Category Archives: Irish Heritage

Summer in an Irish Country Churchyard – Parched or Burned?

I am fortunate to live near a country churchyard on a bank of the tidal Owenacurra river, in Ballinacurra, Co Cork. This small graveyard contains the ruins of a church dated c. 1550, a watchman’s house and some historically interesting gravestones from the 19th and 20th century.  In common with all older graveyards, ancestors rest here, flora and fauna thrive here in these special, largely undisturbed habitats.  I thought it would be interesting to observe the four seasons in this very special place. My first post is here, –  Spring, at the end of April last.   It was now time to see what summer had to offer.

Spring was cold and it was late. When it finally arrived, it produced lots of wildflowers there were lots of blossoms in the hedgerows. There is a particular concern this year that pollinating insects – and insects in general – seem to be scarce, but in recent weeks there have been wasps, bees, hoverflies, moths, and butterflies dropping in through open windows. So it was with a sense of anticipation I went down to record the magic of summertime in an Irish Country Graveyard.

I was surprised to see that the stile at the entrance was covered by a pile of scrub – presumably to be removed at a later date?- and that it had been stripped of vegetation.

Inside the gate, the groundcover plants have been obliterated. This has been a challenging summer with high temperatures and very little rain, resulting in a parched landscape.  But the lack of vegetation here goes way beyond this. It is obvious that the area has been sprayed with a herbicide. There are no birds and no insects in this now barren place, no mosses or lichens and probably no invertebrates. Birds need insects and insects need vegetation, but there is precious little of it left. There seems to be a total lack of wildflowers, and therefore no pollen or nectar and instead of the bee-loud glade I expected, there is almost total silence. No humming of bees, no birds twittering on branches, only the sound of breaking grass under my feet.

Greenery at ground level is gone.

But what can have happened here?  The sign inside the gate is clear.

This site is protected under the National Monuments Act and no spraying of chemicals is allowed. The regulations forbid the removal of vegetation from ancient stonework, as very often this very vegetation strengthens ancient walls.

The watchhouse sprayed and ivy removed.

The term ‘scorched earth’ just about describes what has taken place here. But why?  By whom? Was it authorized by the Local Authority?

This place is much loved and in constant use by local walkers and dog walkers who very often cross through the graveyard to reach the shore. Most of these people would be nature lovers who enjoy the uniqueness of the site. One walker yesterday described the work here as ‘total butchery’,  another said it is a ‘terrible shame’ while another said that it was his understanding that there is to be a burial here in the coming days. Even if there is to be an internment, it is hardly good cause to destroy an entire ecology system?

If the intention was to clean up the graveyard, this too has been a dismal failure as the place is strewn with bottles and cans . On the plus side, it appears that the walls of the 16th Century church have remained relatively intact – but the work is not yet finished so who knows what plan is in train with regard to these?

The interior of the church

Ivy remains at roof level but the base of the external wall seems to have been cleared

Small bushes have been cut and even a branch of a cherry tree seems to be in the way.

Great piles of bushes and scrub are now stacked up in various locations around the walls – what is to happen with them?  I doubt that they will be removed, but rather left to decay where they are thrown.

I do not have any expertise with regard to ancient buildings or gravestones or graveyard metal work, but I would have concerns that they are secondary to the need to remove groundcover. My limited expertise as a result of my career as a landscape designer leads me to the conclusion that a very powerful herbicide was used here and that it will take years for the soil and the site to recover from the loss of plants, wildflowers, invertebrates, lichens, mosses, insects, rodents, micro-organisms and birdlife. It appears to be too extensive to have been accidental or an unintended consequence.

It is such a shame.

Surely it is not impossible to clear up these special places and at the same time preserve the integrity of the flora and fauna that thrive here and give pleasure to so many?

 

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Postcards from the Irish National Stud

IMG_3932Ireland enjoys a worldwide reputation for producing top class thoroughbred horses that consistently achieve international success. The largest producer of thoroughbreds in Europe, Ireland ranks as the fourth largest in the world. This success is attributed to our temperate climate and calcium-rich soil that is good for young animals. It has long been on my ‘to do’ list to visit the Irish National Stud in Kildare and I finally managed to tick this box the other week. What a treat it was on a beautiful sunny day!

The Irish National Stud and Gardens belongs to the people of Ireland. Established in 1900 by Colonel William Hill Walker, a wealthy and somewhat eccentric Scotsman who bought 1,000 acres in Tully Co Kildare to establish a stud farm.

4401A8C7-806B-47AC-AAFE-06C5041CFF2FThis statue of Colonel Walker, unveiled by President Higgins in 2015, portrays him looking at the items in the tree of life that interested him. In addition to racing, we can see signs of the zodiac which informed much of his horse breeding. He was also interested in gambling as indicated by the playing cards!

E96EE547-52BB-4DF4-8692-A4A2952F8883Col. Walker also loved horticulture and it was under his direction that the world famous Japanese Gardens were created here between 1906 and 1910, by the Japanese Craftsman, Tassa Eida.

Having enjoyed some success in racing circles, including winning the prestigious Epsom Derby, Walker gifted his stud farm to the British Government in 1915, to form the basis of the British National Stud. Their success continued with the stud producing the winners of all classics and in 1942, Sun Chariot, born and bred at Tully, landed the fillies’ Triple Crown – the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St. Leger – for King George VI. However, in 1946, the by now independent Irish Republic took over the ownership and running of the redesignated Irish National Stud. Although the acreage of the stud has now been reduced by about a hundred acres because of road building, this place continues to produce top class bloodstock that makes their mark the world over. Many famous racehorses are retired here, excellent stallions stand here and foals are bred here.

Of the retired horses, or ‘Living Legends’ as they are known, even I as a non-racing person, recognized many of the names.

 

This lovely fellow is Hurricane Fly, trained by Willie Mullins. He is the holder of the world record for most Grade 1 races won by any racehorse. His paddock mate is Hardy Eustace, a very famous 21-year-old.

In the paddock are another three retired ‘living legends’, including Beef or Salmon, seen below on the right. Beef or Salmon was trained in Limerick by Michael Hourigan. Also here are Kicking King and Rite of Passage. These are world-class racehorses, living out their retirement in luxury on buttercup filled meadows!  Until his death a few years ago, the world-famous Vintage Crop grazed here too –  he was the 1993 winner of the Melbourne Cup – the first foreign-trained horse to do so.  All of the ‘living legends’ are geldings and are people friendly lovers of sugar cubes. (Unlike the stallions that would attack)

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In a paddock nearby are some of the new season foals standing with their mothers. All foals have a birthday of January 1st, regardless of when they are born. This determines the categories of races they may enter.

In addition to the Japanese Gardens, the grounds are beautifully enhanced by St. Fiachra’s Garden just opposite the paddocks of the retired famous boys. These gardens were looking great at the time of my visit and are delightful for walking and are formed on a reclaimed wetland.

Here too are some reconstructed Beehive huts similar to those found in Kerry.

But it is hard to beat nature in all her glory!

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This route leads to the area where the Stallions are kept. Potentially very dangerous animals, they are contained between two layers of fencing.

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Invincible Spirit in his buttercup rich paddock

Meet Invincible Spirit – he is grazing there in his meadow the background. This is the current king of the National Stud whose offspring can sell for millions. With stud fees of €120,000  a session, he is kept busy and covers many mares, making him the highest earner hereabouts, providing 80% of the total annual income of the stud.

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The stabling is ‘high end’ as these horses are living in the lap of luxury with this yard named after the famous Sun Chariot.

And so to the Museum. I was thrilled to bits to find Arkle here – although it was only his skeleton. Arkle was a remarkable racehorse, a real legend, one of the greatest racehorses that ever lived, one that we were familiar with in the 1960s and one that had a personal impact on our house. My younger sister Eva recalls someone coming to look for her one day when she was about 8 or 9.  We children tended to roam about and wander from house to house in the village, coming home only when we were hungry about mealtime. She was eventually located and told that our father wanted her at home immediately. She hesitated thinking she was in trouble of some sort, but when she reluctantly arrived at the house she was informed that she had won a white Bush Television in a draw because she had chosen Arkle as her horse, who had gone on to win whatever the race was. And here was the wonderful Arkle, the main exhibit in the museum, who provided us with a TV when they were something of a rarity in our neck of the woods.

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The skeleton of the legendary Arkle – he supposedly loved to drink Guinness.

Not only did Ireland introduce Steeplechasing to the world, but we see in the museum that we also introduced showjumping – the first showjumping competition in the world was held in Dublin in 1868. In 1937 Ireland became the first country to have three successive wins and win the 2nd Aga Khan Trophy outright  In 1937. (Switzerland had previously won the 1st trophy outright by winning three times, but not successively) .

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The Aga Khan Trophy

This jockey weighing -in chair was interesting and very ornate!

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The visit to the National Stud was fascinating and so very worthwhile! Absolutely educational and in such wonderful surroundings.

Our father was ‘mad’ about horses and often drove about the country with my young daughter ‘looking; for horses in fields. They were often seen up on ditches peering at them or hanging over farm gates admiring them. He never put a bet on a horse in his life, but he loved them and passed that on to my daughter who became an accomplished rider, showjumper and dressage contestant. I am not sure if Dad ever got to the National Stud, but today on Father’s Day, I dedicate this post to him. He would love it. So would you!

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Postcards from Limerick City – Around Pery Square

On a recent flying visit to Limerick to attend an event in the Limerick Literary Festival, I enjoyed a short but fascinating walk from the car park to the venue at the City Art Gallery in Pery Square.

Daniel O’Connell, (1775-1847), born in County Kerry, was a barrister and a politician who  campaigned for Catholic Emancipation. Many main thoroughfares in Ireland are named after him, for example in Dublin, Ennis Co. Clare, Sligo and of course Limerick. The O’Connell Monument in Limerick dominates the area known as The Crescent, where it rises from a water feature. (Beloved of pranksters who like to add washing up liquid from time to time to create copious quantities of suds). This figure of Daniel O ‘Connell was erected in 1857 and was the first outdoor public statue of the Irish hero.

I walked along Hartstonge Street and have often wondered how it got the name. Well it seems that Sir Henry Hartstonge, 3rd Baronet (1725-1787) was a Member of the Irish Parliament for Limerick County. He was born in Bruff, Co Limerick and married into the Pery family.

One of the most impressive buildings in Hartstonge Street is The Leamy School, built between 1841 and 1845 from a fund set up by Willam Leamy as can be seen on the plaque below. The bequest was for the education of poor Protestant boys but by 1880 it had become a National School for Catholic boys.

The school closed in 1953. Frank McCourt, (1930-2009) the Irish-American writer, attended this school for a short time in the 1940s. Frank McCourt won a Pullitzer Prize for his book, Angela’s Ashes a memoir of his early life, part of which was spent in Limerick. The Frank McCourt Museum is housed in this building, where there is a bust of him near the entrance.

 

The old school with the words ‘National School’ in Irish in Gaelic script above the entrance.

Next to the school is a tall building known as Oznam House which is occupied by the Charity, the St. Vincent de Paul Society. This was once the home of Joseph O’Mara (1864-1927) a tenor of international fame who was granted the freedom of the city in 1908.

 

Of later vintage, built c.1920, is the Mechanics Institute, with various trade plaques on the buidling.

 

On the opposite side of the street, in a totally different style, is the former Aras Fhianna Fáil building dating from c. 1900 with more old Gaelic script – the Irish words for the Fianna Fail Centre.

 

And so we arrive in Pery Square, so named after the politician Edmund Sexton Pery. In fact it doesn’t seem to be a square at all, but it does have some fine buildings. The terrace of six Georgian houses, known as the Pery Square Tontine* Buildings, was constructed  c.1835 – 1838 and is one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Ireland. Four of the houses have entrances at the front, while Numbers 1 and 6 have entrances at the gable ends of the terrace.

Tontine Buildings Pery Square Limerick

Georgian buildings are so very recognizable by their magnificent front doors.

An exquisite Georgian door

The house with the red door is Number 2 Pery Square which was lovingly restored. The house and gardens were to become a Georgian Museum. Unfortunately it is only used for special events, but it would be nice to think that tourists could access this wonderful part of Limerick heritage more freely at some point in the future.

Restored No. 2 Pery Square 

Number 2, restored by Limerick Civic Trust.

Plaque Georgian House and Garden

This writer has to declare an interest as in 1998 a certain young student archaeologist was asked to undertake an exploration of the gardens and spent many happy weeks discovering paths and exploring a privy on the site. As so often happens, his name in the literature is phonetic rather than accurate, but we know who he is.

 

Extract Limerick Civic Trust Souvenir Pamphlet

This boot scraper is typical at entrances to Georgian Houses – every country home should have one!

 

Boot scraper Pery Square 

While Number 1 Pery Square is now a delightful boutique hotel, the other houses in the block seem to be in commercial use.  The magnificent street has a church at each end. This is St Michael’s Church of Ireland c.1984  at the southern end, with beautiful wrought ironwork on the outside.

St. Michael’s Pery Square 

Detail from the gates at St Michael’s. Such beautiful metalwork!

 

On the opposite end of the streetscape is the Catholic Dominican Church of St Saviours, erected c.1815 and reworked between 1860 and 1870

The former Dominican Church St Saviour’s and Tait Clock

To the right of St Saviour’s is the 65 foot tall Tait Memorial Clock erected in 1867.  It pays tribute to Alderman Peter Tait the Scottish entrepreneur who owned the nearby Tait factory, which supplied the British Empire with military uniforms. When 50,000 caps, greatcoats, jackets, trousers, shirts, blankets, boots, stockings and haversacks were ordered by the Confederate government fighting in the American Civil War, Tait had to navigate the Confederate blockade to deliver his goods. Peter Tait was also Mayor of Limerick between 1866-68. The memorial clock was raised by public subscription.

The street also has two memorials. The Celtic Cross Memorial commemorates deceased members of the Irish Defence Forces and the War Memorial commemorates thousands of Limerick  men who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. This latter memorial was first raised after the First World War in the 1920s but was blown up in the 1950s. When the replacement was erected in the 1960s it included Limerick men lost in in WW2.

 

Overseeing the entire scene is the lofty memorial to Thomas Spring Rice (1790 – 1866), son in law of Pery.  He was from Mount Trenchard in Foynes an had the title Lord Monteagle of Brandon. This monument was erected in 1829 on a raised mound in the People’s Park, which was formerly Pery Square. He was the Member of Parliament for Limerick from 1820 to 1832 and was held in some esteem by his tenants mainly due to his benevolence during the Famine years.

Spring Rice Monument

Spring Rice – another view

Apart from Spring Rice, the most eye catching item in the People’s Park is the very colourful recently restored fountain.

The ornate and restored fountain

Built in 1877, the 2009 restoration is another example of the excellent work of Limerick Civic Trust and Limerick Council.

 

This Children’s Remembrance Memorial with little footsteps in bronze is in a memorial garden to the ‘Little Angels’ of Limerick, opened in 2002.

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Richard Russell Memorial entrance

The main entrance to the park is dedicated to Richard Russell, a prominent local businessman in whose honour the park was opened in 1877.

Just next to the main entrance is the Limerick City Gallery of Art, my destination on this occasion. Dating from 1906 it was the Carnegie Library, one of 2,509 built with money from the philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

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Limerick City Gallery of Art

I loved these little figures clinging on to the building.

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The little people of the City Art Gallery

Last but not least is my favourite treasure in this fascinating part of Limerick…

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The only surviving gas light in Limerick city

This image of St Michael’s with the Tontine block at the right,shows the last remaining gas lamp in existence in Limerick. From the 1820s and up to 1902, the gaslighter with his ladder would go from lamp to lamp lighting each one and would return each morning to extinguish them. A perfect discovery to end my spare 15 minutes in this part of Limerick.

It’s amazing what you  can find in no more that 250 paces!

 

 

Further information

*  ‘Tontine’ defined by Oxford English Dictionary as: An annuity shared by subscribers to a loan or common fund, the shares increasing as subscribers die until the last survivor enjoys the whole income.

For information on the Peoples Park and for excellent information about Limerick from the Limerick’s Life website click here 

Publication by Limerick Civic Trust on opening of No.2 Pery Square

 

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Women’s Christmas, January 6 -An Irish Christmas Tradition

 

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Having celebrated Christmas and the New Year, we in Ireland are not done yet! We are still counting the twelve days of Christmas at the end of which we will have the final celebration. This is of course the uniquely Irish tradition of  Women’s Little Christmas when Irish women celebrate the end of the Christmas Season.  Although celebrated mainly in counties Cork and Kerry, it is great to see this tradition being revived and celebrations happening all lover Ireland. This post from 2012 has been read over 12,000 times, and here it is again to wish all female readers a Happy Women’s Christmas! 

 

 

All over Ireland, January 6 marks the end of the Christmas season – it is the day  on which the fairy lights, the Christmas tree, the decorations and the Christmas cards are taken down and put away for another year. It is considered bad luck if decorations remain displayed after this date! January 6 has many titles – Epiphany, Little Christmas, 12th Night , Women’s Christmas, Women’s Little Christmas,and Nollaig na mBan. Such an important day to have 6 different names!

Epiphany: The 3 Kings arrive with gifts

In Ireland, ‘Little Christmas’  (‘Nollaig Bheag’ in Irish) is one of the traditional names for January 6, the feast of the Epiphany. Epiphany is a Christian celebration of the day on which the Magi arrived with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to honour the new-born baby Jesus, the day on which Jesus is revealed to the gentiles. Epiphany is one of the oldest Christian holy days that originated in the Eastern church and was adopted by the Western church in the 4th century. ‘Little Christmas’ is so-called because under the Julian Calendar, Christmas day celebrations were held in January,whereas under the Gregorian calendar, Christmas day falls on December 25.

Twelfth Night,which coincides with Epiphany has been celebrated as the end of the Christmas season for centuries. In the 18th and 19th Centuries, Twelfth Night was one of the most  important days in the Christian calendar. Twelfth Night parties were common where participants enjoyed food and drink and games. A special Twelfth cake, the forerunner of today’s Christmas cake, was the centrepiece of the party, with a slice offered to all members of the household, above and below stairs. In 1756, The Gentleman’s Magazine reported that: the king, and his entourage ” went to the Chapel Royal at St James’ and offered gold, myrrh and frankincense” on Twelfth Night.

Some years ago I found myself in County Kerry on January 6. I was astonished to see hotels crowded with women – and no men to be seen! On enquiring, I was informed that they were celebrating ‘Women’s Christmas’ or ‘Nollaig na mBan’ in Irish. This has been a long-standing tradition in Counties Kerry and Cork, when women celebrate the end of the Christmas season, the decorations are down, the long season of preparation and cooking is over  and the women folk have a celebratory meal. It is also celebrated in Newfoundland which has a strong affinity with Ireland and in some  states of the United States of America where the tradition was kept alive  by Irish immigrants.

The fascinating thing about this tradition is that, rather than dying out like so many other traditions, its popularity has begun to grow and it is now being celebrated across the country. Women in Dublin organize lunches for their women friends, Limerick women are meeting in their own homes for lovely dinners, Sligo women are coming together to enjoy female company – women only ‘get-togethers’ are being organized all over the place! Long may it continue!

If you know of other areas where this tradition is celebrated, I would be delighted to hear about it.

Happy Nollaig na mBan (pronounced null-ag na man) to all readers!

References

Internet Archive :Gentleman’s Magazine 

bbc.co.uk

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Postcards from Newtownforbes Co. Longford

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

 

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

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Introduced Grey Squirrel (Image Wikipedia)

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

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Clonguish RC parish Church

However, it used to look like this:

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

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

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Newtownforbes Station House, where our grandparents lived

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

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

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

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The railway bridge at Newtownforbes Station

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

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Former Lisbrack House

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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The former Newtownforbes RIC Station

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

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Famine Water Pump and Christy’s Hall

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

 

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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References

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

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

http://www.buildingsofireland.ie

 

 

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Postcards from Slane, County Meath

On a short trip to the Boyne Valley recently I had an overnight stop in the very pretty little village of Slane Co. Meath in the recently designated tourism region, Ireland’s Ancient East. The village has beautiful Georgian buildings with the typical doors that I particularly love. It has the most beautiful plant displays and while I was there a veritable battalion of volunteers  was out with knapsacks and cans, watering containers and hanging  baskets.

The volume of heavy traffic  rumbling through this pretty little village is quite startling and it really ought to be by-passed.

My evening amble was confined to the village and I hope you enjoy the snaps of my little walk about the lovely town.

The so-called village square is actually on a very busy road junction.

There are Georgian doors and houses around every corner

And the flowers ar fabulous!

Being the hometown of the famous Irish poet, Francis Ledwidge features here too.

The Catholic Church, St Patrick’s, dates from the 1800s and has an interesting bell tower. (It is not leaning!)

The interior has some nice features. The floor and  the ceiling decoration are very pleasing. I have not ever seen a candelabra with outstretched hands before!

This row of old cottages is being developed as a tourism centre.  It is known as Cavan Row as artisans and labourers from Cavan who came to work on the Slane Estate were housed here.

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There is much more to Slane than is shown here. There is a beautiful castle for one thing, famous as a pop concert venue, and the estate has its own distillery!

Slane is a perfect spot for a day trip or a short stay, or as a base for exploring some of the Boyne Valley. It will be positively superb when they get rid of the incessant traffic that rattles through the village, and hopefully that will be soon.

I liked this plaque that honours the volunteers who keep this village spic and span and looking its very best. So nice to see them acknowledged!

 

 

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Remembering Francis Ledwidge, Poet and Soldier

Just outside the village of Slane, County Meath is the Francis Ledwidge Museum. The museum is housed in the family home with a yard and garden to the rear.

Francis was born in this small cottage that dates from 1886, the 8th of 9 children. His father died soon after the 9th child was born.  Desperately poor, their mother laboured in the fields to keep bread on the table until the eldest son, Patrick  was sufficiently educated to get a job and help the family. However, Patrick contracted tuberculosis and had to return home  and their mother was forced to return to her back -breaking labouring.

Francis left school at 15 and took whatever work he could get – he worked as a farm labourer, as a groom, in a copper mine and as a foreman on the roads. All the while he was writing poetry and having some poems published in the local newspaper.  His poetry was brought to the attention of Lord Dunsany who arranged for publication in London and who also got introductions to literary figures of the day.

Francis Ledwidge known as ‘Poet of the Blackbird’  (Image Wikipedia Commons)

Having for a time been involved with the Irish Volunteers who sought Home Rule, Francis enlisted in the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers on October 24, 1914. It is possible that his decision to join up may have been influenced  by the fact that he was disappointed in love. He wrote to a friend  saying that he looked forward to poetry and fame after the war and that by joining he hoped to bring peace to the world.

He came home on leave to Slane at Christmas and was shocked to learn of the death of a little boy he knew well, who had herded cows past the Ledwidge house. Francis  wrote what is one of my favourite Ledwidge poems, A Little Boy in the Morning

He will not come, and still I wait. 
He whistles at another gate 
Where angels listen. Ah I know 
He will not come, yet if I go 
How shall I know he did not pass 
barefooted in the flowery grass?  

Then in 1915 he wrote this lovely Lullaby to a tired child

Shall I take the rainbow out of the sky

And the moon from the well in the lane

And break them in pieces to coax your eye

To slumber a wee while again?

While based in Basingstoke he heard of the death in childbirth of the girl he had loved and he got leave to attend her funeral in Manchester. He wrote

To One Dead

 A blackbird singing

On a moss-upholstered stone,

Bluebells swinging,

Shadows wildly blown,

A song in the wood,

A ship on the sea.

The song was for you

and the ship was for me.

On August 7, 1915  Francis and his comrades in D Company landed in Suvla Bay in Gallipoli. The conditions were awful, the stench from corpses, dysentery, and swarming flies all added to the horror. When they pulled out on September 30th, 19,000 of their comrades had been killed. They were sent marching towards Salonika, but Francis became ill and he was sent back to England at about the same time as the Easter Rising was happening in Dublin. His good friends Patrick Pearse and Thomas McDonagh were among the first to be executed. He then wrote what is probably his most famous poem

A Lament for Thomas MacDonagh

He shall not hear the bittern cry

In the wild sky, where he is lain,

Nor voices of the sweeter birds,

Above the wailing of the rain.

Nor shall he know when loud March blows

Blowing to flame the golden cup

Of many an upset daffodil.

But when the Dark Cow leaves the moor,

And pastures poor with greedy weeds,

Perhaps he’ll hear her low at morn,

Lifting her horn in pleasant meads.

Now in B Company, 1st Battalion of the 29th Division, he set sail for France and eventually ended up in Ypres where in mid July the Third Battle of Ypres began. on July 31st when engaged in road marking a shell exploded near him. The chaplain wrote: ‘Ledwidge killed, blown to bits’

The Ledwidge home is now a Museum where it is possible read from his many letters, and to see how he lived in his beloved Slane.

MemorIal in the Museum Garden

It was a special thrill to visit this place, his home and his garden, just a few weeks after the  centenary of his death.

He is buried at Artillery Wood Cemetery, Ieper, Belgium.

Image result for ''CWGC LEDWIDGE FRANCIS EDWARD ARTILLERY WOOD''

The grave of the 29 year old Francis Ledwidge (Image Commonwealth Graves Commission)

References

Francis Ledwidge ‘Poet of the Blackbird’  published by Francis Ledwidge Museum

Commonwealth Graves Commission

Published collections

Songs of the Fields published 1916

Songs of Peace  published 1917

Last Songs  published 1918

 

 

 

 

 

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