Lough Boora Parklands

Lough Boora Parklands, former Bord Na Móna works re-purposed as a nature park

The Irish Midlands, where I hail from, are well known for their extensive boglands. Indeed, that’s where this site got its name…after a fashion. I may blog about them in the future once I get all the turf mould out of my hair and recover from the insect bites 😀 Anyway, this post is about an interesting use for a bog once it has been stripped of its peat.

The Background
The original peat bog at Lough Boora was harvested extensively by Bord na Móna, a government agency set up in the 1940s to develop Ireland’s peat bogs. This mostly meant them cutting lots and lots of turf for several decades. At its peak, Boora Bog yielded 100 tonnes of peat per year. This would help explain why there wasn’t a lot left by the end of the 1970s. Cutaway bog by its very nature isn’t land that’s much use for anything. This is what’s nice about this park. The wheels were set in motion back in 1994 when Bord na Móna management and locals decided to turn it into an amenity area.

boora_bikes

What’s there

What’s great about the Lough Boora parklands is that visitors can do and see things at their own place. There’s a nice little visitor’s centre where you can get maps, get useful information and grab something to eat and drink. Outside you can hire all sorts of bicycles if you fancy cycling around the park. Tandems, bikes with trailers, mountain bikes etc. There are marked routes around the area, ranging in length from 3km to 22km.

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60 Degrees by Kevin O’Dwyer

What mostly caught my eye, though, were the sculptures. Some are there since the park’s establishment in 2002 and have lasted well despite the wonderful Irish climate. Being a Pink Floyd nut, my favourite one is probably 60 Degrees (see above) because it reminds me of the cover of Dark Side of the Moon. Also very striking are the original bog trains which are near the visitor’s centre. They’re a reminder of the work that was done on the bog.

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Sky Train by Michael Bulfin

As well as the sculptures, all of which are worth having a look at, there is an eco-theme running through the park. Boora Lake itself is within the confines of the park but there are other lakes and wetlands close by. There is even a bird hide just outside the park for those who like to watch 😀 The park was quite busy the day I was there, probably thanks to it being a sunny Saturday. Despite this, I didn’t have to wander far to find peace and solitude. It is the sort of place where there is something for everyone. Families with children of all ages, people who want to walk, people who want to look at wildlife, weirdos with cameras trying to photograph sculptures 😀 … Like James Bond, I shall return.

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Dún na Sí

A visit to Dún na Sí Heritage Park, Moate, Co. Westmeath

One in an occasional series of places I visit for the first time, even though they’re no distance from my house.

Dún na Sí Amenity & Heritage Park is situated just outside Moate, Co. Westmeath. It’s a park of two halves. One part is free for anyone to visit and is chock-full of sculptures, paths and fun things that make small children run around very fast. The other is what could loosely be described as a miniature Bunratty Folk village crossed with a pet farm. The day I visited, the tour guide was off so there was a reduced entry charge into the heritage park. The pleasant lady at the front desk furnished me with a leaflet containing a map so off I went.

The heritage park has replicas of the sorts of houses our ancestors would have lived in over the centuries. They were modest dwellings but none were as basic as the one-roomed mud hut. It’s sobering to think that entire families lived in such structures once upon a time. Because they were built from mud (as indeed the one here appears to be), very few of them have survived to the present day.

The rural museum has an extensive collection of farm machinery, all brightly painted and in far better condition than anything I’ve ever seen on a farm! Some of the machines don’t look like they’d pass modern day health & safety regulations, what with the many spikes and sharp edges they had.

I was also delighted to see a penny farthing bicycle leaning against a wall. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life before. It’s easy to see why this particular style of bike went out of fashion and never came back again.

The main sculpture in the park is Lugh’s Spear. Lugh was an Irish god who seems to bear an uncanny resemblance to Christopher Lambert in Highlander. Set into a hill, it looks like Lugh and his spear are about to emerge at any moment. Unfortunately the sun was in the wrong part of the sky when I was taking photos so they didn’t come out as well as I’d hoped. It’s still pretty cool though.

Some parts of the exhibition weren’t open. Perhaps this was because the tour guide wasn’t there. So I didn’t get to see the Scéal or Science parts

On the other side of the car park was the free section of the park. Unlike the heritage park which was fairly quiet, it was filled with families enjoying the spring sunshine. There are all sorts of interesting sculptures dotted around the place. It’s an ongoing project and the pieces are the brainchildren of secondary school students. On the edge of the park is something all geography students will have learned about – a Turlough. These are a type of lake which fill with water during the winter, then disappear again (sometimes in a matter of hours) when the weather improves. The Turlough was still there but I intend to check up on it over the coming months to see has someone pulled the plug on it yet 😉

All in all, I was very impressed with Dún na Sí and would recommend it to anyone. Having said that, I thought the entry fee into the heritage park was on the steep side and I thought the reduced €5 was enough to be paying for what it was.

The Long Man of Kilfane

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The Long Man has been leaning against a wall in this church for rather a long time

Hidden at the end of a peaceful country lane in south Co. Kilkenny is a ruined 14th-century church. The church itself is quite interesting in its own right but standing inside its walls is something quite unusual. Carved out of limestone and standing against one of its walls is a 13th century effigy of a Norman knight. The Long Man of Kifane or Long Cantwell. It’s thought that this effigy was once the lid of a sarcophagus but it has been propped against the wall of Kilfane Church for as long as anyone can remember. Just over 2m in height, it’s the tallest effigy of its type in the British Isles. What exactly effigy “of its type” means I’m not sure. He cuts a fine dash though.

Kilfane2

One look at the knight and you can see he is armed to the teeth and ready for battle. A surprising number of clues can be picked up about him, just by looking at what he’s wearing and carrying. The main one is the coat of arms on his shield. It’s the coat of arms of the Cantwell family who were lords in the area at the time. It is believed this is Thomas de Cantwell who died in 1319, though chances are he was nowhere nearly as tall as his limestone likeness. He’s also wearing combat gear – a skullcap, chainmail and spurs on his feet. The spurs mean he fought on horseback. His legs are crossed in a similar fashion to effigies elsewhere, meaning that he probably fought in The Crusades. Usefully for a knight about to head into battle, he’s also carrying a sword.

Kilfane-008

As for the church itself, it dates back to the 14th century. It has a priest’s seat which is thought to belong to an older church. According to the internet which is always right, there is medieval paint to be seen. I didn’t notice any but maybe it was just too subtle for my eyes. There is also a tower attached to the church which is where the incumbent priest would’ve lived. Although the church is ruined and in the middle of nowhere, it’s a really lovely site to visit. I visited it one summer’s evening and even though the crows were making a racket overhead, it wasn’t creepy but beautiful and restful. It would appear that the graveyard is still occasionally used, judging by the modern headstones on the site.

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Taking baby steps with Linux

Dell Inspiron 1545
Dell Inspiron 1545

I am in the lucky position of having a spare laptop to play around with. It cost me 0c so I can’t quibble with the price. But I might as well give out about it anyway. Nothing screams “I will struggle to run Windows” like a laptop from 2010 (under)powered by a Celeron processor and 2GB of RAM. Having briefly dabbled with a version of Ubuntu running off a DVD a few years ago, I was curious to find out how it’d work installed properly on a computer. So I got downloading.

Which Version?

My Desktop
My desktop

This is where the fun starts. There seems to be an endless selection of Linux distributions (distros) out there. I don’t think I have enough years left on this planet to try them all so I tested a handful of the more popular ones. Even though all the Linux distros are quite alike, they have their own quirks. In the end I settled on Linux Mint. It runs very nicely on my creaking old laptop and has almost fooled me into thinking it’s a half decent machine. Also, because it is such a popular distro, there is plenty of help online for users. More on this later…

The Good

Linux Mint desktop
My Linux Mint desktop

On a superficial level, Linux Mint operates a lot like Windows. There’s still a Start button, menus, windows and plenty of familiar software. Skype, VLC Player, Firefox, Libre Office, Dropbox,  Steam and Spotify are just a few. It also comes with quite a lot of open source and paid software written especially for the platform.  There is also the option of installing and running some Windows programs using Wine . It works very successfully with some programs but can be problematic with others.

The enigmatically named Synaptic Package manager is Linux’s equivalent of the App Store familiar to smartphone users. It’s the simplest, most straightforward way of installing software.

The Bad

Sad Penguin
Just when everything seemed to be going so well.

Installing Linux Mint was painless but I ran into problems straight away because of the wireless card in the laptop. Of all the laptops in all the world, I had to own the model that had a card Linux doesn’t recognise 😦 It worked fine when connected to the router by an ethernet cable but who wants that when you have a laptop? To cut a long story short, I bought an inexpensive little USB Wi-Fi adaptor made by Plugable. I went with Plugable because they make devices which are compatible with Linux. Not all devices are. Once the adapter arrived, it plugged and played like a regular device.

The Ugly

The Terminal
The Terminal

I’ve done well to get this far without mentioning The Terminal. When I need to open this up, I know there is a chance my braincells will start to hurt. I’m still sorry I tried to install the Tunnelbear VPN on this. Basically, if you want to keep your sanity and enjoy using your perfectly nice, functioning new operating system, don’t try anything out of the ordinary. The Linux people on internet forums speak geek and it will melt your brain cells.

I mentioned at the top of this piece that I’d plumped for Linux Mint because it’s so popular. It’s easier to find answers to questions tailored to this operating system.

From my limited experimenting with it so far, peripherals such as printers and scanners may be troublesome. I shall update this post should I try to install any of these.

The conclusion….so far

I’ve no regrets about installing it on this laptop. If you have an old computer or laptop which isn’t being used, then, by all means, give it a go. Many distros of Linux, including Mint, come with the option of trying it without installing. I like Linux but I don’t love it. 20+ years of Windows has done the damage.

And finally

I stumbled across this very useful web page not long after I installed Linux Mint and followed the instructions.

The other Kilkenny castle

Kilkenny Castle at night
Kilkenny Castle at night (obviously)

Kilkenny City’s most famous tourist attraction is Kilkenny Castle. It’s large, it has been lovingly restored both inside and out, it overlooks the River Nore on one side (every tourist who has visited Kilkenny has taken a photo like the one above) and has a wide-open street leading up to it on the other. It has a long and interesting history, some nice grounds and gardens which are can be accessed by anyone for free. In short, it’s worth visiting, even if some people on TripAdvisor have complained that you can’t park right outside the door and walk in. Perhaps at some stage, I’ll write something about the castle. For now, though, I thought I’d write something about the castle nobody travels to Kilkenny to see 🙂

Maudlin Castle
Maudlin Castle

A 10 minute walk from the famous castle will take you back across the river and on to Maudlin Street. Today it’s a narrow, one-way residential area with houses of all shapes and sizes scattered around the place. Halfway up the street, mostly ignored and locked up, stands a 25m tall 15th-century tower house. The castle formed part of a medieval hospital in the area and it is believed it stands on the site of an older building. The hospital was originally established sometime in the 13th/14th century to treat leprosy. At the time, it was believed that leprosy was connected with sexually transmitted diseases. And so, the hospital was named after Mary Magdalene, a woman whose name has been attached to a lot of undesirable things. Despite the spelling of the modern day street/castle as maudlin, it’s pronounced locally as “Mad-Lin”. Not so different to Magdalene when you say it out loud.

The old cemetery
The old cemetery

The rest of the hospital complex has long since vanished but it’s believed there were gardens and orchards in the area. There are still a few remnants from the hospital on the street. There’s what appears to be a partial tower which might have formed part of the city walls at some stage. Off the street is an old cemetery which surely must have been used to bury the dead when the hospital was still open. There once was a church here too but it’s largely gone. The castle itself became a retirement home of sorts for members of wealthy local families. Archaeological digs carried out in the area suggest that beef, lamb, bacon and wildfowl were on the menu.

The castle still retains its garderobe (a.k.a. the toilet!)
The castle still retains its garderobe (a.k.a. the toilet!)

Today the castle is locked up and mostly ignored. As an article in the local newspaper pointed out a few years ago, nobody knows what’s in the castle because it’s always locked up. It may or may not have a roof at this stage. There appear to be stone steps inside but as to how far they go…again it’s a mystery. So it just stands there unheralded at the side of a little street, mostly unnoticed by passing motorists and pedestrians. Perhaps the newly launched Medieval Mile  will give this castle a little more attention than it has had to date.

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Plaster of Paris – in Dublin

The high cross is an early medieval form of Christian sculpture, unique to the British Isles. From around the 6th century onwards, monastic settlements developed all around Ireland. It is thought that high crosses were a way of marking out the sacred areas in the larger monasteries. The first high crosses are believed to have been made of wood and metal. Of course, none of these have survived to the present day. From around the 9th century onwards, the crosses began to be carved from stone. Interestingly, the earliest crosses appear to be replicas of the original wood and metal crosses, though in time their style evolved. There are almost 300 high crosses in Ireland, in various states of repair. They have become one of the iconic symbols of Ireland, appearing on everything from jewelry to postage stamps.

High Cross Stamps (2010)
Postage Stamps from 2010, featuring line drawings by Michael Craig. The price of stamps has certainly gone up since then.

Let’s get plastered

In the late 19th century/early 20th century, a greater interest and awareness of national identity and archaeology took hold around Europe. Seeing as trying to transport rather ancient, rather heavy stone crosses around was out of the question, they went for the next best option. Faithful copies.

At what turned out to be prohibitively expensive in the end, plaster casts of some of the better known high crosses were painstakingly created. From 1898 to 1910 these casts were made and shipped abroad to the UK, the USA and Australia.

Interestingly, in 2005 the replicas were exhibited in Aichi, Japan where they were seen by over 2 million people.

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L-R the Tall Cross and Muiredeach’s Cross (Monasterboice, Co. Louth), Drumcliffe (Co. Sligo)

Completely by accident, in May 2011 I came across an exhibition of these replicas in the Museum of Decorative Arts & History in Dublin. And so, all I have to show for my visit are a couple of dodgy pre-smartphone mobile phone snaps and a nice booklet 🙂 It turned out to be a surprisingly compelling exhibition. I’ve seen loads of these high crosses over the years – it’s hard not to miss them- but I had never noticed how tall and imposing they were. In their normal setting, they’re out in the open air and somehow seem smaller. There’s nothing like standing in a darkened room with these crosses looming over you to concentrate the mind!

It was also a unique opportunity to see how these crosses evolved over time. The South Cross from Ahenny is a very basic cross which replicates its original wood and metal ancestors. The later Muireadach’s Cross is awash with scenes from scripture. Dysert O’Dea has a bishop on it and looks quite different to the others.

Interestingly, the Office of Public Works has gradually been making high-quality replicas of the better known high crosses around Ireland and moving the originals indoors. Following on, after a fashion, in the footsteps of the original plaster casters.

3 crosses
L-R South Cross(Ahenny) Tall Cross (Monasterboice, St Tola’s (Dysart O’Dea) and Drumcliffe

The crosses exhibited in this exhibition were:

The North & South Crosses, Ahenny, Co. Tipperary

The two high crosses in Ahenny
The two high crosses in Ahenny

These two 9th century crosses I’ve seen “in the wild”. These days, Ahenny is off the beaten track and I had to drive along some alarmingly narrow and twisty country roads to get to it. The two crosses are situated in a quiet cemetery that’s situated in a field close to the village of Ahenny. They’re all that remains of the monastery at Kilclispeen. The interesting thing about these two high crosses is that they appear to replicate the earlier wood/metal crosses and mostly have abstract art on them. There are some figures from scripture on the base of the North cross but they’re not so obvious on my photo. Both crosses are considered to be very fine examples of Hiberno-Saxon art and are just two of a number of high crosses in this style in the area.

Their plaster casts were made in 1906 by an Italian modeller named Sig. Orlandi. The cost of making the moulds for these two crosses ran to £151. The two casts were produced at a cost of £35.

Tall Cross & Muireadach’s Cross, Monasterboice, Co. Louth.

2 Monasterboice Crosses
Muireadoch’s Cross and the Tall Cross, both in Monasterboice

These are two crosses I saw on a geography field trip when I was a student. So not only do I not have photos of them (I am rather ancient, after all) but I barely remember them. I mostly remember our lecturer helpfully pointing out how the ground level in the cemetery was rising because of all the dead people buried there and that even when we died, we’d still have a contribution to make. Anyway, enough of that. What about the crosses?

Muireadach’s Cross is considered to be the finest of the high crosses in Ireland. Perhaps it’s unsurprising that it was the first cross to be moulded, back in 1896. It dates to the 9th century and depicts many scenes from scripture. In recent years, concern has been expressed over the damage the weather is doing to the cross. The Tall Cross lives up to its name, being almost 7 metres in height. The process of making moulds of this cross proved to be tricky because of the condition of the base.

Drumcliffe High Cross, Drumcliffe, Co. Sligo

Drumcliffe High Cross
Drumcliffe High cross

Now this cross, I have no idea if I’ve ever seen. When I was 14 my family took a holiday in the north-west of Ireland and we visited Drumcliffe. These days it’s mostly known for being the alleged final resting place of W.B. Yeats (there are serious question marks over who’s in that grave) . In olden times, there was a monastery here. There is still a partial round tower remaining. There’s also this cross which I may have seen but not taken any particular notice of. It was cast in 1907 and is from the 11th or 12th century. Along with biblical scenes, it also has animals which is unusual.

St Tola’s Cross, Dysert O’Dea, Co. Clare

This cross is unusual in that it has no ring. It also doesn’t look like most Irish high crosses. It is from the later Romanesque series of crosses and instead of having biblical scenes, has a bishop on the shaft. It was one of the last crosses to be copied, work taking place in 1908. It is thought that this cross may have had wooden additions but of course, these did not survive. In September 2020 I finally got to see this one in person.

Take me to church

The former St Mary’s Church of Ireland, reborn as a pub

No, it’s not the song by Hozier but an interesting former church in the centre of Dublin. St. Mary’s Church of Ireland was built in the early 18th century to serve the local Anglican community.  During its lifetime as a working church, it certainly clocked up some history. Arthur Guinness (founder of a certain well-known brewery) married here. Jonathan Swift (Gulliver’s Travels) attended services in the church. John Wesley, founder of the Methodist church preached in it. In the run-up to the première of The Messiah, Handel practised on the church organ in there. Other people connected with the church, perhaps less known outside of Ireland were playwright Sean O’Casey, revolutionary Theobald Wolfe Tone and the judge who condemned Robert Emmett to death.

Despite its history and its urban location, the same fate befell St. Mary’s as it that of many rural Anglican churches. Falling attendances at service. The church finally closed in the 1960s and lay derelict for three decades. I think I may have been in it in the early 1990s when it was a shop selling bags. Eventually, it was renovated, at great expense, and converted into a bar and restaurant.

The first time I stood in the building was for a birthday party and I remember there being a small nightclub in the vaults! Anyway, while you wait for your food and drink to arrive there’s plenty to look at. It is worth a visit, just to see what a disused old church can be re-purposed as. The 19th century Ordnance Survey 25″ map notes that the graveyard outside is disused. The graveyard has since vanished and the leftover headstones left against a nearby wall.

The toilets are located in the basement of the building and a trip to them is a convenient way to see a bit more of this interesting place. Hopefully, my hastily taken mobile phone snaps will give some idea of what the place is like.

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7 Wonders of Fore

Fore is a sleepy village in north Co. Westmeath, nestled in the hills near Lough Lene. It’s off the beaten track and not the sort of place you’ll visit by chance. At first glance, the monastic ruins beside the village don’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary. That is until you take a closer look…

monk playing golf

A brief history of Fore

Fore gets its name from the old Irish word Fobhair which is pronounced in the same way as Fore. It means “water springs” which makes sense because there’s plenty of that around here. The monastic settlement at Fore is actually made up of two separate monasteries, split by a road. The older part of the monastery, on the left-hand side of the road, was founded by St. Féchin in the 7th century. Very little remains from that era apart from a little church that’s named after St. Féchin (more on that later). There may have been two more churches on the site but they have vanished without a trace. It is thought that in the heyday of this early monastery, 300 monks and 2,000 students lived here. Where exactly they crammed them all is another question. Further up the hill from the church is a mausoleum which is a relatively modern addition.

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The layout of the Fore Monastic Site

In 665, St. Féchin and some other high ranking clergy were approached by two kings who had an interesting request for them. They asked them to pray to God for a plague to come and wipe out the lower classes of society, reducing their number. God answered their prayers after a fashion – St. Féchin and his comrades died of yellow plague.

Across the road from are the remnants of a much more substantial monastery. These buildings were built by the Anglo-Normans and it became a Benedictine monastery with strong links to France. Indeed, this monastery is dedicated both to St. Féchin and to the French St. Taurin. The first Benedictine monks in Fore were French – what they thought of rural Westmeath has been lost in the mists of time. Because this was the era when England and France were at war, Fore frequently was seized by the English because of the French connection. It also suffered many attacks during its existence. It’s known that Fore was burned at least 12 times between the 8th and 12th centuries. Often these attacks were led by the Vikings. It’s believed that there were a staggering 3,000 monks housed in and around the abbey in Fore’s heyday. The abbey’s time finally came to an end in 1539 as part of King Henry VIII’s campaign of monastery closures in the  British Isles. Luckily for the abbot in charge of Fore, he walked away with his head still attached to his shoulders and a pension from the king. All he had to do was agree to the closure of the abbey. Once this happened, it was ransacked and anything of value taken away.

A less obvious feature of the area is what has become known as the Fore Crosses. There are 18 of these little crosses, carved hundreds of years ago and placed along the road to Fore and in nearby fields. There is one in the centre of the village and others on the outskirts of the village.

The Fore Cross in the middle of the village
The Fore Cross located in the centre of the village

It may be mostly crumbly old ruins these days but Fore still is known for its mysterious 7 Wonders. These are

  • The Monastery in a bog
  • The Mill without a race
  • The water that flows uphill
  • The tree that has three branches or the tree that won’t burn
  • The water that won’t boil
  • The anchorite (hermit) in a cell
  • The stone raised by St. Féichin’s prayers

Are these wonders still as wondrous as they were? You decide 🙂

The Monastery in a Bog

The Monastery in the Bog
The Monastery in the Bog

This 13th century Benedictine Abbey is now in ruins but there’s still lots to see. It was built around a cloister and courtyard. The partial remains of the cloister can still be seen. Two large towers were built in the Abbey, partly as accommodation, partly as defensive structures. Arrow slits can be seen on the towers and the entrance gate has a murder hole incorporated into it. These days, the ground surrounding the abbey is less marshy/boggy than it was. Perhaps a modern day miracle is that despite all the attacks and being open to the elements for centuries, there’s so much remaining.

The Mill Without A Race

The mill
The mill

Legend has it that a mill was built but it had no race. Luckily St. Fechin was on hand with his trusty crozier. He struck the ground with it and water gushed forward. Spectacular but perhaps a slight embellishment of the truth. The mill was supplied by a number of springs which flow underground from nearby Lough Lene. There are still some remnants of the old mill pond, although it’s mostly silted up these days. The existing mill (or what’s left of it) are built on the site of the original mill from St. Féchin’s time. It remained in use until around 1875 and is marked on the original Ordnance Survey 6″ map.

The water that flows uphill

Stream flowing uphill
This is flowing uphill..

Unfortunately, the subtlety of this one passed me by. It seems that if you look carefully, the stream that flows ever so slightly downhill in the field leading to the ruined abbey turns back on itself and flows uphill. Maybe.

The tree that has three branches or the tree that won’t burn/the water that will not boil

Tobernacogany
Tobernacogany

Now this one is even more bewildering than the uphill water. Especially if you’re on the lookout for a tree with three branches. The original unburnable, three-branched tree stood over a holy well known as Tobernacogny. A plaque on the wall behind it explains it all
There was an ash tree with three branches growing over the well and it was – and still is – the custom for visitors to drive a coin edgeways into the bark. This may have been injurious to the tree which is now dead but the single surviving branch still exhibits a good selection of coinage. It is said that the wood from the tree will not burn and the water from the well will never boil. The water was taken as a cure for headache and toothache.

fore-5

The tree that stands today is known as a rag tree or a raggedy bush. As the name might suggest, it is covered in rags and pieces of clothing. There is still a belief amongst certain people that if a piece of clothing belonging to someone who’s ill or has a problem is hung on the tree, that it will disappear as the cloth rots. There was no sign of any water in the well so perhaps it has given up on curing people’s aches and pains.

The Anchorite (or hermit) in a cell

Anchorite's Chapel
Anchorite’s Chapel

There is a hermit’s cell in the tower of this little chapel. When a hermit entered the cell, he vowed never to go outdoors again for the rest of his life. It is believed that the last hermit in Ireland was Patrick Beglan, who was here in 1616. The tower was built in the 15th century and the rest of the chapel added on in the 18th. Unfortunately, this church is usually locked up so few people ever get to see the cell looks like.

The stone raised by St. Féichin’s prayers

Doorway into St Fechin's Church
Lintel raised by a few prayers

St. Féichin’s church is the oldest building on the site. It was built in the 7th century as a much smaller church but was extended in the centuries after that. Its most notable feature is the lintel over the doorway. It is very heavy (it’s estimated it weighs at least 2 tons) and not something that could be lifted easily by anyone. The story goes that when the workmen building the church were having their breakfast, St. Féichin said some prayers, then lifted up the stone and put it in position.

St. Feichin's church
St. Feichin’s church

Overlooking Fore is a hill with a rocky outcrop on top. It’s known as Carrick Balor. For anyone unfamiliar with Irish placenames, Carrick is an Anglicisation of the word Carraig which means rock. Balor was an evil-eyed monster or god from Irish mythology.

Along the gravelled walkway that leads from the car park to the ruins of the Abbey is a second holy wall known as Doaghfeighin, or St. Féichin’s Well. It’s described elsewhere as being a well surrounded by box-like stones. Alas, it’s not possible to take a closer look these days because not only is it mostly hidden by trees but it’s fenced off with a barrier. It is possible that this may have been an earlier megalithic tomb or cist.

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 Doaghfeighin

The village of Fore developed alongside the monastery. Today it’s a quiet village with a population of fewer than 400 people. A sign of its previous importance are the two medieval town gates on its outskirts and the remnants of a jail in the village itself.

In the 19th century, an ancient bell was found in nearby Lough Lene. This was a popular haunt of Turgesius the Viking, a man who was partial to raiding Fore. The website Voices from the Dawn has put forward the intriguing theory that this bell may once have been St. Féchin’s ceremonial bell. The bell is now in the possession of the National Museum of Ireland. A smaller replica of it is used in the Irish Parliament (The Dáil) by the speaker of the house to try and maintain order.

“A thrilling Gaelic board game”

As we all know, gaelic football and hockey crossed with murder hurling are exciting sports which are enjoyed by very many people in Ireland. So how better to convey the speed and the thrills of our native sports than to er….replicate it as a board game?

pairc board-001
The game board

Páirc (pronounced as “pawrk”) was a board game which came out in 1985. The mutant offspring of Subbuteo (figurines!) and Monopoly (dice, cards!), the lid of the box proclaimed that it was “A thrilling Gaelic board game”. So needless to say, a game which promised so much was bound to be delivered by Santa Claus that Christmas 😈

What’s in the box? 

  • A board
  • A green dice
  • A white dice
  • A dice holder
  • 2 teams of 15 hurlers
  • 2 teams of 15 footballers
  • 32 “Referee cards”
  • 32 “Break of the ball” cards
  • A set of score sheets
  • A small ball for hurling
  • A large ball for football
  • 30 player bases
  • A set of rules
  • 2 sets of goal posts

Most of these survived in our game, apart from the dice holder, the small ball for hurling and the goalposts. So for the photos, I embraced my inner 10-year-old and improvised using a skewer, glue and some blu-tack 😉

attack on goal
Getting exciting now

After the excitement of opening the box, things inevitably started to ground to a halt 😦 For it turned out that Páirc was long on rules and short on action. Let’s face it, it’s going to get slow when you open the box and are faced with two stacks of cards (the Referee Cards and the Break of the Ball ones serve the same purpose as the Chance? and Community Chest ones in Monopoly), dice and instructions that run to 6 pages… It’s all too boring to describe really – if you’re a glutton for punishment you can have a look at the rules here  (7mb pdf file)

pairc9
Break of the Ball cards

It also was a game that took forever to set up. Instead of having little players ready to go out of the box like you would with Subbuteo, the players in this game came in the form of cardboard cut-outs which sat into plastic bases. And as we all know, cardboard isn’t a medium that stands up well to repeated poking and prodding. So it’s no great surprise that even though we didn’t really play the game that often, many of the game figures are grubby and the worse for wear.

pairc footballers
It’s Ulster vs Connaught in the football

Also in the box was a scoresheet from when we played the game. They’re very low-scoring games and perhaps that’s the most criminal thing of all. One of the unique selling points of Gaelic games is the scores. Not something that was ever going to happen in Páirc unless you’re the sort of person who enjoys jogging through treacle.

Click on an image below to launch the gallery

The “Giant Jelly Sweet” building

locke's distillery
Locke’s Distillery

As a child, my parents used to occasionally drive through the town of Kilbeggan. It’s a town I got to spend more time in when I became a student and started using a newfangled thing called public transport but I digress. Back in the day I didn’t know or care that the town had a racecourse or the remnants of an old distillery. No, what I used to look out for was a rather odd, corrugated, windowless, black building that stood on the far side of the river beside the old distillery. One that to a young child resembled nothing more than a giant jelly sweet. It was only years later when I bought a copy of the late Mary Mulvihill’s Ingenious Ireland book that I came to learn more about this mysterious building.

Kilbeggan jelly mould building

It turns out that this type of building was the brainchild of an Irish engineer called James Waller. During World War I, he watched soldiers camouflage their tents by daubing them with concrete. The memory of this stayed with him and when there was a shortage of steel in the 1940s and 1950s, he thought about how this old technique could be adapted to quickly and cheaply help people. He dubbed it the “Ctesiphon technique” (inspired by a 1, 600 year old archway in Iraq) and felt it could be used in developing countries and to help rebuild Europe’s bombed cities.

The way a building was constructed was this.

  • A skeleton of timber arches was erected
  • The arches were covered in a sheet of hessian
  • Two or three layers of mortar were applied to the mortar
  • The wooden arches were removed, leaving the mortar shell. It also left the “buildings” with an unusual corrugated shape.

The storehouse in Kilbeggan is the only structure in Ireland in good condition. It’s not open to the public but during the winter months, it can be clearly seen from across the river. Once summer comes, the trees in front of it do a good job of hiding it.