Monthly Archives: August 2013

Seamus Heaney ~ Weaving Words within my Heart

Today a Nation mourns the loss of our Nobel  prize-winning poet, Seamus Heaney. A generous, unpretentious, uplifting man whose legacy will live on. I am very fond of this post from Social Bridge in which he features so beautifully, a beautiful tribute to a celebrated Irishman. Mourned not only in Ireland, but in the world.

SOCIAL BRIDGE ~ Jean Tubridy connecting with you from Ireland

Seamus Heaney and his poetry have been weaving in and out of my life for  over 25 years now. I remember celebrating wildly with my mother in 1995 when news came through that he had won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

It seemed so right that he was star poet reading at the Kilkenny Arts Festival in 2009,  just a few short weeks after Mother had died.  Kilkenny was the place where my parents first met in the early 1940s and I felt their happy youthful presence all round me as I made my way to St. Canice’s Cathedral for the performance.

Nothing could ever have prepared me for the impact which Seamus Heaney and his poetry had on me that balmy August evening.  It was as if he knew that Mother had just died and was trying to comfort me by telling me that I was not alone in my…

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Martin Luther King in a Donegal living room

Where were YOU when you first heard ‘I have a dream’?

A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND

In August 1963, when I was 15 years of age, I was running to do something in the kitchen. (We tended to run in those days instead of walking!) Passing by the open living room door where my father was watching the news on television, I was stopped dead in my tracks by the rousing words ‘I.. HAVE… A DREAM ‘.I was aware that there were ongoing civil rights issues in the USA at that time, and the name Martin Luther King was familiar. I had not however ever heard him speak before and I was riveted to the spot.

This was Martin Luther King, the voice of Black America, delivering a speech in which the spoken word became a servant of his cause. It was beamed across the world and affected the lives on many of the millions who watched, including myself, a teenager in County Donegal, Ireland.

It has been…

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Postcards from Moneygall, Ancestral Home of Barack Obama

Barack Obama, President of the United States of America and his wife Michelle,  visited the village of Moneygall, Co. Offaly on a wild, windy day, 23 May 2011, retracing the steps of a relative from 6 generations before him, Fulmouth Kearney, a maternal g.g.g.grandfather, who left this tiny village in 1850 and  headed to U.S.A. Fulmouth Kearney’s father was a shoemaker in the area.  The small house is on the site where his relatives once lived. The President and Mrs  Obama sipped Guinness in Ollie Hayes Pub. I just love the image on the wall by the door of the pub (it’s not really George Bush standing there !)

Moneygall is a pretty little village carefully looked after by the residents – every house had window boxes and flowers in full bloom when I passed through  on Sunday on  my last stop for ‘Heritage Week. A few short years ago, thousands of vehicles passed through this  little village every day as it is situated on the busy main Limerick to Dublin road.  The village is now bypassed,allowing the villagers to reclaim their special place. Here you can stop and relax and enjoy a cup of coffee and catch up on the link with Barack Obama.  Papillion, the winner of the Aintree Grand National in 2000, was bred in this area, and was the most famous Moneygall personality before Barack Obama!

When Obama addressed the crowds in Dublin earlier in the visit,he used the Irish translation from his famous ‘Yes, we can! , which translates to ‘Is feidir linn’.  This can be seen on the  flower tubs in the village.   Well done, Moneygall!  Is feidir linn!

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Filed under Ancestry, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Irish American, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish_American

You are my Sunshine

I have been given a Sunshine Flower by Jean Tubridy, for which I am most grateful and surprised!  I do not normally take part in these blog ‘awards’, as they are so time consuming but have made an exception here to mark a beautiful sun-filled summer of 2013  and to acknowledge the wonderful bloggers that I follow and who follow my scribbles here on the internet. I am doing so as a once-off celebration of  you all!

There are rules :

Link back to your nominator. 

http://socialbridge.wordpress.com/

I have  followed Jean Tubridy’s blog almost from the get-go. Such a wonderful writer with a beautiful command of English who is able to get to the heart of the matter in a  half sentence. Inspirational, funny, delightful.

Display the Sunshine Award image as you see below:

image of yellow sunflower representing sunshine blogger award

Rule 3: List Ten Random Things about Yourself

These things enlighten my life

1. I love the sun and  first thing every morning I look to see if the golden rays are dancing on the tree outside my bedroom window.

2. I love light – my house faces south with huge windows to the south and to the west to enjoy the setting sun

3. I love flowers – wild and in the garden – and spend hours peering at them.

4. I love scenery and am blessed to live in Ireland that has such wonderful scenery.

5. I love books and good writing and read in the hope that some of the writing eloquence might be transmitted to me! 

6. I love music, especially the big emotional kind, such as Renee Fleming singing Song to the Moon.

7. I love the Moon and the Stars and am blessed with my own piece  of sky here in the country and have a telescope to enjoy them all the more!

8.I love meeting with friends for coffee or to go to theatre or just for a chat as they lighten my days!

9. I love solitary walks in the company of birds and insects and hearing the sounds of nature.

10. I love the internet and blogging-  it has enlightened me more than anything else in my life and opened up a whole new world to me in the ‘golden’ years of life.

So who will receive my Sunflower?

If YOU are reading this, then please accept one from me ! I read so, so many wonderful posts each week,I cannot  single out a few as each is a gem, a jewel, a ray of sunshine in my life. Each is thoughtfully written and ‘put out there’ to inform, to inspire, to provoke, to gladden, to dismay, to enlighten, to bring Sunshine to our lives!  Thank you all!

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August 27, 2013 · 10:22 pm

Heritage Week: The magic and mystery of Lough Gur

Mythology, ancient settlements, magic, folklore – Lough Gur has them all!

Almost in my backyard – about 40 minutes drive – Lough Gur is one of the most important archaeological places  in Ireland, yet I had not been there in decades. On the list of special events for Heritage Week was a complimentary guided  tour of the sites surrounding the lake, so what better to do on a fine Monday morning than to go and find out about this historic place?

DSCF1644Our first stop was at the Grange Stone Circle, – a perfect circle made of 113 standing stones and aligned to the rising sun on the summer solstice. Unfortunately it was not possible to get a single shot of the entire  circle which has a diameter of some 150 feet. The  circular shape is explained by the archaeological discovery of a post hole in the centre, from which the perfect circle was drawn.DSCF1653It is one of the most impressive stone circles in Ireland. In an  adjacent field there are remains of another stone circle, but the main one is quite stunning and intriguing. Rose, our volunteer guide, tells us that locals will not enter this area after dark, although she did not say why they are fearful. Archaeologists have found some human bone fragments, and thousands of pottery shards. This has enabled them to date the structure to about 1800 B.C.  The purpose of the  circle is not known but it is probably ritualistic.

DSCF1647One particularly large stone, weighing 40 tons stands 13 feet high. It is called the Rannach Croim Duibh, named for the Celtic God, Crom Dubh, the Black Crooked One. It is said to give energy to those who rest their foreheads and the palms of their hands on it.

DSCF1657 (2)Our next stop was at the ‘New Church’ which in spite of its name  is in ruins. It is said that Tomas OConnellan a minstrel bard, who died about 1698 is buried here in the adjoining graveyard.

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The church is on the shore of the lake.

Scenically located by the shore of the Lough, at one time the church was used by the Earl of Desmond.  The bored teenager (unrelated to the writer)  dates from the late 20th or early 21st century and sits on a wall which was built some 4 centuries before her arrival.  There are a couple of tombs inside the walls of the church as well as some graves in the churchyard.

DSCF1679Our next stop was the Giant’s Grave which is in fact the remains of a wedge tomb that lies on the slope of a hill, just a short walk from the New Church.  This tomb is  about 4,000 years old and when excavated was found to contain the  remains of  at least 8 adults and 4 children with further human remains discovered outside.  The story is told of how an old woman lived in this tomb for several years at the time of the Famine.  When she died the farmer who owned the land reputedly demolished the tomb to prevent anyone else using it as a shelter.

We processed (in our cars) in a funerial fashion, around the narrow twisting roads to Carraig Aille (Rocks on a cliff?) A stiff  uphill walk with uneven ground (from where a lady had to be airlifted last year, having broken her ankle on the ascent) lead to the remains of  two stone forts.(It was at this point that I regretted not testing the energy giving properties of the large stone at the Stone Circle). These circular enclosures would have been domestic in nature. Archaeological excavations revealed bronze and iron pins, metal implements, combs, jewellery and beads of amber and glass and date the site at about one thousand years ago.

DSCF1685 (2)There is a spectacular view of  the Lough from up here, with a marshy reed filled area far below. This indicates the original level of the lake, for as part of the Poor Law Relief  Schemes, the Lough was drained in Famine times by means of channels, resulting in the level being lowered by 8 feet. It is said that there were dozens of artefacts discovered at this time, but that they were carted away and dumped! Strange stories of hidden treasure protected by the remains of a sacrificed servant, yet to be discovered, abound in this place!

DSCF1697 (2)And so we arrive back at Lough level and get our first view of  remains of lake-dwellings  that date back to about 500 A.D.  These dwellings, known as Crannógs, were created by laying a circle of boulders in the water, filling in the enclosure with earth , and then a hut type structure was raised on top. In the image above, the Crannóg  was located on the site of the vegetation behind and to the right of the swans and dates from about 500A.D.

DSCF1716The design of the interpretive centre is based on what these lake-dwellings would have  looked like – stone dwellings with straw roof and  timber supports.

There are numerous other sites around Lough Gur that span thousands of years of civilization. Another climb, again without the much needed assistance of energy from Crom Dubh, leads us to Hangman’s Rock from where  there is a great view of the loch.

DSCF1703The Interpretive Centre is so worth a visit, for a small admission fee. There are replicas of some of the major artefacts associated with this area, audio presentations of some of  the folklore and mythology associated with the Lough, costumes for children to dress up in, an area  where they can become  archaeologists and discover treasures!

Lough Gur is a beautifully scenic place with delightful walks along the Lough. The feeling of tranquillity and serenity is palpable, all the more amazing when you realize that this is only 15 minutes away from Limerick City – well worth a visit, and an ideal destination for our visitors from overseas. 5,000 years of  habitation just waiting to be explored!

This is a replica of the stunning bronze Lough Gur Shield  – the original is in the National Museum of Ireland.

DSCF1712References

Illustrated Guide to Lough Gur  Pamphlet by M.J. & C. O’Kelly

Lough Gur Heritage Centre Booklet

My thanks to Kate at the Heritage Centre for her warm welcome and for sharing her knowledge.  A warm welcome is guaranteed to this jewel in our heritage crown!

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Soft Day, thank God

In Ireland we have an expression,  ‘Soft day, thank God’. It’s more of a greeting than anything else, and is totally baffling to anyone who is not from these parts.  Living as I do in Munster, in the southern part of Ireland, this  is a common expression with which I have become  familiar. However my origins are in the  north of the country, where the expression is not common.

‘Soft day, thank God’  will be heard only on wet days as it is an acknowledgement of persistent gentle rain, such as we had today. I recall my father hearing this expression for the first time when he first visited this part of Ireland.  I could only describe his response as bewildered indignity. When the expression was explained to him he responded  ‘What are you talking about? It’s a miserable wet day!’ Which of course it is!

There is however a beautiful by-product in the form of gentle raindrops resting on plants, and I attempted to capture some of these jewels in my garden this evening.  Photos are here.

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Heritage week: Behind the scenes in Newcastle West

The magnificent restored structure of the Desmond Banqueting Hall  dominates The Square in my local town, Newcastle West, Co Limerick. I went behind the façade this week and discovered some hidden treasure! There seems to have been a castle in this location since the 11th or 12th century. The restored buildings are 15th century and are the only surviving components of what was  an extensive castle complex.

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The familiar view from The Square

DSCF1733The astonishing area that is out of sight

DSCF1732The Halla Mór (The Big Hall).When we first came to this area over 30 years ago, there was a timber merchants yard in front of this beautiful building. At one time, according to the very knowledgeable guide, the local cinema was located in this building.  It is never too late to rediscover our heritage!

DSCF1737 - CopyThe restored  banqueting Hall is now on two levels and is used for local functions. This is the rear view.

DSCF1741The top floor is used for recitals, lectures and for cultural events .

If passing near Newcastle West, do drop in – admission is free and the guide is a mine of information!

 

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Heritage Week: W.B Yeats, Poet, in Drumcliffe

William Butler Yeats  (1865-1939) was one of Ireland’s best known and best-loved poets. One of the great advantages to living here in the mid-west of Ireland is that on  the 255 mile, 6 hour-long  trips back home to Donegal, the county of my childhood, I have to pass through Drumcliffe, in County Sligo. Drumcliffe is the burial  place of W.B .Yeats, and a mandatory coffee stop here down the years has now become a family tradition and marks our ‘arrival’ in the north-west.

Drumcliffechurch

Yeats was born in Dublin in 1865 but spent much of his childhood in Sligo. He loved the old celtic stories of Ireland and even though born into a Protestant family of Anglo Irish origin he became something of nationalist,advocating the use of the Irish language. In 1899 he co-founded the Abbey Theatre in Dublin. His love for Maud Gonne, an English-born Irish revolutionary, is legendary, having proposed to her and been refused 5 times in all.  In 1917, he married an English girl, half his age. Her name was Georgie Hyde-Lees, whom he called George.  They had a good marriage in spite of  the age difference. In 1922 he became a Senator serving two terms and in 1923 he became the first Irish winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature.  He died in 1939  in Roquebrune-Cap-MartinFrance . In 1948, his remains were brought home to Ireland by the Irish Naval Service and re-interred in Drumcliffe.

Yeats was a prolific writer, and has left us short stories,essays, collections of folk tales and myths as well as poetry. In the carpark  at Drumcliffe there is a wonderful interpretation of the Yeats poem, and one of my favourites, ‘He wishes for the Cloths of  Heaven’

ClothsofHeaven2

ClothsofHeaven1Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

Yeats grave is very simple and is located near the door of the church, where his grandfather was once rector

Yeatsgrave Yeats had clearly expressed his wish to be buried here and dictated  the inscription on his headstone in the last stanza of his poem ‘Under Bare Ben Bulben’s Head’:

Under bare Ben Bulben’s head
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.
An ancestor was rector there
Long years ago, a church stands near,
By the road an ancient cross.
No marble, no conventional phrase;
On limestone quarried near the spot
By his command these words are cut:

Cast a cold eye
On life, on death.
Horseman, pass by!

Ben Bulben is a magnificent mountain that dominates the landscape in this area for miles around. The beautiful St Columba’s Church in Drumcliffe lies beneath it, as can be seen in this photo taken from  his grave with Ben Bulbin in the background.BenBulbin

Among my personal favourites are those poems inspired by the great beauty of the countryside such as The Wild Swans at Coole ( which is in Co. Galway)

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?

Yeats love of swans is reflected in the beautiful door of the church

Drumcliffechurchdoor

Swans on the doors of the church –  I pulled them closed for a moment just to get a picture!  I know that somewhere I have more details on these doors, but cannot find it at the moment.

drumcliffedoordetailThe Wild Swans at Coole?

Drumcliffe is a lovely place – great coffee shop, a wonderful high cross and remains of an ancient round tower. If you drop by here, I can guarantee that it will instil at the very least a curiosity about our most wonderful poet.

WB_Yeats_nd

W.B Yeats.Poet, Essayist, Politician, Irishman . Image Wikimedia Commons.

W.B. Yeats  – a magnificent part of our Heritage!

References :

Wikipedia.org

http://www.online-literature.com/yeats/

Running to Paradise Poems by W.B Yeats   An Introductory selection  by Kevin Crossley-Holland

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Heritage Week: Dear Father and Mother

There are so many aspects of Heritage to celebrate in Ireland during this Heritage Week August 17th to 25th. So, where to begin? We are surrounded by heritage in the form of ancient  buildings, historic sites, splendid gardens, magnificent scenery, an extraordinary literary and musical tradition, fascinating museums and monuments that commemorate major events in our history. All of these can be experienced, commemorated, celebrated  here in hundreds of locations throughout the country.

There is another part of our legacy, less obvious, less visible,  and most certainly less well-known than it deserves to be, and which may well be overlooked during this week of celebration of  the richness and diversity of our culture and inheritance. It is because the greatest memory and the main monuments are not in our country at all,but  thousands of miles offshore, and far removed from our consciousness. Emigration has been a fact of  Irish life  in one form or another  through the ages. Of the millions who have left these shores – many in tragic circumstances, many not – most have gone on to live relatively ordinary lives in their new countries. There is a substantial number however, who went on to lead extraordinary lives  by being significant participants in both sides of the conflict that shaped the ‘greatest nation on earth’ – America. During the American Civil War  170,000 of our  Irish-born  emigrants played a major role in this conflict – they suffered and they died in their tens of thousands. Their sacrifice goes largely unrecognised  in the country of their birth, and they certainly do not spring to mind in Heritage Week.

Clogheen, Co Tipperary. It was from countryside near here that William left home  for a new life in America. Image Wikimedia Commons

Clogheen, Co Tipperary. It was from countryside near here that William left home for a new life in America. Image Wikimedia Commons

This week when thinking about Heritage Week and how to mark it, I read an amazing story of an ordinary young  boy who left family and Ireland for America at 16 years of age.  Ed O’Riordan, a Tipperary Historian and Damian Shiels, author of Irish in the American Civil War have collaborated to bring the story of  a young emigrant William Hickey, to a wider audience, through a series of very moving letters that William wrote to his parents in Tipperary.  Imagine the feelings of the parents on seeing an envelope from America! William Hickey’s short life  in a foreign land  is very much a part of our legacy and this is an appropriate week  to acknowledge his life and the sacrifice of so many men, women and children who were born here and who changed the shape of the world often at a shocking  cost to themselves and their families. They surely are our ‘hidden heritage’.

A number of enthusiasts have set up a group to further the cause of  having a permanent memorial to these Irish emigrant. They hope too to develop  a tourist trail in Ireland of interest especially to overseas visitors, most especially those from USA who know more about these Irishmen that we do at home. To quote from their site, as President John F Kennedy said   ‘A nation reveals itself not only by the men it produces but also by the men it honours, the men it remembers’. In this Heritage Week, we remember them.

The full text of the very moving story of  William Hickey, who at age 16 emigrated to America from his Tipperary home, can be seen here. The post includes a number of  letters from William to his parents. A few short years after he emigrated he lay dead in a field at Shiloh in Tennessee.

More information on the Irish American Civil War Trail can be seen here.

With thanks to The Irish in the American Civil War blog which can be accessed here.

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Filed under American Civil War, Emigration from Ireland, Family History, Genealogy, Ireland, Irish American, Irish Culture, Irish Diaspora, Irish Heritage, Irish History

Balls of Flour – the joy of new potatoes

It has been a long, long wait!  The awful cold and wet spring weather has held everything up. Finally, after a few false starts,  I have enjoyed the first ‘balls of flour’ of 2013.The term ‘balls of flour ‘will mean nothing to anyone who has not been born and bred in Ireland.  It refers of course to the eagerly awaited early crop of new potatoes . Potatoes! To many people outside of Ireland  the very word conjures up images of Famine. The reality is that when the new potatoes arrive each year , it is in fact a fabulous feast!

My own earliest encounter with the expression was way, way back in the mists of time.  My father rented a small field each year for the sole purpose of growing potatoes. In early days it was a number of drills in a big field in Drumnamona,outside Carrigart, but the plot I remember best was in Tirlaughan, beside an abandoned stone house, up on a hill. The plot was small and my memory is of it being  warm and sunny. Early  in the year seed potatoes were put into boxes to develop eyes. On Good Friday each year, sprouted seed potatoes were inspected, and if they had ‘eyes’ they were good to plant. Big ones were cut in half.

Sprouted Seed Potato. Image WikiMedia Commons

Sprouted Seed Potato. Image Wikimedia Commons

They were planted in drills – backbreaking work for youngish children – and later they were ‘earthed up’ to exclude all light. On the morning of  June 29th, (the Feast of St Peter & Paul, and coincidentally, also the  annual sports day in Cranford)  we went off with my father, carrying  the grape (a two-pronged fork) and a bucket. The grape was plunged deep into the black earth  under the leafy green plant, and the first new spuds came up – with many of various sizes attached to the roots of each plant, eliciting ‘oohs ‘ and ‘aahs’ from all of us as the earth was shaken off and the potatoes fell to the ground.

Drills of potatoes. Image Wikimedia Commons

Drills of potatoes. Image Wikimedia Commons

They were inspected, tested to see if the thin skin would just ‘rub off’, placed in the bucket and off we went with our treasure .  In  a couple of hours, (in these days dinner  was the mid day meal) they were on a huge plate in the middle of the table, ready to be devoured. If they were declared to be ‘balls of flour’ it was the ultimate accolade and a promise of a great meal to follow.

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Great Balls of Flour!

With almost the same intensity as we think of them at Christmas, our emigrants are uppermost in our thoughts at this time. Wherever they are, whether it be USA, Australia, Canada, the UK or Europe, or any place else – chances are, they are missing the balls of flour at this time of year. The Irish taste for dry floury potatoes is not shared by others, whose preference is for waxy varieties. I recall being unable to eat the potatoes in England when I first went to live there, as the texture was so unappealing to me. Similarly in Australia last year, the offering of a so-called potato was underwhelming!

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A dish of Queens

For a few weeks we will enjoy this beautiful early crop, steamed ( not boiled) , skins removed and served with a knob of butter and a grind of black pepper.  Heaven!

Royal Feast - Skins removed, with a knob of butter  on top

Royal Feast – Skins removed, with a knob of butter on top. A dinner fit for Queens.

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August 13, 2013 · 12:39 pm