Posts from the ‘History’ Category
St. Patty’s Day Special: Wood Sorrel and the Myth of the Shamrock
On this day, enjoy a lovely description of the storied layers of the symbolic Irish Shamrock.
Happy St. Patty’s Day!
Ancient technologies: humans + environment
We met an interesting man on our stroll around Money Cashel near the Burren, here he is on ancient technologies and drawing.
Inside the belly of an ice-house – Crom Estate
Ice houses are to be found in the grounds of many of the old country estates in these Northern lands. Here is Claire at the Crom Estate in Northern Ireland inside the belly of an ice-house.
About Ice houses – Ice cut in winter was stored right through the year in stone icehouses across Europe supplying numerous big houses with fresh produce and keeping guests happy with novel sorbets, icecreams and crushed ice for cocktails and bumps or sprains got while out hunting the stag!
Today fridges are present in every kitchen – well almost. When I lived in Spain we didn’t have a fridge; we are vegetarians so it was easy. The micro-organisms in plain yogurt keep it fresh for weeks and the cool tiles and wooden shutters protected the veg from decay.
In the last century before the advent of the fridge, many families used cool boxes or chests packed with ice to keep meat and fish. The pantry or larder had marble shelves to keep dairy produce and cold meats fresh as long as possible. My mum tells me the cooling properties of her mother’s larder were enhanced by covering the milk jug with a wet cloth. The milk was kept cool via evaporation. In Spain water kept in unglazed “porons ” keeps spring water fountain fresh even on the hottest days. When camping beers maybe kept cold by hanging them out of the window in wet socks! Or submerging them in the stream.
Margaret Gallagher, of Mullylusty cottage just outside Boho in the Marble Arch Caves Geopark lives off grid all year round. She tells us that a wheelie bin makes a wonderful off grid fridge which keeps hungry animals out in winter-time. But can the wheelie bin be as effective as a giant crock? Kept wet a ceramic jar will keep milk and other foods fresh in hot climates again by evaporation. Buried underground it could be used to store root vegetables like potatoes and turnips.
Margaret tells us how her family used an ordinary chest to preserve meat. After the pig had been butchered the pieces were packed into a wooden chest with salt and buried in a surprising place. The place of choice at Mullylusty and other cottages was usually the dung heap or midden . We didn’t ask Margaret why this was so, but archaeological evidence reveals middens as natural insulators, valued for their properties of conservation. Evidence from Skara Brae in Orkney shows the homes were actually built inside an enormous midden!
BOG BUTTER – Not sure if all of you know this but past peoples apparently buried butter in wooden kegs in bogs. But how far back in prehistory was it that the original peoples of Ireland first used bogs as fridges. Who first understood that bogs can preserve fats? Micro-organisms that cause food to go off can’t dwell inside a soggy shroud of bog turf as they need oxygen to survive, this is why a bog performs as a brilliant off grid-fridge. In Ireland much ancient bog butter has been found over the years and some of it is still edible, if a bit cheesy.
Bawnboy poorhouse audio blog
Our visit to the ruined poorhouse at Bawnboy in County Cavan was sobering and we had a lot of questions to ask of this austere building. The site is not open to the general public so our audio provides a glimpse. The hair on our arms stood up as we surveyed these broken buildings, their chimneys heavy with trees and windows blown.
Built to house 500 men, women and children and opened in 1852, the poorhouse was on way of addressing the poverty and destitution brought on by the Irish potato famine. The poorhouse was supposed to be grim, it was hoped that only ” the deserving poor” would seek its refuge, saving tax payers money. In order to keep costs down the governors even questioned the provision of supper to inmates! Families were cruelly segregated in an iron regime where harsh punishments were metred out for such actions as simply speaking to passers by. Only children were permitted to go out at all.
The building was later used by the community for a variety of purposes and some of it was even turned into private accommodation before finally reaching total dereliction. (Information sourced from: http://www.irishidentity.com/stories/bawnboyworkhouse.htm)
Our Geopark ancestors (audio)
We cycled to an old church up the lane near our campsite at Holywell, Belcoo. Listen here as we speak the names of the local ancestors from the headstones into our handheld audio recorder.
Now we read local home place names of the Geopark ancestors and though some of them are by now familiar we can’t help our mispronunciations – do excuse!
Landscape of Abandoned Dreams
In our wanderings through the landscapes of the Marble Arch Caves Geopark, we came across many incredible decaying homesteads, architectural remnants of abandoned dreams left to be reclaimed by plants, land, water and weather.
This “forgotten dreams” phenomenon seems more evident here
than any other place that either of us have been before.
The land seems saturated with it.
Abandoned farm equipment, the most modern and desirable in its day,
rusts in its final resting place, chumming up with the local flora.
It is as if abandoned architecture and belongings continue
to poignantly describe the cycles of history:
“better days” along with famine, economic hardship, immigration and
the forgotten dreams of this place.
We climbed in the wide branches of two famous, ancient, entwined male and female Yew trees on the Crom estate. They are reputedly the oldest Yew trees in Ireland and possibly in all of Europe. According to the National Trust website, the trees were planted in the 17th Century, but other websites proclaim the trees to be much older – as many as 800 years.
The Yew Tree is now a rarity in Ireland, but the tree still has a mythic cultural prominence. Rich in mythology, symbolism and historic and prehistoric cultural uses, Yew trees are shrouded with mystery and power. The large, majestic trees have a commanding presence, not least because all parts of the Yew tree contain poisonous alkaloids, except for the bright red arils encasing its seeds.
As we climbed, swung and perched in the grand branches of the trees, we mused about the dreams shared and the hundreds of years of history witnessed by the arboreal pair. What do Yew trees dream of? How many dreamers have taken refuge in the protection of these trees and which of their dreams were caught in the great web of their branches?
We are sure that dreams and yew trees are tied up together somehow and here is a bit of proof. Read about a Yew dream from the 1600’s “Somnium ex Eubernea porta” from Mrs. Cl., of S. here.
For more information about Yew trees visit the Ancient Yew Group at www.ancient-yew.org.
This place has seen…….
DREAMING PLACE records a series of river bank happenings from below Cuilcagh mountain. This place has seen…….
…… darkness falling from the sky in a blaze of light.
….. a girl with barefeet who thinks she’s a bee…..
….A tiny man in a waistcoat silouetted against a white horse.
….. an epic game of chess.
…..a safe haven in a hayloft sanctuary.
…. a silver fork dropped on grass.
…. a plane dropping height and crashing.
…. a tadpole the size of a tennis ball.
….. a halo of flies.
….. a knife blade broken in two.
…… a bride who falls down a well.
……..a boy with a catapault kills a small duck and takes it home for his aunty to pluck.
….. 3 sisters, legs mottled with cold jumping on the spot as their mother spreads a checked table cloth on the bank.
….. a tray of oats warmed in the sun is sprinkled into a hollow.
…. a nuthatch drowns in a puddle.
Eels and things…..
I saw EELS in my minds eye while dreaming on the shores of our first campsite on the shores of Lough MacNean. I actually saw EELS and I saw TURTLES and I recorded what I had seen on our Dreaming Place Dream cloud data sheets.
That day I decided we should fish for EELS. I am vegetarian, but I’d like to fish for eels, just to trap’em, look at ’em, say hello and put ’em back. Id’ like to try Humane eel fishing. Claire was very enthusiastic when I told her, for she has fished for eels in New Zealand and it was fun. New Zealand eels she told me are absolutely enormous. They’re ” As fat as your arm” over there, she said.
To trap EELS like this we’d need a horses head like in ” The Tin Drum” or at least some tuna and a sock. But oh I don’t think that would be fun and a sock with a dead mouse in it is about as far as we’d like to take this… so we went for a cycle ride hoping to find a dead mouse that had died ” a natural death”!
Anyway, the eel fishing stayed as a vision like the one I made in our dream cloud.
I also drew the TURTLES I’d dreamed on another dreaming place data sheet. Claire has a special relationship with turtles, so I showed her my dreaming place postcard straight away. When we were at college Claire brought a small stone turtle with her to give her inspiration. Claire moves very fast and does a lot, so her turtle inspires her to take life at a slower pace. In her home state of New Mexico there has been a tradition of eating the turtles as they gather in the wetlands.
” TURTLE TIME / TEA TIME”
Turtles would have been “tea” over many thousands of years for the “original peoples” of the MAC Geopark home waters and the other myriad loughs of counties Cavan and Fermanagh. Turtles might also have provided a tasty treat for otters, lynx, seals, golden eagles,bears, wolves, fox, fish and badgers.
Our evolving Dreaming Place Toolkit – a list in images….
The land dreams in many tongues
Languages are an important part of the diversity of place.
Climate and conditions naturally affect what languages sound like or how they look. And so do migration of peoples, cultural expansion, invasion, politics, music and technologies. Sounds made by non-human inhabitants contribute to cultural exchange and communication and so do songs of animals and fungi. Languages are dreams of place!
The people, places and things that inhabit or visit Marble Arch Caves Geopark are very diverse and they have widely different voices. All those tree species, insects, clays and sands, bogs, butterflies and musical instruments – and what about our computers and our cars?…. what a mixture of languages and ways of being. Lots of languages use sound, but lots also are visual, gestural or tactile or a mixture of all of them.
The land dreams in many tongues. Listen here to water re entering the rock at Poll Sumer in the MAC Geopark.
It always strikes me that Geology doesn’t recognise political borders. For this reason I elect Geology for the Nobel peace prize.
Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark (click to see MAC images) is a X= border Global Geopark re-uniting lands, cultures and heritage that have been separated only by human politics and drama. Marble Arch Caves Geopark consists of peaty chunks of Counties Cavan (Éire) and Fermanagh (Northern Ireland) that share a geological heritage (and of course much, much more.)
In Limestone landscapes the bones of the earth are apparent just beneath the surface giving structure and interest. Limestone grasslands clothing this rugged skeleton are home to a vast richness of flora and flora.. A cross-section of the Geopark reveals a swiss cheese of potholes, caverns and underground streams. Rainwater falling onto boggy slopes and meadows of Geopark uplands filters through the vegetation and leaks into loughs and rivers carrying wee bits of rock with it as it goes. Rain is weakly acidic and just like coca cola on human teeth it dissolves the limestone as it goes forming pitted and eroded surfaces or Karst landscapes. Calcium carbonate and other minerals it has picked up on its journey form stalagmites and stalactites. (click here for booklet of the Karst of Ireland).
Cuilcagh Mountain rising above the green limestone hills of Marlbank was once part of a much higher sandstone landscape that has all but eroded away. Find out more about Cuilcagh Sandstone here. With its rocky northern slopes and lower slopes muffled in blanket bogs the mountain is home to relict species such as the dwarf willow and starry saxifrage. (link to our blog on starry saxifrage here)
Cuilcagh means chalky mountain which the literature might tell you is a misnomer. This is incorrect, tramping on the mountain we did discover pigments or chalks. On the northern slopes of the mountain, where the surface has fallen away in landslips, nuggets of greasy ochres ideal for body painting
can be found. We are sure the ancient inhabitants of these lands were familiar with these deposits and named the mountain for its “chalks” of many colours. Claire told me that close to home in Questa, (Find out more about geology/history here) Northern New Mexico, a procession of native peoples arrive on horseback to collect pigments from the mountain side each year. We can imagine a similar procession to Cuilcagh Mountain in distant times?
Above and Below
From the the beginning, we knew that exploring above and below ground and above and below water would be important themes for DREAMING PLACE. Not only are we personally interested in these themes, the geology and geography of the Marble Arch Caves Geopark demands it!
These themes both directed many of our adventures as well as our philosophy of the project. We wanted to explore “above and below” with the people, places and things of MAC Geopark. What is so important about above and below?
We are accustomed to experiencing the surface of things the “above” version, but delving into both paints another picture of place. “Below” is also very much linked to exploring dreams, because often to understand the meaning of dreams or understand the “dream meaning” of a life experience, one must delve below the surface meaning and explore the many layers.
To be a “Place Dreamer” is to explore the many layers…..
You can read about our first underground experience with Dave Scott here and a little bit about our wild swimming adventures here.
Drawing out the past: a tribute to Johnny Mckeagney (+ audio)
Anna and I with Seamus and the two of Johnny McKeagney’s sons
I expect some of you will have heard about the Cathal Bui festival in Blacklion, (Eire) and about Johnny MeKeagney, author and illustrator of In the Ould Ago? A shop keeper by trade, Johnny McKeagney had a passion for people, places and things and spent many years of his life literally “drawing out the past”.
We’d just begun our own collaborative Geopark drawing, when we first spied Johnny’s book “In the Ould Ago” in Enniskillen castle museum bookshop. The detailed pen and ink drawings and large format of this incredible book SPOKE OUT LOUD TO US. And now we badly needed a copy to help “fast dream us into place.” Most urgently of all, we wanted to meet Johnny, naturally. Sadly, Johnny is no longer with us, but happily, we can all know him through his work. We had the good fortune to meet his sons, pictured above at the Johnny McKeagney tribute evening.
Our collaboration with Marble Arch Caves Geopark comes with lots of perks, and the best thing is they actually SUPPLY US BOOKS…..!!! We love them for that…. and we know that this will make you all a little envious. You see, a collaborative project like ours works as a kind of exchange. We are fond of Exchanges as you know. Our project is funded by National Lottery through Arts Council England which means MAC Geopark gets us and Dreaming Place for free. In return they provide us with contacts, experts, books, lifts, maps, free entry into show caves, amazing PR and stuff like that.
This appealing and informative book is choc full of detailed observations of Marble Arch Caves Geopark heritage… and even some dreams. Our admiration for this man has grown as we too have been invited into strangers homes for tea and chat and have drawn our vision or Aisling.
Johnny’s book shows him to be full of curiosity, love and respect for his homelands, its people, places and things. A tireless documenter, he forayed out into the twin counties of Fermanagh (Northern Ireland) and Cavan (Eire) gathering heritage “data”, even as he grew sick. Like us, he was uncertain at first how to share this “data” with others. Eventually plumping for a hand illustrated book. Much of his work was achieved from his own Dreaming Place: his bed.
As heartfelt descriptions of Johnny McKeagney’s work by Séamas MacAnnaidh and others filled the tribute evening, we began to better understand the breadth and depth of his fieldwork, drawings and the process of presenting it all to a wider audience. We related in particular to the reflections on the challenge of presentation, as we face a similar conundrum with our own drawings and fieldwork.
Listen to an audio clip from Séamas MacAnnaidh’s tribute below:
We recommend In the Ould Ago to anyone and everyone interested in Irish culture, oral history and the creative presentation of a place, its people and their material culture.
The smell of home turf
The lower flanks of Cuilcagh mountain are now cosily blanketed in revived boglands rich in species who make up the ecology of this very special habitat. Incredibly, as recently as the nineties this elemental bog was endangered because of the commercial extraction of peat for fuel. It looked like a giant carpark (parking lot), a land with its skin peeled back. A lot of TLC later and these “badlands” are again home to a huge variety of wildlife.
We are not experts but the commercial rape of the land by the large turf industry seems like quite different thing from the traditional small scale harvesting of neighbourhood turf for winter fuel. This image shows the peat after it has been cut drying in the Marble Arch Caves Geopark breeze.
Funnily enough the drizzle doesn’t seem to affect the drying process too much.Turf has been burned here since the bronze age and in the Geopark, we noticed burnt mounds that look a lot like burnt peat. (The demands of blogging mean that I may not have time to check all this info so do feel free to comment and correct please.) And a turf fire, as it is called here, is surely the smell of home. Adan a young guy who farms his family homelands on Galloon Island could NOT believe we had NEVER smelled a turf fire, not ever. He simply rejected the idea, what total deprivation….
We vowed to light a real fire and found an opportunity at MacGrath’s cottage and lit one just for the craic. Our English, Valencian and New Mexican burning experiences have led us to burn mostly wood and never turf. The very idea of burning the earth itself seems strange to us. But it was the first fossil fuel.
I know that lots of you have no tradition of burning turf fuel. So here is a short explanation. Turf is peat and comes from the buildup of mosses and other vegetation where the accumulation of dead vegetation exceeds the decay. The reason this can happen is that in the wetland environment the mosses are not able to break down for lack of oxygen. The fungi and bacteria that recycle the dead mosses cannot live in this waterlogged environment and decay is halted. Gradually, gradually there is a buildup of vegetation which becomes compacted and swallows up the surface stones and features. Peat that forms in these conditions on the sides of mountains is called Blanket Bog. Lowland bogs are slightly different, but essentially the process is the same. Turf that is burnt in homes in Northern Europe have normally taken hundreds or even thousands of years to form.
Turf extraction, as we know, is not sustainable, (mostly) which is why lots of us now prefer to buy non-peat based composts.
In these Geopark lands, turf drying in the fields is still a relatively common sight; one that attracts our attention. And many families have a cut in a newly harvested field. They must go down and shift the peat once it has dried and stack it at home. Tur, as we found out, burns almost without flame and is red hot. It burns more like coal rather than wood. We stoked and blew under the turf all night trying to get some flame before we understood the error.