Sunday, December 25, 2011


For anyone dropping in here today, and all of those who do not, I wish this special day to be one of peace and contentment.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Winter in Messinias

Sunrise, 30th November 2011

Reading a fellow blogger's illustrated report of snow in Stirling and my daughter's tales of being cold in Kent has provoked me to remind you all that it is not necessary to tolerate such privations.  Relocate!  Here in Messina the weather remains pleasantly mild and there are few days during which the sun fails to make at very least a token appearance for an hour or two; invariably, morning coffee can be enjoyed out of doors on an average of three days out of four.  The far away mountain-top snow I can see from my balcony looks magnificent.  The price of almost everything is rocketing, incomes are being slashed but the sun continues to shine on us and very shortly the days will begin again to  grow longer.  Hooray!

Sunday, December 4, 2011


In Ireland there are books to be had that are not common currency elsewhere.  Most towns, even the smaller ones, seemed to support at least one bookshop and most bookshops had several shelves of ‘Irish interest’ books; books, concerning Irish history, topography and culture, largely published by Irish publishers. In order to counter my ignorance of things Irish I spent many happy hours of my sojourn there browsing such shelves, a pastime which brought me home wealthier by more than two score of new books. It was while browsing in one of these bookshops that, by happy accident, I picked up a copy of ‘ Edgelands’ by poets Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts; a book that has nothing to do with Ireland whatsoever.  Reading the first few pages sold the book to me.
I enjoy this type of unclassifiable reading; serendipity.  Farley and Roberts’ book celebrates and winkles out poetry from places to which most of us would rather turn a blind eye; the factory estates, tips, sewage farms and wastelands which, these days, surround most of our larger towns and cities.
Although not mentioned in ‘Edgelands’, the port of Brindisi is one such place, a vast acreage of concrete parking areas and security fences at the end of an autostrada; the terminus is situated miles to the south of Brindisi town - itself an edgeland of housing estates and little else. I spent the better part of the afternoon of Monday 28th November there, waiting to board the ferry that would bring me home.  That the ferry port was working at a fraction of its capacity did not deter the enterprising local trader pictured above from trying his luck to flog his wares to the handful of people, largely Bulgarian lorry drivers, patiently waiting the afternoon away.  Not being in need of anything the mobile trader had amongst his stock I contented myself watching one of the longest murmurations of starlings I have ever seen, its form and tone infinitely varying as the shifting, swelling, contracting mass of birds murmurated across the clear evening sky.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011


It was all but thirty years ago that I first heard of Matera.  I read about it then in Carlo Levi’s, ‘Christ Stopped at Eboli’, his account of his detention in the then rather sauvage south of Italy during 1935/6 when he was obliged to live under a kind of house arrest for daring to question the activities of the prevailing fascist administration. In chapter ten of his book, Levi relates the story of a brief visit from his sister, Luisa, like himself a qualified doctor, who had passed through Matera on her way to visit her imprisoned brother. Levi’s rehearsing of his sister’s account of the place makes harrowing reading; 20,000 people living in caves carved from the mountainside with their goats, sheep, pigs, dogs, in dwellings devoid of running water or any kind of sanitation; endemic disease, malaria, trachoma; children begging not for sweets but for quinine.
Safe with the knowledge that things in Matera had changed through the three-quarters of a century that have passed since Luisa’s visit, I made at Matera the last overnight stop of my return trip   home from Ireland. Wandering the extensive labyrinth of narrow streets and alleyways of Matera’s two adjacent ‘sassos’, presently an anthill of tourist lodgings, souvenir shops, bars and restaurants, it was impossible for me to imagine quite what Matera might have been like in 1935; even the bathroom of the centrally heated B&B cave I rented for the night was half filled by an un-necessarily capacious jacuzzi bath; a fine looking thing but the graphics on its controls were far beyond my capacity to reason so jacuzzi bathing remains something to which I yet have to look forward.
Matera marked the sixty-second day of my absence from home, an absence that had begun on something of an inexplicable whim; a revelation that a change of scene and routine might shake me out of the far too comfortable torpor into which I felt I had allowed myself to ease.
Inasmuch as I have returned to my home inspired to prosecute all manner of changes, directly to my immediate environment and indirectly to myself, my absence from here satisfied at least one  previously unrecognized objective.
God willing, I shall not wait a another fourteen years before making further solely hedonistic trips away from here.  Indeed, I am already pipe-dreaming a return to Ireland next spring, to re-visit some of the places enjoyed on the recent trip and to explore others which, this year, I was obliged to by-pass.
Θα δουμε! 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Further reflections

Reflections largely on why I have posted nothing for so long!  I have a mountain of material but since leaving Waterford I have had very little reliable internet connection, very little time between driving and sustaining myself.  On Tuesday, d.v., I shall finally arrive home.  Perhaps, once settled back there I may reflect further and write a few more posts.
To enlighten the confused, here is the original image before the demon editor got at it!

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Places in which to reflect

Ancient sites whereat folk have since time immemorial gathered to worship their deities invariably emanate for me auras of great tranquillity.
The south door of Lismore cathedral, County Waterford, Ireland.
The original image from which I cropped myself to produce that above.
Judicious cropping apart, this is not my work; all credit for it is due to
companion Elisabeth who spotted the opportunity and took the

Stone circle, Kealkill, County Cork, Ireland

Saturday, October 22, 2011

“All over the world, remote rural areas attract weirdos, transient or permanent.”

On the day before I left West Cork I drove to Cool Mountain to see what, if anything, was left of the community that had been established there by English refugees in the nineteen-eighties; folk bent on escaping the ovine ambition of the British electorate to live in a state of inescapable uniformity.
As with the majority of idealistically inspired communities that mushroomed with post-war prosperity that began to blossom through the late sixties and early seventies, that at Cool Mountain failed to endure.  At one time as many as eighty people were living on the mountain. By 2007 this had dropped to around twenty-five.
The present population of Cool Mountain live in an eclectic collection of dwellings more or less hidden within the luxuriously thick woodland that clothes the lower slopes of the mountain.
The place wore a mantle of sadness, of somewhere that had been but now was not; or perhaps, somewhere that never really became the Nivana those who came here hoped it might become.  All around glimpses of abandoned vehicles, derelict  sheds, shacks and caravans bear witness to the abandonment of an ideal.
At Cool Mountain it would not have been possible to take photographs without imposing on residents’ privacy.  As one who does I, probably more than most, understand how precious is the privacy of folk who choose to live in remote rural places.  Even if I were sufficiently thick-skinned, or just plain thick enough, to value my want of snapshots above peoples’ rights to privacy, the luxuriance of plant life that presently surrounds the dwellings of Cool Mountain residents would have precluded my taking any meaningful photographs.
The Cool Mountain dream of the eighties has, along with many beautiful but ultimately fictive ideas - swinging-sixties, Prague springs, flower-power - passed into a mythology which every Tom, Thomassina, Dick, Richardine, Harry or Harriet, can interpret as they may.  That there are presently in West Cork so many independent, established and successful crafts-people may, I like to believe, be something of a legacy of the Cool Mountain dream.
I  stole the title of this post  from a book ; “Eating Scenery”, by Alannah Hopkin, published by The Collins Press (2008)   “Eating Scenery” is a book which, in common with most writing, says much about its author.  M/s Hopkin has, it seems, little or no understanding of why folk she somewhat generally refers to as “impecunious good-lifers”, rather giving their lives to wage slavery, might prefer to live free, simple, independent lives in elysian surroundings.  Furthermore she gives the impression that she believes only those in want of shoes would ever walk bare-foot; poor sad Alannnah! 

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Probably not in the guide books

Many years ago, at a time when I seemed to be continually frustrated by the anomalies of english planning laws or, rather, local authorities' planning departments interpretation of them,  I became a fan of roundhouse builder Tony Wrench.
Using largely recycled materials Wrench famously built an attractive, comfortable shelter hidden in woodland within the boundaries of Pembrokeshire National Park.  When bought to book and asked why he had failed to apply for planning permission he explained that as an application would have been refused point-blank, to have applied would have been futile.  Even if he had been disposed to seek permission, he added to his defense, on the grounds that an application would have required drawings, he could not have applied; no drawing had ever existed; when he began to build he had no idea of how the finished shelter might look.

When I came upon the amazing buildings that serve as offices for 'Future Forests' plant nursery I was at once reminded me of Tony Wrench, his Roundhouse and his tireless and gallant fight to preserve his right to live in the home he had built.
As with Wrench's building in Pembrokeshire, that of 'Future Forests' is hidden deep in countryside where it is unlikely to offend the eyes of a majority who would tear down buildings of such ingenuity and natural beauty in favour of eye-sores, with which beautiful Ireland is liberally littered that, despite their ghastly ugliness, tick all the boxes on the forms issued by planning departments.


This magnificent Danish square-rigged ship sailed into the bay this week and moored overnight at Bantry.  Two hundred and fifteen years ago irish patriot Wolfe Tone led a convoy of forty-three similarly rigged ships from Brest towards Bantry where Tone hoped to land sixteen-thousand french troops to support the ambition of his United Irishmen to rid their island forever of its self-appointed English masters.  Unfortunately,  for  the United Irishmen, and all those from subsequent generations on all sides who have given their lives for the futile cause disallowing folk the freedom that is their birthright, the foray turned into disaster.  A storm blew many of the ships off course leaving only sixteen to sail into Bantry Bay.  Nonetheless an attack was prosecuted but gales, sleet and snow prevented its having any chance of success. The French, defeated more by weather than by Bantry’s english defenders, eventually returned home.  Wolfe Tone went on to lead further more or less disastrous expeditions until, in 1800, he was captured, tried and sentenced to death. In prison he cheated the english gallows by cutting his own throat.

Friday, October 14, 2011

On the Beara peninsula

The nearest to Coomhola of the several peninsulas that reach out from West Cork into the Atlantic is the Beara peninsula around which runs a route labeled the ‘Ring of Beara’.  The ‘Ring of Beara’, although less in terms of scale, has as much scenically to offer as that of Kerry but without the razzmatazz.  Yesterday I drove out on the road that skirts the south coast of Beara.  Near Adrigole, a village at the head of a sea inlet, I watched several otters swimming across the sea in front of me.  Later, at the agreeable small town/ large village of Castletown Bearhaven, I rested and sheltered from the rain in the Copper Kettle café where I chose, from an excellent display of irresistible home-cooked cakes and pastries, a generously cream-topped slice of multi-berry crumble to accompany an equally good coffee.  The peninsular terminates at Dursley Head, the western tip of Dursley Island to which what must be  a unique cable car runs above the narrow channel separating the island from the mainland.  Beara was far from free of tourists, I doubt that anywhere in Ireland is that, but they were few and, on the whole, seemed to be like myself, un-organized folk who, rather than travelling from one pre-ordained site to another, travel rather blindly trusting to stumble serendipitously on something or other interesting and worthy of further investigation; folk who prefer to make their own guide books rather than read the often spurious opinions of others.  Here in the Beara I felt able to connect with the spirit of place; a sensation that had eluded me on the ‘Ring of Kerry’.

Turning my back on Dursley Island I took the road that runs along the north shore of Beara where copper mining flourished during the nineteenth century.  Near to the colourful village of Allihies, traces of the copper mining industry, derelict chimneys and buildings, remain and green stains, evidence of copper ore, are clearly visible in the cliffs that edge the sea.   At  O’Neill’s Bar in Allihies I stopped for lunch; my now almost regular daily pint of Guinness and the second excellent, overfull crab sandwich of my trip.

Red-billed Choughs aerobated from cliffs above me somewhere between Allihies and Lauragh, where the road turned to take me over the Healy Pass and back to the south coast of the peninsula.  The narrow, poorly surfaced road climbs up through apparently magnificent mountain scenery, sight of much of which was denied me by prevailing inclement conditions.  The weather had been far from pleasant all day.  As the afternoon wore on, it was rapidly deteriorating.  However, as I descended from the summit of the pass the sun almost broke through the cloud to produce some truly amazing skyscapes above an equally amazing landscape.

Should, before I leave next week,  the west of Ireland be favoured with anything approaching clear weather, I shall return to Beara to see some of what I missed yesterday, to enjoy another of the Copper Kettle’s pastries and, perhaps, to feast on yet another crab sandwich in O’Neill’s Pub.  


On Wednesday, I had cause to visit Killarney, an attractive enough west of Ireland town.  In common with most Irish towns I have visited, Killarney’s streets are lined with a great variety of small, gaily-painted, flower bedecked, independent shops, pubs and cafés.  The people with whom I had dealings in Killarney, shop assistants, bar staff, taxi drivers, together with many total strangers, whose paths I merely crossed on the streets, were typically helpful, warm and friendly, but something about Killarney did not quite click with me; it is not a place to which I have any great desire to return.  Maybe the gloomy, drizzly weather had something to do with my attitude; it was the fifth day in succession during which the sun had hardly found a single break in the cloud.

On my journey back from Killarney to Coomhola the clouds lifted and thinned to reveal stunning views of the eastern end of ‘The Ring of Kerry’, views that had earlier been largely hidden in mist.  That the scenery here is beautiful, exceptionally so, can not be denied. However, intense commercial exploitation of relatively small areas of natural beauty, beauty spots, tourist attractions, both here in Ireland and elsewhere, in some queer way, seems to prevent my full engagement with the soul of a place.  Inasmuch as ‘The Ring of Kerry’ is so very well road-signed, way-marked, served with lay-bys, view-points, catering facilities and souvenir shops, it is something of a tourist honey-pot which, even in mid-October attracts comparatively huge numbers of visitors. 

However many coaches may be parked alongside my car in the lay-by  however many shutter-happy fellow tourists may be recording the view with me; however many snack-bars and tourist gift shops may be cluttering the place, the view, the picture, the craggy mountains, waterfalls, rivered valleys lined with autumn-tinted trees reflected in mirror flat surfaces of myriad lakes can not be other than its reality; inviolably beautiful.  It can not, I try to reason, be other, but however much I try to reason the stupidity of my irritation, to isolate myself from my immediate environment, to transport myself into, to be at one with the view before me, I can not.  Crowds and commercial clutter seem to steal from me my personal place in this view; rather than its reality, I feel as if I am looking at something more like a huge reproduction of the scene before me; something artificial, something manufactured in Hollywood solely for public entertainment.

Back at The Giant’s Causeway, where I had been expecting to find a rocky sea-washed wilderness over which I would be free to wander alone and at will, I was so much disappointed to find the place more or less restricted and totally controlled by The National Trust who seem to have managed to artificialize, to ‘Disneyfy’, a whole natural landscape. I vowed to avoid in future all tourist attractions.  The Giant’s Causeway is, I have no doubt, a huge commercial success.  Builders are presently at work there on a huge new ‘visitor complex’, improved facilities for the Giant’s Causeway; what hubris!

The idea of an attraction the size of the ‘Ring of Kerry’ ever becoming similarly publicly privatized is, probably, nonsensical but when, along with many others, a coach-load of voluble spanish tourists among them, I made my snapshot records of beautiful Kerry at a well organised lay-by, the uneasy emotions I felt at the Giant’s Causeway’ echoed loud and clear.

Bantry and Baltimore

The drive, last Saturday, from The Burren, County Clare, to Coomhola near Bantry, West Cork, was largely through mist and cloud, the base of which was, as often as not, at or near ground level; consequently, although I knew I was driving through some of Europe’s finest scenery, I saw very little of it.  These madid conditions which, I understand, are typical here throughout the year, persisted until late on Wednesday afternoon when a low westering sun cleared the obscuring mist and cloud to reveal and illuminate views of awe-inspiring beauty.

Although a pretty enough small port at the head of the bay that takes the town’s name, I did not find much to inspire interest at Bantry but, in mitigation of it, few places are, when visited on gloomy, drizzly days, at their most inspiring.

On another day, under slightly better conditions, I explored the peninsular that stretches west of Baltimore, a village a little to the south of my temporary home here at Coomhola, into the Atlantic at Mizzen Head.  The peninsular is a delightful succession of sandy bays between rocky, weed-draped headlands and and pretty polychrome villages.

Unlike its American namesake, Baltimore in West Cork is yet but a small village, an ancient anchorage that has expanded around an attractive fishing-boat harbour overlooked by a Norman castle.  For me Baltimore will remain, above all else, memorable for the crab sandwich I enjoyed at Bushe’s Pub above the harbour.

Baltimore; site of the Barbary Pirate raid 
Baltimore got onto my itinerary because of the chance purchase, in Scotland, of a book; “The Stolen Village”, by Des Ekin.  This book tells the true story of the 1631 sack of Baltimore when Barbary Coast pirates kidnapped practically the entire english population of Baltimore, 107 souls, and sold them into slavery in Algiers.  The author’s research brings the story to the amazing conclusion that the raid was the denouement of a complex plot led by a local landowner to get atonement for wrongs suffered by him.  An extraordinary conclusion for which Ekin presents convincing evidence.

Monday, October 10, 2011


Burren Cottage, Carran, County Clare

Saturday was moving day.  I left my home of nine days, Burren Cottage, and I am now comfortably settled in a delightful, tiny cottage, hidden between a lane and a river, at Coomhola Bridge neat Bantry, County Cork.  Yesterday, alone in the cottage, on a peacefully still, overcast Sunday morning, I had time to reflect on my journey thus far.
Nothing is yet much altered with me.  I have written a few blog posts but these have been wrought more by discipline than inspiration; the inspiration I hoped this trip would engender yet eludes me which is hardly surprising, I have done little thus far to advance my cause.  During the first part of my trip, the journey to Ireland, I allowed myself no time to ‘stand and stare’ and since being here I have played the part of a full-time, sight-seeing tourist.  Inasmuch as I have missed more of the sights on my original agenda than I have seen, I have also failed the tourist test.  But I have learned that being in a place alters preconceptions; since being at the Giant’s Causeway, where I witnessed the effect large numbers of visitors have on the soul of a place, I have largely scratched from my list all popular ‘tourist attractions’.  I have no objection to tourists.  Am I not one? However, when their number engenders control and commercial opportunity on what is to me an unacceptable scale, and my imagination falls short  of being able to ignore all but the place I have come to see, I can but choose to be absent from such places.  The Cliffs of Moher and the Aran Islands both fell foul of my mental review.  The islands, not so much through tourist blight but largely because, when within sight of the islands, I doubted that any worth-while tour of them could be made in less than a week: a day trip allowing a few hours ashore, on foot, would allow for little more than a rather pointless ticking of the box to say I had been there.
Here at Coomhola I am hoping to slow down.  The cottage affords plenty of opportunity to do so.  There is a T.V. In the cottage but the owner warned me that reception is, at best, poor.  When I turned the set on I found that the owner was quite right, reception was intermittent and such signals as did make it through to the set were subject to a great deal of distortion, snow and multiple image which, although a probable improvement on the programmes it effectively masked, was something in front of which I did not care to spend time.  This rather pleased me.  It eliminated any temptation I may have had to idly settle down and watch it.  I have no radio. I considered buying a small portable then realized that it would probably be as useful here as the T.V. And the internet router. Here, for much of the next two weeks I want to do little more than walk, read, write and sketch.

The cottage at Coomhola Bridge

I feel very comfortable and at ease here in Ireland and wonder if this has something to do with my finding so many apparent similarities between Ireland and Greece, my adopted home.  Almost universally people with whom I have had cause to deal have been welcoming, warm and friendly; roads are largely empty; uniformed police are few and far between - society here seems to be largely self-regulating; shops in the towns are mostly small and independent; as it is at home, corporatism seems to be slow taking hold here; cafés, bars and restaurants are happy to serve lunches well into the afternoon; musicianship, traditional music and dancing, are taken for granted and I have discovered,  ‘Lyric Radio’ a national radio programme with content, largely european classical music with occasional injections of other ‘special interest’ material, which is almost identical to Greece’s National Radio 3, my constant companion when I am at home.

The Burren

Friday, 7th October was the last full day of this trip I would spend in the hundred and fifty or so square kilometres of limestone plateau south of Galway Bay known as the Burren.  I had decided to spend the day, which had dawned exceptionally clear and sunny, exploring nearby.  Hitherto, during the eight days I had spent there, I had but hurried through much of the Burren on my way to places further afield.  I could comfortably have spent every day and more of my stay just strolling around the Burren but preferred, on this my first visit to Ireland, to get something of a  broader-brush idea of the country.  Consequently I had to compromise; to make sacrifices to time.

At least five thousand years of history have been written, much of it tantilisingly enigmatically, in the stones of the Burren.  Deforested for agriculture as early as Neolithic times, the topsoil of the area has long since blown and eroded away.  Nonetheless sparse populations have continued to survive, farm and leave built evidence of their presence in this rather bleak environment.  My first impression of the Burren was one of a wasteland of bare, wind-swept rock, littered with large boulders and latticed with dry-stone walls.  The Burren is far from this.   Glacial action and subsequent rainwater erosion has engraved the limestone surface with deep fissures in which grasses and other plants flourish to provide nutritious fodder for grazing animals. 
P. J. Kavanagh wrote of the Burren as, “ . . . a desert which is not a desert - cattle fatten on its limy grasses, and in spring Arctic flowers jostle with Mediterranean ones, sheltered in the cracks of its limestone slab”, while Cromwell’s surveyor reported to his master, in typically grim Cromwellian language, that it was, “a savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor a tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury”.

Poulnabrone dolmen is the structural remnant of a 2,500 year old burial chamber, one of a great number of dolmens, stone rings and standing stones dotted around the Burren that provide evidence of the area being occupied during Neolithic times.  Many of the Burren’s extensive stretches of dry stone wall are also believed to be of Neolithic origin.  The Burren is also rich in ruins and sites of several early Christian and mediaeval churches, abbeys, monasteries as well as many castles, intact, ruined and restored dating, from the 11th to 17th centuries.  

Site of church dedicated to St Columba, 6th century. 

Founded, early in 7th Century, by St Colman Mac Duach, the visible remains of the monastery at Kilmacduagh are largely mediaeval.  The leaning round tower, which dates from the 12th century, is the highest in Ireland.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Excursion to Roundstone

For the first time since last Thursday when I arrived here in County Clare I woke yesterday morning to a blue sky and bright sunshine.  Predictably it did not endure; within half an hour a deluge of exceptionally heavy rain was drumming on the roof of the cottage.  A keener photographer than I would have been outside taking photographs of the incredible patterns of light and shade cast by puddles of sun and heavy rain on the tweedy coloured hills opposite but I settled for the dry comfort of the cottage and my morning ‘kick-start’  -coffee and a chocolate chip-cookie.

Within another half hour the sky had cleared, the sun was shining and cotton-wool clouds were being scudded across the sky before a brisk north-westerly wind.  It would be a good day, I reasoned, for a drive to Roundstone, a fishing village on the Galway Bay coast of Connemara that I had put onto my provisional itinerary for several reasons.  One of which was that a friend who knows Ireland well had told me not to miss going there, ‘its a gem of a place’ she had said.  Another was that I knew Roundstone to be the home of author Tim Robinson whose ‘Stones of Aran’ books may, when I first read them back in the early 90s, have planted an early seed of interest in visiting Ireland in my mind; had his Connemara trilogy, the last book of which has only recently been published, been available at that time I may well have made a point of coming here years ago.  But the greatest incentive I had to drive to Roundstone was the prospect of something fishy for lunch at O’Dowd’s.

The weather continued to see-saw rapidly between periods of low visibility, heavy rain and wintry gloom under dark clouds, to bright sunshine and vistas of sparkling mountain and bog under blue skies festooned with all manner of wind-blown scudding clouds. 

That a society of folk blessed with a facility for noticing, admiring and enjoying the beauty of a natural landscape are capable of doing so much to spoil it seems, to me, to be something of a paradox.   Much  of the north shore of Galway Bay, in particular the first stretch of the road leading west from Galway city, has been all but scenically ruined by the imposition of far too many inappropriate buildings; architecturally tedious, extension and conservatory carbunkled boxes in which folk can sit behind huge windows to enjoy the view, not of the beautiful landscape they perhaps hoped to enjoy, but of dwellings at least as architecturally tedious as their own!  What I thought particularly sad was that a few old thatched cottages have survived in more or less good repair.  These buildings, small, low-density, ‘organic’ cottages, built to take advantage of sheltering hollows rather than ‘the view’, illustrate how buildings can, and not so long ago did, enhance, rather than ruin, a landscape. 

At Balllynahown the road turned inland, away from the bungalow-blanketed rocky shore of Galway Bay and into the earthly paradise of mountain, lake, stream and bog that is  recognizably Connemara.  The road narrowed to a twisting undulating single track across the bog and other traffic all but disappeared.

Near Rosmuc Village I stopped to visit the cottage which writer, poet and Irish patriot Patrick Pearse built as a summer retreat.  Here he entertained several of those involved in the 1916 Easter uprising.  He chose a beautiful spot for his summer getaways.  For me, it is difficult to imagine how an armed revolution, careless of bloodshed,  could possibly be considered in such a beautiful, peaceful place.  But Pearse was, along with all irishmen of his day, an oppressed man and, I imagine, to be oppressed is to be desperate for freedom at any price.

Roundstone was the delight I had been promised.  Above a small harbour sheltering several colourful boats, village shops, hostelries and houses are strung along a low cliff overlooking Inishee island.  Prominent among these buildings is O’Dowd’s bar and restaurant.  O’Dowd’s was far less formal than I had expected it to be.  The ‘Seafood Platter’ I ordered there for my lunch, a medley of several kinds of fish and seafood, including generous samplings of noticeably fresh salmon, crab, prawn and mussels, on a crisp mixed green salad, more than confirmed the establishment’s reputation for excellent food.

The accompanying Guiness was . . . .
Well, Guiness, about which, here in Ireland, there is nothing more that needs to be said!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


Yesterday, a more or less overcast day, I drove to Connemara.  I have read a good deal about the scenic beauty of Connemara, its mountains, lakes and sea inlets  I have seen many beautiful paintings and excellent photographs depicting its landscapes but the landscapes I witnessed around me yesterday as I pootled along generally empty roads, exceeded in scenic beauty every preconceived idea I had ever held of the place.  Not only did every turn of the road bring forth a stunning new landscape, views were also subject to continual and infinite  changes of light that filtered through varying thicknesses of wind-driven cloud and squally showers of rain. Connemara is a stunningly beautiful place to be; exhilaratingly so.
I could but reflect, however, as I drove through this earthly paradise in the comfort of my well appointed four-wheeled shelter, on how those wretchedly poor souls driven here in the seventeenth century, almost certainly to perish, might have viewed it. Today, Connemara’s raw, natural beauty owes much to its being devoid of signs of the hand of man; some sheep, some evidence of peat cutting but little else.  In the sea estuaries fish-farming is evidently a prospering business but even the fruits of the sea were denied to seventeenth century refugees who were forbidden to go within three miles of the shore.  How those who survived the journey West managed to build shelter and grow food, beggars belief.  Most, of course, did not; they simply disappeared, further advancing the Lord Protector’s exalted place in his God’s heaven.  With God’s like that waiting for me I would prefer to take my chances without one; compared to a paradise with men like the Lord Protector in, albeit secondary, authority an eternity of haunting the bogs, hills and lakes of Connemara may not, it seems to me, be such an awful prospect.  


Tuesday, October 4, 2011

There be nothing there - only sea . . .

"Is this the road for Tawin?"  I asked the fellow as I passed by him.   My "Tay-win" seemed at first not to register with him but he was obviously a smart enough fellow to be able to make allowance for my extraordinary pronunciation.  "Tawn" he said, "is it Tawn you be looking for?  I told him that I probably was and he confirmed that if I carried on in the direction in which I had been travelling I would eventually reach "Tawn".  "But there be nothing there; only sea",  he told me.  "Sea will be fine",  I assured him.   And so it was.  West Tawin - a rather fine single arch stone bridge connects it to mainland East Tawin - is the the island tip of a low peninsular covered with fields divided by stone walls which stretches out into Galway Bay towards the Atlantic.   For a while I paddled around there on the amazingly soft lush turf contentedly lost in the huge land, sea and skyscapes all around and above me.  The hitherto persistent cloud was breaking up and clearing from the north.  I could see that Galway town, across the bay from me, was in bright sunshine; things were boding well for a fine evening.

And so yet again it was when, later, I stopped at Kinvara, a seaside town with a pretty harbour, across the water from which is a fine sixteenth century castle; yet another 'tourist attraction'. Adjacent to the castle is a rather more than adequate tarmacked and white-lined car and coach park.  I understand that tourist revenue is the only source of income with which to maintain venerable buildings and that the vast majority of twenty-first century tourists, myself included, tour in cars or coaches needing to be parked, but huge areas of tarmac, littered with ugly multicolored pressed steel and plastic vehicles do little to enhance the atmosphere and sense of history of a place.  Having achieved its raison d'être the 'attraction' becomes a victim of its attractiveness and enough of its integrity to become, for sensitive folk at least, something rather less than attractive.

For a long while I leaned on a harbour wall, bird watching and essaying to take acceptable photographs of the birds that were pecking about among the rock pools and seaweeds below; various gulls, curlew and plover.  My camera, I am sure, is well up to the task, the man behind the camera has yet much to learn about telephoto photography!

Just as I was about to climb into my car, which I had parked at the end of the harbour, and leave Kinvara a wedge of swans flew low and slow over the water passing within a few yards of my hiding place by the wall - a would-be photographer's version of the angler's 'one that got away' story!

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A grey day

Today the cloud base remained at, or close to, ground level throughout the day.  A lot of people were out and about; Sunday excursionists.  Were they not indifferent to the weather, the Irish would, I suppose, never leave their home, or local pub, firesides.  I too had ventured out, with plans to visit nearby Neolithic sites, of which there are many hereabouts, and to drive along the coast to enjoy spectacular views of what are billed as the imposing Cliffs of Moher.  Frustrated by low visibility and a wet atmosphere my plans did not come to much but I did look in at the remarkably intact remains of the 1,000 year old Caherconnell Stone Fort and a recently excavated Neolithic structure adjacent to it.
Perhaps the inclement weather added something to the atmosphere of the strange, seemingly infinite limestone pavement of the Burren but it did little for my enthusiasm to explore it.  The cliffs of Moher are described in the Rough Guide as 'awesome'.  As maybe, but they were invisibly so and cliff top hotels and boarding houses with names promising views of Galway Bay, the Aran Islands and the Atlantic Ocean  today looked out onto  nothing more than a blanket of grey mist.
I may not have had too much enthusiasm for becoming lost in the mist but my sprits have remained high.

Enigmatic Neolithic structure adjacent to Caherconnel

Saturday, October 1, 2011

A day of being

Today has been sunless, still, overcast and wet but I have enjoyed my day immensely.  This morning I spent writing in the cottage.  This afternoon I donned the hat and calf-length raincoat I bought yesterday at Ennis and went out into the mist and rain in search of the remains of an early Christian church I understood to be somewhere across the fields from the cottage.  As seems to be the case with a great deal of the Irish countryside, this area is littered with built evidence of human occupation and use and continuity of ideas since at least neolithic times.  The most recent of these, satisfying a human need of an explanation for being, for some kind of god, is the seamless transition from Pagan to Christian.

Adjacent to the church is a stone shrine believed to be older than the church and to mark the grave of St Cronan
Despite the remoteness of both the cottage and the church the stroll to it is remarkably well way-marked; first along tarmacked country lanes and then through fields divided by stone walls well provided with ancient-looking, lichen-covered stone stiles. The ruins of the small now roofless but well maintained church, dedicated to St Cronan of Roscrea, or Tuamgraney, possibly date from the 12th Century.  A number of interesting romanesque carved heads have been built into the walls of the church. Adjacent to the church is a stone shrine believed to be older than the church and to mark the grave of St Cronan.  As may be but, in common with so many ‘sacred’ places, the paddock containing the church and shrine did, for me, exude a powerful ‘atmosphere’ of peace and well-being.  Today this feeling was somewhat enhanced by my believing, not without some concern, that I could hear there, or  above the song of a Robin and the alarm call of a frightened Wren, almost hear snatches of ethereal sounding music.

I wandered along what passed as a path for a short distance beyond the church and stumbled upon a spring and a wishing well, concreted and obviously, judging by the healthy layer of coins at its bottom, very much in current use. Beside the ‘well’ was an earthen mound topped with a broken standing stone.

Returning to the cottage, I lingered at the roadside to gather rain-washed blackberries and while doing so was relieved to hear, loud now, the source of the ‘ethereal music’ I had imagined I had heard earlier; from a nearby cowshed I could clearly hear far from ethereal sounding pop music being blasted out from a radio within.

Hurrying back to the cottage under a lowering cloud base with rain falling with increasing determination I stopped briefly to photograph one of my hardier neighbours (Top photo).  As I did so a flock of Curlew appeared from out of the mist behind me, wheeled above, piping mournfully, then flew low over a stone field wall to fade back into the rain-mist from whence they had come.  This timeless awareness of the continuity of existence of all things, both animate and apparently inanimate, is something of a reality I think I may have been drawn here to find.