Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

I have just returned from a short trip to London, England,where we  lived for almost two decades before returning to Ireland. London is a city that I love and I look forward to each return visit. This year marks the centenary of the start of the First World War which has been commemorated in the most astonishing way at the historic Tower of London.

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The ‘Weeping Window’ the source of the wave of poppies that will fill the moat

Some decades ago, when I worked  in the banking area in the City of London, summer lunchtime would be spent sitting on the grass looking down at the Tower and enjoying the sunshine. We happily munched on our ham and mustard  or cheese and pickle sandwiches while enjoying the historic view and discussing the gruesome executions that took place just yards from where we dined! The Tower itself dates back to the 11th century, and is one of London’s most visited tourist attractions, housing the Crown Jewels, and protected by the colourful Beefeater Guards and those fearsome Ravens!

My visit this week was very poignant as I revisited the area I know so well, for the entire scene has been transformed to mark the centenary of the First World War. Ceramic Artist Paul Cummins has created  888,246 poppies and stage designer Tom Piper planned the layout of this art installation, Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red. Beautifully conceived with a flow of poppies coming from a ‘weeping window’ on the tower, and it has been slowly spreading in a wave, a river of  poppies. Planting of the poppies(on wire stems) by volunteers began in July and has continued each day since then. At 11 am on 11 November the last poppy will be planted.
888,246 is the number of British army  fatalities in World War 1. Tens of thousands of Irish men volunteered (we did not have conscription in Ireland) to serve in this army, for we were then part of Britain and tens of thousands of Irish men died.  Up to 40,000 (the exact number is not definitively known) of these poppies represent Irish men – my countrymen – fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, uncles, nephews, who never came home from that war. They were from every County in Ireland from Donegal to Cork, from Dublin to Galway, from Sligo to Waterford to Kerry. Fathers, brothers, sons, cousins, uncles, nephews who died horrible deaths in muck filled trenches – often blown to bits, blasted to smithereens, dismembered, disembowelled, decapitated; many lay screaming in their last agony, many lay crying for their mothers or their wives in excruciating pain as the life drained from them; many gasped for air as their mustard gassed lungs turned into acid that burned them alive on the inside; many lay in mud filled trenches,with limbs missing and slowly bled to death, perhaps buried under dead comrades; many were vaporized and no trace of them was ever found.
For each of these, and those from whatever country that populated the British Military forces Scotland, England,Wales,Ireland, India,New Zealand, Australia, Canada and more,- whether obliterated  or who died a slow tortuous death – a poppy has been planted in the great moat of this iconic palace.
4 million people will visit to see them and yesterday I was one of them.  An astonishing number of people wept as they realized that each one represents a human being. The silence from such a vast crowd was very surprising.
These are the snaps of my visit in both daylight and after dark. I add my silence to theirs.

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Centuries of history in Tarbert Co Kerry

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Tarbert House, whose new windows will arrive this week.

Set in the heart of ancient woodland that skirts Tarbert Bay is a magnificent house that dates from 1690. This is Tarbert House an internationally known heritage building, that has been home to the Leslie family since the late 17th Century. The Leslie family arrived in these parts after being on the winning side of the Battle of the Boyne and count bishops and various titled Leslies in their ancestry. Currently undergoing renovations, the three storey house over a basement is an imposing structure with lovely views of rolling countryside and of the River Shannon.

With the Shanid Historical Society, I was privileged to visit this historic home last weekend with the impressive and knowledgeable Ursula Leslie as our guide. She provided us with a wealth of information about so many aspects of the history of this place; the family, the visitors, the contents. For the purposes of this post I will concentrate on just a few of the features I loved the most – the entrance hall, furniture and some assorted beautiful things.

The entrance hall is more of a huge room than a hall in the modern sense, and through it have stepped some significant historic figures, including Charlotte Bronte, Winston Churchill, Daniel O’Connell, Jonathan Swift and Benjamin Franklin. John Paul Jones, the father of the American Navy took refuge here.The Leslie family

The entrance hall with its elegant plasterwork coving had many uses. Here weapons were stored, family portraits graced the walls and entertainment was provided.

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Entrance to Tarbert House. (Window shutters on the beautiful deep windows were closed as windows are being replaced )

Here is a most unusual fireplace –  one of a few in the house that are original and do not have a mantel.

An original fireplace - without a mantel

An original fireplace – without a mantel

One of the most striking features of the entrance are the armour racks above the doors and on the walls.

There are some excellent examples of original Irish furniture here – typified by being made from solid wood and not veneered. My favourite pieces are the chairs which were reversed and used when watching entertainment such as cock-fighting!

Some examples of solid Irish furniture in the hall – a wonderful couch with very solid feet and a very elegant table!

The next room  had stunning views of the Shannon

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and an eclectic collection of items from silverware to furniture to household items. At each end of the room is a beautifully carved mirror.

I loved these two pieces – a ‘campaign’ chair  that predates Ikea and flat pack furniture by some time, and a campaign  chest

And how about some curtains that date from 1870…..that’s right, 1870! The pattern has been copied, most famously by Nancy Regan, and is known as the Tarbert Rose. The fabric is not heavy and seems to be possibly silk , and is very beautiful

Three more images that will stay with me

There is also  an extensive collection of artwork in this house, including many portraits of members of the Leslie family and a parchment dating from 1813, petitioning the British House of Commons for Catholic Emancipation.

imageThe house is crammed full of beautiful objects,each having a history and/or a story to tell. They are also very clearly part of a family, part of a home.

This house is open for visiting by appointment, in May, July and August each year and is well worth a visit, for Ursula Leslie will charm every one of her guests with stories,knowledge and facts that are truly astounding!

 

 

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Tarbert Bridewell

On Saturday last, as part of a tour organized by The Shanid Historical Society we visited the Tarbert Bridewell, just over the Limerick border, in Tarbert Co. Kerry.

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I have often marvelled at the wonderful sounding ‘Bridewell’ and wondered how on earth it has become to be associated with a jail! The dictionary tells me that it is a ‘house of correction; a prison so-called from the palace near St Bride’s or Bridget’s Well in London, which was turned into a penitentiary’

Built in 1831, the Tarbert Bridewell has been lovingly and beautifully restored by the local community. The original entrance has the word BRIDEWELL carved above the gate. It was originally completely enclosed by high walls, but these have now been replaced by railings at the front of the building.

The original entrance

The original entrance

Inside, the windows still have the original bars on the windows, the narrow doors still have the original bolts and locks.

Tarbert Bridewell served both as  the courthouse and a detention centre for those awaiting trial and those serving short sentences of up to 7 days imprisonment.

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Depiction of the Courthouse

The narrow cells often housed up to 8 inmates with no sanitary facilities. In the outside yard there was a latrine for disposal of cell waste.

 

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Waste disposal area

The small exercise yard was walled, so there was no means of escape


imageTarbert Bridewell continued as a detention centre until 1874 and as a courthouse for a further 75 years, after which it gradually fell into decline. As a result of dedication and determination of the  local community, this impressive historic  building has been  restored as a tourist attraction and a community centre. They also have a fabulous coffee and gift shop, so do drop in !

 

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The Trees are in their Autumn Beauty ..

This often quoted line is from a poem by the much-loved Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, familiar to everyone who has passed through the Irish school system. We in Ireland do not always have as long and as beautiful an Autumn as we have been blessed with in 2014. The balmy mild and calm weather that has followed a beautiful long warm dry summer has added to the Autumn Beauty that we are now enjoying. These are snaps taken over an hour or so this afternoon, which I hope you might enjoy

These beauties are in the hedgerow at The Pike, near Ardagh, Co Limerick

Trees in Autumn glory at Adare,Co Limerick

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These butter-yellow Acacias light up the main street in Adare

I really like these russet  beauties on the main street

Inside the town park, donated by the Dunraven family in the 1970s, there is a treasure trove of Autumn Beauty

And what a surprise to see these Autumn treasures! I love the tall toadstools, which I had not seen before.

Everywhere you look, Autumn lies in wait, so you need to look down too!

More in Adare town park

And finally, back in my own garden, a cherry wears her Autumn colours, bidding goodbye to the beautiful summer and Autumn that we have enjoyed!

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The Wild Swans at Coole by W.B Yeats

‘The trees are in their autumn beauty,
The woodland paths are dry,
Under the October twilight the water
Mirrors a still sky;
Upon the brimming water among the stones
Are nine-and-fifty swans.

The nineteenth autumn has come upon me
Since I first made my count;
I saw, before I had well finished,
All suddenly mount
And scatter wheeling in great broken rings
Upon their clamorous wings.

I have looked upon those brilliant creatures,
And now my heart is sore.
All’s changed since I, hearing at twilight,
The first time on this shore,
The bell-beat of their wings above my head,
Trod with a lighter tread.

Unwearied still, lover by lover,
They paddle in the cold
Companionable streams or climb the air;
Their hearts have not grown old;
Passion or conquest, wander where they will,
Attend upon them still.

But now they drift on the still water,
Mysterious, beautiful;
Among what rushes will they build,
By what lake’s edge or pool
Delight men’s eyes when I awake some day
To find they have flown away?

 

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With those hands…Family treasures

 

imageThis week I had one of those catastrophic events that resulted in my airing cupboard being at the wrong end of a burst pipe. Filthy dirty water from the heating system ruined my sheets, towels and everything else secreted away in there,  so there was nothing for it but to transport the black, heavy sodden mass to the washing machine and put on a boil wash, with stain remover and biological powder added to be sure, to be sure!
Imagine my horror when unloading the washing machine, to discover that a hand embroidered table-cloth had also been boiled in the soup! This particular table-cloth was a special one that was made specially for me 45 years ago. My Aunt May was a nun and nuns always kept busy, presumably because ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’. Nuns too were often wonderful needle women, and I know that Aunty May was, as had been her mother before her. My grandmother appears on the 1901 census with two of her sisters, all of them seamstresses. So it was in the genes.
Post Vatican 2, Roman Catholic religious orders had to renew their vow of poverty, and with my 21st birthday coming up in 1969, Aunty May asked me what I would like to have for my birthday, as she may not be able to send anything after the renewal of the poverty vow. I did not hesitate and asked if I might have an embroidered table-cloth. I was so thrilled when she presented me with my very own embroidered tablecloth. image

The embroidery is of the same quality on both front and back, and the edges are trimmed with crochet lace. I have no idea how many hours thus must have taken to create, but I love it as much today as I did when I first saw it. What a relief to find that it had survived a boil wash! To think of the number of perfect stitches on this one piece, the eyes that peered so closely at them,the expert hands that made each one, fills me with wonderment. I particularly love the texture of the flower petals. I am proud and delighted that my Aunt undertook such a labour of love!

My mother and my other Aunt Di had beautiful tablecloths.  ‘Di’ whose real name was Eileen, was also my godmother. She had a most beautiful hand embroidered tablecloth that had been given to her as a wedding gift by Mrs McCloskey in Carrigart, Co Donegal in 1946. Mrs Mc Closkey had a factory that produced the most elegant ladies knitwear and clothing and beautiful elegant gifts. Di’s wedding gift tablecloth was a heavily embroidered Willow Pattern design and I had never seen the like of it before or since. It was quite simply, exquisite.
Her linen tablecloths and treasured pieces of china were her pride and joy and she was especially fond of that Willow Pattern cloth. I often visited her at her home in Glasgow, and she would open the sideboard drawer and take out the tablecloths one by one, followed by her china that she used as often as she could when she had visitors to the house. Together we would admire these beautiful things laid out before us. It was a ritual that I loved. Beautifully embroidered tablecloths and special china called for beautiful homemade cakes and pastries, and she was a most wonderful baker of these fancies. Her Porter Cake was simply to die for! The last time I saw her, on a visit in 1999, just months before she died, she gave me one of her very special tablecloths and a couple of pieces of her beloved china. These are now among my most treasured possessions.

imageThis is the beautiful cloth she gave me with overlooked scalloped edges. I often wonder how many stitches went in to the making if it and who made it. Was it made by one person or several people working together? I am not sure where she got it, perhaps it was a gift from my Aunt May, who was her older sister.

And so the dark cloud of a flood in my airing cupboard led me to rediscovering these treasures, so safely tucked away that I rarely see them.

My mother too had  a number of beautiful linen tablecloths, many of which disappeared down the years, but I do have a couple from her collection.

This one below is a simple cross stitch and I remember it on a small table in our sitting room when I was a child. I have always loved the colours of this one, although I have never used it in my own house.

The next one is my favourite of my mother’s. It is such an honest ‘ordinary’ cloth for a small table. This was brought out when someone came for tea, and it survived many washings and spills – a trusty stalwart of the linen drawer!

imageIt is necessary to look at this one quite closely to appreciate the detail of the wreaths of flowers.

And so the dark cloud of a flood in my airing cupboard led me to rediscovering these treasures, so safely tucked away that I rarely see them. I thought it would be nice to make a record of these beautifully crafted works of art and to share them. Although I do not know who made each of them, that they were crafted with love and pride is obvious in the exquisite needlework. I am blessed indeed to own these beautiful pieces of my Family History!

 

 

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Revisiting Shanksville on 9/11 – Let’s Roll

Originally posted on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND:

Today, September 9, or 9/11 as it is now more universally known, we recall the loss of life resulting from the highjacking and deliberate crashing of passenger aircraft in America. The World Trade Centre, Washington D.C and Shanksville were where these tragedies unfolded. In October 2008 I visited Shanksville, long before the erection of the official memorial and was struck by the emptiness and wild silence of this place where lives ended on that September morning in 2001. This is a reposting of my thoughts and photographs from that visit.

http://thesilvervoice.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/lets-roll-flight-93-11-september-2001/

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Revisiting Shanksville on 9/11 – Let’s Roll

Today, September 9, or 9/11 as it is now more universally known, we recall the loss of life resulting from the highjacking and deliberate crashing of passenger aircraft in America. The World Trade Centre, Washington D.C and Shanksville were where these tragedies unfolded. In October 2008 I visited Shanksville, long before the erection of the official memorial and was struck by the emptiness and wild silence of this place where lives ended on that September morning in 2001. This is a reposting of my thoughts and photographs from that visit.

http://thesilvervoice.wordpress.com/2013/09/09/lets-roll-flight-93-11-september-2001/

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