Captured Beauty

“Useless to think you’ll park or capture it/More thoroughly” Postscript by Séamus Heaney.

2016ireland57
The photograph was taken by Shelly Wolf from L.A. He and his wife Barbara were on a Burren tour with me on a golden autumn day – the very first day of October 2016.
We stopped at a lay-by in the townland of Fahee South about 5 km east of the tiny village of Carran as this photo opportunity presented itself. The camera itself is pointing even further eastwards.

I like the image a lot as it can be read as having at least four different frames:

ONE

The lush green pastures in the foreground are in Glencolmcille (locally known as ”Glan”). The placename is an Anglicisation of Gleann Cholm Chille (the valley of St Colmcille). The monastic site (now ruins) in the valley are dedicated to this 6th century monk.
Like all Burren valleys, Glencolmcille has generous glacial deposits of sands, clays and gravels overlying the porous limestone. It makes for excellent terrain for pastoral farming. However, the valley would have been covered in oak trees in prehistory. It was farming communities in prehistoric/early historic times who converted the forest in to the grasslands we see today.

TWO

The stony hill of Turloughmore is perched above Glencolmcille. The Burren hills have been compared to a giant staircase with their classic terrace and cliff topography.
Moreover, the rocky uplands in the region make for a strong contrast with the lavish soil cover in the valleys below. The Turloughmore range extends for more than 6 km. The highest point is 267 metres. The great mapmaker/landscape writer, Tim Robinson, records 7 prehistoric tombs along the range.
The Burren uplands are home to one of Europe’s most distinctive landscapes – limestone pavement. In fact the region boasts the most extensive area of limestone pavement in the European Union. So much of the bedrock in the hills has been exposed due to glacial erosion and uber-enthusiastic prehistoric agriculture. Thus, one could argue that the Burren uplands are in part a deeply humanised landscape.
Hills like Turloughmore are still farmed today albeit in the autumn/winter only. Cattle are transferred to the uplands for the period November to April. This farming regime is highly unusual and is called reverse transhumance.

THREE

The white Derrybrien wind turbines are just about visible in the middle left of the image (behind Turloughmore). The turbines are built on Slieve Aughty –  a 25 km-long Old Red Sandstone hill range extending from east Clare into south east Galway. It is a wild and desolate landscape of uplands bogs. (Bogs are wetlands that accumulate peat, a deposit of dead plant material). The highest point on the range is Maghera (400m).
The Derrybrien wind farm has 70 wind turbines and was one of the largest wind farms in Europe when it was built in 2003. The farm, constructed by the semi-state energy body E.S.B., precipitated a 0.5 million tonne peat slide with significant environmental damage and a fish kill of 50,000. Bogs are notoriously unstable environments. Construction of large-scale infrastructural projects on bogs without proper environmental impact assessment can lead to environmental chaos.

FOUR

The final frame in the image is the “cloud formation” as Shelly phrased it. It was a remarkably still, bright autumn day. The clouds were frozen on the canvas.

The 1st of October was a day from heaven in Ireland and the month kept giving. Met Eireann, the Irish Meteorological Service, summarised October as “extremely dry almost everywhere” with “mean air temperatures on or above average nearly everywhere”. However, November has returned to the form of most of 2016 – unsettled and changeable. We will look back on October 2016 as mí na míosa – the month of months.

Shelly informs me that the shot was taken with a Nikon D5 camera and a 20mm Nikon lens.
Thanks to Shelly and Barbara for the company and the sublime photo. Go n-eirigh an bóthar libh. May the road rise with you.

Tony Kirby

Burren Hills, Fahee North

This image was made on another, more gloomy autumn day a few years ago. This is without a doubt one of the most dramatic viewpoints in the Burren and because it is right beside the road it is being visited and photographed by many.

I fell in love with this spot some 20 years ago on one of my first visits to the Burren. I remember that the stonewall winding its way uphill got me mesmerized and I think I spent a whole role of film on this wall alone. Since then I have come back countless times and experienced this place in all conditions: The fresh green of spring, the heavy green of summer, the barren brown of winter and even covered in snow. Autumn however remains my favourite: The time when the green of summer is disappearing but still visible while warm yellow and brown tones start to take over and paint the Burren landscape with a kaleidoscope of coulors.

This image was made with a Canon EOS 5D III and a 24mm lens. Shelly Wolf’s image (I reckon) was made with a 200mm and not with a 20mm lens.

Carsten Krieger

Mullagh More Winter Walk

Sunshine, showers and light winds, that is the perfect winter day in Ireland. On days like this there is nothing better than pack up the camera and head for the hills and that’s exactly what I did on this crisp January afternoon. With no particular plans I started the ascend to Mullagh More. In the end I didn’t make it to the summit because not surprisingly I got sidetracked a number of times and ended up in a rarely visited part of the National Park.

Burren National Park

A lone ash tree a bit off the main Mullagh More track became my first model for the day.

The slopes of Mullagh More

A perfect example of an glacial erratic sitting on the slopes of Mullagh More.

Burren National Park

The Burren National Park from above: Limestone pavement, dry stone walls and pockets of hazel scrub.

Mullagh More

Definitely off the beaten track: The western side of Mullagh More.

Knockanes

The view to Knockanes from the western slopes of Mullagh More.

Mullagh More

The standard view of Mullagh More after a heavy downpour on the way home.

Photographic note: All images were made with a Sony 7R II & 24-70mm/2.8 lens (except image number 3 which was made with a 70-300mm lens) on a tripod. A polarizer was used for some images.

Carsten Krieger

A Pub With a Long Story

Corofin

Crowley’s pub is on the Main St in Corofin. Crowleys once leased the premises and the shop front still has their name. Gerry Quinn was another leasee and his wall sign survives too.
I quite like the street ad for St Bruno flake. It is really quaint and harks back to the days before no-smoking pubs. St Bruno is probably the most famous piped tobacco in the world – U.K. manufacture, Virginian leaf, 11th century Cologne saint.

The building is a reasonable size boasting a six-bay window first floor. In the past, the premises was not just an alehouse but offered lodgings as well. Eminent local historian Michael Mc Mahon writes that Crowley’s was formerly known as The Queen’s Head. It was probably so named during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-1714) in the then United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Michael actually maintains that the building was home to a pub long before it got the The Queen’s Head name.

Dick Cronin is an architectural conservationist and a habitué of the pub. Dick reckons that Crowley’s is the oldest pub in the province of Munster. He also tells me that it was an important comfort stop in the past for the staff and visitors to the village courthouse. The court house was located right across the street from the pub. It successively functioned as the Market House by which name it is known today. (The two-street village of Corofin was a market and post “town” in the 19th century). The Market House now houses apartments.

The pub is divided into two rooms. The back room opens for music evenings and other events. The front room features the bar, a Liscannor stone floor and a fire which blazes in the winter.

Mick Nestor presides over a hugely enjoyable traditional music session every Friday evening.
The “Nestor orchestra” averages about 10 to 15 musicians and songsters.Mick is a kind, gentle man and a truly excellent flute player. He is from the parish of Dysert and he has a car mechanic’s yard in Killinaboy. His yard must be the only one in Ireland located in a sacred space – a disused church!

Liam Jones on guitar is also a tower of song. Then there is Lu Edmonds who is vocalist/instrumentalist with The Mekons, a 1970s punk band who have evolved heavily in terms of musical style over the last 40 years.  Lu is also guitarist with John Lydon’s band Public Image Limited. When he is not touring, the Corofin-based Lu can be found in the thick of Crowley’s Friday night session. He plays Greek bouzouki at the session. (It was septuagenarian Andy Irvine, a founder member of Planxty, who introduced the instrument to Irish traditional music). Lu himself first came to prominence in the late 1970s with the punk group The Damned.

Lu and Mick are from two quite different musical traditions but have struck up a fine chemistry on Friday nights – The Sacred and the Damned!

The pub is now leased by two of the good guys– Tom and Pete. They run a fine shop…. an atmospheric refuge rich in history. It opens in the evenings.

Tony Kirby

 

Winter in the Burren

Mullagh More, Winter

Mullagh More, Winter 2009

We are back. Kind of. We haven’t sorted out the details yet but Scéalta na Boirne will be here to stay. Only the English title had to change from Burren Stories to Burren Tales as did the web address: We are now http://www.burrentales.com.

The reason for doing this is simple: I just can’t part with the Burren and although current and upcoming assignments will bring me anywhere but the Burren I promised myself to set aside at least one day each month to ramble across limestone and bring back another Burren tale. And from what I have heard Tony already has a pile of new stories ready to go.

To start things up I put together some winter images from the past years and a few current ones. Ice and snow are rare (but it does happen) and usually winter in the Burren is a symphony of warm yellow and brown tones, soft sunshine (sometimes), high winds (more often), rain and hail (regularly) and overall a lot of peace and tranquility and the usual Burren magic.

Enjoy and have a peaceful Christmas and a healthy, prosperous and happy new year.

Carsten Krieger

Burren National Park

Mullagh More, Winter 2016

A X-PO Christmas

X-PO, Kilnaboy, Winter 2011

Burren National Park, Winter Floods

Flooded Hazel Forest, Winter 2015

Glen of Clab

Glen of Clab, Winter 2014

Winter Solstice Dawn

Winter Solstice Dawn, 2012

Lough Bunny

Lough Bunny, Winter 2016

Hailstorm, Gleninagh Valley

Gleninagh Valley, Winter 2013

A sad goodbye…

You might have noticed that nothing much is happening here on Burren Stories. The problem is that both Tony and myself have the typically insane self employed working hours as well as a family and fun projects like this blog always play second fiddle.

Unfortunately running this blog also costs money and with only a handful of posts going out every year it just doesn’t make sense to keep it up. So with a heavy heart we will be shutting down Burren Stories. Tony will continue writing about the Burren on his own site (www.heartofburrenwalks.com) and I will try to keep my own blog (www.irelandwithin.com) going.

Thank you for your support over the past 2 years.

Carsten

Wildflower Wonder of the World, Part II

Primrose, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

Primrose

The Burren 2016 is finally blooming after an uncommonly cold spring. The region is considered to be of true international importance for its Arctic, Alpine and Mediterranean flower admixture. The mystique lies in the melange.
I have picked out an example of a plant from all three regions and profiled them briefly as below. The three species are blooming at the time of writing. I also strongly recommend a pocket book which is indispensable when botanizing in the region.
Bain súp as! Enjoy!

SPRING GENTIAN/GENTIANA VERNA/CEADARLACH BEALTAINE

A small member of the gentian family with the stem measuring only a few centimetres. The name derives from King Genthios of Illyria who was credited with discovering the herbal properties of the plant. The king reigned a couple of centuries before Christ and Illyria was a kingdom in today’s western Balkans.

Spring Gentian, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

Spring Gentian, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

The gentian is an astonishing metallic-blue colour. It is the symbol of the Burren region and flowers from April to early June. The flower is Alpine and is quite rare in the north of Europe. Teesdale is the only region in Great Britain where it grows. I ireland, the Gentian can only be found in a few scattered limestone localities in the west.

Spring Gentian is associated with mountainous limestone regions of central Europe and parts of Asia.
In the Burren, it is one of the montane plants which also grows at sea level. Moreover, it co-mingles in the region with orchids from the Mediterranean basin. This cold/warm climate plant melange makes the Burren a significant botanical region at a world level.

IRISH ORCHID/NEOTINEA MACULATA/MAGAIRLIN GLAS

Orchids are one of the largest wild plant communities. More than 25 thousand species have been identified. The grand total of 56 species can be found in Ireland and Great Britain. The small Burren region (200 square miles) is home to an impressive 24 of the British and Irish species.

Dense Flowered Orchid/Irish Orchid, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

Most of the Burren orchids flower in May and June. The Early Purple Orchid/Orchis Mascula and the Irish Orchid are the first to bloom. The Irish orchid is also known as the Dense-Flowered Orchid. It is a small orchid with densely-packed and cream-coloured flowers.

The plant has an astonishing geographical distribution. In the north of Europe, it only grows in a few limestone localities in the west of Ireland. The orchid otherwise grows further south in the world in regions such as the Mediterranean and North Africa. Its range also extends east as far as the Ukraine.

Irish Orchid is known as a Lusitanian flower – part of a tiny group of Mediterranean plants native to Ireland but absent from Great Britain. Lusitania is the Latin name of a former Iberian Roman colony which corresponds to most of modern day Portugal and part of Spain. The Burren is the only region in the world where the Irish Orchid and Spring Gentian grow together!

MOUNTAIN AVENS/DRYAS OCTOPETALA/LEAITHIN

Mountain Avens is a member of the rose family. It is an Arctic plant which occurs in montane regions in the northern hemisphere. It is called Dryas Octopetala in Latin. The octopetala part of the name is explained by the fact that most specimens have 8 petals. As the leaves are oak-like, dryas also features in name. There is a poached egg look about the flower. It is the national emblem of Iceland.

Mountain Avens, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

Mountain Avens, The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

The rootstock is quite woody and some define the plant as a shrub. The Burren uplands were treeless in the 19th century due to immense pressure on the land by a large and desperate population. In fact the pressure was so great that the rootstock of the Avens was being harvested for fuel for the fire. It must have been very labour-intensive and desperate work… all also in the context of a potato famine (1845-49) which ravaged the region. Mountain Avens, just like Spring Gentian, grows enigmatically at sea level in the Burren.

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger

The Church of Inion Bhaoith

INTRODUCTION

I had the immense pleasure of visiting the ancient parish church of Killinaboy not once but twice this week. On the first occasion I was part of a group of local tourism providers which was led by the inimitable Galway archaeologist/guide Christy Cunniffe. On the second occasion I myself was guiding an A.T.G.I. (Approved Tour Guides of Ireland) group. Guide guiding guides.

The visits were a pleasure for two reasons: firstly, although Killinaboy is my adopted home place, I rarely frequent the church in my capacity as tour guide. The second reason is that the site visits impressed upon me the wealth of heritage housed there – ancient church, Romanesque art, round tower remnants, double-armed cross, sheela-na-gig, bullauns (basin stones) re-invented as grave markers…as well as a rich mix of medieval vaults, headstones, grave slabs, tombs and wall plaques.

The site is immaculately maintained by the enthusiastic Killinaboy History and Heritage Group. The church had been choked with ivy. Thanks to herculean work by the local group, the ivy has been removed and the splendour of the stone fabric is visible again. The same group is also responsible for the excellent information display board on the history of the parish which is located at the entrance to the site.

The group has also been active in print having published Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards – a remarkable alphabetical inventory of the graves at the Killinaboy site and the neighbouring historic church site of Coad.

The Killinaboy site is dedicated to Inion Bhaoith an obscure saintess from the Early Medieval period (400-110 A.D.) in Ireland.
According to tradition she founded a monastic community on site in the 7th century A.D. The oldest part of the extant church is said to date from the 11th century.  The church was repaired for Protestant worship in the 1720s.

The site is located on elevated ground in close proximity to the river Fergus. The eminent local historian Michael Mc Mahon maintains the Early Medieval monastery would have had a footprint of up to 800 acres. This landscape context of the monastery has been diminished as the busy regional road R476 passes within metres of the church.

I would like to share just five of the many cultural highlights from the church of St Inion Bhaoith.

The O’Hehir wall plaque 1711.

1. THE O’HEHIR WALL PLAQUE

North-west part of interior.

Inscription –  Loghlen Reach O’Hehir’s tomb finished by his son Andrew  O’Hehir ER in VV 1711.

One of the many funerary monuments dedicated to the Catholic gentry in the church. The O’Hehir vault is located below the plaque.

Thanks to Oonagh O’Dwyer for identifying the plant growing on the plaque. It is navelwort or wall pennywort Umbelicus rupestris . Its rounded leaves have a navel-like dimple in the centre.

Navelwort is highly appetizing and full of goodness! The plant is also used as a homeopathic remedy.
It blooms in May and the spiked flowers are a striking accent on the landscape. Navelwort grows on rocks, walls and hedge banks.

The plaque and the plant make for a neat juxtaposition of cultural and natural heritage.

Reference:
Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Buíochas le Oonagh Dwyer (Thanks to Oonagh). Oonagh is based in Lahinch and leads highly acclaimed wild food walks in the region www.wildkitchen.ie

Detail from O’Flanagan wall plaque 1644. Image by Tony Kirby.

2. O’FLANAGAN   WALL PLAQUE

North-east part of interior.

Inscription – I H S INRI 1644 under these carved marble stones lieth Connor O’Flanagan’s body and bones which monument was made by Anabel his wife
Orate Pro Eislaus Deo
.

The impressive funerary monument (plaque and burial plot) includes a primitive crucifixion scene in relief.

Connor O’Flanagan was one of the leaders of the 1641 Catholic insurrection – a rebellion by the Irish Catholic gentry and clergy against the English administration in Ireland. The Confederation was subsequently joined by English royalists.
However, it was routed by Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army in the 1849-53 war. The land in Ireland was appropriated to Cromwellian adventurers and soldiers after the Cromwellian war.

References:
The Parish of Corofin A Historical Profile . Michael Mc Mahon. Michael Mc Mahon 2013.
Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Detail from the Blood grave slab 1760. Image by Tony Kirby.

3. THE BLOOD GRAVE SLAB

Eastern half of interior in a central position.

Inscription – Here lies the body of Mr Matthew Blood the elder who died the 29th day of September 1760 in the 85th year of his age.

The slab also features a carving of the god of the sea, Neptune, with a three pronged spear. The Bloods were English settlers who acquired lands in the parish at the end of the 1500s.
Matthew was probably the grandson of Neptune Blood who was vicar-general of the diocese of Kilfenora in the late 1600s.

Neptune was adamant that the insurgents burned his fortified dwelling and displaced him during the 1641 rebellion. The dwelling in question is An Cabhail Mór whose ruins stand today on the edge of the river Fergus a short distance from the church. The church and the Blood residence enjoyed inter visibility.

The proximity of the O Flanagan plot and the Blood slab in the church are amusing given the fact that the two families were on opposite sides during the 1641 conflict. Enemies in life, close in death!

The Bloods were Protestant ascendancy landlords. Matthew’s burial here in the 1760 is explained by the fact that the church was transformed from Catholic to Protestant in the 1720s.

The last straw for the Bloods in the parish was probably the savage murder of William Blood in 1831 by a secret society in County Clare called the Terry Alts. The Terry Alts was one of many such societies in Ireland in the period 1760s-1830s which violently opposed the harsh dominion of the tiny landowning ascendancy.

References:
The Parish of Corofin A Historical Profile . Michael Mc Mahon. Michael Mc Mahon 2013.
Killinaboy & Coad Graveyards. The Killinaboy History and Heritage Group.

Kilnaboy Church

Killinaboy Church; Western gable with double armed cross.

4. THE DOUBLE-ARM CROSS

On western gable of church facing the R476 road.

Double-arm crosses date to the start of 2nd millennium A.D. and are found at ecclesiastical sites across medieval Europe. The crosses were a device used by the church to tell pilgrims that the site contained a relic of the true cross of Christ. Pilgrimage was an important source of revenue to the church and the cross was designed to attract the pilgrims.

The cross at Killinaboy is off-centre on the western gable of the church. Archaeologists Peter Harbison and Christy Cunniffe suspect that the cross was originally set over the trabeate doorway of a smaller church on site and that it went off-centre with the church re-build.

Art and architectural historian Rachel Moss (T.C.D.) knows of only one other such cross which survives in Ireland. It is made of metal and was located at Kilkenny West, County Westmeath. The cross is now on display in the National Museum of Ireland.

Reference:
The Double-Arm Cross on the Church Gable at Killinaboy. Peter Harbison. North Munster Antiquarian Society Journal (volume 18, 1976).

Buíochas le Rachel Moss. (Thanks to Rachel).

5. THE ROUND TOWER

About ten metres north of north wall of church.

Round towers were built at ecclesiastical sites in Ireland from the 900s to the 1200s. Scholar George Cunningham maintains that 90 examples survive – 65 intact and 25 degraded. Theory and controversy continue to rage regarding the functions of the towers. A round tower is known in Gaelic as cloigteach suggesting that the towers were used in part as belfries. Other plausible uses according to Cunningham are pilgrim landmark, refuge at times of strife and desire by the religious community and its royal benefactors for prestige.

The intact towers extend to about 30 metres in height. The Killinaboy tower is only 4 metres high. According to local tradition the notorious Cromwellians severely damaged the structure with their canon. No historical evidence has emerged yet to support this allegation.

There is evidence of only two other round towers at monastic sites in the Burren region – the intact tower of Kilmacduagh in south-east Galway and the one at Noughaval (no longer extant) a few miles north-west of Killinaboy.

References:
Irish Round Towers. Roger Stalley. The Irish Treasure Series 2000.
Round Towers and Tall Tales. George Cunningham. Irish Times article June 2014.

6. COFFIN STAND

A few metres west of the west gable of the church.

A modern boundary wall has been built over the stand. The previous wall was located nearer the modern road R476. A stile would have allowed access to the site. The pall bearers would have rested the coffin on the stand as they entered the site through the stile. I have read several accounts of the Killinaboy site but have not noted thus far any reference to the stand.

The stand is a humble but precious part of our funerary story.

Anne Ridge discusses the use of coffin rests in her book Death Customs in Rural Ireland Traditional Funerary Rites in the Irish Midlands published by Arlen House (2009).

Archaeologist and field monument advisor at Galway County Council, Christy Cunniffe, is familiar with several coffin stands spread across counties Galway, Mayo, Offaly and Tipperary.

Fragment of Romanesque stone. Image by Tony Kirby

  7. CARVED STONE

Cornerstone of south doorway (internal).

This is in fact a fragment of a carved stone. It features a Romanesque carving of a mythical animal. The piece is located within the church as a cornerstone of the south doorway.

The Romanesque architectural style prevailed in Europe during the period 900-1200 A.D. The style became widespread in Ireland in the 1100s – a period which coincided with ecclesiastical reform and the setting up of the Irish church along European diocesan lines. The Romanesque was characterised by round arches, vaulting and decorative sculptures.

The nearby Temple Cronan in Termon, Carran features a fine array of sculptures – human and animalistic.
The carved stone at Killinaboy would have enjoyed a more prominent position in the building in the past. The location of the other part of the stone is not known.

Sheela Na Gig, Kilnaboy

Doorway with Sheela-Na-Gig.

8. SHEELA-NA-GIG

Above south doorway of church.

A sexual carving known as a sheela-na-gig is located over the south doorway of the church. There is no consensus regarding the origins of the term sheela-na-gig.

The carvings are usually distinguished by an unflattering portrayal of a woman with prominent genitalia. They occur in Ireland on buildings which date from the 1200s to the 1600s. The carvings may serve to warn against the sin of lust when found at church sites. On the other hand, they may functions as talismans or protective icons when found on secular buildings such as tower houses or town walls.

However, it is fair to say the functions of the carvings remain hotly disputed. Other possible functions include pagan god survival and fertility figure.

The icon at Killinaboy is made of limestone and its features are becoming progressively vaguer due to dissolution by rainwater.

Ireland has the greatest number of surviving sheela-na-gig carvings. McMahon and Roberts, authors of The Sheela-na-gigs of Ireland and Britain , cite 101 examples island-wide.

There are 5 sheela-na-gigs recorded in County Clare – 2 in the Burren and 3 in the south east of the county.
The second carving in the Burren is located at Ballyportry castle just outside Corofin. There are also carvings at Bunratty castle and Clenagh castle (west of Sixmilebridge). Some reader may help me identify precisely where the fifth County Clare example is!

© Text by Tony Kirby / Images by Carsten Krieger