Monthly Archives: October 2019

Donegal Danders: Melmore

The Atlantic Drive in North Donegal is a well-known driving route on the Wild Atlantic Way, snaking along the coast from Downings towards Carrigart. The beautiful Trá na Rossan Bay is one of the most recognizable and photographed places in the county, and even locals never tire of the ever changing view. There is however a real treasure trove of fantastic scenery and history a little bit further on, just off this road to the left.

Trá na Rossan Bay, County Donegal on a breezy day (image thesilvervoice)

The big beach is accessible via a left turn further along the R248 as just at the bottom of the hill on the left there is access to Trá na Rossan. A great walking beach in the often bracing Atlantic air!

An Óoige Youth Hostel. Designed by Lutyens. (Image D. Shiels)

Further along the road, on the left and tucked under the hill stands the Trá na Rossan An Óige Youth Hostel, with a very unique claim to fame. Designed by the renowned English architect Sir Edwin Lutyens, (1869 –1944) who designed many English country houses, war memorials and public buildings, it was commissioned by the Hon and Mrs Robert Phillimore of London as a holiday home in the 1890s and remained in use until the 1930s. Lutyens, whose mother was Irish, is best known for designing the Cenotaph in London, the WW1 Islandbridge National War Memorial in Dublin, many buildings in New Delhi and many others.

The Lutyens designed house (in the foreground) was donated to the Youth Hostel Organization in 1936. (Image D. Shiels)

Beyond the Youth Hostel there are spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean as it breaks on the the shores of the Rosguill Peninsula and the Fanad Peninsula opposite. The road ends at the entrance to a caravan park near the end of the peninsula.

A short walk of 10 to 15 minutes across a field to the left leads to the spectacular Boyeeghter Bay, location of the beach known as the Murder Hole. No signs, no path. While dangerous in severe weather conditions, it is a magnificent spot with views of Horn Head and Tory Island.

The Murder Hole with Horn Head and Tory Island on the horizon. (Image Sara Nylund)

There is a bit of a slope down to the strand that obviously has to be climbed up again on the way out, but it is well worth the effort.

A slope down to be navigated at the Murder Hole (Image Sara Nylund)

The efforts will be rewarded with spectacular views of this special place.

The Murder Hole Beach. You need to keep a close eye on the tide! (Image S.Nylund)

The more adventurous may like to walk up to the World War 2 Look Out Post and to the EIRE sign, placed to warn WW2 Pilots that they were approaching neutral Ireland, but they were also useful navigational aids.

The Melmore Head sign (Image Eirmarkings.org)

The walk back to the road is very nice too, with Melmore Lough tucked under the hill. The entire area is designated a Special Area of Conservation for the protection of flora and fauna and as such, must be treated with respect, and also when crossing a private working farm to access the beach, take care to close gates etc.

Back at the Caravan Park is Melmore Beach. This beach struck terror into us as children as it was absolutely forbidden to go near the water’s edge because of dangerous currents. That said, we often enjoyed Sunday picnics here under strict supervision. It was a matter of awe to us that if you listened carefully you could hear stones and rocks rolling about under the water. In the distance is Melmore Point, the most northerly point on the peninsula and accessible only on foot. I walked out to it many years ago, up past the ruins of a Napoleonic Signal Tower towards the spectacular views of the surrounding coast.

Looking towards Melmore Point from above Melmore Beach (Image the silvervoice)
Melmore Beach(Image thesilvervoice)
Looking across at the Fanad Peninsula opposite Melmore Beach (Image theilvervoice)

Retrurning to the main road again, there are beautiful sandy beaches to your left along the entrance to Mulroy Bay. The Narrows is the name given to the narrow inlet into Mulroy Bay.

Past the Youth Hostel and to the left is The Mass Rock. This cross was erected about 1910 by Mrs Phillimore of the nearby residence, so that the people of the area could pray here instead of having to undertake the two hour walk to the Catholic Church in Umlagh. Canon Gavigan, the parish priest of the time refused to bless it and very sadly, it was never used for the purpose for which it was intended. It now stands as a monument to the hardship these people had to endure.

Returning to the R258 and turning left, there are fabulous views of Melmore and Mulroy Bay, allowing you to see where you have been! A fabulous look into your rear view mirror!

Note – *A ‘dander’ is a local word meaning a stroll or leisurely walk.

References

Mevagh Down The Years by Leslie W Lucas. Volturna Press 1972.

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An Irish Halloween

Hallowe’en: A witch riding a broomstick with a black cat. C 1908 Missouri History Museum (Image Wikimedia Commons).

It’s Halloween again, a traditional celebration that goes back into the mists of time.  This is a celebration that has evolved quite significantly even in the past century and more so, in Ireland at any rate, in the past two decades.

Halloween has its origins in Ireland’s ancient Celtic past. Samhain (Sow-an) was one of the 4 major Fire Festivals of the ancient Celts. Imbolg, Bealtaine, Lughnasa and Samhain  fell on ‘cross quarter’ days – about half way between the solstices and equinoxes – and are celebrated on  February 1, May 1, July 1 and November 1.

Samhain (as with the other  Celtic pagan festivals) has been christianised and reinvented. The celebration has been de-paganized and has become Halloween – literally  meaning the eve of All Saints (Hallows) Day, which in turn is on the eve of All Souls Day (November 2nd.) . November 1 was designated the feast of All Saints by the catholic church as recently as the 9th century. Nevertheless, modern Halloween and the ancient Samhain Festival have common themes marking – then as now – the end of the growing season, the arrival of  dark days of winter and the returning of spirits from the other world.

50 years ago or so, in Donegal, in Ireland’s north-west, Halloweve, as we called it, was a fairly simple family affair, but one that was eagerly anticipated by youngsters, for it was an evening of fun and games and one when we enjoyed the fruits of autumn. It was indeed a magical evening of feasting that heralded a month of prayer and devotions for the Holy Souls (people who had died but were congregated in ‘Purgatory’ as they were not yet pure enough to enter heaven).

Halloween-mask-1956-21

An Irish homemade Hallowe’en mask  at Museum of Country Life  Castlebar, Co Mayo.

As for Halloweve itself, we would each have a ‘False Face’ – a paper mache mask, that in all honesty was more ugly than scary, and we delighted in wearing them all afternoon. Unfortunately very often the elastic designed to hold it on, would break at an early stage, and they would be discarded.

Tea time was a real treat with Colcannon piled high and rivers of melted butter flowing down the sides, followed by my mother’s Barmbrack – we called this simply ‘Brack’. Shop-bought Brack contained a ring, but for children a silver threepence or sixpence was a more appropriate ‘surprise’ to find and my mother put one in both the Colcannon and the Brack. (See Recipes below)

Colcannon

A pot of Colcannon, waiting to be plated up and crowned with a golden knob of butter. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

After tea we would have nuts –  hazelnuts from the hedgerows and monkey nuts (peanuts) from the shop and if we were lucky we would also  have a coconut. My father would drill through the ‘eyes’ and pour out the milk, giving each of us a small drink. He would then saw the coconut in half and we would be given a chunk of the chewy flesh – a real once a year treat!

peanutsPeanuts – an annual treat for Halloweve. (Image Wikimedia Commons) Every house had a nail driven into the door frame of which to hang an apple (I still have this nail on my kitchen door from my own children).

Fuji_appleApples – the key ingredient of our evening (Image Wikimedia Commons)

The apple was attached by its stalk to a long string and the trick was to get a bite from it without using hands to hold it. Apples were put into large bowls of flour,and several were floated in basins of water. In each case the apples had to be retrieved, or bitten,without using hands – the  kitchen often ended up in a wet mess, but it was great fun!  These were days before the unattractive practice of ‘trick or treat’ had crossed the Atlantic, and in days before television. Halloweve was indeed a highlight of our year and was the last great celebration before Christmas.

Hazelnuts_02Hazelnuts from the hedgerows. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

In Ireland, November 1 was a holy day, and so off we went to Church. Similarly on November 2, All Souls Day, we attended 3 masses, visited graveyards, and prayed earnestly for the release of souls from Purgatory. This continued throughout the month of November, designated the month of the Holy Souls, and we earnestly believed that our prayers helped release souls into heaven!

 Halloween Recipes.

Tea Brack.

This is not a cake, but is a bread, sliced thinly and buttered just like bread.

Brack

Buttered Brack. Image Wikimedia Commons

Ingredients

1 pound of fruit – Sultanas, Currants, Raisins.

1/2 pint of strong tea

12 ounces Self Raising Flour

1/2 teaspoon Mixed Spice

6 – 8 ounces of Brown Sugar

2 Eggs – beaten

A silver threepence or sixpence scalded in boiling water and then wrapped well in greaseproof paper.

Method

Put the fruit in a saucepan with the tea. Bring to the boil, turn off heat and leave overnight.

Sieve the flour and spice, add sugar and then the soaked fruit.

Stir all ingredients together , add beaten egg, and mix well.

Put all mixture into a greased 2.5 pound loaf tin.

Push the well wrapped coin  into the mixture

Bake at 170C (325 F) for 80 – 90 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean from the centre.

Serve cold.

Colcannon

This recipe is taken from my mother’s old cookery book – Full and Plenty by Maura Laverty

The recipe in the book is preceded by this old song

”Did you ever eat Colcannon when ’twas made with yellow cream
and the kale and praties blended like the picture in a dream?
Did you ever take a forkful, and dip it in the lake
of the heather-flavoured butter that your mother used to make?

Oh, you did;  yes, you did. So did he and so did I

And the more I think about it, sure the more I want to cry

Ah, God be with the happy times, when troubles we had not

And our mothers made colcannon in the little three-legged pot”

The recipe is simplicity itself and as with many Irish recipes, there are no quantities given.

2013-10-25 20.00.30

Hot Colcannon with a lake of butter ….(Image thesilvervoice)

Cooked potatoes

Milk brought to the boil with a tablespoon of minced onion

Shredded or finely chooped cooked Curly Kale or Savoy Cabbage

Salt and Pepper

Mash the boiled potatoes or put through a sieve or ricer

Beat in a knob of butter and then add enough of the milk  and onion, a tablespoon at a time,  to make the mixture light and fluffy.

Add to the potato mixture one half its bulk of finely chopped cooked kale. Beat well and reheat thoroughly.

Add the well scalded and wrapped silver coin to the mixture.

Make each serving into a volcano shaped mound, put a hole in the centre and add a knob of butter  and allow it to melt. Yum!

Happy Halloween!

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Irish Cooking, Irish Traditions, My Oral History, Oral History

Donegal Danders: Creeslough Church

St Michael’s Church Creeslough (Image Thesilvervoice)

I can well recall the total astonishment and indignation when the new Catholic Chapel was being built in Creeslough, County Donegal almost 50 years ago. For years after it opened whenever we drove past, my father would say – ”Just look at that! How can that be a chapel?” (We never actually referred to a Catholic ‘Church’ in this part of Donegal. The word ‘Church’ implied a different denomination, so we had ‘Chapels’) We knew what a real Chapel looked like and this new building was not remotely like anything we had seen before.

A ‘proper’ Chapel in my home parish : Church of St John the Baptish , Mevagh (Image Thesilvervoice)

Many churches constructed in Ireland after Catholic Emancipation in 1829 were imposing, cut stone buildings with high ceilings and sometimes even with soaring elegant steeples reaching heavenward. Frequently visible from a great distance, they were instantly recognizable – you just knew what you were looking at. The more modest church buildings without lofty steeples, at the very least ‘looked holy’. And so, when Doe Chapel was to be demolished and a new Chapel built in Creeslough there was some bemusement at the design of the new building.

The village of Creeslough is nestled under Muckish Mountain, a mountain that dominates this area and villages for miles around. This new building was to be in the image and likeness of the mountain. To add to the dismay, the name Muckish, or in Irish, ‘An Mhucais’, had the meaning of ‘pig like’ or ‘the back of a pig’. To say that there was a level of consternation in the local discourse would have indeed been an understatement.


Muckish or ‘An Mhucais’ on a hazy day (Image Thesilvervoice)

Church architecture has changed dramatically in the last half century and what looked strange to our eyes then, is quite acceptable nowadays. I have since learned that the Creeslough Chapel was designed by Liam McCormick, (1916 – 1986), who has been described by the Irish Heritage Council as “one of the most important church architects of his generation”. So while back in the area on holiday this year, I decided to take a closer look at this strange looking chapel, this ‘hulk of a building’.

St Michael’s, Muckish and the Presbetry (Image Thesilvervoice)

The Presbetery or ‘The Parochial House’ as we in Donegal would call it, was designed by the same architect, Liam McCormick. He was born in neighbouring Derry but had strong Donegal family connections. He had his early education in Greencastle and has many iconic buildings and churches to his credit, including several in Donegal and the headquarters of the Met Office in Glasnevin, Dublin.

St Michael’s Church Creeslough. (Image Thesilvervoice)

In the adjoining grounds, there is a very nice metal Cross, incorporating a Crown of Thorns – One of the few clues as to the purpose of the building! From this viewpoint too, approaching from the car park, there is a water feature to the side of the building with what resembles a primitive cross as a backdrop.

Near the door stands a chapel bell– I like to think that this is originally from the old chapel in Doe, although I could not make out either the date or the foundry on the bell. This bell may have been heard by generations of worshippers in the parish, ringing the Angelus, celebrating marriages or pealing in mourning .

The windows on the front of the St Michael’s Creeslough (Image Thesilvervoice)

A very interesting feature of the building is this group of 6 very small windows. Apparently McCormick drew inspiration for his design, not only from Muckish, but also from the many vernacular cottages in this part of Donegal, mostly whitewashed buildings with small windows.

The light bright semi circular interior. Note too the lovely colourful work on the altar, possibly also by Helen Moloney. (Image Thesilvervoice)

The true joy in this building is inside! The doors lead into a semi circular auditorium with large windows at one side framing a view of Muckish and filling it with natural light.

Inside looking out – or outside flowing in? (Image Thesilvervoice)

The colourful medal-shaped Stations of the Cross are unusual and sit well with the most spectacular stained glass windows I have seen in a long while. These are set into the 6 small windows and funnel vibrant light through the thick walls. They are the work of Helen Moloney (1926 – 2011) who worked with McCormick on a number of his churches. They have to be seen to be really appreciated.

Passing through the heavy doors on the way out, you just know you will be back to see this wonderful creation again, with its many exciting parts – a truly spiritual work of art! If you are passing, why not drop in?

*** It would be very nice to see the architects and artists credited in church sites such as this. This is a tourist attraction in itself, in the same way as the great cathedrals across the world, so what would be amiss about adding information about the design, the architect and artists whose work is here and having a donations receptacle for the upkeep of these great works of art on site?

Note: ‘Dander’ is an Ulster word meaning ‘wandering’ !

 

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