Tipperary’s Pyramid

via irelandinruins.blogspot.ie

Kilcooley Abbey, near Gortnahoe in Tipperary is part of the Kilcooley Estate. One of the most striking features of the estate is tthe pyramid shaped mausoleum of the Barker family:

This pyramid shaped mausoleum is a very significant monument and measures 12ft by 12ft at its base. We understand it contains 7 coffins of the Barker family – original owners of the Kilcooley Abbey Estate . It was sealed up some years ago, as evidenced in photo, after it was vandalised.

There are other pyramids in Ireland – this page has a comprehensive list (including the Met Eireann Office in Dublin).  David Winpenny’s “Up To A Point” claims to be the only book on British and Irish pyramids. There is lots of information on the estate at David Hicks’ blog here. As well as the Village Magazine article linked to above, the conclusion of Hicks’ post gives a grim view of how Ireland treats its heritage:

When the house appeared on the market in 2003 it had been in the same family since 1770. Locals had hoped that the estate would be purchased by the State but they were to be disappointed. The house was purchased in 2008 but was back on the market again in 2011 with an asking price of €2.75 million which included the eighteenth century mansion, five staff houses, outbuildings 313 acres together with 950 acres on lease to Coilte. Over the years a number of items from Kilcooley have appeared at auction in England and Ireland. In September 2013 a number of portraits from the collection that Sir William, the fourth Baronet had started at Kilcooley Abbey appeared for auction in Christies in London. Today the house and its grounds have become neglected and down at heel with mobile towers of security cameras providing protection. It was recently revealed that Kilcooley has been sold, so one hopes that this great house will now be restored and saved. However as of October 2015, Kilcooley is back on the market once more with the estate lands inflated to 1,200 acres through purchases of the current owner. Despite the expense incurred on the estate lands, the house and stable yard remain in a perilous state of decay. The Kilcooley estate now has a price tag of €8 million.




”the most sane fringe phenomena.”

The current New Yorker features a piece by Brooke Jarvis on the maybe-extinct, maybe-not Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine.

About fifteen years ago I had a cryptozoological phase, with occasional relapses. However, I can rarely get past the minimum viable population problem. Jarvis’ article is a witty and rather wise piece. The Tasmanian tiger’s continued existence is not that unlikely, and Jarvis cites the many examples of Lazarus species:

Tiger enthusiasts are quick to bring up Lazarus species—animals that were considered lost but then found—which in Australia include the mountain pygmy possum (known from fossils dating from the Pleistocene and long thought to be extinct, it was found in a ski lodge in 1966); the Adelaide pygmy blue-tongue skink (rediscovered in a snake’s stomach in 1992); and the bridled nailtail wallaby, which was resurrected in 1973, after a fence-builder read about its extinction in a magazine article and told researchers that he knew where some lived. In 2013, a photographer captured seventeen seconds of footage of the night parrot, whose continued existence had been rumored but unproven for almost a century. Sean Dooley, the editor of the magazine BirdLife, called the rediscovery “the bird-watching equivalent of finding Elvis flipping burgers in an outback roadhouse.” The parrots have since been found from one side of the continent to the other. Is it more foolish to chase what may be a figment, or to assume that our planet has no secrets left?

But there is also something to be said for the impatience expressed by Anna Povey here:

But some people erupted in frustration at the mention of the tiger. “We killed them off a hundred years ago and now, belatedly, we’re proud of the thylacine!” Anna Povey, who works in land conservation, nearly shouted. She wanted to know why the government fetishizes the tiger’s image when other animals, such as the eastern quoll—cute, fluffy, definitely alive, and definitely endangered—could still make use of the attention. I couldn’t help thinking of all the purported thylacine videos that are dismissed as “just” a quoll. “It does piss us off!” Povey said. “It’s about time to appreciate the things we have, Australia, my God! We still treat this place as if it was the time of the thylacines—as if it was a frontier and we can carry on taking over.”

Bob Brown, former leader of the Australian Greens, expands on this;

In the nineteen-seventies, Bob Brown, later a leader of the Australian Greens, a political party, spent two years as a member of a thylacine search team. He told me that although he’d like to think the fascination with thylacines is motivated by remorse and a desire for restitution, people’s guilt doesn’t seem to be reflected in the policies that they actually support. Logging and mining are major industries in Tasmania, and land clearing is rampant; even the forest where Naarding saw his tiger is gone. Throughout Australia, the dire extinction rate is expected to worsen. It is a problem of the human psyche, Brown said, that we seem to get interested in animals only as they slide toward oblivion

The whole thing is worth reading – it is a classic of a kind of New Yorker piece; erudite, witty, slightly detached but unexpectedly moving.

“Voyagers in the Vault of Heaven: The Phenomenon of Ships in the Sky in Medieval Ireland and Beyond” – a paper by Michael McCaughran links the Kilnaruane Pillar, Françoise Henry and Seamus Heaney

Via Medievalists.Net, I came across this paper from 1998
this paper (on page 175 of the PDF):

Abstract :

This paper explores the phenomenon of ships voyaging in the sky. Such fantastical sightings are considered primarily in an early medieval Irish context, but evidence from places as widely separated in time and place as thirteenth-century England and eighteenth-century Canada is also addressed. The earliest material representation of an Irish currach (skin boat) being rowed heavenwards is on an eighth-century carved stone pillar.

By connecting this iconographic evidence to the appearance of ships in the sky above a Celtic monastery, a framework is established from which to investigate the “airship” mirabilia. Understanding the cultural gulf that exists between medieval and modern thinking is central to the concept of “ships in the air.” The paper addresses the significance of the ship as an enduring cultural metaphor and religious symbol and affirms these meanings.


The paper begins:

The glories of early Christian Irish art are manifest
in preserved illuminated manuscripts,
intricate metalwork and the monumental carved
stone crosses, pillars and slabs that still survive
today in the countryside, churchyards and
monastic ruins of Ireland. While the richly
carved high crosses of the ninth and tenth
centuries, with their emphasis on figuration, are
the fullest expression of representational art,
earlier carved and incised stoneworks are no
less significant in terms of their iconography,
decoration and symbolism.’

The eighth-century Kilnaruane pillar stone
(Fig . 1), overlooking Bantry Bay in County Cork,
is of particular interest to maritime archeologists,
historians and ethnologists, because its
Christian-theme carvings include a unique preViking
depiction of the Irish skin-covered boat
known as a “currach.” Prior to the arrival of the
Vikings in the ninth and ninth centuries with
their advanced wooden boatbuilding technology,
the skin-covered currach was the common
seagoing craft of Ireland. It was of key importance
to the sea-connected Celtic Church and
figured prominently in the “immrama” or mystical
voyage tales of early Christian Ireland,
together with the story of St Brendan’s voyage
to the Promised Land, which achieved great
popularity in medieval Europe . Today the
currach, in its canvas-covered derivative form,
is still in use on the Atlantic seaboard of western
Ireland, where material remnants of the
European past often have found their last resting place.

The Kilnaruane pillar stone is new to me (I have only been to Bantry once, I am sorry to say) Here is an MA Thesis by Vanja Stojanovic from 2015 (from the University of Guelph in Canada) on the stone:

This thesis considers the iconography and site of the last-surviving (fragmentary)
standing cross in south-west Ireland: the Kilnaruane High Cross. Overlooking Bantry Bay atop a
hill in west Cork, this monument is situated within a rectilinear earth enclosure among a number
of stone fragments, including four corner posts of a tomb-shrine, two bullaun stones, and a
perforated pivot-stone. In addition, the following study reassesses the iconography on the northeast
and south-west faces of the high cross as well as the high cross itself in light of other
monumental high crosses, with a particular emphasis on its stylistic qualities, construction, and
dating. The results suggest that both the iconography and location of the Kilnaruane high cross
and site allude to a potential pilgrimage round located in the Bantry Bay area – situated, as it
were, on the periphery of peninsular Kerry and the thriving culture of seafaring voyage in the

Stojanovic provides a detailed review of the literature on this cross, relatively neglected. It features in the work of Francoise Henry:

Some fifteen years later, Françoise Henry would mention the high cross in her 1932
doctoral thesis La Sculpture Irlandise Pendant les Douze Premiers Siècles de l’ètre Chrétienne
which was subsequently published in 1933.16 In her 1940 book Irish Art in the Early Christian
Period, Henry would again include the high cross in a short paragraph.17 While Crawford
describes snakes and sea-horses in the upper-most part of the south-west face, Henry suggests “snake-like beasts arranged swastika-fashion,” and curiously enough, would completely omit the
Greek cross where Crawford had accurately recognized it.”
18 Alternatively, the orans figure does
not go unnoticed, but is described as a familiar image of early Christian iconography found
abroad and in various mediums, including the Roman catacombs and some sarcophagi, but
Henry does not offer any specific examples in this regard.19 In addition to the descriptions,
Henry also provides some brief iconographic interpretations. For example, the cruciform above
the rudder “can leave little doubt that we have a representation of the boat of the church,” and
Crawford’s ‘two figures holding an object between them,’ Henry corrects as a “crude
representation of St Paul and St Anthony kneeling on both sides of the wafer-shaped bread
brought to them by the bird.”20 It is clear that Henry was familiar with the iconography of Saint
Jerome’s (c.347-420) fourth-century Vita Pauli from which the story of the two saints originates.

Henry was also the first to recognize the weathered image of the boat and five oarsmen
on the north-east face where Lewis, Windele, and Crawford had not. The uniqueness of the
image is clear in Henry’s commentary: “The unexpected thing about it is that it shoots straight
upwards amidst a sea of crosses…very literally portrayed as sailing to Heaven.”21 Additionally,
other significant contributions by Henry include: the observation of two ‘incisions’ on top of the
shaft and the suggestion of an eighth-century date of origin based on stylistic and iconographic
affinities to comparable examples, particularly to the realism of the Ahenny Cross, Co. Tipperary

Ahenny was Henry’s introduction to High Crosses, when a friend from the area brought her to the crosses there.

Back to McCaughran:

In charting the Irish phenomenon of “ships
in the air,” the first task is to assemble core
accounts and descriptions from documentary
sources. References in the Annals of Ulster
(quoted above) and the Annals of Ireland, otherwise
known as the Annals of the Four
Masters, are characteristically brief. The latter
records that in “The Age of Christ 743 ships
with their crews were plainly seen in the sky
this year.”” Allowing for historical disparity
this entry may well be referring to the same
event that the Annals of Ulster record as having
occurred over Clonmacnoise in 749. Early
Christian and medieval Ireland was particularly
rich in miraculous happenings and the
appearance of airships was only one example
of a large number of wonderful events recorded
in the annals and other primary sources. Many
of these “wonders” of Ireland, or “mirabilia,”
were sky-related and included a steeple of fire
in the air, a cross raised up in the air, together
with showers of silver, honey and blood.
12 In
the ninteenth century and early years of the present
century, Kuno Meyer and other Celtic
scholars researched the primary sources of the
Irish “mirabilia” and published annotated translations
of these accounts of wonders, including
the sighting of ships in the air.
13 It is clear from
this material that airships made appearances at
two key locations, namely the monastery of
Clonmacnoise and the important gathering fair
of Tailltenn, now Teltown, in County Meath.

McCaughran , as Vanja Stojanovic, ultimately focuses on literary rather than archaeological sources, and links the mirabila to a mindset we find difficult to enter into. McCaughran cites Seamus Heaney’s work as something of an exception, suggesting perhaps that this “medieval” mindset is not so far away as all that:

Despite their variations, these chronicles
have common characteristics and share a number
of features that are readily identifiable :
” Extraordinary happenings are regarded
as actual historical events and are transmitted
during the Middle Ages as fact, not fiction,
despite their supernatural dimension.
” The events are witnessed by numerous
people, both secular (Teltown) and religious
(Clonmacnoise) .
” Seen from the ground, vessels are floating
in the air above.
Seen from the vessels, the air between
them and the ground below is perceived as
water in which fish swim and which enables
the vessels to float above a submarine world.
” This air/water is life-giving oxygen to
the people on the ground, but is lifethreatening
water to the swimming aircrew who
almost drown.
” Air/water is the common element, which
envelopes both ground people and sky people,
as the heights above and the depths below.
Essentially the central theme of the “airship”
mirabilia is that, not only is an inversion
of the natural order of things possible, but that
the natural order of things can be perceived
from complementary perspectives and that
simultaneously the marvellous is both in the
world and out of the world.

A modern Irish reworking of this medieval
wonder theme can be located in the luminous
poetry of Seamus Heaney, who draws on the
experience of living in Ireland, past and present,
and imagines it into the universal. More than
twenty years before he was awarded the Nobel
Literature Prize in 1995, Heaney wrote: “I have
always listened for poems, they come sometimes
like bodies out of a bog, almost complete,
seeming to have been laid down a long time ago,
surfacing with a touch of mystery . . .my quest
for definition, while it may lead backward, is
conducted in the living speech of the landscape
I was born into. “19

The dualism of much
of Heaney’s poetry, the imaginative tensions
between what is and what might be, is manifest
in a wonderfully fluid poem that navigates
the marvellous encounter between the monks
of Clonmacnoise and the airship that appeared
above them while at their prayers .20
After telling how the ship’s anchor hooked
itself by accident into the altar rails of the oratory
and “the big hull rocked to a standstill,” a
crewman came down from the ship to free the
anchor, but it was no good. The abbot said “this
man can’t bear our life here and will drown,”
so the monks helped to release him and the
ship . As the fantastic ship resumes its aerial voyage,
our world view is transfigured by the poet,
for “the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed
back/Out of the marvellous as he had known it .”

The twentieth-century mindset, cultured in
post-Enlightenment quasi-rationalist and scientific
thinking, often has difficulty in comprehending
the cultural frames of older, simpler societies,
where the distinctions between reality and the
marvellous are blurred and where transitions
between them are normal and natural. In a
recent investigative journey through the European
Middle Ages, Christopher Frayling has delineated
the great gulf between modern and
medieval thinking. “Today,” he writes, “there is
an assumption that beneath the surface things
are fundamentally incoherent (part of a chaosmos),
whereas then there was an assumption that
beneath the surface things were fundamentally
coherent (part of a cosmos) – a reflection of the
will of God.

1121 In this earlier world, a symbolic
framework of order and structure was predicated
on belief and faith in the transcendent
God. The medieval view of the universe was
essentially Platonic and Biblical in origin . In it the
heavens, the earth and all creation were ranged
in an unalterable, hierarchical and interlocking
system of order, from the angels down to man
– for whom the world existed – and thence
to the flora and fauna and all living things

The Heaney poem quoted is from his sequence Squarings, specifically the eighth poem of the section “Lightenings”:

The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air.

The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it.

Why hasn’t an earthquake toppled the Leaning Tower of Pisa?

I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the same question… well, here is the answer….

Basically, it’s all down to the soil:

After studying available seismological, geotechnical and structural information, the research team concluded that the survival of the Tower can be attributed to a phenomenon known as dynamic soil-structure interaction (DSSI).

The considerable height and stiffness of the Tower combined with the softness of the foundation soil, causes the vibrational characteristics of the structure to be modified substantially, in such a way that the Tower does not resonate with earthquake ground motion. This has been the key to its survival. The unique combination of these characteristics gives the Tower of Pisa the world record in DSSI effects.

“Ironically, the very same soil that caused the leaning instability and brought the Tower to the verge of collapse, can be credited for helping it survive these seismic events,” Professor Mylonakis noted.

Happy #WorldLabyrinthDay 2018


Happy World Labyrinth Day! :

Celebrate the 10th Annual World Labyrinth Day on May 5, 2018 and join over 5,000 people taking steps for peace, ‘Walking as One at 1’ in the afternoon. Last year gatherings were held in over 20 countries and 45 US states!

For those new to labyrinths, find one to walk in your area using the World Wide Labyrinth Locator. You can also learn to draw or build a simple labyrinth with links in our resources section below. Already planning your event? Be counted and fill out our survey with the WLD Google Form.

Members of the Labyrinth Society are encouraged to facilitate group walks at public labyrinths to engage the community and amplify our collective energy. World Labyrinth Day is also a great opportunity to introduce others to the path by organizing lectures, workshops, tours, book readings, art exhibitions, or building temporary or permanent labyrinths.

If you are unable to ‘Walk as One at 1’ other opportunities to participate include tracing a finger labyrinth on paper or using a mobile app. Labyrinth walks and events can also be held in the morning or evening, as others will be walking in unison with you in other time zones. Just as there are a wide variety of uses of the labyrinth, creativity and multiplicity are encouraged.

Today I am one of those unable to Walk as One at 1 due to work commitments, but I am aiming to mark the event in some way around that time…. and here are some of my labyrinth related posts from this blog:

A Labyrinth on the Rock of Cashel

Castletownroche, Co. Cork – labyrinths, dinosaurs, and spies.

The Labyrinth of Mr Price

The snowy mini-labyrinth of Mr Price

Glencomeragh in February

World Labyrinth Day 2017 – May 6th, 1 pm

“it is astonishing that each morning we wake up sane – that is, relatively sane -after having passed through that zone of shades, those labyrinths of dreams”


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.

The snowy mini-labyrinth of Mr Price

The snowy mini-labyrinth of Mr Price

A while back I posted my own effort at labyrinth building. Small sections of mini fencing (I am sure there is a more technical term) seemed ideal for the amateur, low budget labyrinth builder.

Not all the sections of mini fence survived various ravages of children’s play, so my labyrinth is depleted in scale. As those of you in Western Europe may have noticed, there’s been a bit of snow lately. This photo is from the thaw and the pristine whiteness is ruined by my mushy footprints and by some seeds out for the birds … but you get the idea: