Tag Archives: Irish Heritage

The Irish Workhouse Centre

 

The Women’s building at The Irish Workhouse Centre, Portumna

Yesterday I attended a conference at the Irish Workhouse Centre in Portumna,Co Galway. This was my first visit to this complex of buildings, which date from 1850.  Workhouses were introduced in 19th Century Ireland to provide food and shelter for the destitute. The very name ‘Workhouse’ has terrible connotations to this day because of the awful conditions in which the inmates lived.

Families were split up on arrival with separate wings for men, women, boys aged between 2 and 15 and girls aged between 2 and 15 .  Children under the age of 2 could stay with their mother. Parents were permitted ‘ to have an interview with their child at some time in each day’, other than that, there was total segregation. How cruel for little children who would not understand what was going on.

The rear the building that housed the boys. With piles of rocks in what was the yard .

At the height of the Great Famine that raged from 1845 to 1851 or 1852, the poor were clamoring for admittance. Buildings built to accommodate 600 people could have been packed to overflowing with 1,600 people. The daily food allowance was minimal and of poor nutritional value, and many inmates of these establishments died of disease such as dysentery, cholera and typhus.

Inmates had to work in exchange for food and shelter. Women took care of laundry, scrubbed floors, did the cooking and did sewing and mending while men did often meaningless heavy work such as breaking stones.  The laundry area has some very fine industrial archaeology.

By the end of the Great Famine Ireland had 163 Workhouses. Many of these eventually became local hospitals and still stand today as care centres for the elderly. Many have been demolished and have disappeared without trace.

This wonderful project in Portumna which houses the Irish Workhouse Centre is a credit to those who had the foresight to save these buildings from total dereliction. Steady  progress is being made with restoration and conservation work. The centre is in use  for educational purposes and  there are plans for a Workhouse Museum.  The guided tours of the buildings are a revelation, and are conducted with knowledgeable enthusiasm.

Only a handful of Workhouses remain in their original format. This unique complex of buildings in Portumna  stands testament to the history of the ordinary people of Ireland, the non landed gentry from whom most of us descend. Ordinary people who endured extraordinary hardship –  many of them died, many emigrated, many survived too.  This is a tangible monument to them all and deserves our support.

For more information see http://www.irishworkhousecentre.ie

 

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Postcards from Ballybeg Priory, Buttevant, Co Cork

img_4885For years I  have been travelling the torturous route between Limerick and Cork, the N20, surely one of Ireland’s worst major routes with single file traffic wending its way along through towns and villages, with serious sharp bends to be negotiated.

Perched alongside this road, on the Cork side of the town of Buttevant is the fantastic Ballybeg Priory. As many motorist do, I have been taking side glances at this ruin for decades as it is far too dangerous and impossible to stop on the main road.  Before you know it, you have gone past the narrow access road.  However on my last foray on the notorious N20,  I was determined to pull over to take a look at this ancient place and so I finally managed to turn off into the access laneway.

Founded in 1229 for priests who lived a monastic life, the Canons Regular of St Augustine, the Priory was laid out with buildings surrounding a central courtyard or  cloister. Two fine windows of the original church were incorporated as part of a tower some centuries later.

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Much of the site is inaccessible as there seem to be some works being undertaken by the OPW.  It’s an awful pity that they do not provide notices as to what the are doing or why sections are barricaded. Their non medieval porta-cabin does nothing to enhance the visitor experience.

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Cabins and barriers but no explnataion.

Not withstanding these 21st century intrusions, this is a very special place with a wonderful mystical atmosphere. It is sobering to think that I have walked where monks did as long ago as 800 years back.

This site also has a pigeon house, or columbarium, with roosts for about 350 birds and is considered to be the finest of its kind in all of Ireland. It was not possible to get any closer on the day of my visit.

This dove-cot provided food for the monks and also fertilizer for their farm.  An internal view of the dovecot can be seen here.

It is well worth stopping here to explore this ancient site. It’s a pity that not all of the site is accessible, but hopefully that will improve when  the OPW finish their works.

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Further reading

http://www.buttevant.ie/History/Ballybeg-Abbey.html

http://irishhistorypodcast.ie/ballybeg-priory-co-cork/

 

 

 

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Ireland’s Ancient East – A Review

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Ireland’s Ancient East, A Guide to Its Historic Treasures is a recently published guide to a newly designated tourist trail in Ireland featuring remarkable heritage sites in 17 different counties, that encompass about 5,000 years of history. Compiled and written by Neil Jackman, an archaeologist who has produced excellent audio guides for many of Ireland’s top historic sites, this guidebook has everything for the traveller to Ireland and a wealth of information for those of us who live here.

This is a beautifully produced book, packed with high quality colour photographs, with at least one on most of its 300 pages. Each of the 100 sites in the book has been photographed by the author and it is these photographs that are for me the stunning feature of the book. These are the hooks that may well tempt the traveller to go and seek out the amazing heritage across this island.

There is detailed historical information for each place as well as maps, site co-ordinates, distances from nearest towns, driving directions, site facilities, opening times, car parking, and entrance fees, if any.

The heritage sites are varied and range from castles, cathedrals, churches and caves, high crosses, tombs gardens and cliff walks, old copper mines, gardens, country homes, stone circles and workhouses, to name a few!

Maps, a detailed index, an extensive bibliography and a glossary of terms complete the book, which to me is not just a guidebook, but a handbook of Irish history and places worthy of a place in any book collection. This is a gorgeous visual and practical guide to some of Ireland’s ancient heritage, a useful handbook for those of us who have yet to discover some of our hidden gems, a worthy souvenir for any visitor to Ireland, or an exceptional gift for those of Irish heritage. I am happy to have it on my shelves!

 

Further information:

Ireland’s Ancient East published by Collins Press  €15 and also available as an e-book

Abarta Audio Guides

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Postcards from Bunratty, Co. Clare

This week I enjoyed  a stroll around Bunratty where I had gone to meet an internet blog friend from the USA who had been in Ireland doing some research for a book. (What a fascinating and interesting  woman Janet Maher is –  she blogs at Mahermatters.com).  It was a warm,sunny afternoon – just perfect for an amble in this world-famous tiny village. Bunratty  lies between Limerick City and Shannon Airport on the Limerick to Galway road, and is one of Ireland’s premier tourist attractions. It is particularly pleasant now that the heavy traffic has been diverted to a bypass, making it a great place for pedestrians and for those who wish to stop a while.

Bunratty  Castle

Bunratty Castle

Dating from 1425, Bunratty Castle was restored in the 1960s. It is now Ireland’s most complete medieval fortress,open to the public and hosting the daily world-famous medieval banquets. Bunratty Castle is part of the Bunratty Folk Park complex – with its 19th century village street, that includes a school-house, post office and pub as well as many more attractions.  A captivating place that takes us back to see how our ancestors lived in their thatched houses  – a gateway to our past! I did not have time to take in the Folk Park this time, but it is indeed well worth a visit!

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There are some birds in the area who enjoy their distinguished address…who would have a nest in a draughty old tree when there is 1st class accommodation available at  the castle?

 

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Bunratty not only has a wonderful castle and folk park, it is also home to Durty Nelly’s, probably the most famous pub in Ireland.

imageNelly was a character who collected a toll from those crossing the bridge. She supposedly provided travellers with Poitín as well as other comforts! It is said that her Poitín  increased virility and helped childless couples to have large families!

The bridge that led to Durty Nelly’s and Bunratty Castle crosses the Ratty river that flows into the River Shannon.

Caislean Oir by Fred Conlon

Caislean Oir by Fred Conlon

Just opposite the Castle is a sculpture entitled Caiseal Oir  by Fred Conlon. This imposing piece was inspired by the artefacts found in the Mooghaun Gold Hoarddiscovered during the construction of the Limerick to Ennis railway line in the 1850s.

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An old green telephone box is located near Blarney Woollen Mills. Every village used to have one of these green phone boxes, and nearby there is a post box that dates from the reign of Edward VII. These ‘British’ letter boxes, remnants of our history have thankfully been retained. They are protected structures, now in green livery and not the original pre-independence red colour.

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Edward VII Letter box (1902 – 1910) opposite Bunratty Castle

The banks of the river provide safe berths for many small boats.

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A look at the distant Clare hills…

 

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Bunratty is truly at the heart of the mid west region and well worth a visit  by tourists from home and abroad …you will not be disappointed!

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Discovering Castle Oliver, Limerick, Ireland

Castle Oliver – where’s that?  A couple of Facebook posts made me wonder – thank you, Bridget Elliott and Seamus Quaide! And so on a balmy day last summer I headed off to discover this beautiful building, nestled under the Ballyhoura Mountains near Ardpatrick, County Limerick.

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Entrance to Castle Oliver

The entrance is guarded by a pair of fearsome looking griffons. This a relatively recent entrance, lacking the grandeur of the original gate lodges, but is nevertheless pleasant and certainly not your average gate!

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One of the original entrances to the Castle Oliver Estate

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Another of the older entrances to Castle Oliver, no longer in use

Crossing in front of the very spectacular house, veritable herds of rampant griffons protect the magnificent structure!  The setting is stunning  with an uninterrupted view of the Ballyhoura Hills in the ‘front yard’ so to speak, with the immediate area around the house  laid out in manicured terraced lawns, fringed by woodland near the house. A carp lake, sunken garden and fountains complete the picture.

Imposing  house, made from local sandstone

Imposing house, made from local sandstone, beautifully located

This house bears testament to two women – sisters Isabella and Elizabeth Oliver Gascoigne, talented artists who designed stained glass windows and  glass panels. Isabella was also an accomplished woodturner. They built this house in 1843 mainly for lavish country entertaining. Many locals were engaged in the building of the house during the Famine, and so avoided the ravages of hunger. Ownership of  the estate  changed several times over the decades, and it was eventually divided up into lots and sold off to pay bank debts. The house  fell into decay and  at one stage had a large tree growing out through the roof. All but 15 acres or so surrounding the house were sold off . It was almost a total ruin when it was purchased by the current owners, the Cormacks, in 2006.  Roofless  and windowless, they set about turning the shell into a beautiful home for themselves and their three young children. 

I love the elegance of the house with all its architectural detail – I have a passion for interesting chimneys  and had lots of them to look at here !

In the large entrance hall there is a beautiful stained glass window. Some  of the original panes had survived and thanks to old surviving photographs it was possible to recreate the window in its entirety.  Isabella and Elizabeth had designed this feature.

Working from old photographs it has been possible to create an interior that reflects many of the  features of the original house. Some small portions of original decoration  survive as on the dining room ceiling below.

The most beautiful room in the house, in my opinion, is the ballroom, with stunning views of the countryside and a magnificent ceiling. Here too can be seen some of the original artisan work at the fireplace.

Lavishly furnished bedrooms fitted out with carefully sourced period pieces, many with a history all of their own, add to the ‘sense of place’ of this lovely house.

All great houses had a wine cellar. Castle Oliver is no exception and it boasts one of the largest ever built in these parts, with room for tens of thousands of bottles!

Castle Oliver is a gem in the Limerick countryside. How wonderful to see beautiful houses such as this being loving restored and  open to the public, so we can share the splendour and grandeur that was such an integral part of our society in days gone by.

Further reading:

For opening times see http://www.castleoliver.ie/

http://www.abandonedireland.com/Castle_Oliver.html

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Postcards from Kells, County Meath, Ireland

As we huddle and shiver our way through an Irish winter, it is a perfect time to recall the sunnier warmer lazier days of summer. At the winter solstice here in Ireland, we just about make 7 and a half hours of daylight, but in reality it seems much shorter under our wet leaden skies. Come January we can already see a ‘stretch’ in the evenings and we  can look forward to the heady days of midsummer that stretch out to a magnificent 17 hours of daylight. The longer days of summer are great for taking  day trips to discover unexplored  parts of Ireland. As a native Irish person living in Ireland,the ‘hidden Ireland’ never ceases to amaze me. I am often reminded of an Irish Tourist Board television advertising campaign from some years ago, for the domestic market  that had as a buyline: ‘You haven’t seen the half of it.’ I certainly have not, but I am working on it !

So to brighten these dark cold days, I am looking back at activities and intended posts that never saw the light of day. And where better to start than in the historic and very attractive little town of Kells in County Meath, possibly one of the oldest continuously settled places in Ireland. The name is familiar to many, because one of Ireland’s major cultural treasures and our most visited tourist attraction, The Book of Kells, takes its name from an Abbey in the town where it was kept for hundreds of years.  The Book of Kells is a 9th Century elaborately illuminated manuscript of the 4 Gospels. (This wonderful treasure is on permanent display at Trinity College Library, Dublin, where it has been held since 1661, much to the chagrin of some of the Kells locals.)

There is far more to Kells than the Book it does not have, for it has some of the most striking and unique  features of any town in Ireland, ranging from modern sculpture to Georgian buildings to ancient High Crosses and monastic remains. On the day I visited I was lucky enough to see much of what Kells has to offer.

 

The sculpture “Angel of the Past” is by a local artist, Patrick Morris, carved from a sycamore tree which stood here when Charles Stewart Parnell addressed the people of Kells about land rights for Irish tenants and Home Rule.

The sculpture “Angel of the Past” is by a local artist, Patrick Morris, carved from a sycamore tree which stood here when Charles Stewart Parnell (1846 – 1891) addressed the people of Kells about land rights for Irish tenants and Home Rule.

Just behind the sculpture, which stands in the Parnell memorial garden, is a symmetrical building which turns out to be a pair of schools – one for boys, one for girls. These were built  in 1840 by the generosity of  Catherine Dempsey, who bequeathed her entire fortune to the education and clothing of  poor children of the area.

Kells has some fine Georgian houses – many of which seem to be in use as private homes. I was particularly taken by some of the lovely door knockers!

Also in the main street is a very ornate drinking fountain, erected to the memory of a beloved spouse.

Kells is an ancient town where St Colmcille (or St Columba) established a monastery  in the 6th century. He was then exiled and he set up a monastery on the Scottish Island of Iona. It is thought that the Book of Kells was begun on Iona, and brought to Kells later when the monks fled Viking invaders. They reestablished the Kells monastery in 807.a.d
The remains of St Colmcille’s Monastery are in the grounds of St Columba’s Church of Ireland parish church.
The square tower is all that remains of the medieval church. There are some interesting carvings of 3 heads above the door.  The spire is an 18th Century addition.
Within the grounds are a round tower and  several High Crosses. The ringed High Cross is one of the most iconic of Celtic symbols and Kells has some fine examples. Dating from about the 9th or 10th Century,they stand up to 12 feet in height and are beautifully carved from blocks of limestone.

Away from the  monastery, and in front of the Heritage Centre stands the Market Cross. Like the others, it is elaborately carved with scenes depicting various biblical themes. This cross was supposedly used as a gallows after the uprising of 1798.

My stop in Kells was a short but enjoyable one, and I am glad to have finally ‘discovered’ such a rich and impressive heritage.  Kells is easily reached from almost any part of Ireland, is only 40 minutes from Dublin and should be a ‘must see’ for anyone interested in our rich heritage.

The Book of Kells can be viewed online here.

 

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Culture Night, Ireland September 2013

This is the eighth annual Culture Night, with 34 regions, towns and cities around the island of Ireland taking part in a variety of free cultural and artistic events.

Music, dance, theatre, spoken word, literature, visual art, tours, workshops and exhibitions are all part of this year’s programme, with details available at:www.culturenight.ie.

To mark this special night, I am reposting  a blog about Sean O ‘Riada who had such an influence on our Irish traditional music, modernizing it and bringing it to the attention of an entire generation. 

Happy Culture Night to all readers in Ireland!

https://thesilvervoice.wordpress.com/2011/08/01/irish-traditional-music-and-sean-o-riada/

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September 20, 2013 · 3:42 pm