Blog Awards Ireland 2015

imageI am thrilled to bits to have made it to the Long-list of the 2015 Blog Awards Ireland. I want to say a huge ‘thank you ‘to those who have considered my blog worth nominating in two categories –  Best Art & Culture Blog and Best Educational & Science Blog! I am already a winner ..thank you! It is an honour to be in such excellent company!
I would like to wish the bloggers I most admire and follow good luck in the next rounds,all of whom deserve recognition for the excellent work they do. Why not drop by and see what you might be missing by clicking on the links below!

Irish in the American Civil War

Limerick’s Life

Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland

Social Bridge

East Clare Emigrants

Concrete Stew

Good luck to EVERYONE involved!

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Filed under Ireland

Tait’s Clothing Factory: Flowers in the rubble.

In June last there was an ‘Open House’ event in Limerick City, showcasing the historically important Tait’s Clothing Factory, ahead of the redevelopment of the site, to provide much needed housing in this part of the city.

The site today

The site today

It was a great honour to stroll through this significant industrial heritage site of international importance. Opened in 1853, the clothing factory became the biggest clothing manufacturer in the world, supplying military uniforms to the British Army,the Canadian Volunteer Militia and to the Confederates in the American Civil War. Many hundreds of Limerick men and women were employed here, up to the time it closed in 1975.

Sir Peter Tait was born in Lerwick Scotland in the early 19th Century and arrived in Limerick to join his sister in 1838. He was an astute and successful business person who became Mayor of Limerick in  three successive years from 1866 to 1868. During his thirty years in the city Peter Tait provided employment to hundreds of people who serviced contracts for military uniforms.

On the day of my visit,at first sight, it appeared to be a desolate site, but on closer inspection I was pleased to see an abundance of wildflowers amid the rubble. I was struck by the similarities with the poppy fields of the world war battlefields, and could not help but think of these beautiful wildflowers as a testament to the men and women who sewed and stitched the uniforms that went to the Crimea and to the United States, many of which became shrouds for their unfortunate wearers.

These are a few of my snaps in memory of all of them. Tomorrow in Limerick, as part of Heritage Week, there will be a day long seminar on Tait’s Clothing Factory,past and future, entitled  ‘A Testament to Time’. These wildflowers are a testament to all those whose lives were affected by the work carried out here.

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Filed under American Civil War, Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish at War, Irish Diaspora, Social History Ireland

Real Ireland:There’s no place like home.

I am vexed. It is not fitting to be vexed at the height of an Irish summer,with our lovely long evenings and supposedly balmy weather.Nor is it fitting to be vexed when,in the evening of my life and on the cusp of changed circumstances, I deconstruct my home of 34 years and sort treasured possessions into ‘irreplaceable’,’would like to keep’ or ‘dispensable’, in joyful preparation for a whole new life,new adventures and new possibilities in a new home.OK – perhaps the disappointing summer weather has contributed to my crankiness,but the more I think about this, the more I realize that not only am I vexed and cranky, but I am also as MAD AS HELL,which may not be good for my blood pressure and general health.

imageLast week in green warm comfortable Ireland, it was revealed that a family of five – a mother and a father who has a job and is working, both in their 30s, together with their three children aged 5 years, 3  years and 2 years in and around the ages of my own three grandchildren were issued with sleeping bags by Focus Ireland, a charity for the homeless in Ireland. They had already spent a couple of nights in the park, having been evicted as their house was repossessed, before calling on the services for the homeless. I could not believe my ears when I heard this on radio – a charity for the homeless could do no more for this family than issue them with sleeping bags so that they could sleep on benches in a public park in the open air?? What,in the name of God has happened with this supposedly ‘christian’ country?  What has gone wrong here?

This is a family that has been failed by not only the state but by society.This is a family that has been failed by overwhelmed charitable services that fill the vacuüm created by the state. This is a family that has been failed by the Government,led by a Taoiseach (Prime Minister) who earns more than the heads of Government of the bigger and more prosperous United Kingdom or France.The Minister with responsibility for housing seems to be on his holidays. His early  claim to fame was that he beefed up a train service for his own constituency and 73 commuters  at a cost of €20,000 per day. See news reports  here. Not only that, but in February last, having acquired the Environment portfolio he ‘bitched’ about Peter McVerry, a lifelong advocate for the homeless, suggesting that he was exaggerating the plight of the homeless, and that he was ‘negative’. See here.

Minister Alan Kelly. Image from Newstalk fm

Minister Alan Kelly. Image from Newstalk fm

In November 2014, the Irish Taoiseach,(Prime Minister- who as stated above is paid more than the French or British leaders) went on a walkabout to see for himself the population of  Irish people sleeping rough in Dublin. This was in response to the most embarrassing death of a homeless man, who chose to die on the steps of the Irish Parliament. Homeless people have died on a fairly regular basis across Ireland for years, in doorways, in parks, in refuse bins, but Jonathan Corrie chose to die at the very nerve centre of power,right there under the noses of those who have broadcast that everything is changing,austerity is over, we are all doing well, the economy is in great shape in this great little state of ours. Our ‘leading man’ rushed into action and went out among the homeless in Dublin City. He described seeing “rats skittering across sodden blankets”and a moment when “on Grafton Street, a Gucci sign beams over the remnants of humanity”. (Irish Times December 11, 2014). Enda Kenny, the Taoiseach, proudly announced that there would be a change of Government focus ”from exclusively on the economy to include societal needs’, saying: “Our homeless crisis is a kind of autopsy of our national life, our priorities”. The reality is that 9 months later we have charities handing out sleeping bags to children as there is no shelter to be had in the entire city of Dublin. This situation is unfortunately reflected across Ireland with housing crises in all major towns and cities.

Homelessness is an unfortuante fact of life, even in the most prosperous societies. The typical homeless person in Ireland was single,someone whose life had disintegrated because of breakdown in relationships,mental health issues, substance abuse,whether drugs or alcohol,or all the above. These unfortunates had the services stretched,particularly in winter in this wet,cold climate. But all of this has changed in recent times. The stereotypical homeless of Ireland have been joined by people who have been overtaken by economic hardship, through loss of employment,reduction in wages,shorter working hours on the one hand,and more taxes,such as property tax,Universal Social Charge and water charges as well as a rising cost of living, in particular escalating rents. After six years of recession now we have entire families becoming homeless. The statistics are shocking. From July 20 to 26th 2015, there were 657 homeless families in Ireland with 1,383 children. There was a sharp increase from the January figure of 401 homeless families with 865 children. (Irish Times August 17 2015) Families are sleeping in cars, on park benches. In many cases they have been evicted as they cannot meet the cost of escalating rents, or have got into arrears  from which they cannot extricate themselves. Others simply cannot find anywhere to rent as they simply do not have enough money. Meanwhile, the Government has failed to give better access to affordable housing for people in need.

Also in Dublin, hundreds flock to the Capuchin Day Centre for free breakfast and lunch and there can be over 1,000 people queuing for food parcels on Wednesday mornings.

Ireland enjoys an international reputation as a green and pleasant land of thatched cottages, red-haired children, donkeys, sandy beaches, rolling Atlantic waves, exquisite scenery, great culture and language, music and dance. Some elements of our diaspora love to highlight the injustice of the historic British rule of our nation. Let’s hear it from them now,let’s hear it from them and indeed from those at home who are willing to shout loudly about the failure of this Republic, about the indignity and the shame of three little children being handed out sleeping bags to spend the night in the open air in Dublin almost a century after the 1916 rising that we will celebrate – at huge expense next year.

Focus Ireland (with who I had the pleasure of working in Limerick on an enabling programme) can be found here.

Peter McVerry Trust can be found here.

Capuchin Day Centre for Homeless People can be found here.

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Filed under Ireland, Living in Ireland, Social Justice, Social Policy, Working Poor

Postcards from Shanagolden,County Limerick.

Shanagolden! Such a beautiful place-name. I recall when I first heard it some four decades ago and I still think it is one of Ireland’s most beautiful place names. It is an anglicization of the Irish name Seanghualainn, with the much less romantic translation of ‘Old Shoulder’, I presume referring from the hills behind the village which act as a broad shelter.
The sun came out today, so I took a 10 minute trip down the road to have a stroll there, as it is just off  the Newcastle West to Foynes road. The most striking thing  about Shanagolden is the very wide street, with former shops set well back.

 

The village is set in beautiful pastureland

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Hay being saved outside the village

The Roman Catholic Church of St Sennans is on high ground on the edge of the village.

 

Around the church

The Church interior has lovely plain leaded windows and a beautiful old floor.

The most surprising thing about the church is the cross –  normally catholic churches are dominated by a crucified Christ or an empty traditional shaped Cross. This church however has a most beautiful Celtic Cross as its focal point, high above the altar. If anyone knows more about it,I would love to know who the artist is.

 

On the way back to the main street of the village there are several interesting features.

Shanagolden is very proud of Tim Madigan who lost his life as a result of having been shot by the Black and Tans “As Timothy Madigan continued to run, we called on him to halt once again and as he paid no attention one more shot was fired at a distance of about 400 yards which caused him to fall”

The local Gaelic Ground is named after him.

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From the car park at the Gaelic grounds there is a wonderful view of the old church tower which is I believe early 19th century, when it was part of the Church of Ireland, although I am not certain about this. image image image image

Shanagolden Creamery was once the nerve centre of this community. Every day local farmers would bring fresh milk from their cows to the Cooperative Society in the village where it would be turned into butter – not just any butter, but award-winning butter than was sought after even in  London’s most prestigious stores. In later years milk collected here was transported to the famous Cleeves Toffee factory in Limerick city.

The old creamery with its brick chimney stack stands testament to more prosperous times in Shanagolden.

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Across the road is a very nice old stone building which was once a forge, in the wall of which is an inscribed stone commemorating James Clarence Mangan (1803 – 1849). He was a poet, who penned ‘My Dark Rosaleen’, (Rosaleen being a poetic symbol of an oppressed Ireland ) familiar to thousands of Irish schoolchildren. His  family apparently came from Shanagolden.

Nearby in total contrast is a very beautiful drinking  fountain erected and installed to the memory of the eldest son of the local landlord, Lord Monteagle,who lived at Mount Trenchard in Foynes.

 

Press report of the funeral can be seen here 

Shanagolden is a gem set in the Limerick countryside, well worth a visit if you are passing by!

 

 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Living in Ireland

Postcards from Dingle on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way

Steep cliffs, crashing, foaming waves, sandy beaches, misty islands, craggy rocks –  the jewel in the crown of Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is without question the dramatic and breathtaking Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula,in County Kerry,in the south-west of Ireland. The Wild Atlantic Way, where the power and might of the Atlantic Ocean dashes against the west coast of Ireland, stretches some 2,500 kilometres along the Atlantic coast,from my own beloved Donegal in the north-west to the beautiful Kinsale Harbour on the south coast.

Places elevate  the heart, but Dingle makes an imprint on the soul

Places elevate the heart, but Dingle makes an imprint on the soul

These snaps were taken last week on a very joyful trip back to this extraordinarily special place.Gulls are a big feature of the peninsula!

The road snakes perilously along the cliff, even crossing a stream at one point,

Even on the calmest of days, the power of the sea is evident.

The Blasket Islands, uninhabited since the 1950s, lie off the tip of the peninsula

Huge Atlantic rollers wash onto the sandy beach of Coumeenoole Strand,that featured in David Lean’s 1970s film, Ryan’s Daughter.

No trees withstand the harsh Atlantic winds, but there is an abundance of flowers in miniature clinging to the cliffs and in the fields.

 

While the magical scenery of the Slea Head Drive is an unforgettable part of the Dingle Peninsula, there is so much more to see and do in this area, which is centred on the lovely fishing port of Dingle town. Renowned for its Irish musical culture and traditions and good food Dingle is one of the most loved parts of Ireland, a very special place,well worth a visit at any time of year!

 

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Filed under Ireland, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditional Music, My Travels

Home thoughts at Midsummer 2015

Many decades have passed since I was last able to call Donegal ‘home’ in the physical sense, of having a house and an address and family and siblings there. Since those distant days in the 1950s and 1960s I have lived in various places, all of them a long way from Donegal. Yet when people ask,’Where are you from’? I reply without hesitation ‘Donegal’ even though I spent less than one-third my life there.
But this is where I grew up, where I walked to National School, where I progressed through the then important life’s rights of passage, such as communion and confirmation. This is where I learned to read, learned to play, learned to ride a bike, went to collect the milk in a can from Wee Rodgers in Tirlaugan or from McKemeys out the road. This is where I was terrified of Mary Tammy’s geese who chased me, and where Charlie Ward’s donkey once bolted down Figart with myself and my older  brother on board.

Carrigart in the 1960s. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Carrigart in the 1960s. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

This is where my younger brother’s dog was killed one Sunday morning by a car speeding to get to Mass on time. This too is where I collected water from the well out at the back of Figart or from the ‘spoot’ (spout) in later years. This is where Patrick McElwee dropped dead one summer evening when bringing his cow down from Figart to be milked. This is where I went to see him slumped against the rectory wall.

This is where my friend Norah and I, each armed with ninepence on a Friday night,went to the visiting cinema or what we then called ‘the pictures’. This is where we sat patiently on hard benches waiting for Keeney to load up the reels – and sometimes a reel ran out and the next one had to be rewound before the show could continue. This is where I first saw Laurel and Hardy,The Three Stooges, lots of Westerns and and my first 3D film.

This is where I learned to polish brass, loving  Mrs Duffy’s beautiful brass kettle; learned to knit at Mary Mandy’s fireside as she made very exotic and delicious vegetable marrow jam; this is where I learned to churn butter out at Shelia McBride’s in a big old wooden churn. This is where my baby brother died on a warm June afternoon. This is where I bought my first pop record, had my hair back-combed by Meta and went to dances in the North Star Ballroom, with a gold waspie belt and my dress resting  on stiff petticoats. This is where I first fell in love and bought my very first pop record.  This above all is where I learned to love nature, the sky and the stars, the pounding Atlantic Ocean, fabulous scenery.

It is Midsummer and invariably thoughts turn to Donegal and those long, long summer evenings when we stayed up late. Days of 17 and a quarter hours were for living and playing. The sun will stand still at the summer solstice this year at 16. 38 pm. UTC on Sunday June 21st. But this year we have an extra treat to mark Midsummer, in the form of an unusual Planet Dance. Tonight, June  20th just after sunset the dazzling Venus will form a triangle with Jupiter and the crescent Moon in the western sky, I like to think, to help us celebrate Midsummer!

In Donegal sixty years ago, our midsummer celebration was held on the 23rd of June, St John’s Eve. This is a post from my archive in 2011, about what happened in our village then, in those long, happy hazy crazy days of summer!

June 23rd: Midsummer Irish Style

This post is one of a series looking at ancient traditions in Ireland.

Midsummer, or St. John’s Eve (Oiche Fheile Eoin) was traditionally celebrated in Ireland by the lighting of bonfires. (The word ‘bonfire’, according to my Etymology dictionary is a word from the 1550s meaning a fire in the open air in which bones were burned). This custom is rooted in ancient history when the Celts lit fires in honour of the Celtic goddess Queen of Munster Áine. Festivals in her honour took place in the village of Knockainey, County Limerick (Cnoc Aine = Hill of Aine ). Áine was the Celtic equivalent of Aphrodite and Venus and as is often the case, the festival was ‘christianised’ and continued to be celebrated down the ages. It was the custom for the cinders from the fires to be thrown on fields as an ‘offering’ to protect the crops.

Midsummer bonfires are also a tradition across Europe. In Latvia, for example, the celebration is called Jāņi (Jānis is Latvian for John); in Norway they celebrate ‘Sankthansaften’.

Growing up in the northern part of Donegal in the 1950s, Bonfire night was surely the highlight of our year! To us, it was Bone- fire night. For days we piled our fire high down on the shore, with every bit of flotsam, jetsam, old timber and rubbish we could find. We did actually use a lot of bones on our fire as on the verge of the shore was a slaughter-house (an abattoir in more genteel circles) so naturally there were many cattle bones lying about… from horned cows heads to bits of legs and hip bones etc. They made welcome fuel for our great pyre!

Midsummer in Donegal was wonderful with the sun not setting until very late at about 10.15 pm.  We were allowed to stay up late, waiting for the sun to set so that we could enjoy the lit fire. An adult would light it at the proper time, as dusk was setting in, and we were thrilled by the intense heat and the crackling sound of the splitting timber as the flames leapt joyfully high into the still balmy air.

In Thomas Flanagan’s book, ‘The Year of The French‘, set in 1798, mention is made of the midsummer bonfire:

”Soon it would be Saint John’s Eve. Wood for the bonfire had already been piled high upon Steeple Hill, and when the night came there would be bonfires on every hill from there to Downpatrick Head. There would be dancing and games in the open air, and young men would try their bravery leaping through the flames. There would even be young girls leaping through, for it was helpful in the search of a husband to leap through a Saint John’s Eve fire, the fires of midsummer. The sun was at its highest then, and the fires spoke to it, calling it down upon the crops. It was the turning point of the year, and the air was vibrant with spirits.’

In Ireland, Bonfire night is still celebrated to an extent in Cork and in counties west of the Shannon as well as in northern counties. Cork city council has stepped in, in recent years to provide a safe environment for children and families and this year is organizing 15 events across the city. Ráth Carn in the Meath Irish-speaking district (Gaeltacht) also celebrates Bonfire night with a huge fire, feasting, music and dancing.

The old traditional Midsummer bonfires  seem however, to be a thing of the past now in Ireland. If you have any recollections at all of having attended one, or you know of someone who has attended one, please do let me know – I would love to hear from you!

References

Flanagan, Thomas 1979. The Year of the French

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland Seasons, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish Traditions, Life in the 1960s, Living in Ireland, Oral History, Social History Ireland

The Roman Catholic Cathedral in Perth, Western Australia

DSCF6392I discovered this beautiful building on a recent trip to Perth, Western Australia, when on a mission to find out about an  Irish bishop who had fallen foul of the powers that be in Rome in the mid 19th Century. Somehow I seem to have missed St Mary’s Cathedral in Perth,officially the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, on earlier visits. This is the cathedral church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Perth, which is ever so slightly off the beaten track in that relatively small city. It certainly ranks among the most fascinating buildings I have visited as it has a fascinating story.

The history of this magnificent building spans three centuries. Officially opened in 1865, it has been a work in progress almost ever since, as it was only finally completed and officially reopened in December 2009. I engage with architecture at a very superficial level – if I like it, I will look at it – but I do know that this is a special place,unique because of the distinctive way architecture from various eras has been beautifully fused together to make a remarkable whole. Not unsurprisingly, at least to this layperson, this building has won an architectural award for the brilliance of its design. These are a few of my snaps which I hope might give a feel for this beautiful structure.

The original cathedral was begun in 1863. Bishop Serra went to Rome and secured donations in the form of money and marble for the altar, which arrived in Western Australia in 1862. The foundation stone was laid in 1863 by Bishop Salvado. Masons from the Benedictine monastery in Subiaco walked each day to the construction site, but progress was determined by the flow of funds, or lack of them from a small catholic congregation of about  5,000.  Eventually the cathedral was blessed and officially opened in January 1865.

The foundation stone of the original structure

The foundation stone of the original structure

 

The original building  was relatively simple with a square bell tower.

The Cathedral in 1865 on the left, with Mercedes College on the right

The Cathedral in 1865 on the left, with Mercedes College (Catholic Girls School) on the right

Between then and 1910 alterations were carried out, including the addition of a spire to the bell tower and the addition of two porches. As the catholic population continued to grow Archbishop Clune, the first Archbishop of Perth, (an Irishman – more in next post), set about fundraising for the enlargement of the cathedral. The foundation stone for the new addition was laid in 1926.

Archbishop Clune lays Foundation Stone in 1926

Archbishop Clune lays Foundation Stone in 1926

Stained glass windows were manufactured in Birmingham, England and beautiful mosaic floors based on the Book of Kells were modelled by an Australian company. However,it became impossible to raise funds to complete the envisaged building and work was halted due to the Great Depression. The Gothic style sanctuary and transepts were grafted on to the existing 1865 nave. The incomplete cathedral was blessed in May 193o with thousands in attendance.

Huge crowds attended the opening in 1930

Huge crowds attended the opening in 1930

The original plain building  and its nave to the front with the bell tower and two porches, has been attached to a new more elaborate extension – much more reminiscent of a cathedral. The outbreak of World war 2 after the great depression meant that plans to complete the cathedral were put on hold indefinitely due to lack of funds.

The structure was a protected heritage building and the need for repairs became clear in the 1990s. The bell tower was crumbling and there was extensive rising damp. Fundraising began and following a bequest of 2 million dollars plans to complete the cathedral could finally be brought to fruition.  Still short of funds, the state stepped in with a contribution of 2 million dollars, and a further 3 million from the federal government. Finally the cathedral was closed in 2006 and building began.

The story of the construction is great reading in itself as the bell tower had to be moved a considerable distance and of course there was always the danger that the entire structure could collapse with the ground excavations going on.  In effect the 1865 nave was taken out and a huge hole dug in the ground for parish facilities below with the new cathedral part above. During construction remains of earlier bishops were uncovered so it was decided to incorporate a crypt  beneath the new altar. Costs soared to over 32 million dollars by the time the building was completed in 2009. (Those interested in the technical construction details may read more here)

The result is remarkable with the modern part sitting in the middle of the earlier structures. Perched on a hill, it is indeed an imposing and beautiful building.

 

A most spectacular building on the outside, but inside it is a wonderful  space.

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The modern central aisle leading to the circular altar, with the 1930 stained glass window beyond

It looks like a traditional church from the entrance, but with wonderful light that spills in from the high windows that open to help deal with the heat of the Perth summer. The modern Stations of the Cross are remarkable in that they are two strips of three-dimensional images, and each face has been modelled on a real person.

The mosaics are behind the main altar in the 1930s section. Clearly based on the Book of Kells, the floor was split from one side to another during an earthquake on 14 October 1968.

The stained glass windows and  side altars from the 1930s building also survive.

The is an amazing trinity of buildings, each having its own characteristics, yet all blend beautifully to form this wonderful space. A fabulous feat of architecture and well worth a visit!

 

 

Further reading

Technical details of the construction

A wide angle professional photo of the interior

 

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Filed under Emigration from Ireland, Ireland and the World, Irish Convicts, Irish diaspora in Australia