August 30, 2006

Fruit of the Harvest

As my grand-uncle used to say,' The evenings are bet'*. I set off for New Quay yesterday evening before eight, as the evening sun beamed down on Renmore. From my kitchen window, the Clare side of Galway Bay is only eight miles away. But driving there is a circuitous route to Oranmore and Clarinbridge, turning at Kilcolgan for Kinvarra, and then on to New Quay, at the foot of Abbey Hill.

By the time I go to the Martello Tower at Finavarra Point, it was nearly dark, and it was just nine o clock! Where did the summer go? I had a specific mission yesterday evening - to collect blackberries. Last Sunday, walking around Cornamona with the Walking club, there was as much time sent gathering blackberries as walking [the bags that the walkers are holding in this picture are full of berries. And yes, it is mainly women who walk in the club - think how hard it is for the likes of me to get a word in edgeways **]. Now, from previous years, the lane leading up to the tower in Finavarra is covered in brambles laden with fruit. However, when I got there last night, there wasn't one to be seen. Holy local microclimates, Batman, what's going on?!?

In hindsight (and that's how I solve most problems), the answer was obvious. The walk in Cornamona is in a sheltered valley (start at Mac's Bar and turn right before the river bridge and then take a left onto an old bog road. Follow the stream into the valley). The valley protects the laneways from the wind whipping off Lough Corrib, and on Sunday, honeysuckle, rowan berries, blackberries and even hazelnuts were positively dripping from branches along the laneways. In contrast, the laneway at Finavarra is completely exposed, and most of the berries on the brambles have just begun to form.

It wasn't a wasted journey, though. Driving past Linnane's on the way to the tower, a juvenile cuckoo flew in front of me for about 100 yards, looking for a place to roost for the night (probably someone else's nest). And I can't think of a better place to watch the dying embers of skylight than at the Martello tower as the wind urged the tide in across the rocky shore.

This evening, I was more successful. I was hunting, not for berries, but for mushrooms. On a humid, wet and dull late summer evening, the mushies practically bloom in front of you. Despite the attentions The field has always produced a great crop of mushrooms and always in the same place - roughly betwixt the old children's grave and the old ring fort at either end of it. Despite the attentions of a herd of bullocks that galloped up and down the field, kicking over some of the precious crop (but friendlier than the last bunch I met), two bags were filled. One didn't last another half an hour. As soon as I got back to the house, the were chucked on the pan with a little oil and salt. Dear God, what a feast ! No manna that fell from the heavens can compare to freshly picked mushrooms. The other bag won't last much longer. We are approaching the month of the harvest - time to eat our fill.

* sic beaten
** and I'll get no chance if any of them read this

Posted by Monasette at 11:29 PM | Comments (1)

August 29, 2006

Simply outstanding in his field

Posted by Monasette at 11:13 PM | Comments (4)

August 27, 2006

These colours don’t run

On the day of the Connacht GAA Football Final last month, it was more than a little provocative of the Mayo contingent to drape their county flag over the trig. point on top of Cnoc Mordain in the heart of Galway during a Galway Walking Club hike. It was even worse when word came through that Mayo had beaten Galway by a point in a match so bad that, really, both sides should have lost. Galway didn’t get much further via the back-door system, but Mayo battled on to meet Dublin on Croke Park this afternoon to fight for a place in the All-Ireland Final.

There isn’t much love lost between Galway and Mayo (ok, none) and I’m amazed at how little support there is in Galway for their neighbours. Of course, I’m not a native Galwegian, so I don’t possess that inbred hatred borne from years of lads chucking sods of turf each other across the border at Leenane. The way I see it, any Connacht team in the final should get the support of the province. Plus, if Dublin were playing the Taliban led by the resurrected ghost of Oliver Cromwell, I still wouldn’t cheer for them. Today, the massed ranks of Dublin supporters were in full voice on Hill 16 – while Dublin were ahead. But when the final whistle blew, and they were beaten, the silence of ten thousand Dubs on the Hill was the sweetest sound of the day.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:28 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2006

Pride of Place

Gay Pride Parade flows down Shop Street in Galway this afternoon.

Bród Ireland (Galway Gay Pride Festival) takes place this weekend. The Galway Advertiser reports that the organizers have received a single hate email, which called the march a 'proud to be a wife beater march...'. And to think people call homophobes ignorant (this one was probably the only homophobe smart enough to send an email... Just to add to his/her blood pressure, here's a few snaps from the march.

Didn't see any politicians in the march, though Labour had a banner there[UPDATE: Ebby informs me that Mayor Niall O Brolchain opened the parade in Eyre Square ]. They should have tried to get Maire Geoghan Quinn, since she was the Minister of Justice (and Galway Fianna Fail TD) that decriminalised homosexuality in 1993. It's interesting to look back at the Dail debates that took place at the time. Her political achievement was considerable - many senior politicians in her own party were against it, as were many in Fine Gael, the main opposition party then and now. Michael McDowell (then a novice opposition PD politician and now the Minister of Justice) gave a very supportive speech in favour of the proposed new law, and mentioned in passing the problem of overcrowded prisons meant that that serious offenders were getting out earlier[This week, the Inspector of Prisons described the present attitude of the Minister and his officials as 'fascist and frightening'.] Less edifying was Fine Gael's Brendan McGahon's contribution in the same debate, who managed to combine bigotry and an almost hilarious lack of irony in the same statement :-

Homosexuality is a departure from normality and while homosexuals deserve our compassion they do not deserve our tolerance. That is how the man in the street thinks. I know of no homosexual who has been discriminated against.

The debate preceding the Decriminalisation Bill was on a amendment (by Tony Gregory) to a law which would have outlawed hare coursing. Brendan had clearly far more compassion for fluffy creatures that certain humans in his contribution :-

I would ask the Minister to prevent the suffering of these gentle inoffensive animals now and to accept the reality of this Bill which Deputy Gregory had the initiative and courage to introduce. The vast majority of Irish people are sickened by this “sport”.

Unlike gay-bashing, presumably.

The real reason that the debate was happening at all was because Senator David Norris had taken [and won] a case to the European Court of Justice. He made his contribution to the debate in An Seanad (the Seanad debates make good reading: here, here (having the sort of argument you wouldn't normally expect in the corridors of power, here and here (the same bill also impacted the laws against prostitutes, since the age of consent was set equally for men and women at 17)). Ms Geoghan-Quinn had been busy that month - she had already decriminalised suicide, opening the debate in An Seanad with a short history of suicide as a criminal offence

Suicide is a common law offence. It was not created by Statute but formed part of the ancient unwritten law of England as interpreted by judges. I cannot offer a satisfactory explanation as to why it was originally made a criminal offence other than because it was regarded as self murder. The fact that the perpetrator of the crime of suicide was dead did not prevent the common law from imposing penalties. Up to 1870 the property of a person who committed suicide was forfeit to the State and it was the practice in England to bury a person who committed suicide at a crossroads with a stake through the heart. This practice was only prohibited in England in 1882 by the Interments (felo de se) Act, 1882 — Felo de se being the legal Latin term for suicide.

Camera = Canon 5D , lens = Canon 24-105mm@80mm, ISO=250, aperture=f9, speed=1/320 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 07:31 PM | Comments (1)

August 24, 2006

Natural Treasures

On vacation in Italy a couple of years ago, one of the finest culinary treats was also the easiest to make. Spaghetti alle Vongole ( Spaghetti with clams) is prepared by steaming clams in garlic and white wine and served with fresh spaghetti and bread, and a glass of whatever the local vineyard has to offer - heaven. In truth, every day of that holiday was a foodie paradise (ok, the evening I had to gut a pigeon wasn't great, but let me assure you, the pigeon had it coming). I've bored many a person bemoaning the comparisons of Italian food with meals for which I've paid far more here in Ireland. And then, having done some plodding about on Abbey Hill one Sunday afternoon, I decided to treat myself to lunch in Linnane's in New Quay, in Co. Clare. And guess what ? Spaghetti with clams was on the menu. And guess what ? I don't have to go back to Italy for it anymore. It was outstanding.

And why not? Out the back door of the pub/restaurant is a small quay (hence the name of the village) - there's a good chance that whatever is on the menu came from the clear water of the channel that separate New Quay in Clare from the small Galway peninsula of Doorus/Aughinish. The picture above was taken from the Galway side looking across towards New Quay (the pub is just out of shot on the right - I can't choose where the cloud forms) as the tide surged up through the channel.

It's been a while since I scavenged the shores of Doorus to harvest my own clams and mussels, but I'll be back soon. We'll soon be in the month of the harvest, and shellfish is best when there's an 'R' in the month. I'll leave the expensive Oyster Festivals (Galway and Clarinbridge coming up next month) to the great and the good - I doubt I'll see any of them in their wellies combing the beaches for natural treasures.

Posted by Monasette at 08:37 PM | Comments (6)

August 23, 2006

Out on Deck

The people in Galway are greedily drinking the last drops of sunshine as August draws to a close; whether it's in a tent in the Claddagh fields, or from the deck of the Europa, as it departed this evening. Mind you, regulars in the Claddagh are probably drinking their fair share of Buckfast too [the breakfast of champions!]

Posted by Monasette at 11:15 PM | Comments (0)

August 21, 2006

Wonders Never Cease

On this night, one hundred and twenty seven years ago , a bunch of locals saw something wonderous in a small Mayo village, and declared it a miracle. There are still little miracles to be seen in Ireland, whenever the rain clears. Picture is of the anchorite cell, overlooking Fore Abbey in Co. Westmeath. Both the cell and the Abbey are two of the Seven Wonders of Fore. But more of that anon.

Camera = Canon 350D , lens = Sigma 10-20mm@10mm, ISO=100, aperture=f5, speed=1/125 sec, polarizer, Lee 0.9 grey grad.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:24 PM | Comments (2)

August 17, 2006

Gnarled Barkley

Eroded fence-post on Cnoc Mordain, near Kilkieran, Co. Galway.

Camera = Canon 350D , lens = Canon 70-300mm@80mm, ISO=100, aperture=f6.3, speed=1/200 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 07:02 AM | Comments (1)

August 14, 2006

Caught by the bullocks

A few weeks ago, I was driving through Co. Roscommon andafter checking my map, noticed that I was near Emlagh High Cross. Now, there are plenty of crosses, cross-slabs and other features marked on Ordnance Survey maps that no longer exist, but I decided to have a look anyway. A few miles from Castlerea, along a country road, there was a sign pointing up a boreen. A couple of hundred yards up the road, across from a new bungalow under construction, was a steel pole, where presumably, a sign had once hung. And in the field, was a cross.

Well, it was more like bits of the cross. It looked like it had fallen over, smashed, and then the bits stuck into a stone plinth in the field. According to Peter Harbison's Guide, the pieces may well be bits of two crosses, dating from the 11th century. I dutifully took a few snaps, rueing the fact that the remnants were not railed off from cattle (in fact there was a feeder beside the plinth). As I've mentioned before, cattle have a habit of knocking things over - not good for ancient antiquities). A quick search of the Dáil record shows that Emlagh is the responsibility of the Office of Public Works but no money has been allocated to it for years.

While I was looking at the cross, the cattle in the next field noticed my presence and galloped over to the gap in the hedge and up the hill towards me. When cattle run towards you, the best thing to do is stand up to them [they were Charlaois which we raised on our own farm - they are usually playful and affectionate animals]. Which is what I did. The lead animal halted as he got closer. But one of the cattle following him just kept going, and he didn't look too affectionate at all.

I took a closer look at him. Uh-oh. It looked like a 'scrub' bull [a 'scrub' bull is an animal that has at least partially survived the castration process]. Standing tall and shouting 'Shoo' to an angry scrub bull is unlikely to have much effect since (a) it's already proved that it has balls of steel and (b) it bears an understandable grudge against humans. I glanced behind me at the gate - too far to run. For one moment, I thought I'd come unstuck.

And the irony of the situation ? I'd actually set off that morning to photograph Rath na dTarbh, the place where, according to An Táin Bó Cúailnge, the brown bull of Ulster (Donn Cúailnge)had fought and destroyed the white bull of Connacht (Finn Bennech). Because of the rain, I decided to divert to Emlagh instead. Luckily, I had a happier outcome than poor old Finn. I walked behind the plinth as the animal ran up to me, and that was enough to confuse him. He lost interest after a couple of minutes and I walked (backwards) to the gate. In fact, it may not have been a scrub bull at all, but just an over-enthusiastic bullock (since there was a trough in the field, the animals were probably used to being fed by the farmer, and mistook my appearance for mealtime). It had my adrenalin going for a while, all the same.

Camera = Canon 5D , lens = Canon 24-105mm@35mm, ISO=500, aperture=f8, speed=1/500 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:19 PM | Comments (9)

August 13, 2006

The Long Haul

Last weekend, I managed to get sunburned on the backs of my legs hiking along Ben Chorragh. Today, I'm hobbling about like an old man with a fine collection of blisters on my feet. Well, not quite like an old man, since there were several gentlemen of a certain age who looked quite fresh compared to yours truly just 24 hours ago.

Yesterday, the 10th Connemara Marathon across the Western Way was organized by the Galway Walking Club. It was a perfect day for walking. Cool and overcast in the morning, [There was even a spot of drizzle around 07.30 as we assembled to register and have a bit of breakfast], with intermittent sunshine during the rest of the day. Over 150 people turned up; a mixture of walkers like myself from the local club and visitors from other clubs.

Registration took place in the Community Centre at Maam, just down from Keane's pub at the bridge, and buses brought us the starting point. The route began along Lough Fee, the low morning sun perfectly illuminating the white tips of the waves lapping at the shore. On to Little Killary, ascending the northern side of the inlet [pictured here late last year]and turning the peninsula to walk back along the Famine Road on the southern side of Killary Fjord towards Leenaun. A short bit of road walking brought us to a turn near Tullyconor where we could reconnect with the Western Way. The following stretch, heading south into the sun, is usually wet and boggy, but it's been such a dry spring and summer that the ground was reasonable firm. After a mile or so, we were back on a gravel track [created by Coillte to harvest the forest] and after another mile. Once we passed through the forest path, we turned east and walked the three miles of soft boggy pasture that forms part of the valley between the Twelve Bens and the Maumturks. This really is one of the greatest shows in Ireland, and yesterday morning, the Twelve Bens never looked better - lit up by the sun and the view completely clear of haze or cloud.

Then, we were back on tarmac again, walking along the boreen towards Maumeen; the mountain pass in the 'Turks guarded by the spirit of St. Patrick himself. The sun was blazing at that stage, and I was glad to get off the tarmac onto mountain ground again. Besides, the ascent to the holy shrine at Maumeen is only a couple of hundred metres. The descent on the other side has a nasty trick in store. The path descends to about 75 metres followed by an immediate climb of about 80 metres of road. Normally, that would be a big deal, but since it occurs at Mile 23, it hurts. After that hill, it's a slow decline [in more ways than one] back to the Community Centre.

Most people do it for fun, though the first ten home were very competitive. The winner does mountain running as a hobby, and finished in about 4.5 hours - he ran quite a bit of it [his father came third, not too far behind him]. The first two women home came fourth and fifth. Your truly hobbled home at 4pm - having started at around 8.30am [I came in somewhere between 35th and 45th, I think]. According to my GPS gizmo, the total distance was 26.7 miles - I was walking nearly 7 hours and had been stopped for an additional half hour. My moving average was 3.9 mph, so I shouldn't expect a call from the Kenyan long-distance team. Mind you, my maximum speed reads 28.3 mph, but that's probably because I switched it on while I was still on the bus.

There was probably too much road for my liking [not that it would have made much difference to my time], but the route is varied a little from year to year. The bane of my life are the power-walkers; usually women, normally seen striding up and down the Prom, arms flailing from side to side, and never taking even a sideward glance at the beautiful scenery all around them. A couple of them sprinted ahead of me when I got off the bus. I didn't see them again until Maumeen - they didn't like the look of the rough ground. I'd prattle on about the tortoise and the hare, except that, in the main, the hares all arrived in first. Hat tip has to go to the ten-year-old girl [and she didn't even look 10] who sauntered hand in hand with her mother along the whole route - she passed me at about 15 miles, and arrived home ages before me. What's more, she wasn't whinging about blisters either.

The picture above is from Ben Chorrag/Ben Ghorm, taken last week. Just after this photo was taken, the cloud cleared (which is when I got scorched). Mweelrea is on the left, Doo Lough is in the middle and Clare Island can be seen in the distance. The Galway Walking Club will have a weekend away there next month [just before the Singles weekend!] and the going will be easier than the marathon (walking-wise, anyway).

P.S. I didn't take a camera with me for the Marathon; partly because they are too heavy to lug that far, but mainly because if I did, I'd still be out there (I'd have stopped every 5 minutes to take a snap).

Posted by Monasette at 09:49 PM | Comments (1)

August 10, 2006

T-Bone Burnett

Five Spot Burnet moth (Zygaena trifolii) on a Common Knapweed blossom (Centaurea nigra) on a cliff-top meadow near Doolin, Co. Clare.

Camera = Canon 5D , lens = Canon 100-400mm@400mm, ISO=400, aperture=f10, speed=1/250 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 08:15 PM | Comments (0)

August 08, 2006

The Tower that Guards the Barley

Martello Tower on Doorus, near Kinvarra, Co. Galway.

Camera = Canon 5D , lens = Canon 100-400mm@100mm, ISO=400, aperture=f11, speed=1/500 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:26 PM | Comments (2)

August 07, 2006

Absence of malice

It's not a plague if there's only one of them...actually, there were plenty of Common Frogs (Rana temporararia) on Ben Chorragh yesterday, but since they don't bite, it wasn't a problem.

A fellow told my father some startling news recently. He’d been working on the bog in the midlands, and had noticed something. I didn’t believe it when my Dad told me the same news, until I noticed it myself during the last month, while out walking in Connemara.

There are no horseflies this year. Well, very few of them anyway. This time last year , there was a frickin plague of them – walking in the Twelve Bens, every step through the heather kicked up a cloud of them. Yesterday, walking along Ben Chorraigh with the Bens on one side and a cloudless Mhaol Rea on the other, there wasn’t a single one of the malignant little feckers. Maybe prayers are answered after all. Now I just need put a hex on the midges…

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Posted by Monasette at 10:33 PM | Comments (3)

August 05, 2006

And suddenly, it was gone

It happens every year, and it still catches me by surprise. A few hot days here and there, and we take the summer for granted. And every year, around the end of July, without warning, Mother Nature puts up the Closing Down signs on Summer, and the autumn signs begin to appear.

Already, the long evenings are beginning to recede (the overcast weather of the last 2 weeks hasn't helped in this regard). Horse-chestnuts are beginning to appear, and hazelnuts are ripening. The last of the blackberry blossoms are disappearing and the berries have stated to form. And the most obvious sign of all - leaves are beginning to turn. The fern above was photographed along a lakeshore path on the northern edge of Lough Corrib last weekend while out walking with the Galway Walking Club.

Camera = Canon 350D , lens = Canon 24-105mm@10mm, ISO=400, aperture=f6.3, speed=1/400 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 12:17 PM | Comments (1)

August 01, 2006

Lightning Strike

This wooden cross is on the side of the road between Feakle and Gort right at the point where south Galway meets north-east Clare. This afternoon, thunderclouds formed in the hot sun of late summer, as I wandered around this area, known as Gough's Bog.

It was a day such as this in the summer of 1944 when a group of young people walked the same path. Suddenly, the skies darkened and a bolt of lightning flashed towards the ground, killing four of the group. The exact spot is marked by the small wooden cross in the top-left corner of the picture above.

Camera = Canon 5D , lens = Canon 24-105mm@24mm, ISO=250, aperture=f11, speed=1/250 sec.

The plaque, about 50 metres from the wooden cross, in part reads: "The following killed by lightning about 300 metres north of here in Gough's Bog on May 31st 1944:- Christy Casey Kilbeacanty aged 26 years, Michael Nestor Gort aged 24 years, Bridie Cahill Dromindoora aged 21 years, Peg Noonan Dromindoora aged 13 years.

Camera = Canon 5D , lens = Canon 24-105mm@24mm, ISO=250, aperture=f11, speed=1/200 sec.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:58 PM | Comments (0)