The name Glendalough means ‘the valley of the two lakes’ but this is an understatement for the beauty of the place. The Valley is located in the Wicklow Mountains National Park and I’m quite surprised to discover that it is only on the ‘Tentative List’ of early medieval Irish monastic sites for UNESCO World Heritage status. It’s home to one of the most important monastic sites in Ireland: the early Christian monastic settlement founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century.
Ardmore, Co. Waterford has a significant number of ancient relics and the popular Cliff Walk links the ancient well of St Declan with the old monastic settlement – the cathedral and round tower.
Ardmore Cliff Walk
Start Location : Cliff House Hotel, Ardmore
Time: 2 ½ hours approx Continue reading
Other features of ancient Ireland are the stones – carvings and standing. We saw the carvings on the stones at Knowth but there are more carved stones scattered across the countryside. Or … maybe not scattered at all but strategically or symbolically placed monuments. There are wells dedicated to saints. There are ancient churches, cathedrals, monasteries and abbeys – the earliest religious foundations.
Some of these ancient sites I came across on my walks.
Lady Louisa’s Walk, Lismore
[Following description is from here.]
Lady Louisa’s walk is a gentle and picturesque walk which takes you, for the most part, on a woodland walk along the river bank. Continue reading
One unusual, mysterious but distinctive feature of the ancient Irish landscape was the Round Tower. Many of these are still well preserved and can be seen at, mainly monastic, sites across Ireland today. At the time they were built they would have been exceptionally prominent features in a largely untamed landscape. They were defensive but also prestigious.
Rock of Cashel, Co, Tipperary
When planning my trip to Ireland in May I checked the Library Catalogue to see what was available and found this :
I was quite amazed at the amount, variety and quality of ancient monuments to be found, and visited, all over Ireland.
Newgrange from the approach lane
In order of age the earliest site that I visited, and featuring also at the beginning of the first chapter ‘Ireland Before History: The Stone Age’ is Knowth which, along with its, probably better known, neighbour, Newgrange, is “one of three great burial mounds erected in the ‘sacred landscape’ of the Lower Boyne Valley in Co. Meath.” The two passage-tombs under the great tumulus were probably erected before 2500BC. Around the main mound are several recently reconstructed ‘satellite’ tombs.
Knowth Main Mound
One of the Passage Tombs
I didn’t have time to visit both mounds as I was travelling between Co. Kildare and Co. Fermanagh but I did manage Knowth and will definitely return to see Newgrange, especially now that I know how the system for visiting works! My Heritage Ireland Card gave me free admittance to the site.
“Please note this is a very busy site and it is important to be at the Centre early in the day to ensure a visit to the monuments, as places on the tours are limited each day. There is no direct access to either Newgrange or Knowth. All access is through the Visitor Centre and by guided tour only.”
I had arrived across country and found the approach lanes surprisingly quiet but on arrival in the crowded car park and on joining the queues at the Visitor Centre I discovered that most people and all coaches arrive via the nearby Motorway. There’s plenty to see in the Centre and then time to catch the timed minibus to Knowth where you get a very full guided tour inside and outside the tumulus.
We were able to enter the tomb and to climb to the top for a wonderful view towards Newgrange and also The Hill of Tara the ‘most historic place in all Ireland, having played an important mythical and symbolic role in the country from the Stone Age to the 19th century, including the nominal centre of the ‘High Kingship’ of Ireland.’
The Surface on the Top of Knowth
Newgrange from Knowth
It’s quite amazing that the carved stones around the base of the mound have been preserved across the centuries.
Just one example of the stone carvings!
Quartz from the Wicklow Mountains and Granite from the Mountains of Mourne
I will definitely visit again and get to Newgrange and maybe also the site of the Hill Tara which seems to be very little visited.
WARNING These connections are very tenuous but I found them interesting and hope you do too!
The Parnell Monument in O’Connell Street, Dublin
Charles Stewart Parnell was dubbed “The Uncrowned King of Ireland” despite being a Protestant landowner in Ireland. He was also famous for his ‘scandalous’ affair with the married Kitty O’Shea. Read a resumé of his life and influence in Victorian Ireland here.
My maiden name was Parnell and when my sister-in-law and husband suggested a visit to Avondale House in Co. Wicklow, Parnell’s former home, I was delighted. As far as I am aware there is no family connection.
Surprisingly, Avondale House was open on weekdays in May. I’ve just looked at the website and see that it is now closed until further notice due to work being carried out.
“Avondale House, the birthplace and home of Charles Stewart Parnell (1846-1891) one of the greatest political leaders of Irish history. Set in a magnificent forest park of over 500 acres with tree trails and walks ranging in duration from one to five hours. This beautiful Georgian House designed by James Wyatt and built in 1777 contains fine plasterwork and many original pieces of furniture. The American Room is dedicated to Admiral Charles Stewart – Parnell’s American grandfather who manned the USS Constitution during the 1812 war. Visitors are introduced to this wonderful historical house by a specially commissioned audio visual presentation.”
There were no other visitors but I was able to tour the house, buy postcards and we enjoyed tea and cake outside at the picnic tables. The house and grounds are now owned and managed by Coilte Outdoors (Irish Forestry). We did come across a group of walkers who were enjoying the extensive estate and woodland/forest paths. If ever I’m lucky enough to return to Avondale I’d love to take a hike there.
Ground Floor Appartments
The house tour begins with a specially commissioned audio visual presentation. Most of the main rooms of the house can be visited and photography is allowed.
After visiting the ground floor apartments, which are suitably decorated and furnished for the period, the tour continues upstairs where there is some exhibition space and artefacts formerly belonging to Parnell and family.
The American Room was the bedroom in later life of Parnell’s American mother, Delia Tudor Stewart the daughter of Admiral Charles Stewart who manned the USS Constitution during the 1812 War. Both he and his ship gained the nickname “Old Ironsides”. Delia died as a result of burns which she received after a fire in this room. The Wooton Desk was originally the property of her father.
The Wooton Desk
Wooton Desk Files
There is a well-known (in Ireland, anyway) song about Parnell – The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale.
“The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale Charles Stewart Parnell was imprisoned in Kilmainham Jail in Dublin in 1881 for the leading part he played in the Irish Land League. In songs of rebellion or songs that the government might consider seditions, it was common to use a synonym instead of a person’s real name. In this case, Parnell is “The Blackbird of Sweet Avondale“. [source]
It’s nice to think of this connection with Ireland
My other family connection is more real but it has been hard to find much concrete evidence.
During the War my Dad served in the RAF and for a while, early on in his career, for he spent most of the War in India, was stationed (presumably for training) in Northern Ireland. One of the places he used to talk about was Newtownbutler. Before I went to Ireland and whilst I was staying at the Crom Estate in Co. Fermanagh I tried to find out more about radar stations in the area but with no luck at all. I spoke with two chaps who were interested in finding out about what went on in the area but we were none of us able to shed any light on the situation. This was all we could find (and the date is too late for Dad as he was already on his way to India). Scroll down to two photos labelled Newtownbutler.
I’ll just to divert for a moment here to mention that The Crom Estate played an important role during the Second World War and there was a good exhibition in the National Trust Visitor Centre on the site.
In the autumn of 1942 American soldiers arrived and used the estate to prepare for D-Day. The officers lived in the Castle and the men in Nissen huts scattered throughout the site. They practised building bayley bridges, marching and manoeuvres.
I visited Newtownbutler itself, tried to find the site of the former radar station which is now private land and not easily accessible and enquired at the Co. Fermanagh Information Bureau in nearby Lisnaskea but all to no avail. The village was really just a couple of streets leading to a crossroads.
At the Crossroads in Newtownbutler
Still, I’m happy to have visited somewhere that Dad spent time and he talked about Northern Ireland with great affection. British forces, of course, were not allowed to cross the border into southern Ireland as it was a neutral country at the time.
Dublin is a City of Words, a UNESCO City of Literature and a city with some great libraries. On my visits in May I managed to get to two of these. I’m looking forward to future trips when I may visit other literary locations across the city.
“For over 800 years Dublin Castle has been at the heart of Irish history. From the founding of the first Celtic settlement in the 1st century A.D. to every Presidential inauguration since the foundation of the state, the site has stood witness to some of the most pivotal events in the country’s history.” So it’s interesting enough just walking through the Castle precincts.
Chester Beatty (1875-1968) was an American mining engineer. He had been an avid collector since childhood – stamps, Chinese snuff bottles, rocks and minerals. During the first decades of the 20th century Beatty moved to Europe and began to collect European and Persian manuscripts and decorated copies of the Qur’an. He took an interest in Japan, the Orient and Egypt. He actually bought a house near the Pyramids.
He later bought modern editions but had very conservative taste. He preferred books where the text and image formed pleasing compositions. Such as here a Gregynog Press issue of The Fables of Esope, 1931.
No photography allowed but I found the above pictures here
He loved books for their own sake as opposed to having a love for literature. He was attracted to decorated books/illustrations/iluminations and fine bindings. He didn’t like modern art and avant garde book designers, illustrators and binders are not represented in his collection. His mantra was “quality, quality, quality”. He was probably the last of the great book collectors after J. Pierpoint Morgan and Henry E. Huntington. Beatty also appreciated the 18th and 19th century print cabinets essential to the gentleman’s library.
In 1950 Chester Beatty decided to move to Ireland and he built a library for his art collection on Shrewsbury Road which opened in 1954. Upon his death, the collection was bequeathed to a trust for the benefit of the public and his priceless collection lives on as a celebration of the spirit and generosity of Chester Beatty.
I enjoyed studying the short videos demonstrating print techniques : woodcuts, engraving, etching, lithography and chromolithography. And a trust fund allows the Library to continue buying works today which complement the original collection. It was during my visit to The Chester Beatty Library that I realised that I’m really much more interested in printed books and printing methods than in the beautiful and exquisite manuscripts.
Charles Beatty summed up his life “It has all been a great adventure”.
The Castle Grounds and Grass Maze
Moving on from the Chester Beatty Library I headed back through the Castle precincts and after a quick lunch in the lovely Avoca store found my way to The National Library of Ireland. A friend, and fellow member of the Leeds Library, recommended to me after a recent visit “YEATS: the life and works of William Butler Yeats” [1865-1939]. It’s an almost permanent exhibition (ongoing since 2006) but it is particularly relevant this year as 2015 is the 150th anniversary of Yeats’s birth.
The National Library of Ireland’s collection of Yeats manuscripts is the largest collection of Yeats material in a single institution anywhere in the world. This collection is at the heart of the exhibition which you can visit for yourselves here.
I was particularly interested to discover more about the life of Ireland’s national poet. He came from a family of artists and creatives. He played a huge role in the establishment of the Abbey Theatre in Dublin which he founded along with Lady Augusta Gregory in 1904 with the main aim of promoting Irish writers and artists which is still incorporated in its charter today. He had a great interest in the occult and Celtic mysticism. Many of his poems are about places in Ireland, and elsewhere.
By coincidence during my trip in May HRH The Prince of Wales and his wife The Duchess of Cornwall also visited Ireland and planted a tree at the grave of William Butler Yeats at Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo.
There’s a regular two-page spread in the Independent Traveller section of Saturday’s Independent called “Travel Agenda : Where to Go, What to Know” that gives a few pithy lines about what’s going on in the world of travel.
The ‘back’ of dlrLexicon
A few months ago I spotted a brief mention of the dlrLexicon, the newly opened Dun Laoghaire public library. The library was said to greet drivers as they disembarked from the Holyhead ferry. In fact there is no longer a ferry terminal at Dun Laoghaire but I knew exactly the location of the Library as many times in the past I’ve arrived at Dun Laoghaire from North Wales.
Light and airy for studying and browsing
DLR stands for Dun Laoghaire and Rathdown. On my visit we started the day with coffee and delicious cake in Brambles Cafe on the ground floor. Later in the day we explored the other floors, looking at the views and the stock.
The Beautiful Librarians – dlrLexicon book stock
Popular with all ages
The massive building is shaped like a liner, which is rather apt since a partnership has been struck between dlrLexicon and Dun Laoghaire Harbour Company in order to promote the town as a leading cruise destination. Indeed, on the day of our visit an Irish cultural variety show – music, song and dance – was laid on in the garden area. Not for cruise passengers only; free access is also offered to the public.
Dun Laoghaire Marina, East Pier and Cruise Liner
The Bolton Library, Cashel
On my first visit to Cashel as I travelled from Co. Waterford up to Co. Kildare I stopped off in Cashel. As I was leaving The Rock of Cashel I noticed this poster :
Well, how could I resist when a couple of days later I found myself heading back down to Co. Cork? What an amazing treasure trove! I could hardly believe this place existed. Upstairs is even fitted out as an exact replica in miniature of Trinity College Library in Dublin where the famous Book of Kells is now housed. Bolton Library Upper Floor [Picture source]
I think they mean William Caxton!
I parked up in Cashel and headed for the Tourist Office where a very helpful young lady rang Martin, the curator, who said he would be happy to show me around the library so drove straight to the St John’s Cathedral and was met by the enthusiastic Martin.
The Bijou Bolton Library
You can read more about the treasures Bolton Library Document but I was amazed to see the world’s tiniest book – The Lord’s Prayer in German; an early Caxton printing of Chaucer; the earliest use of the word Zero; the 1493 Nuremburg Chronicle and many more treasures besides.
The Upper Floor [source]
NOTE : The Bolton Library is now in the care of The University of Limerick
4 March 2017
One Irish word I came to recognize on my recent trip, although I don’t know how it’s pronounced, was Leabharlann. Needless to say, it means Library.
Colclough Room, former Tintern Abbey Library
And the first Library I came across was no longer in use as such. It was the library at Tintern Abbey. Since restoration this room is now known as the Colclough Room and is used as a gallery to tell the stories of the families who lived here.
To my mind the best place to pick up wifi is at a Public Library and I made a couple of visits to Lismore Public Library and Dungarvan Library on some of the wetter days that I spent at Salterbridge Gatelodge.
Lismore Public Library
On my day out in Cork I popped into the Cork Public Library. There was an interesting display in the foyer : The Best Banned in the Land featuring books banned by the Catholic church in Ireland.
The Cork Library Register of Banned Books
Best Banned Books
Many of the authors were Irish and often the Library had bought copies which were later removed from shelves and returned to booksellers for credit. The exhibition focussed on those Irish authors. The list of “Our Nasty Novelists” included George Bernard Shaw, Edna O’Brien, James Joyce, M J O’Farrell (Molly Keane), and I recognised ‘Persephone’ author Norah Hoult (Persephone Book 59 “There were no windows”)
Norah Hoult – Banned
Edna O’Brien – Banned
Later, on a Walking Tour in Cork, I spotted a new use for an old library
Funnily enough, I know which one I prefer to be in! The Gatelodge, of course. I’ve reproduced here the descriptions from a leaflet I found here at the Lodge :
“This tiny pavilion is located in the gorgeous Blackwater Valley within a mile of Cappoquin and near the Knockmealdown Mountains. It was built in around 1849 by the Chearnley family who owned the Salterbridge estate since the mid 18th century until the early 20th century. The Lodge, though obviously in habitation in the thirties when the Glanville family lived there, became derelict after the 1950s. Its function, like all gatelodges, was to indicate to the passer-by the good standing and taste of the original owner, and to showcase some of the features of the architect’s work, reinterpreted from the Big House.
Among The Lodge’s interesting features is an octagonal garden room, from which the two main rooms, bedroom and sitting room, lead. The kitchen and bathroom are to the rear. The sense of balance and symmetry has been retained, and although when finding a modern use for such buildings, a bathroom and kitchen must inevitably be added, the rear extension has been carefully matched to the proportions of the existing rooms.
The Irish Landmark Trust officially launched the property to visitors on 15th January 2002.
It is a building of fine ashlar stonework and of charming classical proportions. When the Irish Landmark Trust took it on as a restoration project in 1999 the building was roofless, windowless, overgrown and a section of the back wall had collapsed. A considerable amount of repair to the stone was required – its long exposure to the weather and, in places, original bedding of the stone, had resulted in loss of some of the decorative surface of the ashlar blocks.
The restoration works involved the retention and repair of most of the original stone. Fallen facing sections from the surrounding overgrowth were salvaged and reinstated. Three pieces of new stone were required in total and this stone was obtained from small loose blocks in the disused quarry at Lismore Castle – a possible source of the original.
The symmetrical layout of the original lodge was retained with a small extension formed to the rear. The fine proportions of the building have been retained. The extension has been finished externally with a lined lime render. Internal walls and ceilings throughout are finished with lime plasters and paints and, with a fine quality of natural light in all rooms, this provides a healthy and pleasing atmosphere throughout.
The carefully crafted work of the masons, joiners, plasterers and other tradespeople involved has brought this formerly ruinous and vulnerable building back to health and restored it to use again.
Interior Design Notes
The Lodge is simply furnished in an elegant Victorian style using a muted palette throughout and historic colours in a raw pigment limewash. The principal rooms are furnished in a vernacular style using mahogany pieces.
The original entrance hall, now designated “The Garden Room” is apple green, with a round table.
The bedroom is painted off-white and has an early Victorian mahogany double bed with barley twist ends and a traditional handwoven carpet in crimson. The wardrobe, chest of drawers and lockers are plain early Victorian. The shutters have been reinstated in the windows with Holland blinds added.
The sitting room is pale yellow with a handwoven carpet in gold and ochre. There is a Regency two-seater sofa and two comfortable chairs. A writing desk stands at the window and a bookshelf completes the furnishings.
The bathroom is plainly finished in white; and there are timber floors throughout except for the flagged hall.
The kitchen is fitted with an oak table and traditional sugan chairs, a traditional dresser, timber counter tops and a Belfast sink. The fittings are blue-green.”
To visit I walked over a mile up the drive to the Big House – Salterbridge House. It’s open this month on a very ad hoc basis.
The owners weren’t home and I was shown around by the housekeeper. No photography was allowed but my overall feeling was a big house, not very cosy, but light and airy. Modern day furniture, of course, always looks too small and insignificant in big houses. Its saving grace was a beautiful walnut table in the entrance hall created from a tree from the estate. The book themes are political, historical and military with some modern novels.
The Drive to the House
There was a house on the site, built by Richard Musgrave, since about 1750. Through his daughter it was owned by the Chearnley family until 1947. In 1940 it was occupied by the army for a few years and in 1947 it was sold to the present owner’s parents. The house was substantially rebuilt during the 19th century – architect unknown.
From the garden notes there’s a Cork Oak and four Irish yews. On a grassy area is a “Woodhenge” created by sculptress Rebecca Johnson from a branch of one of the garden’s yew trees.
And can you believe it on an evening in May :