Magheragallon Poem #1

Here, the edge of the edge of Europa,
Ocean winds shoot through me, around me.
Here, the edge of a brief archipelago,
Stones stretching into the Atlantic,
Here, at the edge of a great renunciation –
No, the greatest renunciation.

What is it that is renounced?
What is it that is not rejected?
What is it that is accepted?

An island in name only.
A tree blind to its forest.

A forest everywhere, invisible, Nowhere.

The panorama of jagged Errigal, softer hills,
White houses, marram, bogland, the sea, the sea.
And closer to – a panorama of memorial, of invocations, of supplications.

A landscape drawn by lines of silence.

The big other, inescapable.
Closer than close, far away.

Walls of heaped stone enclose
That undiscovered country
You have discovered.
The sky above boundless, free.

Our ending is everywhere, nowhere, invisible, inescapable,

Drawn by lines of silence.


May 10th 1943 – the Ballymanus Mining Disaster

I previously posted this poem on the Ballymanus Mine Disaster, which happened on this date in 1943. My great-uncle died in this disaster, one of the neglected tragedies of World War II in Ireland (growing up, it was always referred to as happening in Mullaghduff in my family)

At the Dúchas Thír Chonaill website, there is a detailed account of the tragedy . This has the value of placing it in the context of the geography and poverty of the area and how what came from the sea brought opportunity in a time of hardship:

Living in west Donegal where very little trees grow owing to blowing sand and salt from the wild Atlantic Ocean, anything yielded by the sea was highly sought after. Over the years many prizes were yielded from the incoming tide; mostly coming from shipwrecks or having been washed overboard on ocean going ships that plied their trade along a transatlantic shipping lane close to Donegal’s northwest coast. All sorts of treasured flotsam was washed ashore ranging from candle wax, pitch resin to prime timber; material essential to the coastal communities. The biggest “prize” of all came in 1856 when the sailing barque Salaia ran aground in Keadue Bar carrying enough timber to reroof the parish church of Lower Templecrone at Kincasslagh

On this occasion, the sea brought death. Re-reading the post, it is stark just how young so many victims were. The youngest, John Sharkey, being 13 years and 8  months old. It is reasonable to suppose that some over those who died that day could still be alive today.

Ar dheis Dé go raibh a n-anamacha 

Ray High Cross, Falcarragh, Donegal

Ray is a townland a little beyond Falcarragh on the road to Dunfanaghy (near Joe & Anne Kane’s Studio)  It boasts an ancient Irish Church site associated with Iona and therefore  St Columba , and forms part of the Slí Cholmcille. The site boasts what is purportedly Ireland’s tallest high cross. It is rather less embellished than more familiar High Crosses in the rest of the country. , but has its own epic, stark grandeur:

Brian Anson – “a revolutionary for social justice” buried in Magheragallon Cemetery, Gweedore, Donegal

Brian Anson – “a revolutionary for social justice” buried in Magheragallon Cemetery, Gweedore, Donegal

In Mahgeragallon cemetery, where my father, uncle, maternal grandparents and maternal great-grandparents are buried, I came across the grave of Brian Anson. It is beside eight commonwealth war graves (three of which are unidentified)

The inscription describes Anson as “a revolutionary for social justice” – the Irish words below mean “may the blessing of the Virgin Mary be on him.”

I had not heard of Anson. The first link I found was an obituary from The Guardian by no less than Richard Rogers:

The architect and planner Brian Anson, who has died of a heart attack aged 74, was tireless in his battles for the rights of those whose problems others overlooked or thought insurmountable. He was driven by a profound understanding of, and sympathy for, the underdog.

He was born and brought up in Bootle, the docklands area of north Liverpool. It was a tough area in tough times, yet Brian saw how humour and solidarity kept the community together. He was educated at Bootle grammar school and went on to study architecture at Manchester University. He worked as an architect and planner in Liverpool and Dublin in the mid-60s, then arrived at the Greater London council in 1967 as a deputy principal planner for the Covent Garden design team. He later recorded his efforts to save Covent Garden in the book I’ll Fight You for It, published in 1981.

More information on the Gweedore connection is provided at this Indymedia page:

He was invited by the community of Gaoth Dobhair, Donegal to propose suggestions for the retention of a culture and a language under siege by inept planning authorities. A dossier was published, outlining coherent plans for future development. It was a plan which had grown from the roots of the community and despite having a lack of the Irish-Gaelic language, Anson portrayed a deep and profound understanding for the people and their history, with a future full of hope. He envisioned a community that would become self dependent over time, utilising and mobilising it’s innate skills and practices. It was rejected however, as being far too radical

The blog Contested Territories, the academic blog of Paul Bower, has several fascinating pages on Anson, with a focus on his work in the Divis Flats in Belfast:

Brian Anson, the Northern Ireland conflict and Wallace and Gromit.

Revolution Begins in the Basement

and one which I think I will reblog shortly:

“We should sing the Land Song again”

Finally, here are some more images of Anson’s grave, which hopefully give it more context in the graveyard (and in the wider landscape)

Tory Island, poitín, and prohibition

Tory Island, poitín, and prohibition


Thanks to Rory Naughton who has brought this family history on the Clare Co Council library page. John Cunningham gives an interesting and entertaining account of his father Michael’s life in the War of Independence era IRA and early decades of the Gardai. Among other stories there is this about policing Tory Island in the 1920s. Like Tory Island doctoring, Tory Island policing had its challenges. I had never come across this link between Tory and the illicit alcohol trade of Prohibition before:

Later on in the 20s, when my Father was stationed in Sligo, a message came through from Dublin one day about the illegal poitin stills out on Tory Island off the Donegal coast. Apparently, the Tory islanders had quite a thriving industry going on up there and used to supply the ships sailing between Scotland, Northern Ireland and America with poitin for the speakeasys of the Prohibition days in the States. The U.S. Embassy had complained to the Government who had in turn instructed the Guards to smash the illegal operation.

A detachment of Guards from Sligo and surrounding areas was sent to carry out the operation. They travelled up the coast until they reached the point on the mainland from which the boats would row out to the island. Having hired the required boats, they set off and landed at the pier on Tory.

When they announced their intentions however, the islanders were thrown into a state of agitation and it wasn’t long before they were confronted by an angry crowd. Now the islanders had their own ‘King’ and this gentleman told the Guards that if they smashed up all the stills, they needn’t worry about getting home to the mainland as they would all be drowned. The guards passed no heed but proceeded to break up all the poitin stills they could find. The King told them again that the elder women had turned the stones in the graveyard and thereby called down a curse on the intruders; a storm would arise and drown them all as they rowed back to the mainland. He told them that a few years before, a British warship had sent men ashore to do the same thing and a similar curse was called upon their heads. According to His Highness, the ship was sunk and all hands drowned.

The guards did some quick thinking and decided to arrest the King and bring him back in the boat with them so that he might act as insurance against anything happening. When the job was done they returned with their captive to the pier only to find that the boatmen had spent the day guzzling the last few drops of available poitin and were pissed out of their bloody minds. Undaunted, the Guards rolled up their sleeves and started to row the boats as best they could.

It wasn’t long before a storm did indeed blow up and my father remembers being really frightened trying to keep his boat on an even keel. They eventually did reach shore and although my father’s hands were streaming blood from the burst blisters, he never felt happier. The lads brought their captive back to Sligo and he was duly prosecuted and sentenced.

One of the Guards had also slipped a little keg of ‘whiskey’ into one of the boats and they decided not to open it there and then, but to keep it until Christmas and have a wee party. When they opened it at Xmas however, it was pure poison and undrinkable and had to be dumped. Whether this sample was cursed or representative of what the Americans at the time had to drink in their speak-easys, we’ll never know.

Ireland’s science Nobel Prize winners and Faith

Ireland has only two Nobel Laureates in Science – Ernest Walton and William C Campbell. I am working on a longer post on my perception that there was much more coverage of Walton than Campbell in the Irish media. That is leading me down various interesting byways on Irish science journalism and (as I will post shortly) a rather sad discovery.

For the moment back to Ireland’s science Nobel winners. Both are linked by Trinity College Dublin, and – in different ways – religious faith.

From the Wikipedia bio of Walton:

Raised as a Methodist, Walton has been described as someone who was strongly committed to the Christian faith.[7] He even gave lectures about the relationship of science and religion in several countries after he won the Nobel Prize,[8] and he encouraged the progress of science as a way to know more about God:

“One way to learn the mind of the Creator is to study His creation. We must pay God the compliment of studying His work of art and this should apply to all realms of human thought. A refusal to use our intelligence honestly is an act of contempt for Him who gave us that intelligence”

— V. J. McBrierty (2003): Ernest Thomas Sinton Walton, The Irish Scientist, 1903-1995, Trinity College Dublin Press.)[9]

from an Irish Times interview with Campbell:

“I believe in God. I pray every single night of my life, but I have a very complicated sense of religion, and I am pretty fuzzy in that segment of my life.

“My faith, and that of millions of others, has evolved, if that is the right word, as civilisation has evolved. Evolved but not been abandoned. Religion and science can coexist. At least, that had better be true. There are certain intangibles.

“I know about these militant atheists, and I think they make very good arguments, but there is a certain level at which argumentation doesn’t come into it. Believing in something that you know exists isn’t a matter of faith; it doesn’t require faith.

“Gabriel Rossetti, the English poet, felt sorry for atheists because they didn’t have anybody to feel grateful to. That always stuck with me, because we have so much to be grateful for. I believe, and I believe in prayer.

One shouldn’t make too much of this, perhaps, but it is interesting. On the sister