Thursday once more an outside my window it continues to rain although thankfully the wind has abated, and begin Thursday I have the fastest half-hour of my, day watching the Alex Salmon Show. Today was no exception we heard from Doctor Luke O’Neil of Dublin, and Dr Sir Harry Burns, he needs no introduction. Both men are plain speakers, they talk in plain language that even the layman has no problem understanding and with no axe to grind, no waffle.
Later that evening I watched a documentary, ‘Adrian Dunbar’s Ireland’. Adrian Dunbar had grown up in Ireland and like many at that time when old enough to leave, headed for London, where the streets were reputed to be paved with gold, I lived in Kilburn, where most of them ended up, and I can assure you the streets there are not paved with gold. In the documentary Adrian would show us his native lands, we started our journey at Mizen Head.
“If the wind does not take your breath away” he said “the views will”, I had to agree with him there.
The peninsula is almost an island cut off by a deep chasm and in order to service the signal station, The Mizen Bridge, was constructed
across the gap. We heard a lot about how the original bridge, built by the Victorians, who else, had suffered badly over the years from the saltwater that had corroded the steel reinforcing making the bridge unsafe, (I think it is called concrete cancer). The bridge was replaced by a new bridge, on much the same design, however in order to build the new bridge, they had to build a bridge over the top of the old bridge, so in reality, there were three bridges.
Being at one of the extreme points of the island of Ireland and situated on the transatlantic shipping lane this would have been the last, many Irishmen men women would have seen of their homeland as they sailed for the New World and they hoped a new and better life.
We then sailed off to the rocky outcrop and the monetary of Skellig Michael,
Where we visited the ruins of the old settlement, built in this most inhospitable rock. The monks lived in a series of cells constructed in drystone wall fashion, and beehive shape,
So well built are they that although they are no more than stones placed on top of stones, they are self-supporting and totally waterproof.
Access is via a steep path and steps, there are three sets of steps to their monastery so that it could be reached in all weathers, known as the East, South and North Steps, today only the South Steps are accessible by the public. (on the rare day that you will be able to land on the rocky outcrop).
The tree flights of steps start as rock-cut steps and are then constructed of dry-stone once they are out of reach of rough seas. The South and North Steps meet at what is called Christ’s Saddle, the only reasonably flat part of the island.
A ferry was required for our next destination the Aran Islands a small group of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay on the west coast of Ireland. Here like many west coast islands in Scotland they use a native language of Irish but all 1.200 of the islanders are bilingual in both Irish and English. On first sight, it looked as if it was the place where the television series Father Ted was filmed, must look that up.
Little is known about the first people to inhabit the islands but it is believed they would have come in search of a safe haven. The islands are made up of Carboniferous Limestone, and do not have natural topsoil. Early settlers used the seaweed and sand from the shore and built drystone walls to protect the soil from the constant winds, that blow here.
Severn prehistoric stone forts are on the islands, Dun Aonghasa, on Inshore, is believed to date back to 1100 BC.
Enda of Aran founded the Killeany monastery in Inishmore, AD 490 that became the centre of learning. There to on Inishmore is a fifth-century church of Saint Brecan. And on Inisheer is the castle of Dun Formna built by O’Brien’s around the 14th century. The castle was destroyed by Cromwell’s soldiers and all but two of the churches established by Brecan.
Life on Aran would have been hard for the islanders. Gathering flotsam wood for fuel and building. Harvesting kelp was an important sideline, that would have raised money for the land rents. And if you have a knitter in the family then you will know that Aran is synonymous with the knitting skills of the womenfolk of the island, and the intricate decorative patterns of their sweaters.
Our final stop was Table Mountain, Benbulben, County Sligo.
A hangover from the ice age, it is a spectacular sight, rising from out of the flat land the surrounds it. I can not wait until we continue out travels next week, following the coastline of Ireland.
Begging the question, have we become blind to such beauty that is our green and blue home, that we seek to concrete, over it. Fill its seas with plastic and pollute the very atmosphere that sustains it?