ESCAPE TO IRELAND - #08 – Cork & Skibbereen

July 23, 2016  •  Leave a Comment

May/June 2016

ESCAPE TO IRELAND - #08 – Cork & Skibbereen

Map of our route (Bunratty to Skibbereen)

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ADARE (again)

Bright and early, at the crack of 9:30 we gathered outside our B&B to await our tour bus which showed up right on time and contained the folks on the tour who had been staying at the other B&B.  So, after some chatting and getting the luggage safely stowed on board, we climbed aboard and headed out.  Our driver was Paddy and our guide was Stoney – can you get more Irish than that.  But the bus was white and there were no shamrocks or 4 leaf clovers anywhere to be seen in or on the bus (thank goodness).

Our first stop was in the charming village of Adare.  This should sound familiar as I wrote about it in episode 6 of this series (http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2016/7/escape-to-ireland-06) . So, I’m not going to go through the sites there again.  On the tour this was just a short stop for introductions.  We gathered in the little park I talked about before, and we all introduced ourselves to the group after which we had an hour or so to wander.  Not really enough time to go to the castle or any of the Friaries but enough to wander up and down the main street.  The tour group was 22 folks about ¾ of them from Eastern Canada (mostly Toronto and the Maritimes) and the rest being from the States and altogether a very nice bunch of folks.  Conveniently they all were on the same end of the political spectrum as are we so we didn’t have to watch our tongue when talking about the upcoming election in the US – or the recent one in Canada for that matter.  But, back to the trip itself.

This was mostly a travel day to get us from Bunratty - near the Shannon Airport – down to county Cork where we’d be spending the first 3 nights.  As most of the folks on the tour had flown from North America into Shannon the day before they were still pretty jet lagged so there wasn’t much on the itinerary for the day.  I should point out that almost everyone came from the eastern side of North America so were only half as jet lagged as we had been a week earlier coming from the west side of North America – but at this point in time it was nice not being jet lagged.

One of the nice things about a formal tour is that not only do you not have to drive or make your own logistical arrangements but you meet some interesting people as you see the sights and you get some history and insights along the way.  Throughout the tour, Stoney would get on the microphone and give us some history or tell a story – many times just out of the blue and not really pertaining to where we were at the moment.  I’ll try to include some of that at the end of these sections as we go along.

Anyway, off we went heading south toward Skibbereen in County Cork. However, our first stop after leaving Adare was a lunch stop in Cork city. 

 

CORK CITY

The name ‘Cork’ comes from ‘corcach’ which means "marsh".  I wouldn’t think a marsh would be an attractive place to put a city, but there it is straddling the River Lee.  It has a population of around 120,000  which makes it the second largest city in the province and the third most populous on the island of Ireland. The greater Metropolitan area (which includes a number of satellite towns and suburbs) has a population exceeding 300,000.  In 2005, the city was selected as the European Capital of Culture for whatever that’s worth.

The city is built on the River Lee which splits into two channels at the western end of the city and the city centere is divided by these channels. They reconverge at the eastern end where the quays and docks along the river banks lead outwards towards Lough Mahon and Cork Harbor, one of the world's largest natural harbors.

The city's nickname of "the rebel city" originates in its support for the Yorkist cause during the English 15th century Wars of the Roses.  Corkonians often refer to the city as "the real capital" in reference to the city's role as the center of anti-treaty forces during the Irish Civil War.

Cork was originally a monastic settlement, reputedly founded by Saint Finbarr in the 6th century.  In the early 900’s Cork grew into a significant “city” when Viking settlers built a trading port.  The ecclesiastical settlement continued alongside the Viking ‘longphort’, with the two developing a type of symbiotic relationship; the Vikings providing otherwise unobtainable trade goods for the monastery, and perhaps also military aid.

The city was once fully walled, and some wall sections and gates still remain.  For much of the Middle Ages, Cork was an outpost of Old English culture in the midst of a predominantly hostile Gaelic countryside and was cut off from the English government around stronghold in Dublin.

Since the nineteenth century, Cork had been a strongly Irish nationalist city, with widespread support for Irish Home Rule and the Irish Parliamentary Party, but from 1910 stood firmly behind William O'Brien's dissident All-for-Ireland Party.  In the War of Independence, the center of Cork was burnt down by the British Black and Tans, and the city saw fierce fighting between Irish guerrillas and UK forces. During the Irish Civil War (right after the revolutionary war), Cork was for a time held by anti-Treaty forces, until it was retaken by the pro-Treaty National Army in an attack from the sea.

The day we showed up turned out to be the same day they were having a city wide set of races (I don’t recall if it was foot or bicycle) and most of the tourist section of downtown was blocked off for the finish line.  So, big crowds, TV crews all over, PA system announcing people as they crossed the finish line and just general chaos.  But undeterred off we went in search of lunch.  Most of the folks split of into smaller groups to make things easier and our little group wandered around a bit and eventually found a place to eat.  But as we only had about an hour and a half we really didn’t have much time for sightseeing.

The Fish Wife Fish & Chips

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Streets of Cork on Race Day

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Side Street in Cork

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GREEN FIELDS

With our tummies full we made our way back to the bus and continued our drive through more quintessential Irish countryside of farm fields broken into irregularly sized squares and rectangles and each its own shade of green.  This part of the country must be better farm land than further north or east as the fields were separated by hedges and lines of trees rather than stone walls.  I can’t imagine that they hauled the stones away or left them in the field to break their plows, so there just must not be as many of them in this part of the island.

Patchwork of green farm fields

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HENRY FORD MONUMENT

Ok, so why do you think there’s a monument to Henry Ford’s Model “T” in Ballinascarty (near Clonakilty)?  Gee, I don’t know, it’s just there.  No, just kidding.  Henry Ford does have a link to Ballinascarty.  His father, William ford was born There in 1826.   William left Ireland for America in 1847 as a 21 year old farmer and carpenter.  Henry was later born in Dearborn Michigan but was always intrigued by the land of his father. 

Henry went back to Ireland in 1912 with his son Edsel looking for his roots.  Once found he tried to buy the old family homestead which was now an empty tiny tenant cottage surrounded along 30 acres of land and is where William had lived.  However, the three single brothers who owned it wouldn’t sell.  It seems the parish priests advised them to hold out for a higher price because there was “more in him” as they said.  It seems you can put a price on sentiment, and in this case Henry wasn’t willing to pay.  As Haze (one of Henry’s descendants) puts it with a smile: “He wasn’t going to be run up the street on that one”.   By all accounts Henry took away the hearthstone from the old house and wasn’t seen in the vicinity for years afterwards.  It’s also commonly said that ‘A priest kept there from being a Ford factory in Ballinascarty’.

However, Hazel (and relative of Henry’s who still lives near here) became a Ford family historian and visited Michigan many times.  Over the years the relationship between the Irish and American Ford’s got stronger.  In 2000 a Silver replica of a Model “T” alongside the N71 highway was unveiled to commemorate the Ford connection to Ballinascarty.  You are allowed to climb into this silver Model “T” and it has become a favorite tourist spot for locals and international travelers to have their photo taken in a shiny silver Model “T”.

Silver Model “T” monument to the Ford Family in Ballinascarty

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One of our fellow travelers climbing aboard for a photo op

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SKIBBEREEN

The town of Skibbereen is in the way south west corner of Ireland, in County Cork.  The name translates to “Little Boat Harbor” but is also thought to derive from the word ‘skiff’, a type of boat used for crossing the river.  The River Ilen runs through the town and off to the Atlantic Ocean about 7.5 miles away.  The census of 2011 put the population of the town at 2,568 which in general terms is quite small.  Skibbereen is most famous for being considered the epicenter for the great famine of 1845-1852.  I’ll talk more about the famine in a coming edition of this travel log but for now will talk more about the town itself.

Skibbereen is a market town serving a large hinterland.  The town owes its origins to a raid of Algerian Pirates on nearby Baltimore in 1631 when 100 people were taken as ‘white slaves’. A small number of survivors escaped being captured and moved up the river Ilen to establish Skibbereen.  After the raid I suppose they thought being a bit more inland than right on the coast was a better idea. 

As was the case with pretty much all of Europe the lands were controlled by wealthy overlords who owned everything and assured that all the other folks (the peasants as it were) could never get out of abject poverty.  Well, the overlords of this area were the MacCarthys.  But they too had their comeuppance and even though there were a wealthy Gaelic family they forfeited their  estates during the turbulent 17th century

Skibbereen is also said to be the ‘Cradle of Fenianism’. The famous Irish revolutionary Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa became politically active in Skibbereen just after the Famine.  He went on to become one of the leading members of the Fenian movement.  Another well-known Irish revolutionary, Gearóid O’Sullivan, took part in the Easter 1916 Rising. He raised the Irish flag over the GPO during that infamous rebellion.  O’Sullivan was a good friend of Michael Collins, another renowned West Cork revolutionary. Collins stopped at the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen on August 22nd 1922. Later that day, he was shot dead at Béal na Bláth.

By the early 1800’s Skibbereen was an important regional town. In June 1843, Daniel O’Connell held one of his monster “Repeal” meetings in Skibbereen. This was in an effort to repeal the Act of Union between Great Britain and Ireland to make Ireland.  The desire was not to make Ireland an independent republic, but rather an independent Kingdom of Ireland under the British monarch – similar to Wales and Scotland -  in which all the people of Ireland would be represented in a parliament in Dublin.  Newspaper accounts of the time claimed up to 500,000 attended this rally.

The decades after the Famine saw major improvements in the town. The building that now houses The Skibbereen Heritage Center opened as a Gasworks in 1867 and the arrival of the railway a few years later heralded a new era for Skibbereen.

Skibbereen was the Seat of the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Ross between 1851 and 1950. The Cathedral is still the most imposing building in the town. The town evolved to become a hub of industry and was a thriving market town throughout the 20th century, as it still is today.

Abandoned Railroad Bridge moved to this site near the West Cork Hotel from down river

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Red Door in Skibbereen

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Flower Bike

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The Main street through downtown Skibbereen

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Other end of the  main street in Skibbereen

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Old access to the river from when goods were transported on boats

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Older gentleman taking a walk through town

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There was an antique car rally in town for this one particular make and model (I don’t know what it is, but I had never heard of it)

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Down by the riverside

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HALLOWEEN & FAIRIES

It seems that our Halloween has its origins in Ireland with the holiday known as Samhain or Oiche Shamhna.  Oiche Shamhna is pronounced EE-hyeh HEL-nuh and if you say it fast sort of has a “Halloween” sound to it.  The holiday is when summer changes to winter which is pretty quick in Ireland which really has no fall as we would know it.  Anyway at this transition time, the old Celtic Druid religion said that the portal between the living and the “other life” became open.  These two worlds, if you will, exist in parallel (not one in the present and one in the past) but are separate from each other except when a portal opens between them.  When the portal is open it allows sprits to travel back into the modern world to cause mischief. 

The English word Fairy is ‘Sith’ or “Sidh” in Irish but is pronounced as “Shee” which can mean either fairy or hill many times combined into “fairy hill” or “fairy fort” which in turn morphs into “fairy ring”.  You may have heard the word banshee which stems from this.  Ban means woman and shee being one of these fairy creatures.  It is said that if you hear the scream of a Banshee that it was an omen of death.  It should be pointed out that in this context, a fairy is not a Tinkerbelle sort of thing with a magic wand sprinkling fairy dust everywhere – it is more of a spirit being from the other world.

Many times people would build houses and surround them with a mound or moat.  Many times the houses were fully or partly underground forming sort of a cavern or cave.  When these places were abandoned the Shee (fairies) would come in and take over the place which was then referred to as a fairy fort or fairy ring.  If you find one, you can go into it but you have to ask the Shee for permission.  Once you ask for permission they let you in, but if you go in without permission they will cast a spell on you causing all sorts of bad things to happen.  Due to these superstitions, even in modern times, they will route new roads around these fairy forts and will refuse to build buildings where one is (or had been).  

The story goes that when the portal is open – either at Halloween or at other random and unpredictable times of the year - these fairies would come and steal children.  But they were only interested in boys, not girls.  For this reason, parents would dress their male children in dresses and gowns to fool the fairies into thinking they were girls and so wouldn’t steal them.  Many old family portraits of Irish families, even those living in North America show the young boys in dresses or gowns.  This persisted up through the 1940’s and only stopped with the advent of WW II.

 

CATHOLIC RESTRICTIONS

From the time shortly after when King Henry VIII formed the Church of England and split from Rome, many restrictions were placed on what Catholics could and couldn’t do.  These restrictions came in several different laws such as the Act of Uniformity (1549 with several additions thru 1663), The Test Acts (around 1673), The Act of Supremacy (1534) and The Penal Laws (around 1660).  These laws prevented Catholics form being officers in the military, from being members of Parliament, outlawed Catholic Church services, Catholics couldn’t own land, and couldn’t own a weapon or a horse.  Even though some of these laws were revoked in various places (like Canada and Scotland) many of them stayed on the books into modern times - and in some cases are still on the books.  For example, even though it was greatly ignored, during WW I Catholics were not permitted to be army officers.

 

This brings us to the end of our 8th day (1st day on formal tour).  Some clouds have started rolling in, but still no rain.

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Next on our agenda –The Great Famine

I hope you enjoyed reading this travel log and will read accounts of future trips.  

- Images of this trip will be published on my website in the near future (I’ll let you know when they’re posted), but photos from other adventures are there now.

www.danhartfordphoto.com

 

This Blog can be found online here:  http://www.danhartfordphoto.com/blog/2016/7/escape-to-ireland-08

 

Thanks for reading -- Dan


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