Snapshots into the Past

All photos are in the public domain.

While looking for images for this site, I found some wonderful old photos from the National Library of Ireland. You can see examples in Casement’s Last Stand and Are Ye Right There, Michael? I couldn’t resist sharing some more of their historic photos from along the Wild Atlantic Way.

Oh I do like to walk along the prom

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Promenade, Lahinch, Co.Clare

This photo was taken “between 1896 and 1914”. Lahinch opened up for tourism in the 19th century thanks to the West Clare Railway, but it wouldn’t become a prime surfing spot until the late 20th century. No idea if these are visitors or locals out for a stroll; that woman with the pram (mother? nanny?) is probably just trying to get the child to sleep. Hard to tell the weather from this photo; everyone seems well wrapped up, but most people were in Edwardian times.

Grazing on the edge

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Achill Island

From “circa 1910”, but if it wasn’t for the woman’s dress, this could have been taken yesterday. Achill Island is still a wild place. It’s the edge of Europe, “next stop America” (or to be specific, Newfoundland). I love the way the woman and the cow on the left are both striking a pose for the camera.

Market day

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St. Nicholas’ Church, Galway, taken by Robert French c.1890
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St. Nicholas’ Church, Galway, taken by B. Lawlor in 1990

Here are two photos from the same spot — outside St Nicolas’ Church in Galway — taken 100 years apart. The dress and transportation has changed, and the tree has grown significantly, but otherwise there’s a similar energy about the two scenes. The Saturday market is still going strong in the same area, a great place to buy your olives and woolly hats.

Further reference

There are loads more photos on the National Library of Ireland page on Flickr. Be careful: you could lose yourself for a long time in those archives.

Small and Far Away

Father Ted filming locations

Photo of a lovely horse by P.J. McKenna

July the 19th. Why does that strike me as important?

— Father Ted

As all Father Ted fans know, today is a very special day. On the 19th of July, the Ice Age ended, Marathon bars became Snickers, and most importantly of all, its time for holidays!

Three series of Father Ted were aired between 1995 and 1998. But 20 years later, fans are still enjoying the surreal and manic antics of Father Ted Crilly (“That money was just resting in my account”), Father Dougal Maguire (“That’s mad, Ted!”), Father Jack Hackett (“DRINK!”), and their housekeeper Mrs. Doyle (“Ah go on, go on, go on, go on, GO ON!”).

Most of it was filmed in the west of Ireland, near to the Wild Atlantic Way (most of the links below go to YouTube snippets from the series).

County Galway

Inisheer, Aran Islands — Opening shots of Craggy Island. Inisheer still runs TedFest every year.

County Clare

Glanquin Farmhouse — The house where the three priests lived and Mrs Doyle served many cups of tea.

Doolin ferry offices — John and Mary’s shop.

Fanore Caravan Park — Where Ted and Dougal went on holidays on that fateful 19th of July, and Ted tried to explain the difference between small and far away.

Ailwee Caves — The Very Dark Caves.

Fall’s Hotel, Ennistymon — My Lovely Horse, running through the fields.

County Wicklow

OK, so at least one key scene was filmed in the east of the country.

Ormonde Cinema, Greystones — The cinema where “The Passion of Saint Tibulus” was shown. Careful now!

 

Legends of the Burren

Some tales from the Burren, that rocky and mysterious land in north county Clare. Reblogged from Ali Issac’s site.

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Last weekend, I hiked part of the Burren Trail with my friend, walking buddy and guide, Jenni. The Burren is an expanse of karst landscape located in Co Clare, stretching some 250 km between the villages of Ballyvaghan, Kinvara, Tubber, Corofin and Lisdoonvarna. Its name derives from the Irish Boireann, meaning ‘great rock’, or ‘stony place’.

The unique rocky lunar-like appearance of the Burren is due to it being composed of huge limestone pavements gouged by the last ice age. Over time, fissures and cracks have formed along lines of weakness, and these are called ‘grikes’. The slabs between grikes are known as ‘clints’.

Jenni advised me not to step on any patches of greenery; although they look solid, they often disguise grikes, which can be quite deep,  causing the unsuspecting walker to fall and sustain injuries. I did get caught out by one or two, too busy applying my…

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The Red Lady of Leamaneh

Leamaneh Castle, County Clare

Photo of the Burren by P.J. McKenna

In the early 165os, refugees wound their way westwards across Ireland, displaced from their homes in a policy known as “to hell or to Connacht.” Long years of war and slaughter had culminated in Cromwell’s conquest. Many Irish people were “ethnically cleansed” from the best land and resettled in the poor soil of Connemara and the Burren.

A country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him.
— Edmund Ludlow (1652), describing the Burren

Maire Rua Ní Mahon (Red Mary MacMahon) already lived in the Burren; she was a Clare-woman born and bred. She watched from the window of her home at Leamaneh Castle, and then looked at the children who now depended on her alone. She was in her mid-30s and already widowed twice. Her first husband, Daniel Neylon, had been an arranged match to bond families together, but her second, Conor O’Brien, was her true love. Now he lay dead, carried home from a battle against the Cromwellian soldiers, nursed by his wife until his final breath.

Her future looked grim. When Conor organized ambush gangs against the invading army, she rode alongside him and killed men with her own hands. So not only would Conor’s estate be forfeit by his actions, but if anyone identified Maire, she could find her neck in a hangman’s noose. She had already lost two daughters to the plague that travelled with the conflict. Her remaining children — three by Daniel and six surviving by Conor — could end up as paupers.

But Maire had a plan. She called her servants and made them dress her in her finest gown and jewels. She must have been an imposing sight: tall, with the red hair that gave her the nickname Rua. She travelled by carriage to Limerick, to the garrison of the invading army, and offered to marry the first officer who was willing.

English soldier John Cooper stepped up to the challenge, becoming the third husband of Maire Rua and master of Leamaneh Castle and its estate. He and his wife had a son together and became wealthy through land dealings, although they eventually overstretched themselves and were forced to leave Leamaneh.

One legend says that John made the mistake of taunting Maire about Conor’s death while they were on the third storey, and she responded by pushing him out the window. Another legend has it that she made him ride a horse over the Cliffs of Moher. Neither is true; both Maire and John lived into old age, although in later years they lived separate lives.

Other unflattering legends attached themselves to the notorious Maire Rua. She was supposed to have had 25 husbands and to have murdered each one. It was said that a maid who displeased the mistress of Leamaneh would be hung by her hair from the castle tower. The locals found it hard to forgive a woman who slept with the enemy instead of allowing herself and her children to starve as any decent woman would.

Donough O’Brien, Maire and Conor’s oldest son, moved the family home to Dromoland Castle, which remained in the O’Brien family until the 20th century. Maire Rua died in 1686 and was most likely buried alongside Conor at Ennis Abbey. Leamaneh Castle fell into ruin, and rumour says that a red-haired ghost still haunts there.

Links

A Match Made in County Clare

Lisdoonvarna, County Clare

Photo of Lisdoonvarna pub by Fionn Kidney, licensed under Creative Commons

Matchmaker, Matchmaker,
Make me a match,
Find me a find,
Catch me a catch
— Matchmaker, song from Fiddler on the Roof

In the autumn a middle-aged farmer’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love. The harvest is in and he’s facing a cold and lonely winter. But where will he find himself a wife? Perhaps, come September, he can head to the Matchmaking Festival in Lisdoonvarna.

The village of Lisdoonvarna is Ireland’s only active spa town, built around a spring rich in sulphur and iron. Tourists have been “taking the waters” here since the 18th century, but it was the opening of the West Clare Railway in the 19th century that opened the area to mass tourism. Visitors would take the train to Ennistymon and a pony from there to Lisdoonvarna.

All the lonely people,
Where do they all come from?
– All the Lonely People, song by the Beatles

Post-famine Ireland had a high percentage of single people. Mass emigration took potential partners out of the country, and among those who remained, men were concentrated in the countryside and women in the towns. Perhaps also a tendency to shyness and a puritanical attitude to sex put a dampener on courtship. In any case, the Matchmaking Festival was established, and the romance business flourished.

Willie Daly, the fourth generation matchmaker in his family, has been introducing couples to each other for 45 years and is responsible for over 3000 marriages. During the festival, he can be found in the snug of The Matchmaker pub; just follow the long queue of potential mates and put your name into his enormous scrapbook of profiles. Legend says that if a single person holds the 150-year-old book in their two hands, they will find a mate within six months, while a married person doing the same will find their passion rekindled.

Today, Internet sites such as match.com and plentyoffish have become a year-long matchmaking festival. But there is still room for the old-fashioned approach practiced by Willie Daly.

Love is waiting there for everyone, it’s there just waiting to be found. When it is, it’s a lovely feeling.

— Willie Daly, matchmaker

Not all visitors arrive for the purpose of finding a lifelong mate. Music and drinking are also a big part of the festival’s appeal, and many singles and couples arrive in September out of curiosity or in search of “the craic”, turning this tiny village for a short period into a bustling place.

The following month, Lisdoonvarna holds “The Outing”, a matchmaking festival for gay people from Ireland and around the world. The Outing first ran in 2013, but received a boost in 2015 when Ireland became the first country to bring in same-sex marriage by public vote. Rainbow flags will fly, and Willie Daly will be ready to add new names to his big book.

Links

 

 

The Cliffs of Insanity

Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

 Photo of Cliffs of Moher by P.J. McKenna

Vizzini: He didn’t fall? Inconceivable!
Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
– The Princess Bride, 1987

Actor Wally Shawn was terrified of heights. He sat into the bicycle seat, which was attached to a forklift, which was on the side of a rubber-faced mountain. Each of the other actors — Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, and André the Giant — took their own seats beside him.

The 2.24 metre (7ft 4) André was supposed to be carrying the others, but he was due to have back surgery and in constant pain throughout the filming. He self-medicated with alcohol, carrying around a beer pitcher that looked like a regular glass in his huge hands. All the scenes where he carried other crew members were done with ramps and harnesses, or occasionally a body double.

Before the actors were a few inches off the ground, Wally was about to pass out. André petted him on the head like a child and said “Don’t worry, I’ll take care of you”, and his gentle voice relaxed Wally so that the take went without further problem.

There had been several attempts to adapt William Goldman’s 1973 novel, The Princess Bride, to the big screen. Early casting choices would have seen Arnold Schwartzenegger as Fezzik, Danny de Vito as Vizzini, and Carrie Fisher as Buttercup — parts that eventually went to André the Giant, Wally Shawn, and Robin Wright when the book was finally brought to screen in 1987.

In the film, Vizzini and his sidekicks Fezzik and Inigo Montoya (played by Mandy Patinkin), kidnap Buttercup and sail away with her, pursued by a mysterious man in a mask. Ahead of them loom the terrifying “Cliffs of Insanity”, which are in fact the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare, Ireland. The scenes are a mix of matte paintings and the actual cliffs.

As the quartet scale the cliffs, they are followed by the masked man (Westley, played by Cary Elwes). Stuntmen dangled on harnesses over the cliffs to get these dramatic shots. When they finally reached the top, Vizzini cuts the rope, but the masked man hangs on and continues to climb.

The ruins at the top of the Cliffs of Insanity are quite different from the green landscape atop the Cliffs of Moher; this part was filmed in studio. Mandy Patinkin and Cary Elwes trained for several months so they could fence both left and right-handed, their sword fight has gone down as one of the most famous in film history.

Mandy had been offered his choice of parts, but he chose that of Inigo Montoya for a personal reason. The “six-fingered man” who killed Inigo’s father became the cancer that had killed Mandy’s father 15 years earlier.

I’ll become the greatest sword fighter, and my reward will not be to be in this movie that ended up being what it’s become to all these people; my reward will be that my father will come back.

– Mandy Paninkin, interviewed by Cary Elwes for his book As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride

The Princess Bride had only modest success at the box office, but when it was later released on home video it became a cult classic and is one of the most frequently-quoted films of all time.

My name is Inigo Montoya... oh, you know the rest!

Links

 

Surf’s Up

Lahinch, County Clare

Photo of Lahinch Surfer by TOF2006, licensed under Creative Commons

Let’s go surfin’ now
Everybody’s learning how
Come on and safari with me
– Surfin’ Safari, song by The Beach Boys (1962)

In the summer of 1972, an international group of surfers held their boards upright on the sands of Lahinch in County Clare and looked despairingly at the sea. The day was unusually calm and the waves were barely six inches high. The sea at Lahinch, usually turbulent enough to provide optimal surfing conditions, might as well have been a lake.

Surfing at that time was a very new sport in Ireland. Indeed, it barely existed until 1963, when Kevin Cavey picked up a copy of Reader’s Digest.

One day I read in the Readers Digest about the sport of the Kings in the Hawaiian Islands, and saw a picture of them riding head height waves, the sort of which I had often seen in the west of Ireland. I immediately determined to put Ireland on the map as a surfing country. So as to test if surfing would work, I built an 8 ft long plywood and aero foam board and launched it in Bray in August 1964. I immediately formed Ireland’s first Surf Club and called it ‘Bray Ireland Surf Club’.

– Kevin Cavey

He linked up with other interested surfers in Ireland and the U.K., and organized “surfaris” to places like Tramore, Strandhill, Enniscrone, and Lahinch. He even established networks in Northern Ireland, a remarkable instance of cross-border co-operation at the height of “The Troubles”.

By 1970, Ireland boasted about 400 surfers. Irish surfers competed abroad and started to win, and in 1972 it was decide to hold the European Surfing Championships at Lahinch. Surfers travelled from Britain, France, and Spain for the chance to ride the Atlantic waves.

Unfortunately, the waves didn’t co-operate and only the junior competition went ahead.

The day after this anti-climax, there was a swell off Spanish Point, produced by a reef that had never before been noticed.  The French contingent had already left, but those remaining became the first to ride this newly-discovered reef. They followed this with a “surfari” to Donegal, and most of the surfers returned home with exciting tales of the wild and unpredictable surf on the west coast of Ireland.

Surfing continued to grow in popularity. The 1997 the European Surfing Championships were held again in Ireland, this time in Bundoran, County Donegal. Today, there are around 40 surf schools and 20,000 surfers in Ireland. Kevin Cavey is now known as “the grandfather of Irish surf”.

***

I’ll end this post on a personal note. In September 2006, my work colleague told me he was going surfing in Lahinch with his brother and a friend, and asked if I’d like to join them. I didn’t have anything better to do that weekend, so I accepted the invitation.

The sea that Saturday was just as calm as it had been for the European Surfing Championships in 1972. We ended up walking the beach, drinking smoothies, and enjoying the sunshine. My colleague’s friend had a lovely smile and, as we chatted away along the beach, our companions decided to give us some space to get to know each other.

Two years later, P.J. and I were married. So I owe a great deal to the fickle waves of Lahinch.

Links