morning with a heavy frost was all we could muster last night (28th). However,
as we drove towards the Welsh port of Fishguard, it became evident that we had
been in a rather sheltered spot. Snow and ice covered most roads. The village of
Fishguard was a major surprise as a ferry harbour. Small and relatively
untouched by the thousands of tourists and truckies that pass through, it has
managed to retain the character of a small fishing port with little or no
industry other than the small fishing boats that now, with the low tide, lie in
the weak winter sun on the muddy bottom of the small harbour.
Sea was a pussy cat. Smooth as silk. Having enjoyed a very scary movie (What
Lies Beneath) in the ship's cinema, we drove into an Irish night that was
forecast to be the coldest in many years. With Dublin 150kms away over icy
roads, we elected to 'tough it out' without heating in a closed camping grounds
where they were happy for us to just park free for the night. By good luck
rather than any management at all, we again managed
to park in the only part of south eastern Ireland that didn't experience
heavy snow and frost. Literally within metres of us, snow fell most of the
night. Today, being inexperienced driving in such conditions we managed about
20kms per hour for most of today
Carlow Counties are, as near as we can determine, the ancestral home of the
O'Neills. Cutting a very long story very short, the O'Neills seem to have
experienced a slow decline in power and influence from a zenith in the eighth
and ninth centuries to a rather ignominious series of migrations to the 'New
World' at the end of the nineteenth century.
feudal strongholds in Northern Island the O'Neill Chieftains controlled most of
Ireland by the late ninth century. Fleeing to avoid waves of invaders (again a
gross simplification) the clans moved gradually south to Carlow and Wicklow.
Avoiding mention of the English in the plight
of the O'Neills and of virtually all other Irish families is unavoidable.
Suffice to say, the lot of tenant farmers in rural Ireland was not a happy one.
patchy, many destroyed by the (not to be mentioned) English. But it seems that
the branch of the clan that eventually migrated to Australia moved off the land
and progressively closer to Dublin as the twentieth century approached. First to
Newtown Mt.Kennedy and then to Mill Yard.
had frozen over by mid-morning as we struggled along the narrow country roads of
County Wicklow in search of some tangible evidence of a past family presence.
Shillelagh, Ferns, Tomacork and Kilquiggin were the focus of our first search.
The graveyard at Tomacork bore little fruit with the exception of a very recent
tombstone for Elizabeth O'Neill. Much to the horror of our Liz! Most of the
older stones were weathered so badly that very little remained of the
inscriptions. Interestingly, both this graveyard and the one we looked at in
Shillelagh had Jordan monuments. Jordans are part of Janita's maternal ancestral
done last year by a Sean (John) O'Neill of Dublin for Mary De Jabrun (nee
O'Neill), mentioned all these towns as past 'haunts' of the O'Neills and there
are voluminous documents quoted in this work proving an O'Neill presence here.
What we were seeking was something that we could see - most likely a grave -.
Catholic Church was built in 1948 and the graves in the cemetery all post date
this construction. The nearby Church of Ireland graveyard on the other hand has
many nineteenth century monuments. Locals told us of a grotto close to the
present site of the RC church that contained many hundreds of now unmarked
Catholic graves. (Da English are to blame!) - (Site not visited) This advice
also indicated that most Catholic burials in the nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries were either at Tomacork or Kilquiggin, not Shillelagh. We
were directed to an old graveyard at Kilquiggin that was reputed to have graves
over 200 years old. Hours of searching under rapidly darkening skies bore no
fruit. We will return!
not da scheduled run" the driver said as he pulled up outside our
snow-covered campsite in the suburbs of Dublin. "But if you are off to da
city, I'll drop ya in dere". The open top double-decker city tour bus was
freezing. Unthawed snow and ice lay in the aisles and the windows were covered
with ice - on the inside! But who knocks back a free ride in a strange city?
The sky was
the sort of clear blue that means that the temperature you started the day with
was about the best it would get. Today that was -3C. And that's all it got to in
the brilliant sunshine of the coldest Dublin day since 1982.
name supplied to protect the innocent - our driver, not only provided a free
ride but also free entertainment. His usual bus had broken down and this one was
a replacement from the depot. 'Two hours dis motor's been runnin' and da heaters
still frozz..' 'Oh God, Oh God, da ice is still dere after two hours!!'.. 'See
dat?.. da frozen fog .. oh God.. Oh God da freeziní fog... "Oh God its
freezin'.. 'five hours of dis to go!.. Oh God...' Rugged up with everything we
had we were comparatively warm, but Paddy seemed to have come to work expecting
his normal coach. He was somewhat under-dressed.
the historical importance of the GPO in O'Connell Street, Trinity College and
the most important sacred site of the Guinness brewery, central Dublin has few
real attractions. But it does have pubs and characters on every corner. We
elected to dine in our namesake's
pub. O'Neill's provides a fine line in counter lunches, with Guinness, of
course, to wash it down.
31 December 2000- 1 January 2001
night for fairly obvious reasons!
Rain and a
steep rise in temperature melted all the snow overnight on the 30th. Although
the locals were overjoyed to see the end of the cold snap, we would much rather
the cold, snow and the crystal clear skies that prevailed during the day to the
howling wind and driving rain that followed.
We had no
more success tracking down the old cemetery that we were told about by locals in
Shillelagh. The poor weather was no help and we abandoned our search in favour
of easier prey - the village of
Avoca, where the Ballykissangel TV
series is filmed. Nestled into the side of a hill, the small mining village has
real charm that has been only slightly spoilt by the blight of commercial
tourism. We sat in the bar with a pint (of course), surrounded by photos of cast
members and assorted visitors and locals, just waiting for Quigley, Peter,
Assumpta, Orla or Sean to walk through the door. (Apologies to the uninititiated.)
weather encouraged revellers into the city last night for New Year's
celebrations. We jumped a bus after a long wait in driving rain, looking forward
to seeing in the first year of the new century. However, in a very 'Irish' move,
the buses only operated for the early part of the night. Concerned about being
trapped in the city with no transport, we jumped a taxi about 11.00pm and headed
England and Ireland are particularly 'jolly' people. On our return, such a jolly
crew of Irish folk welcomed us to their celebrations in the camping ground's
common area. All, including ourselves, had a great time.
little later this morning, it was almost midday by the time we arrived in town.
The city was a little the worse for wear from the previous night's activities.
Litter and the odd 'lost soul' floated through the streets.
To kill the
afternoon we headed to the zoo, unaware that Dublin Zoo is one of the best in
the world. Modern animal management principles have been applied in an
environment where both the animals and the public get the best possible
treatment. Natural environments have been established for most animals with free
access by the animals to 'interface areas' where they are only separated from
the public by large windows. Most of the inhabitants seem to have adjusted well
to human attention and happily present themselves. Mind you the low temperatures
over the last few days may well have contributed to their willingness to
frequent the heated 'interface areas'. An excellent experience!
and the area around it in County Meath, just to the north of Dublin were home to
a civilization that constructed monuments that pre-date Stonehenge by 1000 years
and the Pyramids by 500 years. The valley of the Boyne River where Neolithic
tribes constructed their grave mounds is perhaps better known as the site of the battle in 1690 between
William III and James II which resulted in the loss of Ireland to the English.
ancient 'passage tombs' similar to Newgrange dot the nearby valley. Newgrange's
importance derives from the astronomical aspect of its construction. During the
winter solstice, for 5 days around 21 December, the rising sun penetrates the
tomb passage through a roof box built into the door of the tomb. The real
significance of this for the people of the time is of course lost to us. But
what is important is the precision with which these ancient architects
calculated the alignment of this entrance.
of the site is superb. A visitors' centre sited a kilometer or so from the site
provides interesting displays and audio-visual presentations about the tombs and
the Neolithic tribes that constructed them. Visitors are taken by a shuttle bus
to meet tour guides who escort groups of up to 25 at a time over the site.
castles, abbeys and round towers abound in the Boyne valley, often standing in
unrestored splendour in open fields or incorporated into other ancient
structures. Each has its story, half myth, half fact?? The hill of Slane for
example is reputedly the site of a monastery established by St Patrick. The
story goes that old 'St Pat' lit a huge Paschal fire on the top of the hill in
433 as a challenge to the pagan King of Ireland whose capital was atop Tara,
some ten miles away. Legend has it that the King saw the fire and the support of
the people for the new religion and while he himself never converted, he did not
persecute those who did.
many monuments in the area is thankfully in a totally unrestored state and so
has an 'aura' of the past which well-intentioned restorations have removed at
some other historical sites. It is possible to struggle to the top of the old
monastery tower which on a good day we are told provides not only a clear view
of Tara but also of the sea to the east.
Pubs are of
course as much part of the attraction of Ireland at its ancient monuments and
culture. We have tried our hardest to visit as many of these national
institutions as we can manage. Tonight we are off to town again to meet a
distant cousin for a 'few'. Public transport in Dublin, at least in our area,
leaves a bit to be desired. Infrequent and unreliable services are not
sufficiently compensated by the genuinely pleasant and helpful attitude of the
drivers. Standing in driving rain or snow waiting for a bus, without the benefit
of a shelter, is simply primitive! We are therefore depending on our host for a
lift tonight rather than another long cold wait and longer bus ride.
Left Dublin this morning in weak sunlight and a stiffening breeze. Unfortunately, within minutes, our path south took us into showers with only very scattered periods of sun
the place, not the much-loved Irish stout, is a bustling small city dominated by
Kilkenny Castle, the ancestral seat of the Lords of Ormonde. The association of
the family with the city has spanned
more than 600 years up until the present. The family's name, Butler, seems to
have been derived from the exalted position of 'Lord High Butler' which was held
by the first Lord Ormonde in the 12th Century. Interestingly, we have always
considered Ormonde to be a Scottish name, as it was the Christian name of
Cathedral, Kilkenny, contains some of the tombs of the Butlers and an
interesting listing of the Lords of the Manor through to the present day. Some
'sticky ends' befell the poor Lords of Ormonde. One poor unfortunate found
himself on the wrong side in one of the many tussles between the English Crown
and its citizens and lost his head at Newcastle-on-Tyne. Another never returned
from the Crusades and is buried somewhere in Jerusalem.
A couple did achieve sufficient notoriety to be buried in Westminister
Abbey. We'll look for them there in a couple of weeks.
been generally unimpressed with our interest in graveyards and funereal
inscriptions in medieval cathedrals. A grand monument celebrating the death of a
local luminary, 'on his way' to a battle in 1797, did however take her fancy!
believe it or not, has a Guinness brewery. It must be the only such
establishment in the world to boast its own ruined abbey. The Abbey of St
Francis is situated in the carpark of the maker of the much revered 'black
stuff'. It gives a whole new meaning to 'going to church' doesn't it?
is probably one of Ireland's lesser known eccentrics. On his death in 1921, his
wish to be buried standing upright above ground with a full view of his beloved
"Vee" was honoured. Today his burial cairn stands high above the road
that winds through this picturesque valley. From the heights of the hills
surrounding the valley, he overlooks a seemingly endless quilt of patchwork
fields and hedgerows rolling on to the horizon.
The Lords of
Ormonde, of Castle Kilkenny fame (the town not the beer!), held a number of
castles and strongholds in the county over the period of more than half a
millenium. Cahir Castle, 30 kms from the family seat in Kilkenny, was the scene of one of the less glorious events in the
family's history. In a renegade act, one of the 'brothers Ormonde' vacillated
between loyalty to his Anglo-Norman heritage and alliances formed over
generations with local Irish Chieftains such as the O'Neills and the O'Donnells.
In a famous siege during the 16th Century, he sided with the Irish and his
castle, after a siege of only 3 days, fell to the forces of Elizabeth I, under
the command of Lord Essex.
loser in this campaign was not however the lesser Lord Ormonde. Angered by
Essex's inability to bring a swift solution to the 'Irish Problem', Elizabeth
had Essex beheaded in the Tower of London - an act that, due to the incompetence
of the executioner, was a little more painful than usual. He missed on the first
blow, sinking the axe into the unfortunate Lord's shoulder. The second strike
also missed the mark, but the third delivered the head of the once-favoured
Essex to the crowd.
detailed accounts of the siege and then walking around the castle is the sort of
thing that most history buffs dream of. For example, the assumption that
geographical features remain constant over time very rarely holds true. In this
case, the river that now flows some 50 meters from the castle walls in fact
formed a significant moat directly below the battlements in the 16th century.
Details.. details.. details...
Coincidence and/or chance are fine, but finding
what is more than likely the grave of a direct ancestor while wandering about in
a major tourist attractions is beyond the odds! Buried behind the ruined
cathedral on the Rock of Cashel is one 'Michael Devitt' whose wife (also
interred) was a Duggan. The Duggans are first cousins of Janita's grandmother
and the Devitts are maternal
relatives of the same branch of the family. Janita's grandmother's brother had
the 'family name', Devitt, as his second name. We wonder?/ Just too much
was in full winter splendour as the mid-afternoon sun cast a golden hue on the
ruins and illuminated the green fields. Home to the Bishopric of Cashel from the
12th Century, this fortress cathedral, perched high on a limestone outcrop, was
occupied through to the latter part of the 18th century before it was abandoned,
some say simply because it was built in such a miserably cold, wind-swept
all this excitement, today was the best weather wise we have had so far in
Ireland. We saw the beautiful valley of the Vee without fog or cloud, which is
apparently rare, and as the day progressed the sun shone brightly and the sky
cleared as we visited Cahir Castle. Later in the afternoon the Rock of Cashel
loomed in the kind of light that sends photographers into a frenzy.
down to the village pub before dinner was pleasant but quiet as the locals don't
"hit" until 9:30 or so. Where do they get their stamina?