Sunday, November 02, 2008

Celebrating The Celtic New Year

Which it is. November 1 marks the beginning of the Celtic year, so it's a good time for starting new projects, getting new ideas underway, pushing out the boundaries, exploring new horizons, swimming out to meet your ship instead of waiting for it to come in.

Good wishes therefore to those of my friends starting new phases in their lives at this time, especially Dez who specifically chose Hallow-E'en to open her spinning, fiber and yarn shop in Baton Rouge, Louisiana! Anyone thinking of being in the Deep South during the next while therefore, go find Dez's shop and wish her well.

Here's the address, so you have no excuse:
Knitting Asylum, 8231 Summa Ave, Suite B, Baton Rouge, LA 70809.

And even if you're not, go over and wish her well on her blog. I'm so excited for you, Dez, I wish I could be there!

Mind, I've never been quite sure why the Celts decided on November 1 as the ideal date to finish off with the old year and begin a new one. I mean - wouldn't February have been a bit more appropriate? When the new grass was beginning to come through and the sun staying in the sky that little bit longer? November is surely a time for tucking yourself up in a cosy cave or hut, throwing another log on the fire, and uncorking the mead. Sitting round telling stories, knitting a sweater or two, whittling on a deer antler. It was the time they brought the cattle in from the hillsides, for heaven's sake! Still, Samhain they decreed should be the New Year, and so it is.

(I wonder if it was decided by committee? Yep, that's probably it. One group was arguing passionately for February, another for Bealtaine, a third for Lunasa, and some bright spark suggested a compromise. 'I know, let's choose the most unlikely festival of all. Let's go for Samhain.' And because they were all sick and tired of argument and wanted to get back to their elk stew, they agreed.)

Went up to the Knit & Stitch Show in Dublin the other day. It's never as good as the UK dates, because a lot of the traders don't bother crossing the Irish sea, but you take what you get in this country, so up I went. Was on the train going and coming with my dear friend Breda from the hotel in Gougane, so we had some grand chatting. She even told me a Hallow-E'en ghostly anecdote from her valley. You may remember I've shown pictures on my blog from time to time of the old stone walls at Gougane, now moss-covered and hidden in the trees, where once little homesteads and fields could be seen. Well one of those very stone walls is all that remains of a cottage known as the Palace. The whole family were sitting round the fire one dark November night when they heard a dreadful screaming and roaring sound and the turf fire suddenly blazed up high instead of glowing quietly as was its wont. They had barely time to push their creepy stools back from the hearth when what came down the chimney but a huge and horrible misshapen THING with chains wrapped around it. It bounced across the floor on strange clawlike feet, burst the door open, and disappeared into the night. The family left the cottage and indeed the valley soon afterwards, never to return. And the cottage slowly decayed and returned to its roots. Only a few chest-high stone walls remain, sheltered by the ever-encroaching trees.

Not a detailed story with beginning middle and end, but an absolutely true incident. Its very brevity marks it as genuine. A made-up tale would be more structured. Other than that, there are no real ghost stories from the hidden valley at Gougane. It's an old sacred place, and evil spirits have no business there. Maybe that's why that elemental had to get out - or was being driven out.

But back to the Knit & Stitch Show at the RDS (or Royal Dublin Society) in Ballsbridge.

My interest in spinning has revived somewhat lately, probably due to the darker evenings which seem to suit such relaxed pastimes more, so I was on the hunt for some nice roving or combed top from my friend Warren at Craftspun Yarns of Naas. Warren doesn't like having his picture taken very much, as he's shy, so I hope he doesn't mind being shown to the world here! They do some lovely linen and cotton yarns as well as wools and the fibre for which I was searching. One of these days I must go up and visit their mill and see what other treasures are hidden there. Lost forgotten cones of rare yarn, neglected little skeins, gorgeous irresistibles... all waiting. Let me know when you're next in Ireland and we'll go together.

This was a lovely big bag of combed top (BFL I think) which had a decent 500g heft to it. Plenty there to keep me busy. The trouble is, since Celtic Memory learned to spin back in the mists of prehistory, on fleece almost as it came from the sheep, she's having quite a problem getting used to these rather more sophisticated preparations. Without all that helpful greasy lanolin, the fibre tends to run away from you and break all the time. But CM will persevere. Homespun, homeknitted sweaters await in the Celtic New Year.

Took a silk spinning class with Ruth MacGregor, since I thought that might help to develop my skills with slippery yarns. It was quite fun, and working slowly and painstakingly can be surprisingly relaxing.

You get to take your silk spindle home with you, as well as the roving on which you practised.

- and Ruth had thoughtfully brought along some extra little bags of combed silk for purchase. Loved these lavender shades.

Feltmakers Ireland were there, energetically demonstrating their craft. I'm fascinated with the technique and have an ambition to create a vest or weskit in layers of felt with all kinds of odd edges and layers. One day soon. Got to find more time.

The Hyperbolic Coral Reef was delightfully creative. Stitchlily, I'm sorry I missed you there - called by a couple of times, but I think you were on a well-deserved break.

You see some incredible pieces in the displays. Look at these ingenious creations by Felicity Clarke - I don't know if you can make them out, but there are electric wall sockets at the back there, with wonderfully decorative cords and even plug covers in yarn.

Enthused by the show, when I got home I hauled out a fleece that has been hanging on a high hook in the garage for months, and gave it a soaking wash. It was only then I wondered how you dry the darn things. When you card and spin 'in the grease', you wash the resultant yarn afterwards, so I'd previously not had the experience of trying to reduce ten tons of sodden fleece into light and airy fibre.

Eventually let it drain for ages in the bathtub, then lifted it gently on to a rack over the bath for another day or two. When I thought it had done dripping, brought it up to the sunny sitting room, still on its rack, and balanced it over an old wooden towel rail. The mini-Radio Flyer is catching a last recalcitrant drip on a bed of newspaper.

Posed Sophy Wackles against a bundle of the fleece, but she didn't like it one bit, shameful poltroon that she is. Narsty dangerous vicious things, sheep, you know. She's staying where she's put because I told her to, but that eye is swivelling nervously in my direction.

Of course I left the door ajar when I went downstairs again, and Muffy the Yarnslayer had no such reservations -

Yee-hahhh! Kill, kill!

Mine, all mine!

We've been lucky enough to get two or three days of crisp cold sunny weather together lately, and made the most of it, heading out into the wide green yonder whenever we were able.

You find beautiful, deserted, peaceful places so easily still in West Cork.

These little bays and coastlines were busier once, with families and small cottage industries based around fishing, but the people have long gone, mostly across the sea to the New World.

You can't help wondering who lived here, what their hopes and fears and dreams were, and if it broke their hearts to leave their home by the seashore. And wouldn't you just love to buy that little house and restore it and fill it with laughter and music and crafts again? There are the remains of steps going up the side there, can you see? They would have led to a sail loft or crop storage space.

You'd swear meself and this donkey down at Trafrask were enjoying a mutual happy moment, wouldn't you? But anyone who knows a donkey knows differently! He was doing his best to take my hand off at the wrist, while I was ensuring that I kept the wall between us. These boyos are born contrary and see no reason to behave decently. There are always problems with the live Cribs at Christmas, when cows, lambs, even chickens act their part beautifully, but the oul' donkey is sure to take a nip out of some little boy or girl when he thinks nobody's looking.

The Beara Peninsula isn't as well known as the Dingle one, but it really is 'west of west'. You drive all the way down to Castletownbere (when I was little, the fact that this was a full hundred miles from Cork city exercised a powerful fascination upon my mind - what a distance!), but then you just keep going, on and on, outward into the western Atlantic until you think you must surely be almost at New York itself. I always forget how beautiful the village of Allihies is until I see it again, scattered along its seashore.

The copper mining industry was thriving here for several centuries - if you've ever read Daphne Du Maurier's Hungry Hill you'll know all about the part it played in shaping this landscape and its people - but now all that remains are the gaunt crumbling buildings and warnings about unprotected mineshafts.

We timed it so that we were here, right up beyond the old copper mines, at sunset.

A beautiful end to a beautiful day. I wish you'd been there too. But you are now, aren't you?


Melissa said...

Gorgeous landscape and the picture of Muffy attacking the yarn make me laugh! Thanks for letting us celebrate the New Year with you.

Anonymous said...

Ah, sigh...a great read on this post. Having just relocated to the US from Dublin, it was moving to read about such foundational Irish things...Samhain, the Knitting & Stitching Show and my good friends Warren & Jenny at Craftspun! Your words, turn of phrase and pictures really do make me 'homesick' in a good way, of course!

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. Knitting, Ireland, and great stories? Perfection.

Although I do keep looking behind me to see if there is a chained beasty thing. It's creepy.

Happy New Year!

Nancy Fletcher said...

Thank you for bringing us with you on this lovely day on the west coast of Ireland! I too love reading your blog -- thanks for posting!

Nancy in Oregon

Katie K said...

Thanks for letting me escape to such beautiful places with you. The old copper mine building looks like a place in Middle Earth.

Sally said...

Having just returned from a weekend knitting retreat with some friend, your blog was a delightful extension of a relaxing time. Thanks for sharing so much of your homeland with those of us who live far away.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Jo, I don't know you from Adam, but every time I read your blog, I feel like I have come home. I guess, this is as good a time as any for a New Year. There is time to rollic and frollic before the serious work of the land needs to be done. It is cold enough to cuddle and romantic enough with the firelight to get a head start on the lambs and calves. Wink! Who knows?

Roggey said...

A belated Good Samhain to you and yours, love!

The photos are beautiful, as always - and give me a smile when I see the Yarn Slayer at work once again!

Anonymous said...

Ah, I am there now. Thanks so much for inviting us.
-- Gretchen

Sallie said...

Great post! Thank you for sharing your weekend and Ireland with us.

Ruth said...

Sigh. I want to be there and walk on the beach with you and know that across that pond lies New Jersey.

Aline said...

What beauty there is around you! Thank you soooo much for sharing it. And I must say, you have such self control taking a priceless picture of your wee dog having a fight with your precious fleece. My first instinct would be to separate them and then not have such a fantastic photo for the blog because of it. heehee.
Enjoy your New Year!

Wudas said...

Happy new year to you! Thank you for sharing the copper mine and the copper sky.

Angeluna said...

Ah, dear girl. You were born with the gift of the gab. With your simple but eloquent words, you take us all along with you, from childhood impressions to the ends of the West.

Was delighted to see Muffy and Sophy Wackles, it's been a while. Those photos of The Yarnslayer look like something that could have dropped down a chimney and frightened the wits out of a peaceful family.

Anonymous said...

The ancient Celts believed that things begin in the dark. Seeds in the ground, babies in the womb...Those cross-quarter days began the night before, so Beltane Eve was the beginning of the celebration. So it makes sense that Samhain, leading into the darkest part of the year, is the new year.

You do live in a most beautiful part of the world!

Linda B said...

Someday reading this blog is going to:
1)Drive me mad with desire to see Ireland;
2)Incite me to commit a criminal act such as embezzling money to buy plane fare;
3)Make me write some very odd instructions in my will as to where I want to be buried; or
4)I'll just keep living vicariously through your very eloquent words and pictures.

So I guess you'd better keep posting.

Anonymous said...

How beautiful your local world is. *sigh*

Anonymous said...

Oh how I want to come to Ireland. REading your blog gives me such an ache inside to be home. I'm Irish by heritage, American by birth. I tease my husband because we're both Irish/German that he's more German(everything has to be just so) and I'm more Irish(more intuitive and relaxed and mysterious. I love reading about all these places I hope to see one day one day when I finally come home. The stories are also wonderful. Thank you for helping to make them come alive with your beautiful photos. Lisa-blogless lurker

Anonymous said...

The Beara peninsula is truly a beautiful drive... I love the charming old cemetery on the north side, a wonderful memory from our 2004 trip. Thanks for taking us on a journey through this area. You have a gift of language that is a joy to read. I'm glad I found you from the Harlot's blog. I love reading about Ireland and your knitting projects.

Anonymous said...

Don't you know, Muffy was trying to be helpful. Combing the wool for ye.

That cottage looks sturdy enough to reclaim and make a home again.

Aline said...

I have been tagged and I now youve been tagged! Visit my latest post to see the rules!

Dez Crawford said...

Sigh. Everything is lovely. The yarn show, the silk roving, the fleece, the cottages on the coast.

Thanks so much for the eye candy, Jo.

And... triple thanks for the mention of my new shop! Indeed, I set sail on Halloween for that specific reason, and I certainly could feel you here in spirit.

Muffy made me laugh out loud. One day I have to tell you a story about a coyote, a fleece and the UPS driver.

Lindy said...

Jo, What a beautiful travel commentary and what a delightful blog post in all. I must admit that as a dog/animal lover I thoroughly enjoyed the pics of your small crew and their issues with your roving. I had to look twice at the pic of your little white bundle of fur - had it not been for that "roving" eye I couldn't tell the difference between pooch and roving. Muffy tearing apart your roving reminds me of our Molly tearing the very innards from a feather pillow. I will be picking up stray feathers for as long as I lvie in this house. I might add she was very proud of her accomplishment.

I do love reading your blog. Where else do you write? I would be interested in reading more of your work.

Lindy in Arizona, USA

I am now on my way over to check out what Dez has to offer from her new shop :-D

Anonymous said...

Happy Celtic New Year! As always your blog is a delight and the photos are fantastic--thanks so much for sharing your weekend! I loved Daphne du Maurier's books growing up, you could always feel her love of history and the landscape. I'll have to hunt up "Hungry Hill" at the library.

Anonymous said...

I laughed at your donkey picture- an elementary school outing many decades ago found one of my classmates with toothmarks on his arm.

I was in Scotland for the first time this past June, but I still want to visit Ireland. Until I make the trip, I shall have to content myself with reading your blog. It makes me feel like I already have a friend there.

RecycleMicol said...

Happy belated Celtic New Year, Jo!

You look lovely as ever in your photos...and the other photos were a joy to see, as well. Love your commentary, as always.

Looking forward to another great year of reading your blog.


Stitchlily said...

I'm sorry I missed you at the Knit and Stitch, I wouldnt mind but I didnt move that often. Typical! I really enjoyed the show, much more than other years, I think because I had a nice place to sit, and just got to yap to anyone that walked by! I didnt get to see half the things I should have, but as you said, you take what you get!