July 30, 2004

Down in the Dumps

Rat catcher sign in Kilconnell, Co. Galway

Anyone in a hurry down to Galway to throw their money away at the racetrack might have found themselves in the mother of all traffic jams if they were coming from Dublin. A 100-car convoy drove from Aughrim to Cappataggle Cross (between Ballinasloe and Loughrea) to protest at the prospect of a new dump being built in their neighbourhood. Sure, dumps have to be built somewhere, but it seems that some communites bear more of a burden than most.

Posted by Monasette at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

To hell in a handbasket, Pt.1 & 2

'Disgusted from Ballyhaunis' wrote in to the Galway Advertiser last week to complain about a night out in the Town Hall theatre.

It was the most disgusting, degrading and silly show I have ever seen and only suitable for perverts and such like.

Exactly what she or her six companions were expecting from a show called The Vagina Monologues is not mentioned. Mind you, I feel her pain. I went to a so-called comedy show last week and was inexplicably subjected to not one but two bouts of Aonghus McNally.

Meanwhile, in Bohermore, Galway city, residents are picketing High Society, a newly-opened sex shop.The people of Bohermore are already fully satisfied in that department, thank you very much, and haven't been even been mollified by the assurance by the proprietor that people 'won't actually be having sex in the shop'. Had he been a bit more brutally honest, he could have added that his most likely customers are people that won't actually be having sex anywhere.

Posted by Monasette at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

July 28, 2004

Field of dreams

Though it might have seemed like a bad year for Galway in the GAA, it's worth remembering a triumph for Caltra from earlier this year...

Posted by Monasette at 07:38 PM | Comments (0)

July 26, 2004

Croagh Patrick

Two donkeys that didn't climb the Reek yesterday.

It was tough going yesterday for anyone climbing Croagh Patrick.Still, what's a pilgrimage without a little hardship?

Posted by Monasette at 01:04 PM | Comments (2)

It'll be all over by Christmas...

The Galway Advertiser pointed out last week that the Empire State Building was built in less time than the planned revamp of Eyre Square in Galway. If they had just given Ground Force a call, they could have got it done over a weekend. And it’s still hard to see if the Square will look any better after the job is done.

Posted by Monasette at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

Galway Arts Festival

Whew! It’s been a long and busy week, with lots of things happening during the Arts Festival.

Last week, I went to see Our Country’s Good, in the UCG BOI theatre. The play tells the story of the first boatload of convicts deported from Britain to Australia. Guarded by a troop of resentful and capricious Marines, justice is administered by a pompous but well-meaning governor. The governor has two problems; how to maintain discipline with the prisoners and his troops, and how to prepare to them for their future life. Because, though the prisoners are used as practically slave labour to convert the outpost into a colony, they will become citizens of this same new world once their sentences have been served.

Based on a book by Thomas Kenneally called “The Playmaker”, the splendidly-named Timberlake Wertenbaker has crafted a passionate critique of the dehumanising effect of harshly administered justice. In short, a self-serving and homesick British officer, attempting to curry favour with the Governor, puts on a play using convicts as his cast. As the rehearsals progress (and the obstacles to its opening night mount), he begins to see his cast not as criminals but as fellow human beings, and the convicts themselves begin to think of themselves as people again. But her play is equally a play of hope – its thesis is that kindness begets kindness, that redemption is within the grasp of any man or woman and that, ultimately, humanity will shine through.

The play was put on by the Galway Youth Theatre, and I suspect that one of the reason that it was chosen was that the large number of roles enabled the entire company to get a fair crack of the whip (literally in this case). There was an awful lot to like about this production. The set was very cleverly designed – a large expanse of curved wooden decking over an expanse of sand that served as both the deck of a ship as well as the various buildings of the colony. Given that the theatre is rather small to begin with, the shape of the set meant that the audience were very close to the stage, and for a couple of scenes, the performances took part between sections of the audience. Given the intensity of the material and the performances, the proximity between players and audience added a certain frisson to the proceedings.

There are noticeable weaknesses, the most obvious is that there are just too many characters and subplots in the play, carried over from the novel. The play does try to cover a lot of themes – quite a part from the fate of the convicts, most of them guilty of only petty theft and subject to appalling floggings or hanging for even the most minor breaches of discipline. There is also the fate of the women convicts who also have the dilemma of resorting to prostitution in return for more food or better conditions, and some of the women also have become ‘second wives’ to soldiers who also have a family back home in Blighty. Through in the fate of the Native Australians (reduced to a few laughable vignettes of an Aborigine uttering Yoda-like riddles), the moral dilemma of the soldiers troubled by what they are ordered to inflict on the prisoners, as well as the mutterings of mutiny and dissatisfaction of the troops because they feel abandoned on the other side of the world, and that’s a pretty cluttered play. It means that there are a lot of scene transitions in the play (cleverly handled by the GYT) and a number of the subplots are either rushed or never satisfactorily resolved. The play would not have suffered from a ruthless pruning of the script.

Given the large number of roles and actors, the standard of the acting varies, but some performances shone very brightly indeed. The two main actresses of the play within the play are outstanding, though it should be said that all of the actors portraying the convicts put in solid performances, as does actor portraying the officer staging the show. Though the play does tend towards the polemic at times, there’s no denying its power, and one scene achieves that transformation you always hope for when going to the theatre – where you forget all about the artifice of the stage and the gap between the players and the audience. There is a scene where one of the officers, who despises convicts, turns up to terrorise the cast that have been picked for the play. He hold the ultimate power over all of them – he can have any one of them flogged to death and is only interested in utterly humiliating them, each one in turn. As he struts about the stage, and the convicts cower on their knees before him, even the audience hardly dared to draw breath. Great stuff, and the scene stayed with me long after I had got back to my car and set course for home.

Francis bores for England.

The following night, a war of a different nature was the topic for Francis Wheen’s public talk in the Radisson. He has written a book, “How Mumbo-Jumbo conquered the world” (which I have not read) and his lecture sets its sight on a broad range of mumbo-jumbo-like topics:- astrology, feng-sui, creationism, new Age religions, even Tony Blair’s political Third Way theory. Alas, though the lecture promised much, it delivered little (a bit like many of the topics in the book, then). Wheen spent a lot of time setting the scene; the history of the Enlightenment before mentioning all to briefly some examples of what irks him. I have to say that I was hugely disappointed by this talk – in his defence, I got the impression that he had lost track of time before really getting into his stride. Nevertheless, he didn’t really develop any coherent point during the lecture. He mentioned George W Bush’s uncritical attitude to Creationism, but didn’t really contrast it with his promotion and continued support of NASA, an organization singularly dedicated to the notion that the world wasn’t created in 6 days flat. Wheen also mentioned the fact that Nancy Reagan’s belief in astrology and Cherie Blair’s belief in ,well, quite a lot of things, but he doesn’t really make a case either way for whether their respective husbands actually believed that stuff too or were just humouring their wifes for a quiet life. He has a pop at new Age religions but dodges the big question of what exactly constitutes the difference between a nutty religion and a respected one.

There wasn’t much enlightment provided by the Q&A session afterwards, other than a rather meandering speech on the relative values of Modernism and post-Modernism. Yes, it was that interesting.

Lighter and more entertaining fare was promised at a talk by John Lahr in the Town Hall theatre on Saturday afternoon, who writes profiles for the New Yorker magazine. As a child, he knew Groucho Marx, Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin, and has met many comedians and entertainers in his working life. Lahr has probably thousands of great showbiz stories – too bad he didn’t tell us any of them. Instead, as he began his talk, he intended to explore the comedic DNA of great artists – what was it that drove them to such excellence? Admittedly, his account of the early struggles of Chaplin and Keaton was very interesting, particularly his description of how the immigrant Chaplin (from England) could hardly believed the energy and speed at which ordinary life was lead in America, and how it inspired his act. But Lahr was a lot less convincing with his thesis that it was a primal violent urge, given vent through their acts that drove these comedians, and when he began invoking Nietzsche and Freud, there wasn’t too many laughs. I wasn’t really convinced by his theory (there are lots of damaged people and lots of poor people but most of them lack the talent and genius to become legendary comics) but I would have settled for an entertaining one. Later, he attempted to explain the humour of Woody Allen by retelling some his jokes and then analysing them by breaking them down into an equation of a + b = c. Dear God, an academic trying to explain jokes via algebra would be exactly the sort of thing that Woody would skewer.

The pity was that, during the Q&A session afterwards, he livened up and became animated talking about comics that he liked and even more lively talking about comics he didn’t like (Johnny Carson and Bob J Hope, take a bow). If only he had shown the same passion during the talk itself. Two things I have to mention: one was his insistence that Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage) is a comic genius. If he is, then so is Freddie Starr. The other is that he is the spitting image of his father, Bert, who played the role of the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz.

I doubt if John Lahr would be tempted to write about the comedy on offer in the Radisson last Sunday. Barry Murphy’s Comedy Circus played to a full house in the Radisson ballroom (complete with slow-motion bar staff) and poor fare it was too. There’s a simple rule for any show; the opening and closing items should be memorable. Maybe I just didn’t get the memo that announced to the world that standing on stage wearing a fake wig and miming to some anodyne heavy metal tune for what seemed like an age is hilarious, but it looked like no-one else in the place had got it either. They did this for both the opening and closing act. The idea of the comedy circus was that Murphy would introduce the other acts, as well as do a few routines himself. And by God, was it routine. Murphy, Dermot Carmody, Kevin Gildea and Ian Coppinger hardly seemed to bother, and the material was either stuff that Murphy had used at the Festival last year, or just plain bad. The one redeeming feature was the Men in Coats act from the UK, whose physical, inventive comedy got a great reception. And another thing, Barry, the phrase 'comedy circus' would not normally also imply the phrase 'Aonghus McNally', who appeared twice during the night, and was even less funny the second time than the first.

The Bejing Dance Academy wowed everyone at the Black Box last weekend – I wasn’t so keen on the venue, which was like a sauna. And I rounded off the week with Trad in the Druid Theatre on Friday. I remember seeing a late night showcase of new comics at the Cat’s Laugh Festival in Kilkenny seven or eight years ago – Tommy Tiernan made an appearance, as did the afore mentioned Kevin Gildea, as well as a very nervous Mark Doherty. It looks like he has eschewed stand-up for acting and writing, and Trad is his latest production. Trad starts off as a Flann O’Brien styled slice of surrealism and sends-up the Fadó Fadó in Eireann style of storytelling but it gets more serious as it progresses. It ells the story of an old man and his 100 year old son who confesses that he has a son that he has never met. Together, they go off looking for him. The play seems to me like a work in progress – and lacks a balance between the comic and the serious. On the plus side, you get to see another great performance from Frankie McCafferty. Actually his costars (Peter Gowen and David Pearse) are equally good, and I suspect, given some tweaking, there is in Trad a much better play struggling to get out. A good end to the festival.

UPDATE 23rd January 2005 - My suspicions of Francis Wheen have been further fortified.

Posted by Monasette at 12:11 PM | Comments (1)

July 20, 2004

A mighty wind

It's the sailing season, and while the posher folk hold regattas in Cork, Dublin and other places, the west will see more traditional fare, with currach and hooker races in Leitir Mor, Kinvarra, Clifden and beyond. Picture shows two old hands watching the warm up last year on a sweltering summer Sunday last year.

UPDATE July 21. Just up the road from where I took this picture is the pub, Tí Hanrai, which yesterday became the first pub in Ireland to be fined for violating the smoking ban.

Posted by Monasette at 04:13 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2004

Saved without rain

Because May and June were such dry months this year, many people have managed to get their turf home early. Which is just as well, because it has rained for much of July. Photo of one hard-working bogman hauling turf in the vast stretch of bog east of Clifden.

P.S. Today is St. Swithin's Day, and you know what that means...

St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain

For forty days it will remain

St. Swithin's day if thou be fair

For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.

Posted by Monasette at 08:02 AM | Comments (2)

July 13, 2004

Climbing Croagh Patrick

There's lots happening in the west in the next two months. If you want a bit of exercise, now might be a good time to start practising for the Croagh Patrick annual pilgrimage on the last sunday of this month. Of course, you climb it any day, but at least on that particular day, there'll be first aid on call, and the possibility to get a cup of tea at the top.

Posted by Monasette at 11:56 PM | Comments (0)

Prince of Denmark

The Arts Festival kicked off last night, and I went to see Electric Bridget's Prince of Denmark. Yes, it's a spoof of Hamlet, transposed to a dilapidated hotel where the owner has died mysteriously, his sister-in-law has moved in (in every sense) and his effete, poetry-spouting son must avenge his death. Throw in Rosencratz and Guildenstern as a pair of hoovering gossips, a mucksavage Laertes and a thick-as-a-plank Ophelia, and there you have it. All the parts are played by the two actresses that make up Electric Bridget (Helen Gregg and Eileen Gibbons) and another actor (sorry, don't know his name), and I can heartily recommend it. The play doesn't set out to be anything other than a laugh-ou-loud crowd pleaser, and in that, it succeeds magnificently. The performances are top-notch, the comic timing and slightly over the top performances are brilliant, and it's a greatway to kick off the festival, particularly on a drizzly and cold July evening. I don't know if there are any tickets left, but it plays all week in the Town Hall Studio (not the biggest of venues).

Posted by Monasette at 11:11 PM | Comments (0)

Burren National Park

Photo taken July 10, 2004. Canon G3

Leamaneh Castle, near Kilfenora, Co. Clare. Built in 1480 as a tower (still distinct on the right), the rest of the house was built in the 1640s. The most famous occupant was Máire Rua, who, upon losing her husband in a battle with Cromwellian forces in 1651, married one of Cromwell's men the day after his death (so she wouldn't forfeit her estates). Her estates were taken anyway, and her newly bethrothed 'accidently' fell from the battlements to his death some time later. Not a woman to be messed with.

I was wandering about in the Burren on Saturday, trying to dodge the showers. And naturally, I took a few snaps.

Posted by Monasette at 12:32 PM | Comments (0)

July 09, 2004

Well of the King

A fisher of men...and the soul that got away was this big...Tobar na Rí holy well in Kilgeever Church, near Louisburgh, Co. Mayo. Photo taken last weekend.

Posted by Monasette at 12:15 AM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2004


Well, that rebellion didn't last too long. Fibber Magee's pub in Eyre Square in Galway had decided to flout the no smoking ban during the week. The Western Health board immediately announced an investigation (I wouldn't mind an 'investigative' job that involves hauling myself onto a barstool and calling for two pints and twenty Major).This evening, the owners had backed down, and had given a written undertaking to the Attorney General and the Taoiseach promising not to flout the ban again. I don't know what it says about the country that the both the prime minister and top legal officer in the country has got involved in a civil offence that's about as serious as a speeding ticket.

Of course, the downside was to listen to the usual whinging about how we live in a nanny state and blah blah blah. Dear God almighty, can people just get over it? The same old codology was trotted out when the government tightened up the drink-driving laws, made seat-belts compulsory and tried to make people wear life-jackets when they go out sailing. It's hardly martial bloody law, now is it? (Sometimes I think we should just let them on with it…it's not like we'd miss them from the gene pool)

What the hell is a nanny state anyway? Forty years ago, a single mother could have her children taken from her and put into a home, on the say-so of a priest. Now that's a nanny state. Whingers, get a grip.

Posted by Monasette at 11:53 PM | Comments (1)

Weimar economics

Does anyone actually like their wedding album ? Ours sits in a box under the sofa, and would never move at all if it wsn't for the wife hauling it out to torment visitors. To be fair, most female visitors can feign some degree of interest, but most of my froends would rather go out and cut turf than leaf through a bunch of wedding snaps. When Herself and myself were organizing our wedding a few years ago, I was only given one task to do - hire the photographer. Naturally, I kept meaning to do it, but in the end, my mother lost patience and booked a local guy. As it turned out, he was excellent. The secret of being a really good wedding photographer is not just technical skill but also an ability to put people at their ease. Our photographer excelled in both departments.

At the time of booking, nearly four years ago now, his prices ranged from around 550 pounds to about a grand. The difference in price depended on the cover of the album (you could choose leather or wood) and the number of enlargements. I went for the cheap one since I figured a leather cover would gather dust just as efficiently as an oak one, and we still haven't hung up the one enlargement we did order (OK, I'm just a tightwad).

A friend is getting married next year and has just booked the same photographer. The price? Between 1600 and 2000 euro. Yikes! Now that's inflation…

Posted by Monasette at 11:50 PM | Comments (6)

What was I thinking?

Someone pointedly sent me an article from the Observer had some advice for couples choosing summer reading for their holidays.

1. Do not allow him to take any books that are more than 600 pages long. Men toil under the misapprehension that, on holiday, they really will read That Big Book, even though it has been gathering dust on a shelf at home for, ooh, only eight years. If you do let him take it, trouble will follow. Either he'll get sick of it and start stealing your books or he'll plough stubbornly on and you'll have to listen to his sighing over the whir of the cicadas. (The only exception to this rule is The Diary of Samuel Pepys, which could never be long enough.).

I wish I'd read this before my own holiday. Along with D B Pierre's Vernon God Little (which I never opened) and a study of Irish ringforts (Ditto - I was just being pretentious), I brought along John Keay's History of India and Roy Jenkin's biography of Churchill. Now, they're both superb history books, but they're also two hefty doorsteps. Keay's book is about 600 pages long and after wading through the Harrapans, the Aryans, Jains and Alexander the Great's invasion, I've got as far as the Gupta dynasty. In 300 AD! The Kashmir dispute will be solved before I've got to the end. Who was it that said when you buy a book, you think that you're buying the time to read it?

Similarly with the Churchill book - you don't get much change out of a thousand pages. I've read nearly four hundred pages of small, densely typed pages, and it's still only 1923. At least I know there's a happy ending.

Speaking of massive tomes, what's the deal with biographies of Bill Clinton and David Trimble weighing in at around 1,000 pages each. Whatever you think of their achievements, they're no Winston Churchill.

Posted by Monasette at 11:47 PM | Comments (0)

July 07, 2004

The Battle of Aughrim

On the 313th anniversary of the most decisive and bloody battle between the forces of William of Orange and James II, representatives from Sinn Fein and Unionist parties will come together this weekend to analyse the history and impact of the battle as well as explore more contemporary issues. No, it's not happening in Northern Ireland but in a sleepy little village in east Galway

St. Ruth in his stirrups stood up and cried,

I have seen no deed like that in France,

With a toss of his head, Sarsfield replied,

They had luck the dogs! Twas a merry chance

So wrote Aubrey DeVere of the battle of Athlone , a minor skirmish between the armies of William of Orange (William III) and James II in June 1691. Notwithstanding the bravery of a small number of Jacobite volunteers who dismantled the wooden bridge across the Shannon under fire to halt the Williamite army, Athlone fell to General Ginkel who lead William’s army once the king had returned to England (the Sergeant who led the platoon onto the bridge has the Army barracks named after him, whereas Ginkel’s name has adorned a nightclub in the town for years). Though the outcome of the Athlone action was neglible (unless you lived there), the failure rattled St. Ruth and he decided to choose his next battle to the west of Ballinasloe (about thirty miles east of Galway) where he hoped to inflict heavy damage on the enemy.

Today, as you approach Ballinasloe from the Galway side, you'll pass a crossroads called Cappataggle Cross - it's marked by a headstone commemorating the death of a couple in an auto accident some years back. After the cross is a series of S-bends, and you'll notice a series of memorials within sight of each other. The frequency of fatalities on this small stretch of road became so big that the locals, in despair, hammered dozens of white crosses on each side of the road in the hope of slowing motorists down. As the road straightens, you'll find yourself in the village of Aughrim, and it seems a grim coincidence that one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the county leads to the site of the most bloody battle in this island's history.

On July 1st of 1690 (this date became July 11 after the adoption of the Gregorian calendar), at the Battle of the Boyne, William's army had forced the retreat south of the Jacobites but still the island was divided into two strongholds. The battle was more significent for the presence of both kings and that the defeat caused James to flee back to France. In fact, by the end of the year, both kings would have left Ireland, never to return - William returned to England after Sarsfield repulsed his attack of Limerick .

The reason that two kings were fighting in Ireland at all was due to the struggle for the English throne and a wider struggle for influence between the monarchies across Europe. Charles II had assumed the throne in 1660 and attempted to promote religious equality by restoring the property and status of Catholic disposed during Cromwell’s reign. This effort was not welcomed by the English Parliament, who feared the emergence of a Catholic dynasty. It didn’t help that Charles had produced no legitimate heirs which meant that the throne would revert to his Catholic brother, James upon his death.

In order to allay some of these fears, Charles had married one of James daughters to the Protestant Dutch king, William of Orange. James was married twice, first to a Protestant and then to a Catholic. Thus, Mary, a daughter from his first marriage, was also Protestant. (It also helped to mend fences with the Dutch after the Anglo-Dutch war of 1665-1667). But when Charles died in 1685, James II assumed the throne. Relations with parliament deteriorated, and the fear of Roman Catholic domination was heightened when Louis XIV of France revoked the Edict of Nantes – this had guaranteed the rights of the French Protestant minority (Huguenots) - particularly since Charles had served in Louis’s army during his exile. When James’ second (and Catholic) wife gave birth to a son, seemingly assuring the continuation of the Catholic line, William of Orange invaded and was proclaimed king in 1689.

James fled to France. Louise XIV, wishing to prevent William from engaging his armies as they expanded across Europe, felt it expedient to despatch an army to Ireland, led by James, to occupy the Williamite forces. So what was in it for the Irish?

Cromwell’s reign had been particularly brutal for Catholics in Ireland. Apart from the ferocity of the military campaign (in particular, the wholesale slaughter in Dundalk on September 11th, 1649), many Catholic noblemen were dispossessed – since their followers worked their estates, they too were forced to move. But where to? To Hell or to Connacht, was the answer. There was mass hardship as the land was handed over to Cromwell’s Protestant followers. It was the end of the line for many monasteries too. With the restoration of the monarchy, many Irish noblemen had their lands and their influence restored to some degree. So when William was crowned king, they had a natural incentive to back James.

Alas for the Catholic Irish, though they were expected to do most of the fighting and dying, the war was directed first by James II and later by the French general, Charles de Claremont, Marquis de St. Ruth. Irish generals, particularly Patrick Sarsfield, found themselves in subsidiary roles. Sarsfield own opinion of James II was best summed up when he told the Williamites ”Change kings and we will fight you again”. James had been quick to abandon the battlefield at the Boyne (not that he was too close to it, unlike William who was wounded during the battle). When he arrived back in Dublin, he complained to his hostess that

Your countrymen can run well, Madam.

To which she replied

Not so well as your Majesty, I see, for you have won the race.

Similarly, Sarsfield was not keen to meet the Williamites in battle so soon after the Athlone defeat, and advised St. Ruth so. But St. Ruth, who had waged a Cromwellian campaign of suppression against the Huguenots after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, was determined to inflict a decisive blow against the Williamites. On the Sunday morning of July 12th, he rallied his troops thus

Gentlemen and soldiers, I suppose that it is not unknown to you, what glory I have acquired and how successful and fortunate I have been in suppressing heresy in France, and in propagating the Holy Catholic Faith. I can without vanity boast of being the happy instrument of bringing over thousands of poor, deluded souls from their errors assisted by some members of our holy and unspotted church…You are not mercenary soldiers, you do not fight for your pay, but for your lives, your wives, your children, your liberties and your country and to restore the most pious of kings to his throne...

Then they waited.

In 1691, the land east of Aughrim village was waterlogged bogland. To the south, the land rises about 60 metres to a hill called Kilcommaddon, or Aughrim Hill. In front of that hill was a smaller slope of dry ground, called the Pass of Urraghry. To the north, behind where the village church is located today was the ruins of Aughrim Castle, and beside it was a narrow causeway that led across the bog towards Ballinasloe.

St. Ruth placed his majority of his forces (infantry) along Kilcommaddon Hill, overlooking the bog. Guarding the causeway was a few hundred men commanded by a Col. Burke, along with some cavalry. On Urraghry, St. Ruth had placed his artillery and guarded it with a large force of cavalry.

The Melehan river today - all of this land was marsh three centuries ago and formed a natural defence against the Williamite advance.

Today, the bog is gone and only the summer bloom of yellow irises hint at the marshland that formed the battle field of yore. The Melehen river is little more than a trickling stream in the summer, with hardly enough water to quench the thrist of the cattle in the neighbouring fields. But even today, on wet or cold mornings, a heavy fog often hangs over the fields. And so it was on the morning of the 12th, when Ginkel’s Danish dragoons emerged from the mist to attack the Jacobite artillery position on Urraghry. They were driven back, as were the English troops sent in after them. Under constant pressure from the Williamites, St. Ruth ordered some of his cavalry from the castle to reinforce the Urraghry position, as well as some of his infantry lining Kilcommadden. Sensing an opportunity, three thousand Orange troops were ordered to attack the Kilcommaddan line. They couldn’t exactly charge – they had to wade across the bog, lugging pikes and muskets and then attack uphill in sodden, mud-caked uniforms. First, they slowly pushed the Jacobites back, but once the cavalry intervened, the Williamites were pushed back into the bog and slaughtered.

The ruins of Aughrim Castle, Co. Galway.

However, a large force of Williamite cavalry made an attempt to attack Aughrim castle via the causeway. Burke’s infantry prepared to repel them but discovered that the spare ammunition wouldn’t fit their muskets. Their guns were French and the ammunition was English. No Irish story would be complete without a turncoat/traitor/informer or Lundy and this one was no different. Henry Luttrell commanded a force of dragoons that could have reinforced Burke’s position. Instead, he retreated. [Luttrell would be awarded a large pension by William after the fall of Limerick but was assassinated in Dublin nearly 20 years later].St. Ruth decided to lead a force of cavalry himself across the battlefield to reinforce Burke. Though the cavalry were all part of Sarsfield’s command, St. Ruth would not let the Irishman lead the charge himself, ordering him to wait in reserve. As the French general galloped across the hill, shouting “La jour est à nous, mes enfants (the day is ours, my boys)”, a cannonball took his head clean off. The shot decapitated the attack just as surely it had the Marquis. In the confusion, Ginkel’s English cavalry crossed the causeway, overran the castle and attacked the Jacobite infantry. Now it was the turn of the Williamites to inflict slaughter on the enemy.

Luttrell's Pass today - the place where the Williamite English cavalry were able to wheel around the Irish infantary and turn the battle.

Around seven thousand Jacobites died – the Williamites lost about a tenth of that number. It remains the bloodiest battle in Irish history. The Williamites only buried their own dead before moving on, and it is said that the bodies of many of the Jacobites lay exposed, preyed upon by wild dogs and the elements (actually, many were interred in the grounds around Clontuskert Abbey).

The victory was decisive – the Jacobite army was destroyed, and along with it, the future of the Catholic aristocracy. Sarsfield retreated to Limerick, and despite heroic resistance, he was forced to sign the Treaty of Limerick with Ginkel that forced into exile most of the Catholic noblemen and their followers (roughly fourteen thousand in all). Their lands would be distributed to the victors – Ginkel, the newly titled Earl of Athlone, would be awarded fourteen thousand acres in Leinster and Munster. The Treaty also guaranteed religious tolerance, a clause that was swiftly reneged upon. By the end of the decade, the Penal Laws were introduced, heralding nearly two centuries of religious oppression for Catholics.

It was a battle that pitted Irishman against Irishman, Englishman against Englishman and Frenchman against Frenchman. Danes (on the Williamite side) fought for the first time since the turn of the millennium on Irish soil. And though in Ireland (particularly north of the border), the battle is seen purely in terms of Catholic versus Protestant, the battle was viewed in Europe as a welcome setback to the expansionary ambitions of Louis XIV who was threatening to overwhelm his neighbouring countries, Catholic and Protestant alike.

Interior of Battle of Aughrim Interpretive Centre, co. Galway.

Today, the battlefield is marked by a series of signs, showing the various points of the battle as well as a memorial cross in the village. There is also an interpretive centre that has displays of weapons from the battle, a short video presentation on the battle as well as a diorama of the battlefield. (Alas, the video wasn’t working when I visited last week, but among the displays is a set of vestments presented to the village church by Napoleon III). That the battle is commemorated at all in the village is due to the tireless work of Martin Joyce, a local teacher whose research led him to create a small museum in his school and later to campaign for a more formal memorial on the battle field. Sadly, he passed away in 1991 just as his campaign was bearing fruit.

This year, the Aughrim summer school (held in the village and also in Ballinasloe) will hear contributions from Alex Maskey, Roy Garland and Oliver Gibson, (Republican and Unionist politicians respectively). On the Sunday (the day that I will attend), there will be a church service followed a walk around the battlefield. To add a bit of colour, the local hunt are going to ride around the battlefield – they are also going to recreate the charges by the cavalry (I think it’s just an excuse to go hell for leather through the meadows) – as long as they don’t mistake the rest of us for infantry…If you want to attend the whole thing, it’ll cost you 130 euro (if I was going to spend that sort of money in Ballinasloe, I’d expect to come home with a horse) but a one-day ticket is only 30 euro.

It’s a pity that the commemoration doesn’t receive more prominence in this country; not just to acknowledge the huge number of deaths but also to underline the dramatic impact of the battle on subsequent Irish history. It’s also a pity that, when the Irish government were dragging their European colleagues all around the country during the European presidency, that they didn’t pause briefly in Aughrim on their way down to Galway. In a field where the question of European integration was settled with pike, sword and bayonet, it might have focused some minds for the negotiation ahead. It might also have reminded them how far we’ve come.

Sources for this post include Kevin Haddick-Flynn’s “Orangeism: The Making of a Tradition”, a fine and colourful history of the Orange order, Seán Spellissey’s History of Galway, the Encyclopaedia of Ireland, plus my own visit to the battlefield. I’ll post a follow-up post next week after the Summer School finishes.

Posted by Monasette at 11:59 PM | Comments (3)

July 06, 2004

The Quiet Man

Maureen O'Hara is not happy, according to an article in Saturday's Indo. Apparently, the cottage used in the movie The Quiet Man is falling to pieces. To be honest, there are worse things to be worrying about in the country, but it seems that the biggest problem is not government neglect but souvenir hunters, mainly from the States. Every time someone visits the place, they take a few stones home (I wish my Dad had thought of that when we reclaimed a field years ago - it would have saved me a load of work). One tourist took home enough stones from the cottage to build a fireplace in her living room, and sent a picture of her handiwork to poor old Maureen. I think we can safely assume she didn't get an autograph back in the post. I'd love to know how she got all those stones back in her luggage.

The photo (above) of Oxeye daisies was taken at the 'Quiet Man' bridge near Oughterard in Galway. Though it gets plenty of visitors, no-one has tried to take any of it home - mainly 'cos the locals are still using it and they haven't learned how to walk on water. Yet.

Posted by Monasette at 12:12 AM | Comments (2)

July 05, 2004

Louder than bombs

The newly formed Galway County Council did some soul-searching before approving a grant for the Salthill Airshow. According to the Galway Advertiser, a number of councillors were opposed to support for the show (15,000 euro), and presumably the show itself. Councillor Billy Cameron was quoted as saying that

we don’t want US war machines flying over Galway Bay.

Indeed, though these are also the war machines that enforced the no-fly zone in Iraq for a decade that protected the Kurds from being massacred. Funny – nobody complains about the German airforce sending planes over to the show, even though the Luftwaffe are the only airforce that actually bombed Ireland.

For all the chatter during the week that followed George Bush’s visit to Ireland, one of the two items on the Irish agenda got very little press. The Taoiseach, the Tanaiste and the president Mrs. McAleese all lectured Dubya on their displeasure on the goings-on in Iraq – fair enough. But I wonder did any of them even blush a little when they brought up the other issue – the plight of illegal economic Irish immigrants to the US. Since 9/11, it’s become much harder for them to evade detection and deportation. Bush’s answer didn’t seem to get reported anywhere – maybe it was his turn to do a little lecturing and ask a simple question – why not treat Irish immigrants the same way Ireland treats its own immigrants – even the ones born there. There’s a slippery slope all around the high moral ground…

Posted by Monasette at 12:56 AM | Comments (0)

July 01, 2004

You are what you eat

Can you guess what this is? I fished it out of the freezer for a snack last week, and had munched through it before I read the side of the packet. It reminds me of the adage about those who love the law or sausages shouldn't see either being made.

UPDATE (July 2nd). Answer in the comment section. And another food labelling revelation here.

Posted by Monasette at 12:13 AM | Comments (7)