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.

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Galway City

By Aisling Keogh

Photo of Galway scene by P.J. McKenna

Nicola put me on the bus that day. Dublin makes me tired, and I was glad at her insistence.

“It’s no trouble,” she said. And she must have said it a half dozen times before I agreed to let her take me. That’s us Irish for you, we say “no” when what we really mean is “That would be great, thank you.”

Whiny air-conditioning, children with twitchy legs kicking the back of my seat, and the pure lack of consideration from the sun — who insisted on shining in a head splittingly bright fashion — meant I could not sleep. But there’s still something about heading west at the end of a day, something about driving towards the light. It makes a soul feel hopeful again.

Soon. I’d be home soon.

And good ol’ Galway, she welcomed me back with a solid two fingers to Dublin’s purposeful stride. Outside Logue’s shoe shop, two young ones were singing alongside a busker with a guitar and a fold out fishing stool. I couldn’t say what they were singing, but it sounded good to me. Even better was the fella who stood in the shadows opposite Eason’s bookstore, his sweet voice ringing out on the chorus — “this years love it better last.” Above his head, seagulls circled, swooped and hovered, waiting to scream him down — while I did my best to capture the setting sun peeking through the gap between Deeley’s Menswear and St. Nicholas’ Church.

While I was on the bus it occurred to me, the best way to get Dublin off me was to do the most Galway thing possible, so I was on my way to McDonaghs for fish and chips. In hindsight, Supermacs on Eyre Square might have been a better bet.

The lad on the counter in McDonaghs looked at me like he was asking something far more important than “what drink?” He handed me my cutlery — actually put it in my hand, instead of leaving it on the counter for me to take — and our fingers touched. The warmth of his skin, and our awkwardness, made me smile.

In among the wooden tables and low stools, and the scraping of wood on tile, an American lady talked in a particularly strident tone about a new acquaintance she had dinner with recently. She talked through her nose and her arse about that other woman, who had “cold parents,” picked “the wrong man” who “left her and took all her money.” Cliche bingo, and I was on the bus. I played along for a short while, then wandered off into old memories, about how important I felt once considered old enough to stay up late and watch “Dallas.” And how happy I was then, in our brown and beige sitting room, drinking tea and eating biscuits with Mam and Dad while my little sister slept in her little pink bed.

I sat in the window while I ate, and sorted passerbys into two categories, “from here” and “not from here.” Yellow trouser suit? Definitely not from here. Fuschia pink garland of fake flowers? Also not from here. Mother of the Bride, I concluded, and an unwilling participant in some hen night shenanigans. Good luck to her.

Hunger sated, I steered for the Spanish Arch, then on across Wolfe Tone Bridge, and feck, the breeze that came down the river fairly bit at my nose and cheeks. I shivered and quickened my pace. Around past The Salthouse, I gave a nod and a wink to Monroe’s, and to Vinnie’s takeaway — some other time, lads! They belong to some other night, and dancing until 3am.

On Dominick Street, some woman stopped me, and asked “Where’s La Tosca?” and I was so lost in my own city, I couldn’t say.

The Sports ground was up-hill all the way from there, a gentle enough incline, and not without its highlights. A hen party stopped in the middle of the street, debating what direction to take, and the doorman on “Taafes” pub called to them and told them “The Kings Head” was two doors down, if that’s what they were looking for? I cracked a smile, he went back to his cup of tea. Galway folk are fierce helpful like that.

It had its lows too. Photos of two young men, unknown to each other, stuck to lampposts,asking passersby “Have you seen this man?” I wished for all I was worth that I had. I was playing at being missing from my life. They were for real. Most likely, the tide would bring them home.

The thought might have crushed me, but a waxing moon, snow white in a deep lavender sky, promised something good. “Hold on,” she whispered, “all will be well.”

I was past the coach station and city hall, when the town suddenly roared. “Connacht 25, Munster 14,” a mid-Atlantic drawl stated. Another roar, subsided to a hiss like an old steam engine, bounced off the walls of buildings along College Road, and inside those buildings, through their windows, I could see television screens showing the green pitch that was only metres away from any of them. “The Fields of Athenry” sounded like a battle cry.

Nose and lips already numb from the cold, I chose a seat on a wall outside the ground to wait for my lift. “Go on in,” a steward on the gate beckoned me over, then pointed, “there’s a wall there you can stand on, get a view.”

At first, I shrugged. The Clan stand was shaking with the stamping feet of supporters baying for the oppositions blood, but a light hand on my shoulder ushered me towards that wall. “Keep moving,” the owner of the hand said, “otherwise you’ll freeze.” And that’s what I love about Galway, she doesn’t just invite you in, she insists you accept the invitation.

Originally posted at medium.com

Let Love and Friendship Reign

The Claddagh, Galway

Photo of St Nicholas’ Cathedral, Galway by P.J. McKenna

Angel: My people — before I was changed — they exchanged this as a sign of devotion. It’s a Claddagh ring. The hands represent friendship, the crown represents loyalty… and the heart… Well, you know…

— Buffy the Vampire Slayer, season 2

In the late 17th century, many Irish were leaving their home for a new life in the New World. Among them was young Richard Joyce, a native of Galway city. But he never reached the Americas; instead his fate would be a lot stranger. En route, the ship that carried him was attacked by Barbary pirates.

The sea held many terrors, but the Barbary pirates of North Africa ranked highly. They ransacked European ships, claiming their crew and passengers as well as their cargo as booty. Sometimes they even raided on land, as they had in Baltimore, County Cork. For there was a thriving trade in slaves on the Barbary Coast.

Like many before him, Richard was brought to Algiers and sold. But he was more fortunate than most, because he was taken in by a goldsmith and taught his trade.

On his arrival at Algiers, he was purchased by a wealthy Turk, who followed the profession of a goldsmith, and who, observing his slave, Joyce, to be tractable and ingenious, instructed him in his trade, in which he speedily became an adept.

— History of the Town and County of Galway, James Hardiman (1820)

Under this master, Richard created a new design, a ring. The design was most likely influenced by the existing “fede rings”, which showed two hands clasping each other, but it added two new elements: a heart being held by the hands, and a crown topping the heart. These three items together symbolized the motto, “Let Love and Friendship Reign“.

When William of Orange came to the throne, he negotiated for the return of all British slaves in Algiers, and among these was Richard Joyce. His master had evidently grown fond of him, for he offered Richard freedom and the hand of his daughter in marriage.

Richard declined the offer, and returned to Galway. Legend says that he returned to the sweetheart he’d left behind.

*****

No-one knows exactly when the ring became associated with the Claddagh, a fishing village just outside Galway City. The Irish-speaking Claddagh people kept themselves separate to the mostly English-speaking city, except when they crossed the river to sell their fish. They elected their own king, who sailed a Galway hooker with a special white sail and negotiated on disputes between locals.

By the 19th century, Claddagh mothers were handing down Claddagh rings to their daughters. Sadly, many were forced to pawn these rings during the Great Famine of the 1840s.

The cottages of the Claddagh village were condemned as unsafe in the 1930s, and razed for a housing scheme. Today, the Claddagh is mostly a residential area and part of Galway city, although they do still have their own king.

*****

The ring itself has grown in popularity since it was created. It can be used as a wedding and engagement ring, and is often passed down within families. Queen Victoria wore one, as did that famous slayer of vampires, Buffy Summers.

The Old Claddagh Ring, it was my grandmother’s
She wore it a lifetime, and gave it to me

— The Old Claddagh Ring, traditional song

My own grandmother bought me a Claddagh ring for my 21st birthday.  When I first wore the ring, the heart was turned outwards from my finger, to show I was single; but nowadays the heart is turned inwards to show it has been taken. That was the last gift my grandmother gave me, because she died the following year.

On my finger is a link to the past: to my grandmother, who was born in the early years of the 20th century, lived through the war of Irish independence, and raised seven children while her husband worked in England; to those Claddagh women, selling the rings their mothers gave them to get the fare to America; and to Richard Joyce, slave and goldsmith, who created such a lovely symbol of friendship, loyalty, and love.

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