Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Layers of History in Ireland

Wooden boats, Eyeries, Beara Peninsula, Ireland.
(Click images to see larger)

We've returned, reluctantly, from our five-weeks of travel in Europe, and despite my best intentions, I managed to post to this blog exactly once while we were on the move.  Between a surprising lack of usable internet connectivity in many of the places we stayed, to not having time to process the raw images that I shoot, to just wanting to sit and relax with a beer after long days exploring with Ellen and the three girls (Bei and her cousins, Lauren and Leigh), it didn't happen.  Now that I'm back in Laramie, I'm faced with just a couple of weeks to get ready for the school year, but I'm eager to post some photos, so I'll start now.  

Our trip began in Ireland and most of our time there was spent on the Beara Peninsula which juts into the Atlantic near the southwestern corner of the island, along with the Kerry Peninsula just to the north and the Dingle just north of that.  Those two are more famous tourist destinations, and I chose the Beara to escape the tour buses, which apparently are thick as tourists are driven around the loop roads that hug the coast. The Beara has somehow avoided the worst of this, despite its gorgeous mountains and coastline and picturesque villages of brightly painted houses.  Perhaps it is the extremely narrow roads squeezed between stone walls that make navigating by bus more challenging on the Beara.  

Interestingly, the Beara was famous for copper mining in the late 1800s (and all the way back to the Bronze Age for that matter), with deep mines following quartz veins sandwiched between steeply dipping sandstones and "mudrock."  Mining centered around the town of Allihies, very near the cottage we rented during our week on the peninsula.  Miners frequently died in the desperately dangerous mines, and lived in near poverty. When copper mining became uneconomic, many of them migrated to Butte, Montana, and there's a strong connection today between the Beara and Butte, where apparently there are many O'Sullivans and Harringtons in the phone book, prominent names on the Beara (most of the grocery stores we patronized were called O'Sullivan's).  

In Ireland, where it is wet, cool, and famously green, layers of peat build up quickly even on steep terrain, and millennia of human history are layered on top of one another and embedded in the peat.  In more recent history, stone houses were the norm (and still are today), and there are hundreds of abandoned homes that become exquisite places for flowers and ferns to grow among the stones.  Farther back, castles and ring forts stood in defensive positions and many remain.  In deeper history, megalithic cultures left tombs, standing rocks, and stone circles that resemble Stonehenge, though less grand.  Ellen and I found dozens of megalithic tombs once we learned how to see them.  More recent graveyards have layers of graves, with new tombstones on top of old, unmarked ones, all in a sea of green.  

Layers of fences--stone walls are everywhere, but they are rarely tall enough to contain livestock.

An old copper mine engine house at Allihies.

Abandoned stone house, Garinish.

Gravestone, Allihies.

Memorial highlighting ties to Butte, Montana.

Boat detail near Eyeries.

One of the oldest crosses on the peninsula, at Kilcatherine Church.

Megalithic tomb near the summit of Knocknagallaum (a mountain near our cottage).

Stone circle near Castletownbere.

Steps, abandoned fishing village.

Abandoned stone house.

The Ogham Stone, near Eyeries.

Stonework, Kilcatherine Church.

Kilcatherine Church.