Own a Piece of Ireland (Best Christmas Present EVER!)

Have you dreamed of owning a little slice of heaven in Ireland? Here’s your chance! Buy a tiny plot on Cape Clear Island for yourself or for someone else and when you do, you’ll know that not only are you giving someone possibly the best Christmas present ever but you’re also doing your part to conserve an important chunk of the natural world.

Dennis Horgan’s incredible photograph of Cape Clear Island from the air showing the whole of the Island, and its relationship to Roaringwater Bay. The land the Trust is purchasing lies on the east (right) side of South Harbor, in the centre of the picture. For more on Dennis’s photography and his latest book, see the end of this post

Chuck Kruger and his wife Nell recently left Cape Clear after half a lifetime there. An iconic figure, he wrote and told stories about the land he adopted and came to love. He founded the marvellous Cape Clear International Story Telling Festival and his leaving to return to the US leaves a huge hole in island life.

The photograph above is, poignantly, of Chuck on his last guided walk on the Island and was taken by Sandra Bottcher. Have a look at Chuck’s website for more about his writing and broadcast work.

One of the ancient stone walls that define the fields along the South Harbour

Chuck and Nell’s farm bordered the South Harbour and the Islanders, rather than let it go into private hands, have formed a trust to purchase it. The plan is to provide open access to all, and to ensure that no future development can intrude upon this pristine area.

The Red Trail leads you around the southeast side of South Harbour – here, last June we viewed wildflowers, immense sea views, a dramatic sea arch and an abundance of Basking Sharks

You can purchase a five square metre piece of Trust land for €50 (currently that’s about $60US, $75CAN, or £45) or a ten square metre plot for €100 ($120US, $150CAN or £90). Just pop along to the Trust Website and choose the SHOP tab. Join Robert and me in making open access to this little patch of paradise in perpetuity a reality – it will be the best money you have ever spent!

Walking the Red Trail

Cape Clear is a very special place – an Irish speaking area (or Gaeltacht) accessible only by ferry, rich in tradition and history, and an important habitat for wild plants and creatures. We’ve written about Cape Clear in this post, and in this one, and we are fortunate indeed to enjoy a view of it from our home.

Above, Cinnabar Moth; Below, Marsh Orchids

It’s also very beautiful. Robert and I have enjoyed our trips there very much: in fact, last year my birthday present from him was a two-night break in Cape Clear. We spent our time exploring and hiking the Island, observing the Basking Sharks, and visiting the remains of the Neolithic Passage Grave, original home of the Cape Clear Stone. One of our walks was along the Red Trail – the very area that is now in the Trust.

Sea Campion

If you’re hankering after your own piece of Ireland in other ways too, allow us to highly recommend Cork from the Air by Dennis Horgan. Dennis is one of Ireland’s supremely talented aerial photographers and his latest book captures Cork as you have never seen it. He very kindly permitted me to use his incredible photograph of Cape Clear from the air – thank you, Dennis! The book is available on his website, or if you’re in Ireland already, in all good bookshops.

Go on, head over to the Cape Clear Island Trust website now – you’re just in time for Christmas!

December in Rossbrin

In the past year I have returned to Rossbrin again and again in my posts. That’s not surprising, as it’s just a short and always rewarding walk down our Beautiful boreens:

It’s December, and we can expect anything in the way of weather. This is the mildest corner of Ireland: further north and east of us today, spanning Cavan, Donegal and Wicklow, heavy snow is falling and temperatures are forecast to drop to minus 8 degrees C in the coming hours. The last real bit of snow in West Cork came along seven years ago but we weren’t here, then, to see it (image below of Nead an Iolair in 2010 courtesy of our neighbours Dietrich and Hildegard Eckardt with, below it, today’s view of the Cove seen from the house):

Whatever the weather, our cove has something to offer – and every day is guaranteed to bring a mixture. When the sun is out we can bask in it as if it was the middle of summer, but it’s just as likely that there will be a stiff and invigorating breeze to accompany our bracing walks.

Above – reminders of summer pleasures to come as we wind down to the year’s end in Rossbrin: Andre’s catamaran – Danu – which he built himself, rides out the winter storms on a wet mooring in the Cove. The first of those storms – Ophelia – hit us last month, and there is a fair bit of wind damage still to be seen:

Traffic jam in Rossbrin!

Often, I will start out on the downhill walk with my head buzzing from the inexplicable madness of the outside world: British ethnocentricity, North American absurdity and worldwide chaos. Within minutes these concerns are receding, and when I reach the waterside I am overtaken by the immersive experience of natural things all around me and I find the solace of constancy: not much changes here. This little townland of Rossbrin is above and away from that buzzing, reeking world. It is a far saner place.

Since publishing this post we have received a communication from our good neighbour Julian, who lives down on the Cove, including some excellent photographs of the winter of 2010. Here’s one of them – thank you, Julian…

Cove in the snow 2010

Harry Clarke at Lough Derg

The Lough Derg Harry Clarke windows are unusual and fascinating – and generally inaccessible unless you are willing to undertake the rigorous pilgrimage. I am very grateful indeed to have been given the opportunity to photograph and write about them. I refer readers to Robert’s post about Lough Derg, Journey into Purgatory, for those unfamiliar with the place and the pilgrimage. Go off and read that first, then come back to me. If you already know all about Lough Derg, but not much about Harry Clarke, then take a browse of some of my previous posts about Ireland’s most celebrated stained glass artist. If you’re not sure what stations of the cross are, here’s an explanationDone that? Back now? Great – let’s get started.

The Apostle Simon

Harry was already starting to get ill in 1927 when he undertook the commission to design a set of fourteen stations of the cross in stained glass for the Basilica in Lough Derg. He was, at the same time, very busy on numerous commissions, including graphic design and book illustration work, as well as stained glass windows for Ireland and abroad. He was so busy, in fact, that he used to absent himself from Dublin so that he could work in peace in a studio in London. Nevertheless, he was keen on the Lough Derg project, not least because the Canon, Fr Keown, was the same one with whom he had worked on the Carrickmacross windows. The design he came up with was unique: each of the windows depicts a different apostle (Judas being replaced by Matthias), rounded out to fourteen by adding St Paul and Our Lady. Each figure holds a mandorla-shaped panel upon which the stations are presented.

The Apostle James – his mandorla contains the station ‘Jesus Meets His Afflicted Mother’

In order to ‘count’ as an official Harry Clarke window, as opposed to one produced by the Harry Clarke studios, Harry himself must have designed, and created or closely supervised the execution of the window. The Lough Derg windows were definitely designed by Harry – the drawings he made for them still exist. Artisans in his studios began the work in his absence following his detailed instructions.

A close look at ‘Veronica Wipes the Face of Jesus’, contained in Philip’s mandorla

Nicola Gordon Bowe, the renowned Clarke scholar, described the process* thus: “His choice of glass, detail, colour, design and leading are all fully evident in the dramatically effective concept of these windows, even though any study of the original designs for the inset panels and their realization in glass will reveal his absence.” Indeed, before the windows could be finished and installed Harry had to travel to Switzerland to spend time in a sanatorium.

Philip and his mandorla

Each saint is shown, as is tradition, with his symbol, often the instrument of his martyrdom.  Philip, for example, is shown with a cross, as he was crucified upside down. His medallion shows Veronica wiping the face of Jesus. The apostles and Mary, as well as the small figures in the mandorlas, have all the Harry Clarke hallmarks – large, expressive eyes, long tapered fingers, highly-decorated medieval-style clothing, sleeves with hand points, complicated headgear, forked beards, pointed feet.

‘Jesus Falls the Second Time’ – note Mary in blue and John in green

Despite the absence of the master’s hand, it is hard to imagine how these tiny stations could be any more exquisite than they are. The same figures occur in all or most of them – Jesus, his mother, Mary Magdalen, John his beloved apostle, and the tormenting soldiers. There is also, of course, a host of minor characters, often peeking in from the sidelines or half-hidden behind others. Harry habitually drew from life and used himself and his friends as models. Some of the glimpsed faces in the scenes are no doubt based on people familiar to him. They range in expression from sorrowful and noble to cruel and savage.

‘Jesus is Condemned to Death’

One of the intriguing aspects of these stations is that many of the figures are rendered in ways that depart radically from the conventional depictions of biblical characters, images that were for the most part based on Renaissance paintings. Indeed, some of the characters as imagined by Harry would fit more comfortably into his illustrations for Hans Christian Anderson fairy tales, or stories by Edgar Alan Poe. Look, for example at the first station ‘Jesus is Condemned to Death’. Apart from the tragic figure of Jesus, the individuals would not be out of place in a picture for the sort of fanciful and macabre tale that Harry relished illustrating. In the background Pontius Pilate washes his hands attended by a page dressed in what looks remarkably like a frock coat. The fierce executioner is distinguished by his strands of hair and by a striking outfit that combines an Elizabethan skirt with medieval armour.

We meet him again, cloaked but recognisable in ‘Jesus Falls the First Time’ (above)

In the crucifixion station the soldier who stands gazing down is wearing a pair of elaborate shoes and yellow stockings that strikes an odd note in what is otherwise a sombre scene. Soldiers in each station wear helmets that come to points over the bridge of the nose or that are decorated with feathers and tufts. Mary Magdalen is dressed in colourful garments and hair adornments that could be suitable for a princess going to a ball, no doubt an allusion to her background.

‘Jesus meets his Afflicted Mother’: Mary Magdalen’s colourful dress provides a contrast to Mary’s modest blue

On the other hand, Mary and John, who appear in many of the stations, are shown as gentle and sorrowful. Mary is dressed in her traditional blue: in the final station (below) it is she, pictured as the Queen of Heaven, who hold the mandorla showing Jesus being laid in the tomb (the lead picture in this post).

It is tempting to see in John, with large sad eyes and cropped hair, an image of Harry himself, who must have known by this point that his illness was serious. Harry poignantly dresses John in green, the colour of bountiful life and the triumph of hope over death.

Mary and John witness the crucifixion

My sincerest thanks to Maureen Boyle for facilitating my visit to Lough Derg, and to Sharon for looking after us on the Island and sharing so much information.

‘Jesus is Laid in the Tomb’

* In 1990 the windows were exhibited in Dublin. They had deteriorated over time, and were completely overhauled and restored by the Abbey Stained Glass Studio. Before they were returned to Lough Derg they were put on display in the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham for two months. I have the program from which I took the Gordon Bowe quote, thanks to my late and dear friend Vera who was a huge Clarke fan and attended the exhibition and whose notes I now have. However, I have just discovered that the program is also available online.

The Fortunes of the Hare

There was an old man whose despair
Induced him to purchase a hare:
Whereon one fine day he rode wholly away,
Which partly assuaged his despair.

(Edward Lear 1872)

We have been writing this Journal pretty regularly for five years now: to date we have published 460 posts – roughly half by Finola and half by me. It’s December, and at this time of the year we review what we have written and it’s always interesting to see the topics have been most popular amongst our readers. We’ll be exploring all that as we lead up to Christmas, but today I have been reviewing our post titles over the years to see what has appealed to me personally during our lives online.

John James Audubon – Northern Hare, 1843

I have a long held passion for the hare – a creature which has inhabited the world unchanged for millions of years: we know this from fossil finds. We can therefore safely conclude that this beautiful animal is perfectly adapted to its natural environment, and hasn’t needed to evolve in any way.

In July 2015 – about halfway through our blogging career – I penned an article, Hares in Abundance, inspired by an exhibition held at the Heron Gallery in Ahakista. I was delighted to see so many images of hares by a number of artists: there were drawings, paintings and prints; ceramic sculptures and ceramic ware; jewellery, felt-work and even cushion covers. I would happily have kitted out the whole of our house with work from this exhibition, but long ago Finola declared we had ‘enough’ hares around the place, so I have to keep myself under control (although, it has to be said, hare imagery here at Nead an Iolair does seem to increase year by year).

Illumination from the 14th century Macclesfield Psalter, now in the Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

As I mention in that post from 2015, I have kept a ‘hare calendar’ during our time in West Cork, and any hare sightings are recorded. There is definitely a downward trend in the numbers I have spotted. In 2017, for example, I have recorded only one and a half hares (the half was the backside of an animal disappearing into a hedge, which I felt sure was a hare), whereas in past years I have recorded five or six. Back in the 1990s, when I stayed regularly with my friends Danny and Gill in Ballybane West –  just over the hills from here, I saw relatively large numbers of them. Something is surely amiss – and I don’t think it’s my eyesight.

The Irish Hare was portrayed on the Irish Three Pence coin: the design was by the artist Percy Metcalfe, and the coin was continuously produced between 1928 and 1969

On a recent visit to Finola’s cousin in Mayo we were introduced to (and immediately purchased) a new book: The Way of the Hare by Marianne Taylor. If you are in any way inclined to hare adulation, I thoroughly recommend this book as being the most readable and comprehensive study of all aspects of the animal’s place in the world: history, biology and folklore. To my delight, the author even suggests that, in terms of creature relationships:

…we humans are more closely related to hares than we are to cats, bats, dogs, elephants, whales, sloths and most other mammals on earth…

Left – the new book by Marianne Taylor and right – one of the author’s wonderful photographs, showing the ‘mad’ springtime behaviour of two brown hares in the UK

Perhaps unsurprisingly, one of my very first posts on Roaringwater Journal was this one – Two Hares. Written back in November, 2012, it tells of an encounter with two Irish Hares in Ballybane West. Irish Hares – Lepus timidus hibernicus – are peculiar to this country but closely related to Mountain Hares that are found in Scotland, Scandinavia and Northern Europe; they are said to be Ireland’s longest established indigenous species of mammal. They are probably outnumbered today in Ireland by the Brown Hare – Lepus europaeus – which is not indigenous: Brown Hares were brought to Britain by the Romans and then exported to Ireland to be hunted by the owners of large estates.

This new book has crept onto our shelves (it was a present from Finola) Brown Hares in the Derbyshire Dales, published by Vertebrate Publishing: it is beautifully illustrated with photographs by the author, Christine Gregory

The Irish Hare is a protected species under EU Directive 92/43 Annex V (see page 104), but, curiously it can be hunted and coursed at certain times of the year. On June 23 2016 (on the same day as the UK Brexit referendum) a private member’s bill was brought before Dáil Éireann by Maureen O’Sullivan to ban hare coursing in order to protect this ‘protected’ species. It was heavily defeated – most TDs voted in favour of hare coursing, including your own local TDs (bear that in mind when an election comes around again). Out of 164 TDs attending the debate only 20 voted in favour of a ban. The general argument by the coursing supporters was that coursing is “a regulated sustainable rural industry”. So economics apparently outweigh animal welfare. The whole debate is available online here.

Dean Wolstenholme – Greyhounds coursing a hare – c1800

In February 2013 I wrote another post which mentioned hares in Ireland: Hare Heaven.  This was more optimistic in tone, and was an opportunity to describe the wonderful Sherkin Island Marine Station, run by the indefatigable Matt Murphy. Doubtless hares will feature in future Roaringwater Journal posts and – perhaps – in future Dáil debates. I will hope for a better outcome next time around.

George Victor Du Noyer at the Crawford Gallery

I had been aware of George Victor Du Noyer’s antiquarian drawings from my days as a student, but that did not prepare me for the Du Noyer exhibition currently running at the Crawford – it’s nothing short of breathtaking. Du Noyer, it turns out, was far far more than an antiquarian: he was a nineteenth century Renaissance man, artistic, talented, curious, scientific and learned in equal proportions. Stones, Slabs and Seascapes is curated by Peter Murray (recently retired director of the Crawford) and co-curated by Petra Coffey of the Geological Survey.  If you do nothing else this winter, get to Cork to see this exhibition!

I’ve decided to annotate the images with quotes in italics (image follows quote) from the outstanding exhibition catalogue which is a collection of essays, each written from a slightly different perspective. I’ve tried to show representative samples of Du Noyer’s work, mostly from the exhibition. A couple of illustrations are from elsewhere. I’m not going to say a lot about Du Noyer’s life – there’s an excellent summary (with some additional photographs) by Fiona Ahern on the Maynooth University Library website.

From a cultural studies and critical theory perspective, the principal interest in Du Noyer lies also in seeing how, as an Irish artist, he responded to the international debates of his day: to the Devonian controversy, to the widening gap between ‘uniformitarianists’ and ‘catastrophists’, and to the urgent search by geologists and astronomers during his lifetime to explain the origins of the planet Earth. The ability of Du Noyer to traverse conventions of representation – he moved easily from picturesque watercolours, to scientific cross-sections of landscape – reflects a similar flux in nineteenth-century learning, where advances in science co-existed with a desire to adhere to traditional modes of representation. (From the Introduction by Peter Murray and Petra Coffey)

In contrast with other artists’ depiction of Ireland at this time (many of them English), Du Noyer’s sketches lack the stereotyping that is all too common in art of that period. Based on eyewitness observation, his drawings lack elements of caricature and satire often perceptible in depictions of Ireland by artists who tended to work from preconceived ideas. (From the Introduction by Peter Murray and Petra Coffey)

Throughout a long and productive lifetime, during which he depicted a myriad of objects and places in Ireland, George Victor Du Noyer compiled a databank of images that not only formed part of the new awareness of Irish national identity that emerged in the early nineteenth century, but also revealed the potential of art to frame revolutionary narratives relating to geology, natural history and human evolution . . . Du Noyer was one of those who helped construct this new narrative. He documented towns and villages, prehistoric sites and ruined monasteries. He had a keen interest in the natural environment, in methods of transport . . . artefacts connected with food preparation, cooking, eating and drinking. (From the Foreword by Peter Murray)

As  industrial production began to dominate people’s everyday view of the world, the aesthetics of handmade objects fell into sharp relief. Du Noyer delighted in depicting such objects, from every age, from simple ‘Killick’ anchors of wood and stone, to querns for grinding corn and wooden drinking vessels. Removed from their original context and preserved in glass cases in museums, these objects had begun to lose much of their original meaning. In illustrating them, Du Noyer not only committed their image to paper but also highlighted philosophical questions relating to the passing of time and the formation of both individual and collective memory. (From the Foreword by Peter Murray)

When he was visiting Belfast in 1837, he bought some apples in the market thinking they were Irish apples (they were not) and he painted them magnificently, enhanced with gum Arabic. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

From 1842 to 1843 . . . he accepted private work, as he was able to produce art work in many media . . . He illustrated Hall’s Ireland: Its Scenery, Character, etc (Vol.2, 1842). (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

The Geological Survey of Ireland (GSI) was established on 1st April, 1845 . . . Du Noyer had been introduced to the new study of the earth – geology – and it was to shape his life thereafter. Despite having no formal training or qualifications in geology he was to become extremely competent in his calling with the added bonus of being better able than most to record graphically what he saw . . . From now on, Du Noyer never put down his geological hammer, pencil, paper and watercolours . . . (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

Du Noyer published papers in many journals, including the Archaeological Journal. His most important work was ‘On the remains of ancient stone-built fortresses and habitations to the west of Dingle, Couny Kerry’, published in 1858. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Artist and Geologist  (1817-69) by Petra Coffey)

The purpose of a scientific illustration is to reflect accurately the key features of a fossil, animal, plant or landscape. It can be a far cry from the conventional artist’s view, where the essence can be more important than the reality. (From The Scientific Illustrations of George Victor Du Noyer by Nigel T Monaghan)

Du Noyer’s scientific landscapes emphasise the geology, showing rocks accurately in terms of bed thickness, irregularity, angles of dip, faults and major joints, with no less attention to detail in his rendition of the soil cover, vegetation and the human impact on the countryside. (From The Scientific Illustrations of George Victor Du Noyer by Nigel T Monaghan)

. . . when Du Noyer worked with the [Ordnance] Survey, he would go out in all weathers to sketch antiquities surviving in the landscape, some of which are now in a more parlous condition than when he drew them, while others have disappeared entirely… (From Du Noyer’s Treasures in the Royal Irish Academy by Peter Harbison)

In 1837 Du Noyer painted a series of large watercolours depicting typologies of Bronze Age spears and axeheads, and early Christian artefacts, such as brooches, bells, devotional crosses, and figures clearly prised off reliquaries. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

in 1837 and 1838, Du Noyer drew a series of palaeontological monochrome-wash watercolours, depicting fossils of ancient life forms, including seashells, whorls, spirals and other simple shapes, images that were lithographed for Portlock’s Report on the Geology of Londonderry . . . Portlock’s publication, at over 500 pages, was, literally, ground-breaking in terms of the study of fossils in Britain and Ireland. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In May 1850, he painted four panoramic watercolours from the top of Carrickbyrne Hill . . . [and] also painted a panoramic watercolour, ‘View of Ballyhack and Arthurstown from Passage’. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In 1867 . . . after many years working for the Geological Survey of Ireland as an assistant surveyor, Du Noyer was appointed District Surveyor and posted to a field station in County Antrim . . . His article, ‘Notes on the stratigraphical position of the Giant’s Causeway, and the structure of the Basaltic Cliffs immediately adjoining it,’ had been published in The Geologist in 1860. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

In total, Du Noyer left some five thousand works of art, in pencil and watercolour. At his best, he combined an objective scientific approach with a sublime artistic vision. (From George Victor Du Noyer – Where and When by Peter Murray)

The exhibition runs from November 17th, 2017 to February 24th, 2018 at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and then from March to September 2018 at the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin.

Catalogue published by Crawford Art Gallery, available from their book shop.