Sunday, 30 March 2014

An Irish Fort

           Prime site with commanding views
           of  Youghal Harbour.

 Not too long ago the above statement and accompanying picture would not have been out of place in  the property section of any of our national newspapers. However, the site which I speak of is not available for building as it has already been built on by our ancestors. The site that I am talking about is Tinnabinna, overlooking Youghal harbour at the mouth of the River Blackwater.

Tinnabinna at the head of Youghal Harbour

 At Tinnabinna is a prime example of one of many ringforts that are dotted around the countryside as a reminder of the lives that our ancestors lived. What is a ringfort you might ask? A ringfort was one of the original homesteads which started to appear in the Irish countryside in Neolithic times as people began to domesticate animals and farm crops. The remains of these ringforts would be known to many people as fairy rings or fairy forts as legend has it that they were also used by the mythical little people and curses would befall any person who should interfere with these structures.
           A ringfort consists of an earthen circular bank with a wooden pallisade in top or sometimes a thorny hedge planted on top with the dwelling house built in the centre of the circle. There would sometimes also be an underground passage known as a souterrain which would be used as a place of refuge in times of attack or maybe for cold storage.
    In our recent "Celtic Tiger" period many people would like to show their status by the size of their garden walls, their electric gates or the number of dormer windows in their roof. This was not a new phenomenon, as in the days of building ringforts your status could be seen by the height of, or the number of earthen banks surrounding you round house. Some things never change!
Two thousand years of Irish housing!
The ringfort in Tinnabinna is quite important as it has a D-shaped annex added to the circular structure which is fairly unusual. This was pointed out to me by Mr. Michael Lee of Youghal who did an extensive study of it a couple of years ago. A big thank you too Mike for his help with this information.
         The siting of the ringfort where it is, gives it fantastic views all around and would have been very hard to attack or approach unnoticed. This must surely indicate that it was the home of a very well to do family.
     The reason that I went up to the ringfort recently was to photograph a nice sunset but before I post the sunset pictures I have made two videos showing the vista from the ringfort and they give a nice insight into how well informed the original inhabitants would have been of all approaches to the fort.
    Also I must thank the landowner Mr. Liam Collins for allowing me access to the site.


And finally, the sunset.These were all taken from the same area as the videos but were two days apart.

I`ll finish this post with a couple of links which might be of interest to anybody who would like to read some more about our history and it`s remains which are scattered all over the country.
Irish sacred sites 
 Interactive map of national monuments 

Monday, 24 March 2014

Hunting the Wild Shamrock

                            Oh the shamrock,
                             The green, immortal shamrock!
                            Chosen leaf
                            Of  Bard and Chief,
                             Old Erins` native Shamrock.
                                                                          Thomas Moore, 1812,
                                                                                                                Irish melodies volume 5.  

A couple of weeks ago I finished off an article saying that I was then going to go looking for some wild shamrock to adorn my lapel on St. Patricks day. Well this years St. Patricks day and all its celebrations has come and gone and thankfully I was able to find enough shamrock for friends and family.
         Each year I hear the same comments on the wearing of the shamrock ranging from how it should be worn ( whether on your lapel or on your hat) to what is the best way to keep it looking fresh to the topic which gets most heated of all being which is the proper
shamrock. Now unfortunately St. Patrick himself doesn`t make too many public appearances these days to put an end to the argument which is probably a good thing as it provides some people a yearly chance to jump on their soap box.
       From my own readings of the tradition over the years it seems that the plant that you call the true shamrock is very much down to local custom.
        In Connaught and Ulster the plant which has most following as the true shamrock is White Clover (Trifolium repens) and all other forms of shamrock would often be seen as the imposter.

                                     White Clover (Trifolium repens)

Farther south in my own province of Munster the plant which has the largest following as the true shamrock is  the Lesser Clover
(Trifolium dubium) also known as Lesser Trefoil.

                                            Lesser Clover or Lesser Trefoil.

 In between the strongholds of these two proclaimed kings of the shamrock world can be found a number of other plants which are also used as shamrock on 17th March each year.

                              Black Meddick (Medicago lupina) which is often 
                    used a shamrock.

                    Wood Sorrel (Oxalis acetosella) which can also
                     be found being used as shamrock.

                      Red Clover (trifolium pratense) which is another
                      common plant worn as shamrock.
          The use of shamrock and its association with St. Patrick spring from the legend of how the saint used its three foiled leaf to explain to the Irish people the idea of the Divine Trinity and the theory of three beings in the one God. However, the historians  all seem to agree that there is no reference to shamrock in any of St. Patricks own writing and that the shamrock legend doesn`t come into being until about one thousand years after his death. Now this was still a long time before the creation of  FailteIreland
 but I am sure that they are truly thankfull for this most Irish of stories.
      One thing that all the historians and theologians alike are in agreement about is St. Patricks prayer "The Deers Cry" which is said to be the first prayer written in Gaelic and is based on how St. Patrick and his followers were able to appear as a herd of deer to avoid capture and death by the soldiers of an Irish king who he upset by lighting his bonfire on the hill of Tara before the king could get his own fire lighting. It is truly a wonderfull piece of writing. The following version is a translation by Kuno Meyer  .
Reading it early in the morning is a lovely way to start your day. Try it!

                              Deers Cry.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.
I arise today
Through the strength of Christ's birth with His baptism,
Through the strength of His crucifixion with His burial,
Through the strength of His resurrection with His ascension,
Through the strength of His descent for the judgement of Doom.
I arise today
Through the strength of the love of the Cherubim,
In the obedience of angels,
In the service of archangels,
In the hope of the resurrection to meet with reward,
In the prayers of patriarchs,
In prediction of prophets,
In preaching of apostles,
In faith of confessors,
In innocence of holy virgins,
In deeds of righteous men.
I arise today
Through the strength of heaven;
Light of sun,
Radiance of moon,
Splendour of fire,
Speed of lightning,
Swiftness of wind,
Depth of sea,
Stability of earth,
Firmness of rock.
I arise today
Through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me,
God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me,
God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak to me,
God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me,
God's shield to protect me,
God's host to save me,
From snares of devils,
From temptation of vices,
From every one who shall wish me ill,
Afar and anear,
Alone and in a multitude.
I summon today all these powers between me and those evils,
Against every cruel merciless power that may oppose my body and soul,
Against incantations of false prophets,
Against black laws of pagandom,
Against false laws of heretics,
Against craft of idolatry,
Against spells of women and smiths and wizards,
Against every knowledge that corrupts man's body and soul.
Christ to shield me today,
Against poising, against burning,
Against drowning, against wounding,
So there come to me abundance of reward.
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ on my right, Christ on my left,
Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down,
Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every one who speaks of me,
Christ in the eye of every one who sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.
I arise today
Through a mighty strength, the invocation of the Trinity,
Through belief in the threeness,
Through confession of the oneness
Of the Creator of Creation.

Just to end this little piece on St. Patrick and the shamrock. He is also the patron saint of Nigeria and of Monserrat in the Carribbean so maybe I should head for the sun on next St. Patricks day and possibly have a rum cocktail or two instead of a few hot whiskeys.

                                    Monserrat St. Patricks day. 

       Some people said to me that the Google friend connect gadget was not working on the blog. I think I have it fixed now. If anybody else has had difficulty with it would you let me know?

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Mass Murders in Old Strancally!

While spending a day boating at your leisure on the lower Blackwater is one of the most peacefull and stress relieving things that a person could do, it might be a surprise to find out that among the the heavenly scenery on the banks off the river lies some restless ghosts and dark secrets.
   One such place with an evil and sordid past is Old Strancally Castle ( OSI x,y 610254,586124) which lies on the western bank accross from Eagles Rock which would be roughly half way between Ballinaclash and Coolbagh piers. The castle nows sits a crumbling ruin with a cloak of green ivy which makes it almost invisible if you are not looking closely and it`s many  a powerboater or jet skier has often passed it and have never seen it.

The history of the castle is hard to pin down because there seems to be some variance in the details of who originally built it but as far as I can tell from talking to various sources and reading from different historical articles it seems to have been built by Raymond Le Gros of Molana Abbey fame (Raymond Le Gros). One thing that all experts are in agreement over is the story that the Spanish owners round about the 1580`s were anxious to get their hands on the deeds to as much local land as possible and would invite local landowners to supper. When dinner was over they would be directed to their room where a secret trapdoor would swing loose sending the unfortunate victim to his watery grave in the river below. Eventually somebody escaped and lived to tell the tale. When news of this reached Youghal a force of soldiers was sent to route the Spaniards and the castle was burnt. The story of this murdering hole has gone into legend along with all the characters involved. There is a forty foot hole of water just out off the castle and a few times over the years while out paddling my canoe by a full moon I have often wondered about the tortured ghosts and souls who might still be thereabouts.

The above picture shows one of the cut stone corbels which would have held up one of the floors of the castle.

Inside in the castle itself is a little disappointing as the years are taking their toll on the building. It is now a crumbling ruin and it is quite difficult to imagine what a fine fortress it must have been as it sat guarding a narrow pass on the river. I have sat in the ruins a couple of evenings as the sun has gone down. It is now a very peacefull place just to sit and watch the pigeons and ravens coming in to roost while the bats leave their resting areas in the cool castle walls. With just a small fire to brew a cup of tea or a hot whiskey it`s good to pass the time and listen for old ghosts.  

                                             Tea in the castle.

The little video clip below will give an idea of how ruinous a state the castle is now in.

Friday, 14 March 2014

Spring has come to Munster.

After one of the wildest, wettest winters in a long time Spring has finally come to the banks of the Munster Blackwater. The countryside all around us has being changing both in looks and sounds. The cock blackbird above has been singing loudly all week proclaiming his status as the top bird in his territory and there has been many scuffles as he sees off any would be challengers to his throne.
    Although we have had settled weather for the last week we haven`t seen much of the sun although on the few occasions that it burnt off the mornng fog things have been nice.

The early Flowering Cherry has been a welcome splash of colour in the garden o these cold foggy mornings.

This woodpigeon wasn`t too inclined to leave his perch in the cold fogginess of the mornings.

 Even the finches were on a bit of a go slow.

The growth rates of the plants have increased with the mild weather. Last Monday I took some pictures of the buds on the willow trees in the garden. This mornng when I looked all the buds had now opened into the lovely pale yellow blossom.When I was looking at my beehive yesterday I saw some bees coming back from foraging with their polllen sacks full of pale yellow pollen so maybe they have also found some willows.

These two pictures are of the same tree taken only four days apart.

  The mild weather has brought blossoms onto the wild strawberry plants on the ditches locally. These strawberries aren`t the ones that give us the lovely sweet fruits but are a species known as the Barren Strawberry which unfortunately don`t give any fruit.

The barren strawberry is easily recognised from the fruiting variety by the front tooth on each leaf which is shorter than the teeth on either side of it.
The Barren Strawberry 

Well that`s all for today. I must now go and get my gardening trowel and go hunting. Yes. Hunting. It is now only three days to St. Patricks day and it is time to find some Shamrock which is so important in the story of St. Patrick. This time last year the weather was very cold and there was no plant growth so consequently there was a real scarcity of shamrock. Hopefully with the mild weather this year my shamrock seeking will be more successfull.

Monday, 10 March 2014

Buzzards are back.

      Wildlife conservation in Ireland has had many setbacks over the years and has often been looked on by people who were in positions to help as something which wasn`t worth any effort.
     One success story in Irish wildlife seems to be the Buzzard or to give it its Latin name Buteo Buteo.
      Over the last twelve months or so my sightings of this impressive bird of prey are becoming more numerous and on Sunday last when travelling along the Blackwater valley close to Cappaquinn I spied a group of five buzzards soaring together. The sight of these five birds as they soared and tumbled in display was a sure sign that breeding season is nigh. Hopefully they will breed nearby and that their nests will be left undisturbed as there is still a level of dislike  for birds of prey by some people.
    The above pictures areof the Buzzards in Cappaquinn soaring against a grey sky.

      A little information on the life of the Buzzard:

Diet:- The diet of the Buzzard, unlike some of our other birds of   
            prey consists almost completely on ground mammals of which rabbits are their favourite. They also eat plenty of rodents which they spot with their sharp eyesight while soaring or sometimes hovering in a strong breeze. Birds when presented are also on the diet although they would constitute a very small part of the buzzards diet unlike the sparrowhawk.

Breeding:- Buzzards are thought to be monogamous and mate for life. Breeding starts in march and starts with the males flights of display with soaring, diving and tumbling similar to what was happening in Cappaquinn a couple of days ago.

Communication;- While not a beautifull songster the buzzard is quite vocal and their call is unmistakeable. They call regularly to each other while soaring and once your ear becomes attuned to their sound it will quickly alert you of their presence. I`ll post a link below  of a recording of some of these calls.
  The above three pictures are of a lone bird which were taken near the river Lickey last October.

Recording of a Buzzard while soaring.


Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Garda Station that should have been built in India/High Drama in Ballyduff

Ballyduff. Another lovely village located along the River Blackwater. 
    On the way to Cork a couple of days ago I took a more scenic route than usual as I had some time to spare. One of the places that I passed through was the lovely village of Ballyduff. It`s a small village of only a few hundred people but is known nationwide for some of its artistic endeavours. At this time, its yearly drama festival is well underway and this year between 6th March and 15th March there are ten different plays being acted out by ten different amateur drama groups from around the country. This festival first took place in 1981 and attracts followers from all over Ireland every year. West Waterford Drama Festival 
        Another yearly artistic happening in Ballyduff is the show known as "The Booley House". This is an annual show of Irish traditional music, singing, dancing and storytelling. It is on the go since 1991 for the months of July and August and is very highly recommended.  The Booley house
       Being situated on the bank of the River Blackwater you can be assured that the river has an important place in the lives of the local people. Some of the best salmon fishing on the whole river is to be found around Ballyduff and one of the best known places to organise this fishing is "The Blackwater Lodge". This fishing lodge is owned by Mr. Ian Powell and has 14 miles of private fishing to let on the river. The Blackwater Lodge has its own blog page which gives reports on the the current fishing and prospects for the fishing in the days ahead. Something else on the blog which is nice is the graphs showing the rise and fall of the water levels on the river. 
 Blackwater Lodge Fishery 

     Something a lot older, but nonetheless interesting to be found in Ballyduff is the old Garda station. Now closed down it is a formidable looking building located across the bridge, looking back at the village to where it was to keep law and order. Originally built in 1869 as an RIC barracks it was taken over by the Gardai in 1926 and was in use as a Garda station up until 2013 when it was closed down along with many rural Garda stations throughout the country.
The story goes that the building was to be built in India but that the plans got mixed up and it was built in Ballyduff instead and the Ballyduff one was buit in India.
    An interesting little  village Ballyduff. Don`t you think?

    The impressive Garda station in Ballyduff.

 A view from below looking up at one of the two towers situated at opposite corners of the building which were designed so as to be able to defend the building from attack by firing from the slit windows with reduced risk of injury to those inside.

 The original water pump still outside the door of the station to which many a junior garda would have been sent to fetch water for the sergeants tea.

 The view from the old Garda Station looking back across the river to the village of Ballyduff.

These are some of the many swans (Whooper swans I think) that are grazing in the stil partially flooded  farmland  of the Blackwater valley between Lismore and Fermoy. Hopefully before they go back up north for their summer I will be able to get a bit closer for some better shots.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Wild reading for a present.

I have just recieved a present of a new book called
 "Wildlife Walks in Waterford"

After just flicking through the book I can already see that this is a book which many people will find usefull.The book has thirty different walks listed, which all come with detailed maps and access instructons. 

 Of these, the walks in the west of the county are of extra interest to me as they take in some of the areas where I have had many walks over the years.

Last Sunday I took a short walk in Dromana wood which is marked as walk number 21 on the map above. The red icon showing 21 is actually in the wrong place and should be repositioned to the north of Villerstown where I have drawn in a red and yellow circle. However, all other information about that particular walk seems correct.
    Over the coming months as I try to increase my walking distances in an effort to recover from a back injury I will try to test as many of these walks as possible.
    Last Sunday in Dromana it was a day of heavy persistant rain so I didn`t try to venture very far. Because of the weather I had the wood to myself and with the steady rain and lack of any wind (a strange occurence so far this year) I found it a very peacefull if slightly damp stroll. Signs of Spring are all around us now and any where you look there are signs of new growth and recovery from the long wild Winter.

            The two pictures above show a beech tree in DromanaWood.

 The beech tree is one of the trees in Irish woods which holds on to it`s leaves longer than all others. Even though the day was heavily overcast with constant rain these leaves while in an obviously withered state still seemed to shine with an incredible lustre. Nearby there were other beech trees with buds already formed and waiting to open. I suppose it`s just another sign of the diversity found between not only species but also between different individuals of the same species. 

     I started this blog a few months ago only for the intention of having a platform where a letter concerning the downgrading of the local town jetty in Youghal could be posted and links for the same be sent to various parties.trouble-brewing-in-youghal. After that I began to use it as somewhere to keep a diary of some of my rambles along and around the Blackwater valley. I was intending to keep it private but made a mistake and posted it to the public. I am now starting to get some feedback locally about my writing here. If you have any comments or suggestions I would appreciate it if you would click the box below a leave a comment.
                                             Thank You,
                                                                 Tony Lawlor.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Red dawn over Blackwater valley.

The sky over The Blackwater Valley this morning was a most beautifull palette of  oranges, reds, pinks and purples. The red sky of morning has long being a great subject matter for rhymes, poetry and folklore with the colour being an omen of impending bad weather to a selection of trades from fishermen and farmers to postmen and milkmen.

These little rhymes however do have some scientific and meteorological basis. In our latitudes most storm systems travel from west to east and are usually preceded by high cirrus clouds. As the sun begins to rise it can reflect a red or pink colour off these high cirrus clouds before it even appears over the eastern horizon.
       This morning the weather changed fairly quickly and even before the sun had rose proper above the horizon the clouds in the west had thickened and all the red colours were gone from the sky.
    Still, for a while the spectacle was very nice to look at.
  A magical time of the day.

                              The above picture which is a little grainy
                              shows a zoom shot of communications masts 
                    on the far hill which seem to be breeding                                           as each time I look their numbers have 

  The morning light put a lovely pinkish hue on the whole scene.

But! What did the day herald?
                      Pancakes of course.
Happy Pancake day!


How Kind Dawn Is

While at my window seat, I watch springs Dawn
come easing into day, with amber rays.
She lays a gilded glaze upon my lawn
and with her advent scatters gloomy haze
Like butter on my morning toast, her light
is smoothly spread enticingly accross
my portion of the universe, for Night
has yielded to the magic of her gloss
I quickly dress. Behind my house I run
to see her at her zenith. Dawn now spills
a plentitude of honey from the sun
onto a field of brilliant daffodils
How kind Dawn is, how lovely to behold
on seasons when she touches earth with gold.
By   Andrea Dietrich