Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether summer clothe the general earth
With greeness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A-conjuring Summer In

Song on a May Morning

Now the bright morning-star, day's harbinger,
Comes dancing from the east, and leads with her
The flowery May, who from her green lap throws
The yellow cowslip and the pale primrose.
Hail, bounteous May, that dost inspire
Mirth and youth and warm desire!
Woods and groves are thy dressing,
Hill and dale doth boast thy blessing.
Thus we salute thee with our early song,
And welcome thee, and wish thee long.

John Milton (1608-1674)

John Milton's best known work is 'Paradise Lost' but the lovely poem above was written when he was a student at Christ's College in Cambridge.

Come queen of months in company
Wi all thy merry minstrelsy
The restless cuckoo absent long
And twittering swallows chimney song
And hedge row crickets notes that run
From every bank that fronts the sun
And swathy bees about the grass
That stops wi every bloom they pass

From 'A Shepherd's Calendar' by John Clare

Sumer is i-cumin in,
Lhude sing, cuccu!
Groweth sed and bloweth med
And springth the wude nu.
Sing, cuccu!
Sing, cuccu!

Say the words out loud and they will make more sense:) These are the first few lines of the oldest known English part song, it was written in the mid 13th century.I can remember learning to sing it in music lessons at school when I was 12 or 13 years old. (The word 'sing' is used very loosely here!) It's written in Middle English, the language of Geoffrey Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales. In case you're struggling it translates:

Summer is a-coming in,
Loud sing,cuckoo!
Groweth seed and bloweth mead
And springs the wood anew.
Sing, Cuckoo!
Sing, Cuckoo!

Mead means meadow here, not the rather scrummy alcoholic drink made from honey!

I heard my first cuckoo yesterday morning - I was so pleased as I was worried that their falling numbers and the poor weather might mean that I wouldn't hear that wonderful herald of early summer this year.

When daisies pied and violets blue
And lady-smocks all silver-white
And cuckoo-buds of yellow hue
Do paint the meadows with delight

William Shakespeare

The lines are from 'Love's Labours Lost' and the photos show the 'daisies pied'. If you click on the second one to enlarge it you can see that the some of the daisies are pink and white which is what makes them 'pied'.

This is Beltane when the door to summer opens and all the beauty of vibrant new life awaits us in the merry month of May - hopefully with rather more in the way of blue skies and sunshine than we've seen lately:) For the ancient Celts the day ran from sunset to sunset which is why this post appears on the 30th April:) So onward we go for

The dust coloured cuckoo
Cries welcome O Queen!
For winter has vanished,
The thickets are green.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

An Irish Journey - Part The First

The title of this post is chosen quite deliberately since for most of the time I was in Ireland we simply drove and drove and drove stopping occasionally for 5 or 10 minutes while everyone leaped out of the car to take photographs. Much of the time I wasn't all that sure where we were! I saw a great deal of beautiful scenery but didn't have chance to wander round and explore all the villages, tower houses and old ruined churches that we flew past. The pretty very English looking cottages above are in Adare in Co Limerick. I think the 13th century cathedral in Adare would have been worth looking round especially as it has a lovely circular columbarium (dovecote) but there wasn't time.

Our other stop in Adare was at the former Adare Manor which is now a hotel and golf club. Standing in the grounds on the bank of the River Maigue is this magnificent Cedar of Lebanon which is said to have been planted in 1645. To give you an idea of its size the two small figures on the left of the photo are my friend C and myself.

I know where this was only because I took a photo of the sign in the car park! It's Dunguaire Castle, a 16th century tower house on the shore of Galway Bay. It was once the site of the 7th century stronghold of Guaire the legendary King of Connaught. It is open to the public but it was still closed for the winter the day we were there.

This is the view over Galway Bay from the castle.

I couldn't resist this little group of cattle with the wonderful drystone wall in the background. Irish drystone walls are quite different to those in England, they are all higgledy piggledy but the end result is really attractive.

This beautiful beach is somewhere on the road between Ballyvaughan and Doolin in Co Clare. It might be Fanore but don't quote me!

This lunar landscape is part of the Burren and I would have loved to spend some time walking and exploring among the rocks. The Burren is an area of limestone pavement and has an incredibly rich assortment of wild flowers and butterflies some of them very rare indeed.

By the end of the day the weather had deteriorated drastically and by the time we arrived at the Cliffs of Moher the strong wind had been joined by a hailstorm of biblical proportions hence the rather atmospheric photographs. Just holding the camera still was nearly impossible. If you enlarge the photo you can see the hail - in fact you can see it anyway!

The Cliffs of Moher are a really stunning sight rising to over 700 feet above the Atlantic Ocean at their highest point. I am so glad that I first saw them many years ago when they were still unspoilt. Now there is a huge car park, a visitor centre, a row of shops and a cafe built into the hillside and fences and paths and steps all over the place. The first time I came it was still wild and open and you parked at the side of the little road and walked right up to the cliff edge - if you had the courage and a head for heights that is:) I'm so glad I still have that memory and I shall do my best to forget what I saw on this trip. Apart from the dramatic skies that is.

This is Caher House which was our home while we were in Ireland, it's a lovely Georgian manor house set in 300 acres and came complete with resident deerhound:) Actually the deerhound lived with the caretaker in a nearby cottage but she appeared every day looking for any food scraps that were going:) I should have taken her photo but for some reason I never quite got round to it. It was cold for the whole of our stay in Ireland so it was great to come back in the evenings and sit in front of a lovely log fire. All we had to do was light them, the caretaker cleaned them out and brought in fresh logs every day. So that was Monday and Tuesday - more scenery to come an another post:)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A Backward Step!

The photo of my granddaughters has nothing to do with the post, I just like it :) Kaitlyn, who is hidden behind her mug, was 6 last Sunday and Lucy is just turned 3.

What I'm doing is just noting that I've gone back to the old interface for as long as it lasts as I really dislike the new one, it's pale and insipid and doesn't work properly. Many thanks to Jenny of An English Travel Writer who left a comment on another Jenny's blog Codlins and Cream saying how to go back. I shall pass it on to others who may like to do the same. You click on Design, click on the tools icon then select Blogger Options on the right of the page and hey presto! Sadly it seems this option will be removed soon but while it's there I'm going to use it. I know I'm far from alone in disliking the new set up and I wish Blogger would let well enough alone. Change isn't always progress!

Monday, April 23, 2012

St George's Day

April 23rd is the feast day of St George, Patron Saint of England. St George's name was invoked to his soldiers by Henry V in his speech on the eve of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415 and after the tremendous victory against all the odds St George's Day was elevated to become a feast day as important as Christmas in the English church calendar.
Today is also the anniversary of both the birth and the death of William Shakespeare so in celebration of both England's patron saint's day and of her greatest playwright I am posting these stirring words written by William Shakespeare and spoken by Henry V during the Battle of Agincourt.

Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more;
Or close the wall up with our English dead!
In peace there’s nothing so becomes a man
As modest stillness and humility:
But when the blast of war blows in our ears,
Then imitate the action of the tiger;
Stiffen the sinews, summon up the blood,
Disguise fair nature with hard-favour’d rage;
Then lend the eye a terrible aspect;
Let it pry through the portage of the head
Like the brass cannon; let the brow o’erwhelm it
As fearfully as doth a galled rock
O’erhang and jutty his confounded base,
Swill’d with the wild and wasteful ocean.
Now set the teeth and stretch the nostril wide,
Hold hard the breath, and bend up every spirit
To his full height! On, on, you noblest English!
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof;
Fathers that, like so many Alexanders,
Have in these parts from morn till even fought,
And sheath’d their swords for lack of argument.
Dishonour not your mothers; now attest
That those whom you call’d fathers did beget you.
Be copy now to men of grosser blood,
And teach them how to war. And you, good yeomen,
Whose limbs were made in England, show us here
The mettle of your pasture; let us swear
That you are worth your breeding; which I doubt not;
For there is none of you so mean and base
That hath not noble lustre in your eyes.
I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game’s afoot:
Follow your spirit; and,upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England and Saint George!

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may be having a sense of deja vu here and you would be quite right as I have done this post before but it seems so appropriate that I decided to use it again. Happy St George's Day! Edited to add that I'm aware that St George is not of English origin, I suspect that he probably came to England at the time of the Crusades in the 11th and 12th centuries.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Folk Park - Part Two

From the splendours of the castle we are now back to the homes of ordinary people, this is the Mountain Farmhouse from the upland Sliabh Luachra district where the counties of Cork,Kerry and Limerick meet. I can't pronounce the name of the district but I love to see as well as hear the Gaelic language. The family who lived here would have had about half a dozen cows and their calves along with chickens and pigs. They would also have earned extra income from turf cutting the turf being sold in the local town.

The Shannon Farmhouse was the first house to be reconstructed at the Folk Park, it once stood on the site which is now the main runway of Shannon Airport.

This was quite a good sized farm with twelve dairy cows, several acres under cultivation and around 20 acres of water meadow as well. The farmhouse had a parlour which was kept strictly for special occasions such as weddings and funerals or a visit from the parish priest. There's a lace tablecloth and nice china and that looks suspiciously like a phonograph in the corner under the painting of a rather splendid bearded gentleman.

Also in the corner is this 'press bed' - it folded up inside the cupboard and when the doors were closed it looked just like a sideboard. It would have been used as a spare bed.

A very different life style here - this is the Bothan Scoir (imagine little marks over the a in Bothan and o in Scoir!) from Limerick. It would have belonged to a poor landless labourer who rented a small piece of ground, about half an acre, from the farmer. The rent was paid off in kind by the labourer working about 80 days a year on the farm.

There was just a single room with a rammed clay floor and the bare minimum of simple furniture. This is the kitchen end with just a couple of small chairs and a rough table.

At the other end of the room is the bed often just a mattress on a pile of rushes. It must have been a very spartan life especially in the winter.

This is The Golden Vale Farmhouse also from Limerick but belonging to a prosperous farming family. No interior shots here as there were lots of people around.

This is the Village Street with the Doctor's house at the bottom (not in the photo) and a variety of typical village shops including a drapers, a printers, a hardware store and a post office. Right at the top of the street is MacNamara's licensed hotel which offered accommodation for commercial travellers and anyone else who needed a room as well as being a bar.

This would be where a lot of the locals would go - the little pub where there would almost certainly be music as well as booze and everyone would know each other. I've been in an Irish pub in Ennis where people just wandered in with a fiddle or pipes and sat down and started playing. The music is one of the best things about Ireland.

There were a few animals here and there, mostly hens but there were also a few Jacob sheep and I couldn't resist this little lamb and its companions.

I hope you are managing to hang in there - this is rather a long post I'm afraid! We're moving on to the North Clare farmhouse, this comes from the Burren region of County Clare where the landscape appears at first glance to consist entirely of bare rock. Pretty much everything there is made of the rock including the walls and roof of the farmhouse and the field boundary walls.

Bunratty House was closed but just off the Walled Garden(wrong time of year for photos) was the gardener's Bothy which was used for storing tools and as a potting shed. It looks as though this was where they could make a hot drink and eat their midday meal too, it must have been rather cozy when the fire was lit and the door closed:) I think was my favourite of all the places I saw.

As well as houses there are other reconstructed buildings including two corn mills. This one is a Horizontal Mill from County Cork.

The waterwheel was positioned horizontally in the flow of the water and was attached to the upper millstone by the stout wooden drive shaft.

The grain was fed into the wooden hopper to be ground between the two millstones below.

Sacks of grain waiting for the miller - though whether this mill ever does work I'm not sure. It would certainly require a good deal more water to turn the wheel than was evident when I was there.

The other mill is a Vertical Mill with an undershot wheel - that means that the water hits the blades at the bottom of the wheel and it's the oldest type of waterwheel. They need a substantial volume of fast moving water to work them so are usually only found on large rivers.

The final house is a Byre Dwelling which is house shared by a family and their cows - a very common thing at one time. This came from County Mayo where it's extremely windy so this too would have had the thatch tied firmly down with ropes weighted by stones although it doesn't seem to have been done here.

Here we have the family's half of the house, behind the blue curtains is an alcove containing a bed. Just look at the wonderful stoneware jug and jar by the fire - I'd have sneaked those out under my coat if I could have got away with it:)

This is the other end of the house where the cows lived - a drain ran across the floor dividing the two halves of the house. It sounds awful doesn't it? But imagine a bitter winter's night with a galeforce wind howling in off the Atlantic and think how much extra warmth you would get from cows - maybe not so bad after all:)

I love seeing haystacks standing on staddle stones and I especially like the round ones. The stones have planks laid across them as a base for the stack and this way it is kept dry and safe from the ravages of rats and mice.

The finale!! Aren't they just gorgeous? Meet Fionn and Grainne the two Irish Wolfhounds who live in the Folk Park. Wolfhounds are an incredibly ancient breed and have been used as hunting dogs in Ireland from at least the 5th century and probably long before that.
Both dogs are really friendly but especially Fionn, the grey one, who is a leaner - and being leaned against by a dog who is pretty much shoulder high to you is something you notice:)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Bunratty Folk Park - Part One

I arrived in Ireland a day ahead of my American friends and so once I had checked in to the Bunratty Castle hotel and had a spot of lunch I decided to spend the afternoon at Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. The cottages and houses in the Folk Park are replicas of buildings from the Shannon region (Clare, Limerick and North Kerry) and all represent Irish rural life as it was in the early 1900s. The small farmhouse above is from the coastal region of south west Clare and would have been lived in by a family who earned their living from both small scale farming and fishing.

Although the family who lived here weren't well off they weren't poor either and had a reasonably comfortable lifestyle. The fire of course burns peat and all the cooking would have been done over it.

This is the parlour which also doubled up as a second bedroom.

I love this old mangle, my gran had a slightly smaller version of this in her scullery when I was a child and it wasn't there as an ornament either. Putting heavy,wet sheets through the mangle was hard work. Actually I think this must be standing back to front as the wheel to turn the mangle would be on the right not the left.

If you click and enlarge this photo you will see that the thatched roof is roped down to secure it against the roaring Atlantic gales that batter the west coast of Ireland in the winter.

Isn't this cottage a gorgeous colour? It's a Cashen fisherman's cottage and was very sparsely furnished inside. The Cashen river flows into the Shannon Estuary and was one of the best salmon fishing rivers in Ireland. The fishermen from this area often had another string to their bow too - as smugglers!

Now we come to the Castle itself. The first stone castle was built here in the mid 13th century but the castle we see today dates to the mid 1400s. Around 1820 the family who owned Bunratty Castle moved into Bunratty House which they had built in the grounds, the castle was never lived in again and it was left to become a ruin. In 1953 the now derelict castle was bought by Lord Gort who restored and furnished it in the style of the 17th century - the period when the castle was owned by the O'Briens, Earls of Thomond.

Most of my interior photos are poor as no flash photography was allowed and the rooms were either rather dark or had bright sunshine pouring in. I'm just including a few that are the best of a bad lot. Above is a lovely carved oak dower cupboard which was made around 1570 and stands in the Great Hall.

This was also in the Great Hall and is definitely worth enlarging, it's a wonderful early 16th century French woodcarving. Actually it's two that have been put together, the top one depicts a hunting scene with lords and ladies on horseback,the lower part is thought to show the story of Abraham and Isaac.

This is the Buttery - it has nothing whatever to do with butter though. The name comes from the wooden butts of beer and wine which were kept there. On the right is a hatch to the Great Hall and through here the wine and other drinks were served by the butler. Until recent times in all the great houses it was the butler who had charge of the wine cellars.
On the shelves is a collection of liquor jugs, drinking vessels and wine bottles.

You will need to click and enlarge this to see properly how tortuous these spiral stone stairs are - it's the one set of steps I didn't venture onto:) They lead down into the dungeon - a pit about 15 feet deep that prisoners were thrown into. If they were lucky they got out again by being hauled up on a rope. I gather it isn't especially salubrious down there even now so in days gone by I imagine a good many prisoners died of disease or from the cold.

This is the South Solar preserved as it was when Lord and Lady Gort lived here in the 1950s. The limestone fireplace on the left is original - though original in what way I can't discover. It may mean original to the 15th century when Bunratty Castle was built or original to the 17th century improvements made by the 4th Earl.

Isn't this chandelier fabulous? There were several in various rooms all slightly different.

As with many of the rooms there was only a narrow entrance that was gated so it wasn't possible to get great angles for photos. This is the Earl's Bedchamber and the bed is quite something - a 15th century English piece with really ornate carving on the headboard and bedposts

Here we have the North Solar and taking pride of place in the centre is the Armada Table. Legend has it that this table was salvaged from a ship of the Spanish Armada which sunk off the coast of Clare in 1588 by the High Sheriff of Clare who presented it to his brother-in-law Conor O'Brien.

Although I didn't descend to the dungeon I did climb up and up and up the spiral staircases untilI reached the battlements and was rewarded with this lovely view

The gate into the courtyard of the castle - I don't know whether this is original or not but I really like it. There's a lot more of the Folk Park to see but I think this is enough for now:)