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Tag: Galway

Shamrock of stone

Friday, 17 March, 2017 0 Comments

When the British poet and war-time diplomat Sir John Betjeman visited the west of Ireland in the 1940s, he stayed with Lord Hemphill and his beautiful American wife Emily. She had met her titled husband while riding in the Borghese Gardens in Rome in 1926 and they married a year later in New York. The couple then moved to Tulira Castle, the Victorian bastion built in Galway by Edward Martyn and immortalized in George Moore’s Hail and Farewell. By the time Betjeman arrived, however, Emily was involved in a passionate affair with Ion Villiers-Stuart, as she revealed to him when they cycled through the primeval-looking landscape of The Burren. That day’s events led to one of Betjeman’s finest poems, Ireland with Emily. Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Ireland with Emily

Bells are booming down the bohreens,
White the mist along the grass,
Now the Julias, Maeves and Maureens
Move between the fields to Mass.
Twisted trees of small green apple
Guard the decent whitewashed chapel,
Gilded gates and doorway grained,
Pointed windows richly stained
With many-coloured Munich glass.

See the black-shawled congregations
On the broidered vestment gaze
Murmer past the painted stations
As Thy Sacred Heart displays
Lush Kildare of scented meadows,
Roscommon, thin in ash-tree shadows,
And Westmeath the lake-reflected,
Spreading Leix the hill-protected,
Kneeling all in silver haze?

In yews and woodbine, walls and guelder,
Nettle-deep the faithful rest,
Winding leagues of flowering elder,
Sycamore with ivy dressed,
Ruins in demesnes deserted,
Bog-surrounded bramble-skirted —
Townlands rich or townlands mean as
These, oh, counties of them screen us
In the Kingdom of the West.

Stony seaboard, far and foreign,
Stony hills poured over space,
Stony outcrop of the Burren,
Stones in every fertile place,
Little fields with boulders dotted,
Grey-stone shoulders saffron-spotted,
Stone-walled cabins thatched with reeds,
Where a Stone Age people breeds
The last of Europe’s stone age race.

Has it held, the warm June weather?
Draining shallow sea-pools dry,
When we bicycled together
Down the bohreens fuchsia-high.
Till there rose, abrupt and lonely,
A ruined abbey, chancel only,
Lichen-crusted, time-befriended,
Soared the arches, splayed and splendid,
Romanesque against the sky.

There in pinnacled protection,
One extinguished family waits
A Church of Ireland resurrection
By the broken, rusty gates.
Sheepswool, straw and droppings cover,
Graves of spinster, rake and lover,
Whose fantastic mausoleum,
Sings its own seablown Te Deum,
In and out the slipping slates.

John Betjeman (1906 – 1984)

The Building, Ballylanders, Limerick, Ireland


And the merry love the fiddle

Saturday, 17 January, 2015 0 Comments

As well as playing the fiddle, Toner Quinn has numerous strings to his bow. Together with Benedict Schlepper-Connolly and Simon Doyle, he publishes the award-winning Journal of Music, and he gives lectures, talks and concerts at home and abroad. Galway was the venue for this splendid performance with Malachy Bourke and Brian Bourke.

“For the good are always the merry,
Save by an evil chance,
And the merry love the fiddle
And the merry love to dance.”

The Fiddler of Dooney, William Butler Yeats


Celebrating the Pattern Day

Thursday, 15 August, 2013 1 Comment

The “pattern” or pátrún was celebrated in almost every parish in Ireland from the middle ages to the mid-20th century. Primarily, a religious event associated with the patron saint of holy wells, the Pattern Day was also an important occasion in the social calendar. “We whiled away the time by drinking whiskey punch, observing the dancing to an excellent piper, and listening to the songs and story-telling which were going on about us,” wrote Crofton Croker after attending the Pattern Day at Gougane Barra in West Cork in 1813. With daylight fading, the revellers, Croker included, retired to tents:

“As night closed in, the tent became crowded almost to suffocation, and dancing being out of the question, our piper left us for some other station, and a man, who I learned had served in the Kerry militia, and had been flogged at Tralee about five years before as a White-boy, began to take a prominent part in entertaining the assembly, by singing Irish songs in a loud and effective voice. These songs were received with shouts of applause, and as I was then ignorant of the Irish language, and anxious to know the meaning of what had elicited so much popular approbation, I applied to an old woman near to whom I sat, and found that these songs were rebellious in the highest degree. Poor old King George was execrated without mercy; curses were also dealt out wholesale on the Saxon oppressors of Banna the blessed (an allegorical name for Ireland); Buonaparte’s achievements were extolled, and Irishmen were called upon to follow the example of the French people.”

In 1834, the English author Henry Inglis visited Connemara and was invited to a Pattern Day at Maumean in the Maamturk Mountains:

“It fortunately happened, that on the second day of my sojourn at Ma’am, a very celebrated pattern was to be held, on a singular spot, high up amongst the mountains, on a little plain… on an elevation of about 1,200 feet… The ascent to the spot where the pattern was to be held was picturesque in the extreme, for up the winding way, for miles before us and for miles behind too, groups were seen to be moving up the mountainside — the women with their red petticoats, easily distinguishable; some were on foot, some few on horseback, and some rode double. About half way up, we overtook a party of lads and lasses, beguiling the toil of the ascent, by the help of a piper, who marched before, and whose stirring strains, every now and then prompted an advance in jig-time, up the steep mountain path.”

On arrival at the summit Inglis was invited into a tent where “the pure poteen circulated freely.” However, heated words were exchanged and a fight developed. Inglis describes the row, how five or six “were disabled: but there was no homicide.” Afterwards, “some who had been opposed to each other, shook hands and kissed; and appeared as good friends as before.”

In 1682, Sir Henry Piers attended a Pattern Day at a church on a hill overlooking Lough Derravaragh in County Westmeath noted that quarreling was very much part of pattern procedure:

“For ale sellers in great numbers have their booths here as in a fair and to be sure the merry bag-pipers fail not to pay their attendance. Thus in lewd and obscene dancing, and in excess drinking, the remainder of the day is spent as if they celebrated the Bacchanalia rather than the memory of a pious saint or their own penetentials; and often times it falls out that more blood is shed on the grass from broken pates and drunken quarrels when the pilgrimages are ended than was before on the stones from their bare feet and knees during the devotions.”

Let’s hope that today’s Pattern Day in Ballylanders will a peaceful and happy affair.

Pattern memories


The stone shamrock

Sunday, 17 March, 2013 0 Comments

When he visited County Galway in the west of Ireland, the British poet and diplomat John Betjeman stayed with Lord Hemphill and his beautiful American wife Emily. She had met her husband while riding in the Borghese Gardens in Rome in 1926. A year later they married in New York and moved to Tulira Castle, […]

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