time there were many Franciscan houses in Ireland. Followers of the Rule of St. Francis, they lived in fellowship in the friary, but went out every day to work among the people. Unlike monks in abbeys or monasteries, they did not shut themselves away to follow a strict regimen of prayer and work. Instead, the friars depended upon their parishioners for sustenance, devoted themselves to their flock during the day and returned to the friary for their simple meals and prayers.

The Cloisters

The Cloisters

Despite this avowed simplicity, the friary is large and imposing. The remains of the cloisters give evidence of the daily meditation and recitation of the Divine Office. Their living quarters included a chapter room, refectory and infirmary.

Nave and choir

Nave and choir

The church would have been impressive in its day, with large and elaborate windows, a long nave and a sizeable transept. The columns between the nave and the transept are massive: the cut stone demonstrates the high quality of masonry that went into the building of the Friary.

A wander through the ruins is a delight. There is a wart well, old gravestones (while away half an hour deciphering some inscriptions!) and niches that would have held the tombstones of dignitaries. Lichen of every colour clings to the stones while low archways appear around every corner, with inviting vistas of further corners to explore.

Timoleague is named for St Molaga, who is also associated with other locations in Ireland. Many stories are told of St Molaga. Here is one, recorded by Colonel James Grove White and provided online by Cork City Librarians.

Close to Temple Molaga is a copious spring well, which was always held sacred by the people and should be used only for drinking and curative purposes; but on one occasion, the lady of the manor, an unbeliever, would insist on cooking her husband’s dinner in the water of the sacred spring. When the water had time to boil, the cook remarked it was icy cold; more logs were placed on the fire, still to no effect. The logs were still being piled on, the fire blazed, but when the dinner hour arrived, the water was still as cold as ever. The lord waxed hungry, and, like other mortals, became angry; he rushed into the kitchen to ascertain for himself the cause of the delay, had the cover lifted off the huge pot, and, although the fire was crackling and blazing high about it, he felt the water was quite cold; but what astonished him more was to behold a beautiful trout swimming about in it, without apparently suffering the least inconvenience. He became wonder-stricken, and had his advisers called in. They told him to take the water back to the well without delay and pour it in. This being done, the trout again became invisible, and is since rarely seen, except by certain votaries.

In the district it is a common saying when water is slow to boil, “perhaps the Molaga trout is in it.”

Timoleague Friary, as the largest medieval religious ruin in West Cork, is a unique and special part of the West Cork landscape.

friary silhouette

Cures and Curses

Wishing Stone at Maulinward

Wishing Stone at Maulinward

I am a firm believer in wart wells: there is one at Clonmacnoise, the holy centre of Ireland, and some years ago when I was visiting the place I dipped my finger – warts and all – in it. Within… well, perhaps it was two or three weeks… the warts had gone. The Cynics among you will be saying that they might have gone anyway, but I have had other warty experiences to reinforce my beliefs. When my daughter Phoebe was 11 years old and we were living back in Devon she had a really bad outbreak of warts on her hand. The doctor couldn’t recommend anything but our neighbour was very sure of what to do: take her to see Auntie Grace who lived up the lane. We duly knocked on Auntie Grace’s door and showed her Phoebe’s hand. “That’s alright, Dear” she said, and shut the door. That was all. But within a week (more or less) the warts had vanished completely, never to return.

Curing my warts at Clonmacnoise

Curing my warts at Clonmacnoise

Bullaun Stones abound in Ireland. They are usually found at sites with ecclesiastical connections – as the two examples above (and this one), but this association does not reduce or affect their traditional uses: to cure or to curse. The Irish word Bullán means ‘bowl’ – a water container. At pilgrimage sites, such as St Gobnait‘s Well, Ballyvourney, the bullaun stones often hold smooth rounded pebbles – perhaps incised with a cross – which are turned around each time a pattern or procession is completed.

In the sixth century, the Council of Tours ordered its ministers “…to expel from the Church all those whom they may see performing before certain stones things which have no relation with the ceremonies of the Church…”  Such an order doesn’t seem to have prevented folk traditions of curing continuing into the twenty-first century.

Wart Well at Timoleague Friary

Wart Well at Timoleague Friary

Traditionally, in Ireland similar stones are used for less benign purposes than curing warts or other maladies. Thankfully not in West Cork but in faraway Cavan a group of bullaun basins and stones at the ruined Killinagh Church are associated with curses, as explained here by Harold Johnston in a 1998 interview: “…if you wanted to put a curse on someone, you turned the stones anti-clockwise in the morning.” However, the curse had to be ‘just’ otherwise it came back to curse you in the evening!

An 1875 drawing of the Killinagh Cursing Stones

An 1875 drawing of the Killinagh Cursing Stones

Nearer to home, in County Cork, are the ‘cursing stones’ known locally as  the Clocha Mealachta – not in this case associated with bullaun basins but kept hidden under a slab of rock, which seems a bit sinister to me.

Hidden Cursing Stones at Labbamolaga, Co Cork

Hidden Cursing Stones at Labbamolaga, Co Cork

I prefer the legends which show bullaun stones as a force for good: in more than one location they are said to be associated with a local saint. St Kevin of Glendalough (in County Wicklow) drank every morning from the Deer Stone, a bullaun which miraculously was always filled with milk.

Deer Stone at Glendalough

St Kevin

St Kevin