Patrick Kavanagh, Poetry and Grave Matters.

In August of this year when visiting a school friend from decades ago, Kathleen introduced me to the gravesite of one of Ireland’s better known poets, Patrick Kavanagh, in the very pretty County Monaghan village of Inniskeen, just up the road from her own home.

imageThis disused church houses the Patrick Kavanagh Centre where Kavanagh’s memory is preserved and honoured.

November 30 2017 marked the 50th anniversary of his death. Revered as of one of Ireland’s better known poets the date was marked yesterday with special ceremonies at the Patrick Kavanagh Centre.

Patrick Kavanagh was born in the village of Inniskeen on October 21, 1904. For some decades he worked the land here –  a place that informed some of his best writing.  His novel ‘Tarry Flynn’ could almost be autobiographical as it tells the story of a young fella not unlike himself, constrained and frustrated by his rural existence – hard-working with a lack of romantic affiliations in a clerical repressed Ireland. One of his better known poems also follows these themes.

Stony Grey Soil

O stony grey soil of Monaghan
The laugh from my love you thieved;
You took the gay child of my passion
And gave me your clod-conceived.

You clogged the feet of my boyhood
And I believed that my stumble
Had the poise and stride of Apollo
And his voice my thick tongued mumble.

You told me the plough was immortal!
O green-life conquering plough!
The mandril stained, your coulter blunted
In the smooth lea-field of my brow.

You sang on steaming dunghills
A song of cowards’ brood,
You perfumed my clothes with weasel itch,
You fed me on swinish food

You flung a ditch on my vision
Of beauty, love and truth.
O stony grey soil of Monaghan
You burgled my bank of youth!

Lost the long hours of pleasure
All the women that love young men.
O can I still stroke the monster’s back
Or write with unpoisoned pen.

His name in these lonely verses
Or mention the dark fields where
The first gay flight of my lyric
Got caught in a peasant’s prayer.

Mullahinsa, Drummeril, Black Shanco-
Wherever I turn I see
In the stony grey soil of Monaghan
Dead loves that were born for me.

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Kavanagh on the Stony Grey Soil of Monaghan in 1963. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

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In Rememberance

In 2014, on the 100th Anniversary of the start of World War 1 I went to see the fantastic poppy installation at the Tower of London. The imagery was very powerful and has remained with me ever since. It took a considerable length of time to see all 888,246 of these poppies, each one representing a life lost. The sheer scale of it, the blood-redness of it made a huge impression on me and anyone who saw it.

One of the poppies from that installation has been framed and hangs in my home. 

In memory of those who never came home from that awful conflict, especially those from my own parish of Mevagh in County Donegal and the countless others who suffered horrendous injuries from which they never recovered.

 

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THE PITY OF WAR!

 

The original post can be seen here Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red

 

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Kindred Spirits: The Choctaw Nation and the Starving Irish 

Those of us who live around Midleton, a small  town in the east of County Cork, Ireland, are very proud of an impressive art installation that marks a very poignant moment in Irish history.

This sculpture honours an extraordinary gift from the Choctaw Native Americans to the starving Irish during the Great Famine that raged through Ireland in the 19th Century. It was created by Alex Pentek at the Sculpture Factory in Cork, Ireland and installed in Bailick Park, Midleton in 2015.

Native Americans of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Creek and Cherokee tribes lived in traditional tribal lands in parts of Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Florida and Tennessee.  However, this valuable land was coveted by white settlers who wished to grow cotton.  Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act that authorized forcible eviction from their native land.  In the winter of 1831 under threat of invasion by the U.S.Army, 17,000 Choctaw were first to be expelled from their homelands. They began migrating on foot to Indian Territory, now a part of Oklahoma, along what became known as the ‘trail of tears’.  With no help from the government and often without food and supplies and in dreadful weather conditions, many thousands died along the way.  It is estimated that nearly one third of the Choctaw Nation perished due to starvation, exposure and disease on the 500 mile walk, the ‘trail of tears’.

Several years later the Choctaw Nation, on hearing of the famine that had struck Ireland in 1845, made a donation of  $170 to the Famine Relief Fund of Ireland. Whilst many donations were made for famine relief at that time, what makes the Choctaw donation stand out is that they were living in great hardship and poverty at that time.

It is in recognition of that fantastic gesture that this sculpture, appropriately named ‘Kindred Spirits’ was created.

The sculpture consists of nine 20-foot (6.1 m) stainless steel eagle feathers arranged in a circle, to represent an empty bowl.

No two feathers are the same. 

Although there is no direct connection between Midleton and the Choctaw donation of 1847, we are delighted to have such a wonderful piece of public art in our area. It can be seen from the Cork to Waterford N25  road, when travelling in the direction of  Waterford. It has become something of a tourist attraction and has regular visitors – individuals, small groups  and entire school classes.

Probably one of Ireland’s most impressive public sculptures, it is a fitting tribute to the generosity of the Choctaw Nation who saw themselves as our kindred spirits in our time of need.   I love it and hope you enjoy looking at it as much as I do!

References

http://www.choctawnation.com/

Wikipedia

http://www.History.com

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Postcards from Newtownforbes Co. Longford

Newtonwforbes in County Longford  is a small village located  just a few miles outside Longford town, on the busy N4 Dublin to Sligo road.  Originally known as Lisbrack (Lios Breac in Irish), the name was changed to Newtownforbes in the middle of the 18th Century by the Forbes family, who were granted the lands here in the early 1600s. The Forbes family, with the title Earls of Granard, have lived in the village for over 300 years.

 

The present Castle was constructed in the 19th Century – the original built c.1624  was destroyed by fire. As this is a family home, the entire demesne is private and not open to the public.

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Introduced Grey Squirrel (Image Wikipedia)

In 1911, the grey squirrel was introduced here. An indigenous species of North America, several pairs were given as a wedding gift to a member of the Forbes family in 1911. A number escaped and went on to breed prolifically and almost annihilate the native Irish red squirrel. Fortunately the progress of the grey squirrel seems to have finally been halted in recent years, and the red squirrel is again increasing in numbers.

The main street in Newtownforbes has remained largely unchanged over the decades with modern development confined largely to side streets.  Two churches dominate the village, both provided by the Forbes family.  The Church of Ireland church of St. Paul, built  about 1820, replaced an earlier church from 1694.  The graveyard here has been mapped and recorded by a local team of dedicated volunteers lead by Doreen McHugh and Des Mooney. The earliest recorded burial dates to 1698.  The results of their work can be seen on the Historic Graves website. See the link below.

 

There is a Forbes family crypt in this churchyard and interestingly, and unusually I would think, there is another Forbes family mausoleum attached to the  Roman Catholic Church of St. Mary’s.

 

 

The Catholic Church of St Mary’s, where I was baptized, is in the centre of the village. This is the parish church of Clonguish. It has been almost totally remodelled in recent times.

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Clonguish RC parish Church

However, it used to look like this:

Original RC Clonguish Parish church in Newtownforbes. (Image retrieved from NLI at  http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000330897)

The ‘explanation’ for this dramatic change appears on this plaque at the side of the church. It would appear that the term ‘restoration’ can have a very broad meaning!

Plaque marking the 1974 work on the RC Church in Newtownforbes.

Either side of the main entrance door are two carved heads, which may or may not represent specific people. These are part of the original church, built 1861-1864.

 

I had hoped that some of the interior survived the renewal, in particular the baptismal font at which I was christened, but I was to be disappointed.  With the possible exception of the brass sanctuary lamp, some stained glass windows and the mosaic memorial to the local nobility, everything else seems to be modern.

 

 

The new round stained glass window is very attractive and compliments the interior. The original side aisles have been removed and everything within seems to be very modern.

 

Returning to this little village in the midlands of Ireland is always poignant. The Station House, in which we were born and where we spent many happy times with our grandparents, was built in the 1860s and closed as a railway station in 1963 . It is now a beautifully maintained private residence. It is always nice to stand on the little bridge and look down to the place where we made many happy memories.

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Newtownforbes Station House, where our grandparents lived

The railway line is still in use. I have lovely memories of walking along the line with my grandfather. The main telephone lines ran on poles along the line in those days. and he used to lift me up and place my ear against the poles to hear them ‘singing’.

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The Dublin – Sligo line is still in use although the station is closed.

It was always exciting to cross over this little bridge as we knew we had arrived for more adventures!

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The railway bridge at Newtownforbes Station

Quite near the Station is the abandoned Lisbrack House. Most recently a nursing home, it was once a school and a bishop’s home. To the best of my recollection our mother was taught to play the piano in this building by a very cranky nun who was also a great pianist!

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Former Lisbrack House

Another prominent religious site on the main street is the Convent of the Sisters of Mercy. About 1869 the nuns were invited here by the Earl of Granard who provided the site for the buildings to enable them to educate the children of the estate. An orphanage and industrial school were also established here.  Sadly this site had a role in the tragic legacy of such establishments in Ireland. The school and convent are now closed and I understand that these rather nice buildings are now apartments.

 

The village has many buildings from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The two storey tudor style house is one of a pair provided for estate workers and it was in these that County Longford’s first flushing toilets were installed.

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A Tudor style house built for estate workers – among the first in the county to have flushing toilets!

Many  of the houses would would have originally been thatched and unfortunately many are no longer occupied.

 

The former RIC Barracks built c. 1900 was burned during the War of Independence. It was later rebuilt for the use of the Garda Siochana (Irish Police) and is now a private residence.

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The former Newtownforbes RIC Station

This interesting item is the Famine Pump. It was provided by Lord Granard as a Famine Relief scheme. It sits alongside a building that started life as a shooting range in Longford army barracks.  It was purchased by a local who erected here c.1933 and is known locally as Christy’s Hall.

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Famine Water Pump and Christy’s Hall

The hard work of the local tidy towns volunteers is evident throughout the village.

 

 

And local junior artists have also been decorating the hoarding surrounding the former school buildings.

 

A board inside the church lists the townlands in the parish of Clonguish, which derives from the Irish ‘Cluain Geis’ which means The Meadow of the Swans.

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Newtownforbes is the last resting place of our grandparents and an uncle and aunt so visits nowadays are to pay respects at their graves in the new cemetery.

 

One of the great delights of my brief visit discovering a great little restaurant  called Tús Nua right on the main street, so if you happen to be passing through, drop in for a wee wander through this quaint little village and enjoy a fabulous coffee in this delightful coffee house!

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References

http://historicgraves.com/graveyard/newtown-forbes/ld-spnf

http://http://catalogue.nli.ie/Record/vtls000317412

http://www.buildingsofireland.ie

 

 

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The Irish Workhouse Centre

 

The Women’s building at The Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna

Yesterday I attended a conference at the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna,Co Galway. This was my first visit to this complex of buildings, which date from 1850.  Workhouses were introduced in 19th Century Ireland to provide food and shelter for the destitute. The very name ‘Workhouse’ has terrible connotations to this day because of the awful conditions in which the inmates lived.

Families were split up on arrival with separate wings for men, women, boys aged between 2 and 15 and girls aged between 2 and 15 .  Children under the age of 2 could stay with their mother. Parents were permitted ‘ to have an interview with their child at some time in each day’, other than that, there was total segregation. How cruel for little children who would not understand what was going on.

The rear the building that housed the boys. With piles of rocks in what was the yard .

At the height of the Great Famine that raged from 1845 to 1851 or 1852, the poor were clamoring for admittance. Buildings built to accommodate 600 people could have been packed to overflowing with 1,600 people. The daily food allowance was minimal and of poor nutritional value, and many inmates of these establishments died of disease such as dysentery, cholera and typhus.

Inmates had to work in exchange for food and shelter. Women took care of laundry, scrubbed floors, did the cooking and did sewing and mending while men did often meaningless heavy work such as breaking stones.  The laundry area has some very fine industrial archaeology.

By the end of the Great Famine Ireland had 163 Workhouses. Many of these eventually became local hospitals and still stand today as care centres for the elderly. Many have been demolished and have disappeared without trace.

This wonderful project in Portumna which houses the Irish Workhouse Centre is a credit to those who had the foresight to save these buildings from total dereliction. Steady  progress is being made with restoration and conservation work. The centre is in use  for educational purposes and  there are plans for a Workhouse Museum.  The guided tours of the buildings are a revelation, and are conducted with knowledgeable enthusiasm.

Only a handful of Workhouses remain in their original format. This unique complex of buildings in Portumna  stands testament to the history of the ordinary people of Ireland, the non landed gentry from whom most of us descend. Ordinary people who endured extraordinary hardship –  many of them died, many emigrated, many survived too.  This is a tangible monument to them all and deserves our support.

For more information see http://www.irishworkhousecentre.ie

 

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Discovering a Carrigart man on the centenary of his death

Just the other week, I came upon a grave in Trinity Churchyard in Carrigart, my hometown, on which was recorded a World War 1 death. Amazing to think that I grew up in a parish in north Donegal and never heard about a young local man who by the age of 23 had received two bravery awards and had given his life in the 1st World War

The Fisher Family Headstone

This family headstone in the Trinity churchyard in Carrigart records the deaths of three sons, two of whom predeceased their parents. One of these had two bravery awards and was killed in France in 1917.

So what is the story of James Fisher? Who was he?

James was born in Umlagh outside Carrigart on December 10, 1893, the eldest son and third child of James Fisher and his wife Helen McIlwane.

The 1901 census tells us that  parents James and Helen were living in Umlagh with their 7 children, Rachel aged 10, Margaret 9, James 7, Kezie 5, Alexander 4, John 2 and David 6 months and James’ brother John. The census record can be seen here.

By 1911, David, born on October 9, 1900, had died in 1905, Rachel and Margaret were no longer living at home, but the family had 5 new members. The household at that time consisted of father James, mother Helen and John senior as well as  young James, now 17, Kezie who was 16, Alexander who was 14, John who was 12, and new arrivals Annie aged 9, Margery 7, Catherine Susan aged 5, Aaron who was 3 and another David, then only 2 months old, born on January 21, 1911.  The 1911 census record for the family can be seen here.

James enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and then transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, specializing in, as the name suggests, machine gun duties.   In 1916  Lance Corporal James Fisher was awarded the Distinguished  Conduct Medal, (the DCM,) for gallantry and the news was carried in The Derry Journal in September of that year.

From The Derry Journal of September 6, 1916

The citation for this award was as follows:

‘18679 Actg. L/Cpl J Fisher Mach. Gun Corps (LG 22 Sept. 1916)

For conspicuous gallantry in action. When his seniors had become casualties he took command of the gun team and pushed forward. Later he took  his gun into a shell hole, caught the enemy in the open , and drove back their counter attack.’

The Distinguished Conduct Medal

DCM

 

James was a very brave young man as he was again recognized for gallantry winning another Distinguished Conduct Medal or  ‘Bar’.  The 207th Machine Gun Company was attached to the 3rd Australian Division between October 1916 and October 1917 and it was during this time that he won the second award. The citation for his second or ‘bar’ award of the DCM  is as follows:

A/Corpl James Fisher D.C.M. For conspicuous gallantry on the night of 17/18 May 1917, when in charge of a Machine Gun in very exposed position on ?? the enemy attempted a raid of ? Gap at the same time heavily bombarding ? . No 18679 Corporal J Fisher at once opened fire on his S.O.S target ‘D’ Gap(?) and continued to fire although shells were bursting all around his position, and in spite of the fact that he received blows on the head and in the small of the  back from shrapnel. Owing to the protection of his steel helmet and belt respectively, the only injuries received were bruises. His sub-section(?) officer tried to persuade him to be relieved at the gun, but he stuck to his post till the situation became normal, although in a dazed and deafened state. After the raid was over he wanted to stay with his gun, but was ordered by his officer to go to Section Headquarters for the night. Besides materially helping to repel the raid, the example set to the N.C.O.s and men of this Company will have a far reaching effect

This recommendation is recorded is the 9th Infantry Brigade, 3rd Australian Division on 22 May 1917.

However his luck ran out and Sergeant James Fisher, DCM bar Service No. 18679, was killed  on September 25, 1916, probably at the Third Battle of Ypres. At this time it appears that the Machine Gun unit was no longer attached to the Australian forces. James probably died around Polderhoek Chateau Ridge on the morning of September 25, 1917, when the British  were about to launch their own attack.

In a History and memoir of the 33rd Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps, the events of the fateful day are recorded;

By 12 midnight on the 24th-25th September …the 207th Machine Gun Company..was ordered to be in position by 1 a.m on the morning of the 25th, about 159 yards behind our front posts..  About 3.30 on the morning of the 25th, the enemy opened a bombardment of hitherto unparalleled intensity upon our front.

The 207th Company, which…was close behind our front line grouped in batteries, opened fire with sixteen guns at almost point blank range into the massed hordes of the enemy. The enemy was concentrated behind Polderhoek Chateau Ridge… Low flying enemy aeroplanes soon, however, detected  (them) and both by machine gunning and directing artillery upon the 207th Machine Gun Company, the enemy inflicted very severe casualties amongst the gunners’

The body of James Fisher was never found, possibly blown to bits. He is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial for the missing as his grave is not known.  He is one of 34,992 young men whose remains were never recovered and whose names are inscribed on this wall.

Tyne Cot Memorial

The Tyne Cot Memorial stands around the eastern boundary of the Tyne Cot Cemetery near Ieper in Belgium, (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission).

At the time of his death, James was owed £45/10/5 plus a war gratuity of £16/10/0 which sum was paid to his father on November 15 1919. Not much consolation for the terrible loss of a beloved son.

When researching this post, I made a table of  the men from our parish of Mevagh, either born there or who had lived there at one time, and was astonished to find so many who had died between 1914 and 1918. This data has been extracted from the County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. These records are confined to deaths in the years 1914 to 1918 only and do not include, for example, a Mevagh man who is buried in Clontallagh who died in 1919.

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The statistics are quite startling. In 1914, 2 men from  our parish died, 3 died in 1915, 1 in 1916. In 1917, 9 died – 4 of them in a 4 week period alone (and one on the same day as James Fisher) – and 7 died in 1918.

It would be interesting to cross reference the data in the book with the civil records  and census records now online and to include those who died from wounds after the 1918 cut off date. and to find their  military records.

Sergeant James Fisher D.C.M (Bar) of Umlagh is the most decorated of these Mevagh men and he lost his life 100 years ago. He deserves to be remembered as a son of our parish, as indeed, do all of these men who lost their lives in  that conflict.

THE PITY OF WAR!

Sources

County Donegal Book of Honour, The Great War 1914-1918. 

Australian War Memorial at https:/www.awm.gov.au/collection/R1590453

http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/1631955/fisher,-james/.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Action _of _25- September_1917

https:/archive.org//stream/historymemoirof300unse#page/32/mode/2up/searfch/207th

Ancestry.com UK Army Registers of Effects 1901-1929

With thanks to Damian Shiels, Military Historian, for his help in sourcing information for this post. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Postcards from Rosguill Peninsula Co. Donegal

Rosguill is a peninsula in north Donegal pointing out into the Atlantic Ocean, to the west of the well known Inishowen and Fanad Peninsulas. It is on the Wild Atlantic Way and has scenery to rival anywhere in Ireland. It is also in my home parish of Mevagh and any trip home is not complete without a jaunt along the Atlantic Drive.

Carrigart Co Donegal (Image Donegal Cottage Holidays)

Our village of Carrigart lies at the entrance to the peninsula and it was from here that I headed out last week and I hope you enjoy these few snaps from my phone.

 

Carrigart village is on the shores of the sheltered Mulroy Bay overlooked by Gainne a high hill across the shore. The Carrigart restaurant is under new management and offers a very interesting menu for travellers and a very comforting log fire!

Leaving the village of Carrigart we head towards the neighbouring village of Downings crossing the area known locally as the Lee. Years ago horse racing was held here and it was a great venue for young boys playing soccer. This stone bridge, Ballyhogan Bridge,  used to be an iron bridge and we children were subjected to awful warnings from adults about the particular part of a stream that flowed under it, known as ‘The Black Hole’.

The Atlantic Drive Road. This is a loop, but I like to drive it in the other direction via Downings.

Downings, on Sheephaven Bay, has a couple of hotels and a number of restaurants. as well as the famous McNutts weavers.  Once it was a very busy herring fishing port. Its maritime history is acknowledged near the pier with a memorial to locals who drowned in the area, including the three little McCorkell children who drowned in 1921 when herding geese and they were cut off by the tide. The inscription belies the fact that their little bodies were not all recovered immediately. Their father William recovered 5 year old Elizabeth at Aughadahor  on March 22nd;  7 year old Jane was found by Edward Shiels on Downings Beach on March 29th and Willie aged 3, was found washed up on Downings Beach by Cornelius Boyce on April 7th. What a terrible tragedy for the family who lived in Aughadahor, which is on the upper end of nearby Tramore Beach.

 

Also at Downings Pier is a gun from the  SS Laurentic, an armed merchant cruiser that sank after hitting two mines off Fanad Head on January 25, 1917 with the loss of 354 lives.  The gun was salvaged by the Downings Diving group. These memorials are my first stopping-off point as I like to remember that the sea in all its majesty, also claims lives.

Heading on, there is some spectacular scenery to the left out over Sheephaven Bay, looking towards the Ards Peninsula and Marble Hill strand with Muckish in the background. Sheephaven Bay lies between the Rosguill Peninsula and Horn Head.  Stopping places are limited but there are some viewing points along the way.  At Dooey, the little beach slopes dramatically and depending on the weather and tides it may be accessible, but is not safe for swimming.

Dooey

A few hundred metres further along there is a magnificent viewing point with views of Horn Head, back towards Dooey, and Tory Island, just about visible to the right of Horn Head, and the wild Atlantic Ocean.

 

In spite of the strong wind blowing on the day of my visit, the sea looked relatively calm. a large swell was expected the following day.

Here is one of my favourite views. This abandoned house was once the home of a salt working family. The 1st edition Ordinance Survey map (produced in the first half of the 19th century) shows the little cobbled beach as ‘Salt Pans’ where salt was extracted from the sea water

A short distance away is  probably one of the most spectacular views in Ireland.

The famous postcard pair of beaches at Tranarossan.

The next photo of Tranarossan was taken last year on a very misty day when the sea was very calm. Tranarossan has so many moods..it is different at every visit!

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Just above Tranarossan Bay it is possible to see some hard won little fields, in all probability fertilized with sea weed to turn the rough scrub into lush green fields.

 

I often think that I would not mind living in this sheltered little valley with this spectacular backdrop!

Driving up the hill, a breathtaking view opens out ahead. This is the entrance to Mulroy Bay, where the Atlantic rushes in between the Rosguill and Fanad Peninsulas.

Mulroy Bay is a very scenic stretch of water.  A bridge now connects the two peninsulas

The  ancient graveyard and church ruins of Mevagh, from which the parish takes its name,  are located here at the water’s edge. Here too is an  ancient early christian cross.

 

 

The Ancient Mevagh Cross

On a clearer very calm day some years ago I was able to take these pictures.

The ‘back isles’ on Mulroy Bay from near the boatyard

View from Carrigart village towards Island Roy

At the end of the Atlantic Drive, Tramore beach comes into view again.

Looking towards Tramore Beach across the famous Rosapenna Golf Links

 

The  Atlantic Drive, only a few miles long, is to my mind, one of the most spectacular routes anywhere in Ireland.

There are two professional landscape photographers in the area, if you would like to see  stunning images from this beautiful part of Donegal and across the county, click on the links below!

Scenes of Donegal

Rita Wilson Photography

 

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