Saturday, November 24, 2018

The Wilds of Ireland's West Coast

My favorite part of Ireland is the "wild" western shore where the Cliffs of Moher stand 702 feet high.  

On a clear day, views from the cliff tops include the Aran Islands, Galway Bay and the Twelve Bens mountain range. Located in west County Clare, the Cliffs are part of an archaeological hotspot, including the Burren that is home to 70 wedge tombs – some older than the pyramids – including the famous Poulnabrone dolmen, a portal tomb - one of approximately 172 in Ireland. This tomb was in use during the Neolithic and radiocarbon dates place its use between 3,800 - 3,600 BC.

The first excavation of Poulnabrone Dolmen was in 1986 and then again in 1988 by Ann Lynch. During this excavation, one portal stone was replaced, and the team excavated the chamber, portico, and cairn. The remains of up to 22 individuals from the Neolithic were found. Sixteen adults, six children, and one newborn (from the Bronze Age) were among the remains.

There are other treasures in western Ireland. Bunatty Castle, among them. A large 15th-century tower house, the castle in in the midst of Bunratty Village that displays thatched cottages where the people lived for centuries.

The present castle is the fourth structure, and it was built by the MacNamara family around 1425.

As much as I love the Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and Bunratty Castle, my favorite place in County Clare is the coastal village of Doolin. Fisher Street has one of my favorite pubs in Ireland - O'Connors.
Know for its nightly traditional Irish music,  Gus O'Connor's pub offers old-style Irish dishes such as Shepherd's pie and Guinness stew. 

Coming up is the story of St. Brigid's Well, also in west County Clare.

Friday, November 23, 2018

There but for the Grace of God Go I

I've been blogging about my trip to Scotland, and now, I'm hopping over the Irish Sea to Ireland. About an hour flight or a longer ferry ride.

Today, I was looking at my kitchen, filled with Thanksgiving leftovers, and like so many other people this season, I gave thanks for my family and all the blessings I have received this year. I thought about all the news reports of Thanksgiving dinner being served by churches and community organizations to thousands of people across the country who otherwise would have had none, and I remembered the proverb, "There but for the grace of God go I."

I had repeated that same proverb to myself when I visited the Great Famine Memorial in County Clare, Ireland. Like many people in central Appalachia, I am of Irish heritage, and many times I have wondered if I had ancestors who died during the Great Potato Famine. During the period 1845-51 the country lost over one million of her inhabitants to starvation and starvation-related diseases and another million to emigration. In the decade after the Famine, another million souls fled the island.

County Clare was one of the places hardest hit when the potato crop failed. THE first identified victim of starvation during The Great Famine was a widow near Dysart[1845] and the last recorded starvation death, in April 1851, was a man in Ennis. It’s just one of the chilling facts outlined in a book by Clare historian, Dr Ciarán Ó Murchadha. A reporter in West Clare in 1846 wrote how locals “died as the birds do when the frost comes”, while coffin-less burials were widespread and dead children were brought to burial in panniers slung on donkeys.

The day I stood before the Great Famine Memorial, Thanksgiving dinner was the farthest thing from my mind, but today with the house still smelling of roast turkey, I remember standing before the monument, the cold wind stinging my face.

The memorial is comprised of two doors. (The doors represent the door to the workhouse. A place built to house paupers.) On the left, a child stands against a door. On the right is another door with an emaciated face and outstretched hands. (On the hands, someone had placed coins.)

 The message on the door reads:
There is a little boy named Michael 
Rice of Lahinch aged about 4 years
he is an orphan, his father having died 
last year and his mother has expired
on last Wednesday night, who is now
about being buried without a coffin!!
unless ye make some provision for
such. The child in question is now at
the workhouse gate expecting to be
admitted if not he will starve.
                  Robs S. Constable 

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle dominates the skyline of Edinburgh, Scotland, perched above the town on the aptly named, Castle Rock. A fortress since the Iron Age (2nd century AD), this castle has existed in different forms and structures but exist it has, populated by Scots. It was a royal residence from the time of King David (12th century) until 1633.

I visited this wondrous place and found it filled with history and real treasures, among them the Scottish Crown Jewels (not allowed to be photographed), but take my word, they were glorious.
I will take you through the castle and revisit my time there with pictures. I'll start in the oldest part of the castle, St. Margaret's Chapel that has existed since the 12th century. Somehow it escaped the artillery bombardment that destroyed most of the castle in the 16th century.

The chapel is very small but quietly beautiful. According to history, in March 1314 the castle was captured by Robert the Bruce. He destroyed all the buildings in the castle, except for the little chapel.

The Great Hall was added in the early 16th century and is filled with swords, dirks, pikes, armor, and other priceless artifacts. The Great Hall was built as a place of royal ceremony for King James IV. It has a wooden roof made from wood that was shipped from Norway.

One of the places I most wanted to see was the room where Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to her son who became James VI and I. He was King of Scotland as James VI from 24 July 1567 and King of England and Ireland as James I from the union of the Scottish and English crowns on 24 March 1603 until his death in 1625. The tiny room looked barely big enough to hold a bed.

Queen Mary's rooms were a good bit bigger and more regal, befitting a queen. However, Mary's life was rife with unpopular marriages and tragedy. In 1567, she was forced to abdicate in favor of her one-year-old son. She turned to the one person for help, her cousin Queen Elizabeth I, that was instead her enemy. Elizabeth imprisoned Mary because she had once claimed Elizabeth's throne. For 18 and a half years, she moved Mary around from castles to manor houses before beheading her for treason.

There were many other things to see in the castle. Here are some pictures:

Outside the castle there are more places to explore. One of the most interesting to me was the dog cemetery, with headstones.

And this wee Scot who seemed to need a bit of help with that cannon ball.

Perhaps the grandest part of the castle is the view. The entire city of Edinburgh lies at feet of Castle Rock.