Monday, August 16, 2010

Limerick. Bunratty Castle, County Limerick

Limerick's Bunratty Castle

Bunratty: For the indigenous Irish in 1275, a disaster.  For the Normans, who displaced them thanks to the Earl of Clare, it was a bonanza.   But the O'Briens and the MacNamaras fought back against the Clares, winning the area back and rebuilding Bunratty for themselves.  See; and

Plan to fly into Shannon Airport at Limerick early in the morning, so there will be a full day available ahead. Early also means a better choice of the rental cars - even if supposedly reserved in advance. Bunratty is on the route north, just past the airport area.

Bunratty Castle, Limerick, Ireland 

 It is a perfect first stop, and a breather from driving on the left.

See There had been an older Viking site there.

 It is reconstructed and furnished, with guides and an outside village "folk park" area with the cottages and peat fires.
There are medieval banquets at Bunratty if you are there at the right time. You can see huge pieces of furniture salvaged from the wrecked Spanish armada, see". There are elk horns as wide as a small room. See them at  See shades of animals gone.

We were there before it opened, and a guide took us through anyway.  His comment: Fairst oop, baist draist, meaning, "First up, best dressed".  That is an old cottage saying -- the one first up gets first choice of the closet.
First up, best dressed. First come, first served.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Clare. NEAR GALWAY - Thatching

The Thatched Roof

There are still thatched roofs, big houses, little houses, but we saw more and more regular tile used for roofing.  Here is a large home, thatched roof, with the stone structure plastered and whitewashed.

Thatch turned out to be good against weather, but bad against those seeking to evict the inhabitants of the house.  Thatch could be used for concealing items of value, leading the overlords and others to set fire to the place.  One reason for burning poor renters out of their houses during the clearances in Ireland and Scotland years ago, see, was to access any bits of gold or other valuables.  Occasionally as well, perhaps the insects and rodents up there required a redo.

 Scots and Irish have been intermingling back and forth since the 5-7th centuries, says the site. Mc and Mac alone did not denote which was which, and the Irish were the more ancient. Read of the race of Dalraida, Irish, at this Scottish site,

County Clare, Cottage, thatched roof, near Galway, Ireland

Thatching is a live industry.  Find thatching techniques and instruction at

Thatching is also available in US for new home construction. See for thatching in North America.   It is more popular in the UK, see

Clare, THE BURREN, County Clare

The Burren

The Burren is a national park, the name deriving from "boireann" or rocky place, see  It is a conservation area, with a farming community, and covers some 200 sq mi (250 sq km).  Have a full tank before starting out, and if you find a place to eat at a crossroads, enjoy a little meat pie.

Everybody quotes Cromwell's Officer Ludlow in 1651 who is said to have said, “... [O]of this barony it is said that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury them. This last is so scarce that the inhabitants steal it from one another and yet their cattle are very fat. The grass grows in tufts of earth of two or three foot square which lies between the limestone rocks and is very sweet and nourishing.”

An Irish barony is a county subdivision, perhaps of Norman origin, but no longer part of local government, see

The Burren, County Clare, Ireland

From Limerick, going north toward Galway, drive at random off through the Burren, this kind of barren moonscape - there is always a crossroads somewhere and a pub with good food and directions.
The Burren is an unexpected rocky, fantastic in the sense of storied, place. See historical folklore and map at This is a stop-often and walk-around place.  There are tiny flowers in the limestone rock cracks, a rabbit or two. Stop at the town of Ballyvaughan for old-time views. Find a Burren musical site at

It is often lumped with Connemara as to tours, see two cyclists doing it at
This would be an excellent geo-tourism site because of the geological sites and attractions. See book "Geotourism" by Ross Dowling at  It was widely inhabited in the Stone Age, becoming less hospitable to human life as time passed.  The limestone dissolves, creating cracks and crevices, where some soil can land, and a plant take hold. See the geological and human history at

Friday, August 13, 2010

Galway, GORT, Yeats' home, Norman tower, County Galway. Thoor Ballylee

Thoor Ballylee, Gort.
County Galway
Tower Home of William Butler Yeats

Gort, Thoor Ballylee, Ireland, Yeats' Norman Tower home

Gort is a little town is some 22 miles south of the town of Galway, on the road from Shannon Airport.  William Butler Yeats made his home here, in a Norman tower; Coole Park is within a few miles, where Lady Gregory welcomed leaders of the Irish literary revival, see
The Normans arrived in Ireland in 1169, and at first ensconced themselves in the "motte and bailey" fortification, a created hill, with a timber dwelling at top, to house folk while the lower stockade was built for defense. Soon this kind of structure was abandoned, in favor of the stone tower, the tower house.  See  They are seen all over Ireland, many, like this, still in use or museums.  There are several kinds of basic floor plans; and with the lack of a centralized government for so long, these were good defense against both Irish and English -- the Normans frequently slid to the Irish-sympathizer side, becoming the Anglo-Normans "Irish-ified."

Yeats lived with his wife and family in this Norman Tower at Gort, between Limerick and Galway. Its formal name is Thoor Ballylee.

There is a little sign on the road. It is furnished and a fine display. One room per floor, up and up. Is the side area part of an original L-shaped plan, or added?  Usually there was a celler, a main floor, and two floors of living areas above.  In the 12-14th centuries, the scale became larger, not smaller with a reduced risk of attack, and for status reasons. Then, in the 15th and 16th centuries, the stress again was put on defense. See the Detail Tower House site.

More on Yeats at Gort at See also

Galway. ARAN ISLANDS, County Galway

Aran Islands
Geology, archeology, history, culture.

1. The Aran Islands were formed some 350 million years ago, of a kind of limestone that erodes in patterns, producing a terracing.  Once there were forests, and the erosions accelerated as the root systems died.  See  The islands have long been a center for fishing cultures; and agriculture in carefully tended stone-walled areas. Take a ferry to get there.
Jon Widing at the Aran Islands, Ireland, friending a horse

2. For a sense of the culture that developed here, read The Aran Islands, by John M. Synge, book first published in 1907.

Synge lived with cottagers on the different islands, a project encouraged by William Butler Yeats who had also visited there.  It is a Project Gutenberg book at  Synge had a brief but brilliant literary career, including major works as a playwright,  and he died in 1909. See
Film:  See the 1934 film, "Man of Aran," from your library or video store for the best traditional overview. See; or;  or
Some literature shows a darker side to this west coast, rugged area.
Lunar and vast, to the casual visitor. See playwright Martin McDonagh,  Find a life and letters review in New Yorker 3/6/2006a t p. 40 ff. He presents a "savage world" -- plays include trilogies including 
  • "The Cripple of Inishmaan," 
  • "The Lonesome West," and 
  • "A Skull in Connemara." Compare the amorality and anarchy, miscreants and misfits (terms used in the review) to earlier - and now. Any difference in people anywhere? "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" and its premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company, New Yorker 3/13/2006 at page 92ff.

Connemara - when you return, see tourist sides at; and at"> Connemara photos, history.
Of particular interest is the number of stories, ballads, poems, ditties,  how the threshing and other survival tasks were done, customs, written down as recalled, the references to the Black Irish (Spanish, even Middle Eastern heritage, an emigration long ago?) and a local of that heritage; the costume of the women, bright red full skirts with petticoats so that the skirt could be pulled over the head for shelter in bad weather.

3.  There is reliance on the steamers from the mainland weekly, managing the curaghs (local fishing craft), see one at; and references to Spanish or other southern cultures in some architectural elements. We know that off-island mariners came, settled, or were wrecked or were washed up on Western Ireland through the centuries.  Now, there are also planes.

4.  Practicalities. Where to get soil when the topography is limestone?  By hand.  Mix sand, seaweed, manure and fish meal.  Presto. Soil. Build walls - a natural with all the stone - to mark boundaries and also baffle the wind.
5.  Migrations, visitors.  Remnants of other visitors: perhaps Norse, although that tradition is stronger on the mainland or islands between Ireland and Scotland, toward Norway.
Skarfaklettar = cormorant cliffs (skarfr, pi. skarfar, gen. pi. skarfa = cormorant. Klettar = cliffs).   That name appears on Arran, but perhaps not on Aran.  
Cormorant: nests on shaley cliffs.

Gaelic for cormorant is close:  Sgarbh.  The Danish for cormorant is Skarv.  The Swedish and Norwegian (both) is Storskarv. Icelandic:  Dilaskarfur.   O, Great Cormorant. Appearing in so many languages in recognizable forms.  History is always with us. But in Irish, Broigheall.  See  Irish Gaelic:  see

.Vikings indeed were here on Aran:  they raided St. Cierans Monastery in the 9th Century (was the sudden Viking violence in response to Charlemagne's forced conversions and slaughter of Saxons in 782? See  For the bus offerings inland on Aran, see See the ruins.

  If the Vikings did not stay to settle here, however, it is unlikely that their names survive. There are cormorants here, however, and the viking name for cormorant was skarfr or some variation. See

6.  Language.  Linguistically, Gaelic has borrowed both words from the Norsemen. Scarf is used for cormorant in Orkney and Shetland also.  But Gaelic is more spoken here than on the mainland, or used to be before the tourism.  

"Irish (Gaelic) and English are the two official languages of Ireland. Irish is a Celtic (Indo-European) language, part of the Goidelic branch of insular Celtic (as are Scottish Gaelic and Manx). Irish evolved from the language brought to the island in the Celtic migrations between the sixth and the second century B.C.E.Despite hundreds of years of Norse and Anglo-Norman migration, by the sixteenth century Irish was the vernacular for almost all of the population of Ireland. The subsequent Tudor and Stuart conquests and plantations (1534–1610), the Cromwellian settlement (1654), the Williamite war (1689–1691), and the enactment of the Penal Laws (1695) began the long process of the subversion of the language."
Fair use quote.  See  Read more: Culture of Ireland - history, people, clothing, traditions, women, beliefs, food, customs, family

7.  Sense of the remote. Arrive by ferry, and leave the car behind.  See for directions, schedules.

We see that there is now a restaurant on a nearby, smaller Aran Island, on Inis Mean, and rooms are available.  See article, "Fresh and Wild," by Nicholas Lander, at Financial Times October 22-October 23, 2011 at Life and Arts section p. 7,

But -- yet again -- first see the film, Man of Aran, 1934, at Also at

8.  Commerce.  Aran sweaters:   The people there are famous for their patterned sweaters, but whether or not those identified drowned bodies washing ashore is unclear.  See, now much copied.  Find sample patterns at 
Best purchase: Connemara socks. Wool. All sorts and mixes and colors. All over and at the airports.

9.  Vicissitudes. Our walking was limited by the mad-cow scare (we had to stay on the paths, and could not even go inland) but that left plenty to do on the roads. See

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Mayo. WESTPORT. COUNTY MAYO. Westport, Croach Patrick, County Mayo

Westport. County Mayo.
Map of Modern Counties 

Ancient History; and Early Irish Ecclesiastical History

This old map, 1998, shows the counties of the Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland remains  a constituent part of the United Kingdom. See the history of Northern Ireland and "the Troubles" at

.File:Map of irish counties1998.gif

1.  Ancient history in Mayo

The far west of Ireland is away from the fancies of Dublin, across moonlike rock scapes. Mayo is a county with vestiges of Mesolithic prehistory (people arrived in Ireland about 7000 BCE). Hunters. See archeological sites, and an overview at
Fast forward to 4000 BCE, the Neolithic.  A mere 3000 years. An agricultural people. Potters.  Weavers. Burying their dead in large tombs.  Then the Bronze Age, 200-400 BCE. It still is there.

2.  Common sight.  Celtic cross on the graves. 

There are so many. How do people bury their dead. Go back to the prehistory. Tombs in the Bronze Age came in four forms.  Find them pictured and discussed at
  • court-tombs:  standing stones around an uncovered kind of plaza or central area,
  • passage-tombs: a gallery
  • portal tombs: a doorway perhaps into a hill area
  • wedge-tombs --

Those forms eventually, as religions evolved and cultures melded, into a Celtic Cross. A look at the mapping and outlines shows the elements.
"In the literature on archaeology, Irish megalithic tombs are divided in four classes: court-tombs, portal tombs, passage-tomb and wedge-tombs, each style named after its chief diagnostic feature. Each class of tomb probably represents a new major colonisation of the country by different groups of tomb-builders. The remains of some megalithic tombs are so badly damaged that they can not be accurately identified by type and are consequently recorded as unclassified megalithic tombs. Examples of all types decorate the Mayo landscape."
Fair use from a fine site, 

Westport, County Mayo, Ireland, church ruins

Around Westport:

On the back roads are many ruins of old churches with Celtic crosses, and rooms, and even artifacts. Celtic design is still used, see

The earliest Irish Christian Church was independent until the emerging Roman branch asserted supremacy in 664 at the Council of Whitby (the dispute was the "correct" date of Easter, a kind of artificial precision the early Irish Christians could have cared less about).  The real incursion of the Roman branch came much later, in the 1100's after the Roman Christian church had split with the Eastern Orthodox in 1054, see  This newly on-its-own institution had to firm up its identity, get converts, establish power, get money, etc.  It aimed at Ireland after substantial success on the Continent with papal armies, Charlemagne, and starting the motivational crusades.

This site is wrong:  All was not uniformly under the jurisdiction of Rome since the start. The Irish Christians were largely independent of Rome until Rome moved in with rules, monastic orders from the continent, established dioceses and archbishops for control, and barred many of the practices of the older Irish churches and monasteries. See, e.g.,

 Saint Patrick's cult blooms, 680 or so. See timelines at

With Charlemagne's slaughter of the Saxons at Sachsenhain in about 782, and forced conversions with papal armies in tow, the Norse began attacking Christian institutions, monasteries.   See timelines for a vast range of history at

The Vikings were not the first to do so, however.  Others had long found easy pickings at the monasteries:  monasteries had been raiding monasteries, indigenous Irish had been raiding monasteries, warring was not uncommon among abbots, etc. for at least a hundred years before the Vikings, see

3.  Ruins, ruins.

So the causes of specific ruins being ruined is not clear.  Vikings, other religious unrest, Cromwell, disinterest, famine years, the uprooting of the peasants, the clearances.  Many possibilities.  As you wander through, take care. There are no barriers to just going in. And no protections once there.  Watch your step, no railings, see your own crumbles before you step.

4.  The area thrives on St. Patrick. See the life of this patron saint, and acknowledgement of cultural exaggerations, at  See more on St. Patrick at This site also has music.

St. Patrick is said to have climbed the mountain known as Croach Patrick there. It is a place of pilgrimage - St. Patrick in 441 is said to have been there for 40 days. We did not climb up, but it is only two hours. Many do it barefoot. See Mt. Croach at

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Mayo. WESTPORT, COUNTY MAYO. Westport: Magic, Sacred or Healing Wells, and springs - hawthorn

Westport, Mayo
Healing Well
"Rag Tree"

Explaining the inexplicable. The human endeavor.

Sacred well.  Westport, County Mayo, Ireland. Healing Well

Magic, and sacred, areas remain from old traditions. There are places where later religions, like the early Irish Christians, or the later Roman Christians taking over the earlier religious places, some being Celtic.  Although the new put the imprimatur of a new faith and name on an old sacred place, or new miracles or healings were said to occur there, the old remains are there. See Celtic Mysteries, The Ancient Religion, by John Sharkey 1975 (US).  Find there traces of even older spiritual and cultural sources, India for example, linked linquistically and in some religious ways with old Celts, p. 6.

Water as a first principle. The triple goddess reappearing as a trinity, blue as a favored color of the earth mother, adopted by the Marianists, fear of the devouring mother, p. 8 -- does that underlie the prohibition against female priests in a major western religion?

Find the sacred places, and stop.  There are niches, places for petitions, steps into blessed waters. Where supplications are granted, or may be. In Mayo is the Well of St. Brigid, with steps descending like this one.  Brigid was the mother goddess for the Celts, who could heal, and control fire and water.  She was Christianized as St. Brigid, but her patronage as patron saint of hearth, home and sacred wells remains.  See Celtic Mysteries, above, at figure 48.  See also
Look closely at these sacred wells, from Ireland. One, the pool with the descending steps, has a sign nearby that indicates it had been an ancient healing well, that later Christians incorporated into their church beliefs. It is near Westport.

And; and the other, a "rag-tree." A place for hanging "clooties", Sharkey at 83.
A clootie is a piece of clothing, or a strip, even a bit of hair, related to a person in need of healing or the deliverance from a burden, see  For Scots, it has become a dumpling, like a fruity pudding in a little package, see

Sacred well. Rag tree at healing well, County Mayo, Ireland. 

We came across several, on back roads, little springs and wells in the middle of other ruins, or on their own with small pieces of cloth fluttering on the branches around. Those represent, we were told, the prayers, pleas of the people. A prayer tree, a vestige of the old, the old living,  but not to the later gods that took over.  Look closely for the bits of cloth, the clooties.

The twiggy one we found was also on a back road. It looked like a hawthorne, but we were there in March, too early for spring, before buds were out.

Hard to see here, but look closely. See Ireland's sacred wells at About midway down the site, read about leaving little votive offerings, a bit of cloth perhaps. Invoke whatever spirit or healing is needed, tie the bit on, say your words and tiptoe away. Does the disease sigh away with the faded cloth? See the place of wells in the Celtic world at

Celtic Ireland has much to say for it. Saint Brigid - who invented whistling and keening, says; and whose fires were kept burning until the institutional church extinguished them, with so much else, in the 13th century.

This topic of healing wells is the linchpin of the 2006 novel by author Maeve Binchy, "Whitethorn Woods," see Is the bush here a whitethorn?  Acacia albida.  Hawthorns are said to have healing qualities. Save the trees.

Hawthorne: See Ancient Celtic Tree-Wisdom at  Fairies live under them. See Believe and it will be so.