July 30, 2007

At the Races

I cudda bin a contender...this chap probably won't grace Ballybrit. Photographed on Achill Island, Co. Mayo during a break in driving rain last July [a bit like this year, then].

You'd have to be a gambler to decide to cut hay this year - plenty of farmers in Galway took the chance over the weekend, and it looks to be paying off. We've had two days of continuous sunshine, with the prospect of more to come.

Gamblers of a different sort will be welcome in Ballybrit this week. I don't know what sort of Faustian pact that the organizers of the Galway Races struck with the devil, but it seems to be working. The poor weather had threatened the racing festival but it looks like they just might get away with it.

Camera=Canon 5D, lens=100-400@275mm, aperture=f7.1, speed=1/800, ISO=640.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:30 PM | Comments (1)

July 29, 2007

Brief Encounter

It is best to give way when one of the naval ships is leaving port. The L. E. Ciara left Galway Harbour in brilliant sunshine this evening. The tricolour is at half-mast due to the death of a member of the Defence Forces. The Galway Hooker is called Annie.

Camera=Canon 5D, lens=100-400@285mm, aperture=f9, speed=1/400, ISO=200.

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

July 24, 2007

The Seven Wonders of Fore

Fore Abbey in County Westmeath.

I've been nominated by Caitriona and Ryan for one of those meme thingies - list 8 unknown things about yourself. I could list lots of things about myself but I doubt if they would be very interesting to read. So instead, here's a different list; the Seven Wonders of Fore.

To the north of county Westmeath lies the deep waters of Lough Derravaragh. It is the resting place of the Children of Lir, the put-upon siblings who were transformed to swans according to legend. A little further up the road is another magic place; home to the Seven Wonders of Fore.

The village of Fore is nestled in a valley formed by two craggy limestone hills, and has been to Christian settlement for fourteen hundred years. St. Féichín arrived in the midlands probably between 630 and 640 and founded a church and monastic settlement that numbered around 300 monks by the time of his death . Féichín might have been better off sticking with the bracing sea air on Omey Island (where he had founded a church previously, the site of which is still marked by a medieval church buried in a sand dune) than swapping it for a fetid bog in the midlands - he was killed by yellow fever in 665.

Probably the biggest wonder of Fore is that the church and abbey survived at all. St Féichín's church was attacked and burned several times in the eighth and ninth centuries; not by Vikings or by the English (in the Eighth century, it was the Irish doing the pillaging in Britain) but by the locals.

The first Wonder of Fore is a Monastery built on a bog, i.e . Fore Abbey itself. Today, the Fore valley doesn't look much like a bog. Reclamation, and forestry plantations have helped dry the swampy ground, though rushes still grow along the stream that runs alongside the abbey. But, one thousand years ago, a traveller would have regarded the sight of the abbey complex, surrounded by flooded ground, as a miracle indeed. A bit like the sight of housing estates today built on floodplains that disappear under water every winter. A miracle indeed.

The second Wonder of Fore is water that will not boil. Granted, water that won't boil wouldn't be much good in Galway right now. The water in question in Fore is water from the holy well at Tobarnacogany. So what chemical properties is contained in the water to prevent it boiling? Well, none, actually. The legend is that if one attempts to boil water from the holy well, they will die soon afterwards. So no-one dares boil it. There is another deterrent. When I visited Fore the first time, I planned to bring home some water to boil it and take my chances with the wrath of the Almighty. Alas (or maybe luckily), the well was dry, and looks like it has been so for a long time. The drought may not be entirely unconnected with the fact that the well area is covered in tarmac, with just a small oval opening to mark the location of the well.

The third Wonder of Fore is a Tree which will not burn. Ash trees mark holy sites all over Ireland (for example, the holy well at Oughtmama). Traditionally, an ash tree has grown over the Tobarnacogarny and it is said that the wood from the tree would not burn. Unfortunately, the wood wouldn't grow either, and the tree is just a wizened stump, studded with coins (it was probably the metals in the coins that poisoned the tree). Today, a new ash tree has begun to grow beside the well (it's more of a shrub, really) - hopefully, it will grow a bit bigger before anyone tries to set fire to it.

The fourth Wonder of Fore is a Mill without a mill stream. Today, all that is left of this wonder is a mill stream without a mill. The story is that St. Féichín built the mill first, and then commanded a stream to appear and flow through it. Clearly, this is the only logical explanation for the location of the mill, considering that the alternative, that the mill was built near a spot full of natural springs and where a stream still flows long after the mill's demise, is almost unthinkable. Given that St. Féichín and his followers probably built the mill while up to their waists in bog water, this one might just be a bit of a yarn.[The name Fore is derived from the Irish word Fobhar, meaning a spring or a well.]

The fifth wonder of Fore is Water which flows uphill. The stream that flows through the ruins of the mill and past the abbey today most definitely flows downstream. There are streams that flow underground from Fore into Lough Lene, on the other side of Fore Hill. Possibly, it was thought that this phenomenon gave rise to the belief that the stream was flowing uphill. Or maybe, in the past, the locals were just mad. You decide.

The sixth wonder of Fore is Anchorite in a stone. An anchorite is a monk that recluses himself/herself completely from public life. As such, that person wouldn't get out much. Fore is a sleepy village today, but in pervious centuries, it was a prosperous and large community. A large monastery naturally attracted visitors, and the usual gossip and intrigue. Someone stuck in a small cell would probably be the only one 'out of the loop'. A monk with no gossip to tell ? A wonder indeed.

The seventh and final Wonder of Fore is a Stone lintel raised by St. Féichín's prayers. The lintel in question is the one over the door of St. Féichín's church. Clearly there was a building boom in Ireland in the sixth century just like today, and tired of waiting for the builder to turn up when he promised, St. Féichín decided to do the job himself. The legend is that, using the power of prayer alone, he raised the lintel of the doorway where it still lies, today. I know a lot of people who say 'prayers' for workmen who don't show up - it usually involves dropping stuff on the errant chaps in question. Since most of the present church was built centuries after St. Féichín coughed his last, it must have been one hell of a prayer.

The monastery at Fore had 300 monks at one point - a huge ecclesiastic settlement, and one that would require considerable infrastructure (such as accommodation areas, milling and baking facilities, as well as a large farm to support the community). There would also have been a large mount of intellectual trade too - monks visiting from other monasteries, local dignitaries seeking counsel, other locals seeking loot (i.e. by attacking it) and monks leaving the monastery to spread the word. Other ruins in the village show the extent of the settlement - gates and fortifications that once guarded the town now stand alone in fields. The monastery was affiliated with a French monastery of the Benedictine Order, and that French affiliation caused the monastery to be confiscated by the English by Kingof England in 1340 (at the start of the Hundred Years War). The monastery survived another two centuries before it was finally suppressed in 1540 by Henry VIII.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:48 PM | Comments (5)

July 22, 2007

The Night Stalkers

The first week of the Galway Arts Festival ends today with the Macnas parade through the streets of the city and, as I write this, it looks like the rain has held off long enough for people to enjoy it. The constant and driving rain over the last week has played havoc with the street theatre during the festival. Yesterday, the Saur'us performers had to cancel their 4pm show - their costumes weren't designed to withstand a monsoon. Luckily, the sky had cleared by 10pm so the evening show could go ahead (well, not completely, the white streaks in the picture gallery below are raindrops - it began to rain at the end of the performance. The show itself was brilliant - inventive, visually spectacular and completely interactive. In the course of 10 or 15 minutes walking down Shop Street, the performers encountered revellers, a face-off with a lively hen party, sent a few Hill of Tara protestors running, startled a few bemused tourists and put a wide smile on the faces of plenty of thrilled children.

Last Wednesday, the Radisson Ballroom was filled to capacity to hear the razor-sharp political satire of Mark Thomas (he's not a bad stand-up either). It was also yet another reminder that no-one in Ireland has been able to manage that sort of material since the passing of Dermot Morgan. On Thursday, I got to see Sunset Limited, a philosophical dialogue on the meaning of hope and faith (um…it's a lot better than it sounds from that description).

Now you know what happened to Steve Strange...

You can see a few more pictures from the Saur'us at the 2007 Galway Arts Festival here.

Camera=5D, lens=Canon 24-105mm, aperture=f5.6, speed= 1/200, ISO= 640 - 1250, flash=Canon580EX II.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:56 PM | Comments (0)

July 16, 2007


One of the many sounds of summer is the short repetitive rasping noise of the common grasshopper. Less than 2 cm long, they don't get fazed or flee when approached. Which is handy when you're trying to photograph one.

Camera=5D, lens=Sigma 180mm Macro, aperture=f16, speed= 1/400sec, ISO400, flash=Canon420EX.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:00 PM | Comments (1)

A Monster from Macroom

Just outside Macroom in Co. Cork is a reservoir created by the ESB, which flooded an old forest. In the gloom of a summer evening, the lake, studded with trees all cut to stumps, looks rather spooky. Particularly, when you can see a headless monster emerging from the water...

Camera=5D, lens=Canon 100-400mm@400, aperture=f5.6, speed= 1/15sec, ISO400.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:47 PM | Comments (2)

July 15, 2007


Who'd be a tourist in Ireland this month ? Torrential rain interspersed with brilliant sunshine (and not much interspersing, either) continues. This morning, it was a scorcher - the picture above shows the small beach at Na Forbacha (Furbo) a few miles west of Galway city. Note the raincloud on the horizen. By this evening, heavy showers have freshened the air, and a grey gloom hangs over the bay. The rest of the week is promised more rain.

Camera=5D, lens=Canon 24-105@24mm, aperture=f11, speed= 1/100sec, ISO100, polariser.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:09 PM | Comments (1)

July 09, 2007


Shannon Development described the introduction of the Open Skies policy as a challenge for the tourism industry in the mid-west region. Actually, the Skies Open policy of Mother Nature, and the associated deluges, is a bit of a threat too. My heart goes out to tourists caught up in the awful weather this month - particularly visitors from the States. They don't get many days holidays to begin with, the dollar is weak against the euro and there isn't much to do in Galway when it rains non-stop.

Posted by Monasette at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

July 08, 2007

Sun seekers

Small tortoiseshell butterflies loves the sun, so they are probably having as hard a time of the weather right now as everyone else. Every other hour, you could expect either scorching sunshine or rain so hard that it would beat the life out of you. This specimen was feeding in a field of thistles. Unkempt fields tend to spread weeds to surrounding ones quickly- a source of annoyance to most farmers, but enough to keep the butterflies happy. The thistle uses more than a nice, bright pink colour to attract the butterflies - many butterflies can 'see' in the ultraviolet spectrum, and therefore see a pattern in the blossom that attracts them.

Camera=5D, lens=Canon 100-400@400mm, aperture=f13, speed= 1/250sec, ISO320.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:40 PM | Comments (0)

July 05, 2007


Thrift growing beside the airstrip at Inverin, Co. Galway - picture taken last summer (when it wasn't raining).

If you want to fly to the Aran Islands, the departure point from Galway is a small airstrip on the coast at Inverin, nearly 20 miles west of Galway City. There was an accident there this evening - a private plane crashed there in poor weather - there are 2 dead at the time of writing.

Aer Arann flight setting off for the Aran Islands from Inverin last year.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:50 PM | Comments (1)

July 03, 2007

The Magic Carpet

Wild meadow on Omey Island - picture taken about 3 weeks ago.

Omey Island is synonymous with hidden treasure. Twice a day, every day, the island relinquishes and then regains its island status. At low tide, the sea rolls back to reveal a vast expanse of flat, golden beach. At the end of July every year, the locals transform the beach into a circular racecourse for a day of beach racing - I've gone there for the last two years, and nearly got washed off the beach with the rain on both occasions (see 2006 and 2005 race pictures here, and an account of a visit four years ago here; back when I was shooting with slide film).

Erosion of one of the beaches revealed that Omey is the site of an ancient graveyard where only women could be buried - it was said that a man buried there would be dug up and thrown into the sea. [I'm sure there was a few fellows that would prefer that fate than to be buried beside the mother-in-law].

Exactly 421 years ago, Captain John Bingham decided to do some treasure seeking of his own. Bingham's brother, Sir Richard, was the governor of Connacht, and was synonymous with slaughter in Ireland, boasting that he had executed one thousand Spanish survivors of the Armada. He killed plenty of Irishmen too. In the July of 1586, the Captain marched his troops into Ballinahinch to plunder the territory. Owen O'Flaherty, a local chief, along with his followers and herds of cattle, fled to Omey. He was soon apprehended, and, according to Bingham, was killed while escaping (despite being tied up and having multiple stab wounds). Soon after, he also captured O'Flaherty's mother and his brother had a new gallows built especially for her. He never got to use it - the lady in question was Grace O'Malley, and she managed to wangle an escape and outlive her enemy.

Geologically, Omey is a sand dune perched on rock. It's small - no more than a couple of kilometres long and less in width . A quarter of a century ago, at the prompting of the local priest, the islanders uncovered a medieval church buried in the shifting sands on the north of the island. Made of sandstone, it was built on the site of an ancient church settlement founded by St. Féichín, and the church had lain hidden beneath the sands for centuries. Féichín had a thing for magical places - he went on to found a monastery in Fore in County Westmeath, better known as the site of the Seven Wonders of Fore.

On a breezy summer's day a couple of weeks ago, the magic was still evident. A kestrel hovered over the dunes until driven off by smaller birds, wild, flower-filled meadows shimmered and undulated, and fat cattle basked in the sun. The sand dunes are just about held together with a thin carpet of grass, despite the best efforts of hundreds of burrowing rabbits. And right now, the flowers in the grass have woven the most magic of carpets.

Camera=5D, lens=Canon 100-400@400mm, aperture=f11, speed= 1/400sec, ISO250.

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Posted by Monasette at 10:12 PM | Comments (2)

July 01, 2007


Welcome to Galway - rain on the Dock Road on Sunday afternoon.

It's still raining, with no relief in sight. And thanks to the tardiness of the city council, the water still isn't officially clear of cryptospiridium. Maybe all of this rain will wash it clear.

Aasleagh Falls at sunrise a couple of weeks ago - no chance of running dry this year.

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Posted by Monasette at 11:55 PM | Comments (4)