Poem on Ballymanus Mining Disaster, 1943

On May 10th, 1943, a stray mine washed ashore in the Rosses of Donegal. What happened next is recounted in this Irish Times piece on a memorial unveiled in 1999:

Many watched the mine from the shore for several hours as it bobbed in the water. When it finally came ashore, they rushed to see what it was, despite warnings to keep clear.
Some climbed on top of it while others banged on it with stones in an attempt to crack its shell, unaware of what lay inside. Without warning, the mine exploded, killing 17 young men ranging in ages from 14 to 34, including three brothers. Two more died in hospital soon afterwards. The explosion was so loud it was heard over 40 miles away in Letterkenny.

Among those who died were two of my grand-uncles.

At the Donegal Heritage blog there is posted a poem by author unknown on the tragedy. I note that it refers to 18 deaths, not 19 (or 17) which I wonder may help with dating it.

Oh weird and wild the wail of woe now borne

Upon the startled night-winds from the west-

Deep gasps of grief and soul-sighs from men torn

By death, grim hideous unbidden guest-

From where great breakers piling on the shore

Awaken eerie echoes o’er the dunes. Fell waves!

Foul, treacherous for-ever more-

While lethal-laden, chanting […]

the rest is at The Mine at Ballymanus 1943 — Donegal Heritage

“The Glamour of the West”  D L Kelleher, 1928

“The Glamour of the West”  D L Kelleher, 1928

20170605_095717-1The Glamour of the West seems to be part of a series by D L Kelleher, following on from The Glamour of Dublin and The Glamour of Cork. Kelleher is an obscure figure now. Here is his bio from The Concise Oxford Companion to Irish Literature:

Kelleher, D[aniel] L[aurence] (1883–1958),

playwright and man of letters. Born in Cork and educated at UCC, he was associated in his early career with the group of dramatists known as the ‘Cork Realists’ [see Abbey Theatre]. Stephen Grey (1910) was produced at the Abbey in 1910, and thereafter he wrote A Contrary Election (1910). His travel sketches reflect his varied career, and include Paris, Its Glamour and Life (1914), Lake Geneva (1914), The Glamour of Dublin (1918, as ‘D. L. Kay’), The Glamour of Cork (1919), Round Italy (1923), and Great Days with O’Connell (1929). His poetry includes Cork’s Own Town (1920), Poems Twelve a Penny (1911) and Twelve Poems (1923).

The Glamour of the West doesn’t even make this concise list. It is a collection of very brief sketches, the longest a couple of pages. The subtitle, “Bantry Bay to Lough Foyle”, gives a sense of the geographic range, although at times Kelleher veers quite far east (to Anthony Trollope in Banagher and Maria Edgesworth in Edgesworthstown).

20170605_095726I quite liked the Talbot Press symbol (“logo” seems a bit anachronistic) Talbot Press seems to have gone the way of all flesh:

 

Kelleher’s tone is set from the outset, in a “Prelude”:

“The West’s Awake!” – Awake to what? To its own infinitely small knowledge of itself? That  is as much as one can say in answer.

He ends the Prelude thus:

So, in 1928, this brief book of resentment and hope, coloured with a little love, takes up a few of the threads, and as tenderly, cynically, or dispassionately as may be, for a moment resumes an old story.

Kelleher references “cynicism” quite a bit throughout. The tone of the book is often bantering, scathing  – but in a somewhat indirect way. It put in my mind of a fictional character, Sarah Devlin from J G Farrell’s wonderful novel Troubles  There is a sort of habit of mind that could no doubt be called post colonial in a later age; mindful of the the atrocities but also the slights inflicted on the Irish nation over the years, and complaining of these in a what could be called a passive aggressive tone. Perhaps most suggestively, there is little on the events of the prior decade which led to Irish independence (in part).

Some extracts may demonstrate this comparison – the reader can judge if it is apt or not.

“The 1847 Famine In Mayo” is perhaps a little more emotionally direct than other pieces. It begins with a consideration I have wondered about myself

In the year 1928, when this book is being put together, there are many thousands of living Irish people whose parents were born in or about the Famine times. No wonder, here and there, if a melancholia should appear in the Irish. A generation born around the famine year could not escape the famine complex. In the west especially, life turned black with the black blighted potato. Social historians discuss the incidence of hysteria, and worse, due to the Zeppelin nights in London. The long duresse of the famine of 1847 was deeper shock to the whole population than any number of night-raids. Death might ensue from a bomb, but despair and death both were surer in Ireland. In Mayo the tragedy was at its height. At Westport workhouse, built to hold one thousand inmates, three thousand clamoured for entrance sometimes in a single day. Yet the pride of the Irish poor if well known; they will only enter the poorhouse when ruined and hopeless. The gate of the workhouse would be closed and barred early. Then the desperate, weak, lonely, agonised outcasts would throw themselves down to rest and snatch a sleep at the foot of the wall on the opposite side of the road. As many as seven corpses were found one morning like that, dead where they lay.

“Long duresse” is in the original. I did wonder originally was it a reference to the longue durée  concept of historians of the French Annales School, but this was many years before. “Duresse” must be related to “duress” and mean suffering.

Here is another characteristic extract –  about a man from my father’s part of the country:

A very old man, eighty-five, perhaps more, came into the town of Dunflin, Co. Sligo, one day in 1670 on his way to Dublin. The jolting of the rude two wheeled car, with only a layer of straw thrown down in it to soften the corner where you could sit, had tired him out. So he went to the tavern where he was known (for he had often passed that way) and asked for a bed for the night. He was given his old bed in the room above, and then he settled down by the fire in the kitchen to take a little drop of whiskey to revive him and to rest for a short while. There was a very nice girl serving drink to any that would come into the bar outside. But there was little custom and she came into the kitchen and stayed a long time talking to the old man, for she was a really nice girl and could appreciate him. They were pleasantly conversing when a loud clatter of feet was heard from the shop and a voice calling, “Come on here and fetch it out!

Hurrying from the kitchen the girl recognised the intruder as a well-known loyalist from near Dunflin. As soon as he saw the comely girl he put his hand around her, but she pulled herself away and stepped back into the kitchen where the old man had risen from his chair on hearing the confusion. The intruder followed her in and again trying to lay hold of the girl, said “Come on! Give me a kiss and you, you old —–, turn away!”

But the old man put himself between the girl and the soldier and defied him to touch her, for, as old as he was, he would strike “a foul fellow the like of you.’ The drunken soldier, blazing with insolence and disappointed passion, caught up a knife that was lying on the table and drove it into the old man’s heart and killed him with that blow.

That old man was Duald MacFirbis, once a rich scholar, who had spent his whole life compiling histories and genealogies. He was one of the true lovers of Ireland, keeping a hope for posterity by writing down the story of the heroic past. He did it in poverty and homelessness and now he had murder for his crown.

Here are some photos of the pages this story is recounted in:

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It is easy to mock this kind of thing, with references to comely girls and so on. Of course, as I often think, some day our prose will no doubt seem laughable. And the book is an at times nearly Borgesian in its laconic capturing of a person, a society, a nation through moments.

One more extract, and this one is actually in some ways the most characteristic:

PRIMROSES BY THE SEA

This is a personal chapter. It need not lose by that. It is about a trip we took by road from Sligo to Bundoran. It is really about a stop we made on the way when we ran past a desolate-looking harbour of refuge that the Congested Districts Board had made for fishermen, since gone to America. We were able to pass around the empty harbour to the edge of a cliff almost as unreclaimed as nature left it.

It was a day in mid-June when primroses rambled over the grass, and sea-pinks with them. Under the cliff the rocks cut into a smooth sea. The view extended almost to Donegal. There was no ship or boat or any sign of life except ourselves.

“Where are we now?” said I.

“I don’t know,” said the man who owned the car. “I came here once before and don’t know whether it is Leitrim or Sligo.”

“Is Leitrim on the coast?”

“It is – a couple of miles of it. But I think we are in Sligo. Leitrim is further on.”

We made tea on the sloping cliff side and watched the perfect solitude.

“Nothing ever happened here,” said my friend. “There is no glamour to write about.”

Nothing only primroses in mid-June, gold sands shining up through blue water, the smell of sea-wrack from the caves, the caress of soft aqueous air.

Glamour enough! Go there and see!

 

Birthplace of St Columba, Gartan, Donegal

Birthplace of St Columba, Gartan, Donegal

 

Traditionally, St Columba’s birthplace was near Lough Gartan, Church Hill, Co Donegal. Church Hill is a village near Glenveagh National Park, and is on the fringes of the Derryveagh Mountains – nearby, the rugged albeit farmed land of the eastern part of Donegal gives way to the wildness of the highlands.
According to the website Colmcille.org, there are two possible candidates for the birthplace in the Gartan area. The “official”, signposted one is Leac na Cumhaidh.

These photos are not very well taken but hopefully capture something of the place. The reputed birthsite itself is a flagstone which has been discoloured by coins, at the upper left of the rock arrangement seen below. A sign sternly warns visitors not to leave further coins:

 

The site is visually dominated by a massive cross erected by Cornelia Adair, amiable American widow of the notorious John George Adair. Cornelia was popular, relative to her husband who achieved lasting notoriety due to the evictions that led to the creation of the Glenveagh Estate.

Columba evidently was, like St Patrick also, seen as a figure who could unify Catholic, Protestant and Dissenter alike. The below inscription reads “Preserve With Each Other Sincere Charity and Peace”Finally, and most interestingly in many ways, this site is still evident attractive for contemporary would be prophets. The below image was attached to the railings around the site. img_2511

Kacou Phillipe’s page picks up the story:

Like the prophets of the Bible, In April 1993, a man who had never been in a church receives in a vision, the visitation of an Angel who commissions him for a Message destined to the entire earth in fulfillment of the ministry of Matthew 25:6 and Revelation 12:14..

For those who are a little rusty, Matthew 25:6 reads

And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes; go out to meet him.

And Revelation 12:14:

And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent.

Kacou Phillipe’s page also informs us:

Prophet Kacou Philippe got out of prison on Tuesday night, August 16, 2016.

William Branham was also new to me. His Wikipedia page begins:

William Marrion Branham (April 6, 1909 – December 24, 1965) was an American Christian minister, generally acknowledged as initiating the post World War II healing revival.[1][2] Branham’s most controversial revelation was his claim to be the end-time “Elijah” prophet of the Laodicean Church age.[3][4][5] His theology seemed complicated and bizarre to many people who admired him personally.[6] In his last days, Branham’s followers had placed him at the center of a Pentecostal personality cult. Other than those that still follow him as their prophet, Branham has faded into obscurity.

There are indeed those that still follow him as their prophet, and this is their webpage. From the Wikipedia page again, Branham had a range of prophecies:

Branham claimed to have had a prophetic revelation in June 1933 that comprised seven major events that would occur before the Second Coming of Christ.[70] He believed that five of the seven predictions, relating to world politics, science and the moral condition of the world, had been fulfilled. The final two visions, one related to the Roman Catholic Church gaining power in the United States and the second detailing the destruction of the USA, would be fulfilled by 1977, subsequent to which Christ would return.[71] A comparison of Branham’s descriptions of the prophecies reveals his tendency to exaggerate and embellish his actual predictions.[72]

In December 1964, Branham also prophesied that the city of Los Angeles would sink into the Pacific Ocean. This was subsequently embellished to a prediction that a chunk of land fifteen hundred miles long, three or four hundred miles wide and forty miles deep would break loose causing waves that would “shoot plumb out to Kentucky.”[48][73]

The line “his theology seemed complicated and bizarre to many people who admired him personally” reminded me of a passage in Anthony Storr’s book on gurus, Feet of Clay. Storr has a chapter on Rudolf Steiner, and writes on how Steiner’s work in education, especially for those who we would now describe as “special needs” children, was entirely admirable, and his personal life unimpeachable (I paraphrase), and yet his cosmology and theology were unintelligible and, for Storr, close to the delusional systems seen in schizophrenia.

When I walked with my family down a country lane in Donegal to the (supposed) birthplace of St Columba, I did not think I would end up learning about Kacou Philippe or William Branham.

 

 

Gola: The Life and Last Days of an Island Community

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Recently I read this book, published in 1969 by Radio Telifis Eireann, on Gola Island. Gola is a mile from Magheragallon Strand in Gweedore, three miles from Bunbeg harbour.

When the book was written, Gola seemed about to be permanently depopulated. When I was young in the 80s and early 90s, it was supposedly depopulated, and yet in recent years the population has officially risen to 15 at the 2011 census (2016 census result awaited, I guess) and polling opens there, like the other islands, the day before the “mainland.”

 

This book, now nearly 50 years old, is itself something of a relic. It is very much a book of two parts; the first written by the TCD geographer F.H. Aalen, the second by the sociologist Hugh Brody. Both spent considerable time on the island, joining the various “intellectuals and semi-intellectuals” the boatmen describes as making the bulk of non-local Gola visitors.

Brody’s part gives an outline of the geographical context of the island and of the somewhat atypical rural life of the North West coast of Donegal. As he points out, and this was something I took for granted as a child but appreciate now, there is a paradoxical combination of remote isolation and relatively high population density in the strips of land along the coast of the Rosses and Gweedore (and to a lesser extent Cloghaneely) – a density bordering on urbanity at times.

 

Aalen’s writing comes acrosss as very dated. Words like primitive, neglected and backward recur regularly, without any contextualising. The words of “improving” landlords such as Lord George Hill are taken at face value. The evil of the “rundale” system, whereby land was subdivided and subdivided among families until unworkable plots remained, is presented as a straightforward matter of benighted local custom getting in the way of the obviously right, progressive thing to do. There is little real context, beyond an emphasis on isolation, as to why this system developed. Indeed, there is no sense that, in what is a harsh environment, that the local people may in fact have been highly adaptive in how they managed and coped.

 

There is a rather despairing tone to all this, and the sense is that a primitive way of life is, not without some sentimental regret perhaps, gradually fading away. Aalen is of course being  clear-eyed and realistic in many ways. He writes of how the economy of the area is dependent on remittances and seasonal work from Scotland. There is no doubt that, as contact with urban modernity increases, the traditional life of the islands declines. Aalen quotes the original Paddy The Cope testifying to an Oireachtas committee in the 1920s that, without remittances from Scotland, the economy of the Rosses would not last a year.

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Things change quite considerably in Brody’s section on the sociology of the island. There is a certain wry humour here and more of a human sympathy with the islander’s point of view. Brody finds that elementary sociological facts, such as the actual population of the island, are hard to estimate. This is because life on the island is, and has always been, seasonal. Traces of this kind of transhumance remain not only in Gola but on the nearby mainland. My own family, to a certain degree, have engaged in it. Indeed, the rundale system of small plots divided by borders marked in memory and perhaps a wisp of wire of a fence also persists.

Brody finds that what would frustrate many investigators is actually one of the strengths and resilient features of the island. Indeed, he has a wonderful passage on how the islander’s stance is perfectly rational from their point of view. I don’t have the book to hand to quote it in full, but it conveys a much more open view than Aalen’s, and one which now, given that after some decades of depopualtion Gola is repopulated again, seems far more perceptive than Aalen’s very positivist view of human activity.

I have blogged before about how the decline of island life marks, not the irresistible march of progress, but a loss of a way of life, and therefore a loss of diversity. The irony of the rather self-congratulatory contemporary celebration of diversity is that all too often the diversity of ways of life and of living is receding; the diversity that is celebrated is a somewhat atomised one of individual or family existence in a more homogenised society overall.

I feel that my comments above on Aalen’s writing may be a little harsh, as the book overall is an enthralling read for anyone familiar with the area, or simply interested in island life and Irish sociology. It is also worth noting that this book, written nearly half a century ago, very much has an overall message that the days of a populated Gola were imminently over- it is after all subtitled “The Life and Last Days of an Island Community”-  and yet here we are in 2017 awaiting the 2016 census population of this island.

Ceramics from Joe & Anne Kane, The Studio, Moyra Rectory, Falcarragh, Donegal

Nearly a decade ago I first visited The Studio, a gallery and ceramics workshop run by Joe & Anne Kane, featuring amongst other things Joe’s beguiling ceramics work. Finding little about the Kanes work online I have decided to post some photos (amateurishly taken with a phone) of the pieces I own. I find a beautiful clarity and sense of timelessness about these pieces. If you are in North West Donegal, The Studio is highly recommended.

The first is a tile featuring an image of what I initially thought was a boat, but is a depiction of the Holy Trinity. I recall how the afternoon sunlight shone off this piece in The Studio. I find this a magical piece which a photo cannot do much justice to:

I have visited Moyra Rectory more recently. Sadly, as Anne explained to me, Joe died in 2012. His moulds remained and allowed some pieces to continue to be made. I bought this beautiful cross, whose clear simplicity has a real air of the monastic era about it:

More whimsically (and least successfully photographed by myself) is a piece with a real Donegal flavour – a sheep and a green bird (a greenfinch? a siskin?)

Detail of sheep:

Detail of bird:

Finally, at some point in between buying the two pieces above I bought this small pedestal (not sure if that is the right word) which I have used to display various fossils (some of which are in the left of this photo) The photo does capture the rough texture of this piece, and the subtle spiral, which makes it feel very much like a sort of found artifact from the natural world. Of course it isn’t, but testament to the Kanes’ artistic vision.

McDaid’s Football Special Special Euro 2016 edition at the Happy Camper Cafe, Glenveagh, Donegal

McDaid’s Football Special Special Euro 2016 edition at the Happy Camper Cafe, Glenveagh, Donegal


A little late for Ireland’s participation in Euro 2016 – here are some examples of McDaid’s legendary drink in its natural habitat. Taken just by the wonderful Happy Camper Cafe which surely has the best views of any campervan based pancake / coffee emporium.