Category Archives: Ireland Seasons

Postcards from Mount Congreve, Waterford, one of the great gardens of the world

The gardens at Mount Congreve, Waterford, consist of around seventy acres of intensively planted woodland garden and a four-acre walled garden. The owner, the late Mr Ambrose Congreve, was inspired by Mr Lionel de Rothschild’s exceptional garden at Exbury in Hampshire, England.

It was here that he indulged his passion for Rhododendrons, Magnolias, Camellias and indeed many other plants from every continent in the world.

With over 3,000 different trees and shrubs, more than 2,000 Rhododendrons, 600 Camellias, 300 Acer cultivars, 600 conifers, 250 climbers, hundreds of magnolias, hundreds of wisteria and countless herbaceous plants, this is a truly magnificent site and what is more, these wonderful gardens were gifted to the people of Ireland after the death of Mr Congreve.

My Blogging friend, Social Bridge lives in this area and has long tempted me to come to have a look….and what a magnificent look it was! My most excellent guide knows every inch of the place and she was the best company on my visit!

I am posting these images ‘as they come’ so you too can take a virtual walk and enjoy this magnificent place.

My wonderful guide!

My wonderful, knowledgeable and inspirational guide!

Mount Congreve is open to the public Thursday – Sunday from 11 am.  I heartily recommend a visit and I am looking forward to seeing the herbaceous summer borders in all their splendour. Oh and the cafe is just lovely!

For further information http://www.mountcongreve.com

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Filed under Great Gardens, Ireland, Ireland Seasons, Irish Countryside

Postcards from Glenbower Wood, Killeagh, Co Cork

My ‘Postcards from’ series comes from villages or towns that I have visited. Now however, I want to make an exception, and send you Postcards not from a town or village, but from a wood in Ireland. Not just any wood, but a very special wood in her Springtime attire and with the sun casting dappled shadows through the emerging canopy of delicate new leaves. I hope you enjoy!

imageGlenbower Wood is situated behind the village of Killeagh, on the Cork – Waterford Road, in East Cork.  It gets its name from  the Irish “gleann-bodhar” or “Deafening Glen” from the noise the river  Dissour makes when rushing headlong in winter through the valley. I prefer the notion that the name is derived from the beautiful English word ‘bower’ meaning  ‘a pleasant  shady place under trees or climbing plants in a garden or wood’. Or perhaps it is both? Come join me in a springtime stroll in this beautiful place! The pictures speak for themselves.

Glenbower Wood has many species. The mostly deciduous native woodland  trees allow the light to reach the woodland floor in spring and early summer, giving a rich tapestry of beautiful plants.

Oxalis, violets, fern and wild garlic abound!

The paths wind along the river, from light into shade.

There is a very nice stand of  Redwoods,trees that are native to California. These were planted by the owners, the DeCapell family who lived here for about 7 centuries.

One of my favourite features is a little alcove on the bridge where musicians sat to entertain visitors perambulating through the woods. The ground level is higher nowadays, so it was a neat little nook to sit in.

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The real treat for me in early spring is in looking up at the delicate canopy of emerging leaves, that makes the sun dance along the woodland floor.

Woodlands are special places and here in East Cork we are blessed with a number of very special ones. I am reminded of the poem by Patience Strong, Woodland Cathedral.  This could have been penned about Glenbower Wood!

Go into the woodland
if you seek peace of mind–
As this time when Nature’s mood
is gentle, quiet and kind,
When soft winds fan the trembling leaves
about the cloistered glade–
And paths go winding deep into the green
and breathless shade.Where nothing breaks the silence
of the warm and fragrant air–
But snatches of sweet melody . . .
and wings that rend and tear–
The stillness of the windless dells
where shallow brooklets flow–
And shadows fleck the water
as the sunbeams come and go.

An unseen Presence walks the woods,
a sense of holy things–
Haunts the dim Cathedral aisles;
and every bird that sings–
Is like some morning chorister,
and every breath of air–
Seems to bring the secret murmur
of a whispered prayer.

Patience Strong

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Filed under Ireland, Ireland Seasons, Irish Countryside, Irish Heritage, Poetry

One of these days: A Winter Solstice Birthday

Newgrange. Aligned with the rising sun whose light floods the chamber on the winter solstice. Image Wikimedia Commons

Newgrange. Aligned with the rising sun whose light floods the chamber on the winter solstice. Image Wikimedia Commons

‘One of these days’ is a phrase that trips off many an Irish tongue and whose meaning is clearly understood as being ‘sometime in the near future’.I was not so sure if this is the case across all the English speaking world, so a quick Google came up with the following:”One of these days” is an idiom that behaves as an adverb. It’s basically a drop-in replacement for “someday,”meaning something like”at some unspecified point in the future”. So there we have it!

‘One of these days’goes around in my head at this time of year for two reasons,both of which are ingrained in my DNA.

Growing up in North Donegal with its dark star-filled skies meant that we were reasonably familiar with celestial goings-on, especially in winter. We spent many an hour out in the backyard with our mother,identifying the Milky Way,Orion’s Belt,The Plough,The Seven Sisters as well as the occasional passing comet with its long tail. She would say ‘One of these days now you will see shooting stars if you are good’. Shooting Stars cropped up at reasonably regular times and wowed us as we headed over the barrack-brae towards Carrigart chapel for October Devotions, or to pray for the Holy Souls in November. Or,she might say:’One of these days now, you might see the Aurora Borealis’. The very sound of it was magic that matched the dancing colourful waves in the sky! And so too with the Winter Solstice…’One of these days the sun will  have gone as far away as it can go and will turn back to us and the days will begin to lengthen’. In days predating electricity in our houses, with only battery operated wirelesses and newspapers to inform us,we never knew exactly when these events might take place,but we knew when it was’one of these days’!

Solstices and equinoxes  fall in March, June, September and December, some on the 20th or maybe the 21st or perhaps the 22nd or possibly the 23rd. Who could possibly keep track of them, and which date referred specifically to which event? Old Moores Almanac was stocked in Speer’s shop at Christmastime,but possibly not in time to alert us to the exact time of the winter solstice. And then, by the time we needed to consult it for other celestial events it was lost,probably having been  thrown away when the first prediction of ten feet of snow that would close all schools for the month of January never materialized. So on ‘one of these days’ we marked these wonderful events in Donegal. On, or around about the correct dates.

Another event in our house was marked in a similar fashion.It too was a moveable feast, a winter and December event,but not one we could check up in Old Moores Almanac. It was my father’s birthday.I often asked him, what is your birthday, and he said he wasn’t sure. He said his birth certificate said one thing,his baptismal certificate said another and his mother never agreed with either of them. So he spent his entire life being confused about it and confusing all of us around him. ”Ah, it’s one of these days”, he would say, when all we knew was  that it was going to happen in the days coming up to Christmas.

imageMy Dad was born in a small house in Templedouglas, Glenswilly, County Donegal in December 1921. He was the first son to my grandparents, James Gallagher a National School teacher in Templedouglas, and my grandmother Mary Friel, a seamstress from Pollaid in Fanad. He was the first brother of my Aunts May and Eileen. My grandfather had been born in Mulnamina, Glenties, so both he and his wife were relative newcomers and blow-ins to Glenswilly. My aunt Eileen had been born here two years earlier, so they had been living in the area for at least two years that we know of. In the days before hospital confinement, home births were the norm. The midwife would have been sent for and kettles of water put on to boil. My aunts often told me that my father was ‘frail’. I wonder was it a troublesome birth? Was his life in some danger when he was born? Or was he simply born around midnight with clocks showing different times? Or maybe his mother was very unwell following the birth and everyone was concerned for her welfare.In any event,something gave rise to confusion about his birthdate.If he was at risk, he may have been baptized immediately. Registration may have been delayed. A church baptism may have taken place at a later date, but the norm would have been for baptism within three days of birth. We will never know.

Today, December 21 is being heralded at the Winter Solstice in these northern climes. However, to be absolutely pedantic about it,this year, 2015, the Winter Solstice will happen tomorrow, December 22 .

The following are the winter solstice mid point dates and times from the U.S. Naval Observatory. The time zone used is “Greenwich Mean Time”.

2001 – 21st December 19:21  GMT / UT
2002 – 22nd December 01:14  GMT / UT
2003 – 22nd December 07:04  GMT / UT
2004 – 21st December 12:42  GMT / UT
2005 – 21st December 18:35  GMT / UT
2006 – 22nd December 00:22  GMT / UT
2007 – 22nd December 06:08  GMT / UT
2008 – 21st December 12:04  GMT / UT
2009 – 21st December 17:47  GMT / UT
2010 – 21st December 23:38  GMT / UT
2011 – 22nd December 05:30  GMT / UT
2012 – 21st December 11:12  GMT / UT
2013 – 21st December 17:11  GMT / UT
2014 – 21st December 23:03  GMT / UT
2015 – 22nd December 04:48  GMT / UT
2016 – 21st December 10:44  GMT / UT
2017 – 21st December 16:28  GMT / UT
2018 – 21st December 22:23  GMT / UT

This data is from http://www.knowth.com

So the Winter Solstice happens most often on December 21, but also sometimes on December 22nd and rarely on December 23rd.

My Dad’s birth certificate here before me states that he was born on December 22,1921. The 1921 Winter Solstice occurred on December 22 1921 at  7 minutes past 9 am. I often wonder if in fact he may have been born just at that time, just right at the solstice?  Again, we will never know.

So on ‘one of these days’ in December 2015, I  want to celebrate what would have been my father’s 94th birthday. I want to celebrate the solstice ‘new beginnings’ that would have given him great joy: His children in Donegal, Dublin, Perth Western Australia and Cork; his grandchildren in Dublin, Dubai,Cork, Limerick ,Waterford and Western Australia; his great grandchildren in Western Australia, in Dublin, in Limerick and soon to be in Skerries in Dublin. How proud he would have been! A winter Solstice? A solstice birthday? New Beginnings? Yes!

Entrance to Newgrange. It is here that the Winter Solstice sunrise shafts of light enter the passage. Image Wikimedia Commons

At the Winter Solstice here in Ireland, weather permitting, at the astonishing Newgrange in the Boyne Valley, County Meath, Ireland, the shafts of solstice sunrise will light up the chamber of this passage tomb to mark the turning of the year. Across the island there are ancient groups of standing stones that are aligned to capture the rays of light from the winter solstice sun, so this was a very significant time of year.  How nice to think that my Dad was born on ‘one of these days’, at such a significant time in 1921 .

Happy Solstice to you all,  and Happy Birthday to my Dad!

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Filed under Celebrations in Ireland, Ireland, Ireland Seasons, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History

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 Trees are in their Autumn Beauty ..

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

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

Trees in Autumn glory at Adare,Co Limerick

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

I really like these russet  beauties on the main street

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

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

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

More in Adare town park

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

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The Wild Swans at Coole by W.B Yeats

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

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

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

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

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

 

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