Saturday, December 31, 2016

In Which The Year Turns, Troushka Tidies Up (Again) and Tamzin Takes a Dip

It seems no time at all since we were enjoying the autumn in all its lovely manifestations:

but one morning you wake up to hear the throaty echoing calls of the wild geese, and you know that winter is here.

The greylags have arrived from northern climes and  will stay near us for the winter.  It's nice to hear them flying over in the early morning on their way to grazing grounds.  Soon they will be joined by the wild swans.  To birds that spent the summer in the far north, Ireland must seem like Florida at this season!

Everywhere the birds and animals are checking out supplies for the dark months.  This fox was busy exploring a log pile and some discarded household items near a local garage. He is clearly well used to taking chances (although not that much of a chance - this picture required quite a long lens).

With the coming of the colder days, the cats show different tastes.  Paudge Mogeely likes to be out of doors even on a frosty morning,

while Polliwog prefers to pose elegantly indoors.

Marigold enjoys watching a bit of television.  Here she is predicting which stag will win the face-off.

Otherwise she takes it very easy indeed.  Here's a test for you.  In the midst of all this festive preparation, can you spot a small marmalade kitten-cat?

No, neither could I, when DH showed me the picture.  Here is a close-up.

Is that comfortable or what?  She likes the sheepskin.  Nearly as much as the dinner gong.

Troushka is an energetic little dog and grabs life with all four paws.  This, it has to be admitted, can make her less than presentable at times.  Think wet muddy pathways, tempting streams, unspeakable bones buried and retrieved several times... eventually, we had to yield to the inevitable and place her in the hands of the professionals.  Again.  You will remember that she had a nice trim and brush-up only a few months ago.  Look at what faced the groomer this time!

Har har!  I enjoy life, I do!  Whaddya bring me here for, by the way?  A bone, hopefully.

Oh for Pete's sake!  Who put this danged perfume on me?

Those of you of a tender heart, be assured that she recovered her sense of humour quite quickly.  And no, we made sure she didn't feel cold for the few days it took her to adjust.  She won't stay long like this, more's the pity!

Here is the usual morning view from the house.  'Red sky at morning, the shepherd's warning'; is the old saying, but occasionally it brings us a clear sunny day.  When it does, we grab boots and coats and head for the hills.

Never get tired of the Upper Lake above Killarney.  In summer the boatmen row their customers up here and on to Lord Brandon's Cottage, but in winter it's deserted.  Except for us.  That's Eagle Rock just across the water there.

Even in winter, this view down over the lakes is breathtaking.  If you just visited Killarney town you would have no idea of all this beauty waiting outside in the hills.  In there, it's all souvenirs and knick-knacks and tourist shops.  Out here you realise what has been bringing visitors for centuries.

Tamzin managed to fall into the lake.  She can be a bit daft like that.  But a good shake cheered her up and we ran her along the sandy little beach  until she was warm and happy.

Of course there has been a great deal of knitting and other frantic preparation for the festive season.

This little fisherman's gansey (also known, rather delightfully, as the Peedie Orcadian, the term 'peedie' meaning small), was for my little grand-nephew, now all of two years old.  I made it a little larger than required, to allow for the inevitable growth over the next few months.  At that age you turn your back and they're six inches higher!

And this was a fine cobweb stole in tuck-stitch, using a silky grey yarn with touches of gold and silver.  Worked that on the good old Brother KH230 knitting machine and though it took a bit of time, it was done far quicker than if I'd essayed it by hand.

Now hear this.  Celtic Memory IS NOT GOING TO MAKE ONE MORE SHAWL.  NOT A SINGLE ONE.  I mean, how many shawls can you wear, for heaven's sake?  A new design turns up on Ravelry, utterly irresistible, I rush for the needles, choose a yarn from the hefty stash, and start off.  And then, after a few rows, I catch sight of the innumerable shawls, scarves, stoles, draped all over the place, and wonder what the heck I'm doing.

Of course if a friend wants a shawl specially, then it will be made with all possible speed, but for myself, no.  Only something I actually need and will wear constantly.  Right?

Er.... I think, anyway.

It's New Year's Eve.  Heaven alone knows what 2017 will bring, but chez Celtic Memory we are making lively preparations to ensure that it is busy and happy.  (Now what makes you think that means a shiny new knitting project?  Why on earth should you think that?  'Cause we know you too well,' comes the triumphant chorus...)

OK, I'll admit it.  The ending of an old year and the beginning of a new one just sort of did seem the right time to start something fresh.  Well, doesn't it to you?  But not just a single new project.  Oh no.

Here is the plan.  Look at it carefully.

Let's take the top layer first.  On the left, a cone of beautiful purple/blue wool, sourced from Texere Yarns in Bradford years ago.  I love the yarn, I love the colour, I started several projects with it at different times, but always frogged them in the end.  Nothing was quite right.

On the right, a big fat cone of stunning bright blue lambswool (colourway Matisse) grabbed as a one-off from Fairfield Yarns in Rochdale, UK.  Wonderful.

Now either of these is a little thin for my liking at this time of year when what is desired is a quick fun project.  But put them together... and you get that nice fat yarn ball in the centre.  Combines all the qualities of both and makes for a subtly new colour.

Planning to make the Chimney Fire cabled jacket - if you're on Ravelry, you can look it up.  If you aren't on Ravelry, why not?  Maybe New Year's Eve is the time to join?

Now to the bottom layer.  A rather battered and heavy box, in two sections.  I'm showing it to you now, in this less than attractive state, because the next time you see it, it will be very different.  This is the beginning of a sort of doll's house with a difference.  A few years back, my dear friend Lene (she of Dances With Wool) and I were sitting in her house up in the Arctic Circle and, over our festive hot chocolate, she confided her secret desire to create a lovely doll's house in which she made every single thing - tiny rugs, cushions, curtains, furniture, everything.  Immediately I wanted to do the same - but my idea is to make one of those old-fashioned farms where the people live at one side, and the cattle next door.  One side will have an inglenook fireplace and perhaps an upstairs half-floor with truckle beds.  The other will have stalls for cattle, an upstairs loft for storing the hay, and all kinds of farming things.  Imagine making tiny forks and rakes and buckets?  Miniature afghans for the settle (that's a wooden high-backed bench that can convert into a bed at night)?  This is going to be so much fun.

(Incidentally, I took a look online last night in bed, when I couldn't sleep for wondering how you made a miniature inglenook, and discovered that I'm not exactly the first person to get enthusiastic about making these little homes.  Thousands of passionate aficionados out there already!  But I bet they won't have miniscule socks hanging over the fireplace...)

Speaking of fireplaces, and indeed socks,, here are two happy little Pippi Longstockings who have come to live with us.  I saw them in a shop, when there with a friend, and couldn't resist one.  Went back the next day to buy the other, after agonising all night because I thought they would be lonely when separated.  Alas, sister had gone.   Sad.

BUT - on the Solstice, Dec 21, what was tucked into my mailbox?  Yes, the twin sister.  My friend Eileen, who knows me better than I know myself, had gone straight back and got the other, so that they wouldn't be separated/.  What a girl.

May 2017 bring all the good things that you hope for, and fewer of those that you might fear.  I do believe that if we all work hard at doing happy, useful projects, whatever they be, we can keep a warm and firm girdle of safety around the world.  Join me!

Monday, October 31, 2016

At The Turning of the Celtic Year

Would you believe it's Samhain already and more than high time we caught up on things here.  Can't believe it's June since the last posting, but things have been fairly busy chez Celtic Memory with the whole summer given over to chasing locations and pictures for De Nextest Book.

What the publishers needed urgently was a more or less complete chapter complete with images, so that they could start designing an overall look.  As you will perhaps know already, the theme of the new book is Finding The Old Road - that is, rediscovering the ways and means our ancestors used when they travelled.  Anything but the modern road in fact - from rivers to trackways, canals to railways, bog roads to butter roads, and how you can still find the traces of these old ways in the countryside if you take the trouble to go searching.

Canals were the chosen topic for the sample chapter and it took more than one trip up and around the country before DH was satisfied that he had nearly enough pictures (he'll never be completely satisfied, and I'd be worried if he were!)

Here is a peaceful moment on the Leinster Aqueduct where it crosses the River Liffey near Sallins.  Petroushka and Tamzin are exchanging pleasantries with another rambling dog.

And here are some tranquil barges not far away.  Doesn't it look like a wonderfully slow and relaxing way to travel?  We've got so used to the jet age that it would probably take quite an effort to slow our pulses down to the stage where we would actually enjoy being able to look at blades of grass while we journeyed along!

Now this is somewhere for which we'd been searching - Lock 13 on the Royal Canal.  It's not always a simple matter to find a particular lock because our road system has expanded somewhat since the late 18th century and what was once the watery main thoroughfare is now a backwater indeed.  But we got there - probably not as quickly as that cyclist who had come the sensible way, along the towpath.

Wanted to find the 13th lock because it is reputed to be haunted, and this being Samhain, one should mention it, don't you think?  A long long time ago, there was a dreadful accident here and many people were drowned.  To this day (or night, to be accurate) it is said that you can still hear the cries and groans of those who were lost, and boatmen will never willingly tie up near here during the darker hours.

This is the lock itself, and, as luck would have it, a train was passing at just the right moment.  When the railway came to Ireland, the Great Western decided it would make a lot of sense to buy up the entire Royal Canal route and thus save itself a lot of trouble by using the already laid-down towpath for its tracks.  And so train and canal run side by side from Dublin all the way to Mullingar.  What's that?  Is the railway haunted too?  Well, it has been whispered that a ghost train can be heard along this stretch by the 13th lock at certain times of the year.  Now I don't know if that's true or not, since I haven't heard it - the only one of which I know is the Loo Bridge ghost train which definitely can be heard whistling along the lonely valley to Kenmare on a track which fell into disuse some sixty years ago.  Maybe one of you should watch by this lock one night soon?

'Don't you do no such a thing!' shrieked this little kitten who suddenly and unexpectedly appeared by the side of the lock.  He must have come from one of the old tumbledown and heavily overgrown lockside buildings but did it very silently if that was the case.  He pattered up and down, being most civil but keeping a careful distance, and you could definitely hear the warning in his voice.

'Don't go next or nigh that lock, nor yet that railway line!  Strange things do happen here at night now that the year is changing.  I do tuck myself into my snug nest and put my paws over my ears I do when I hear the clanging of that bell and the whistle of that train where no train should be at midnight!  Steam and puffing and the like, it's no place for a sensible cat to be!'

Yes, of course I went rushing to the nearest house to enquire if the kitten had a good home.  'I don't know exactly who owns him,' said the friendly woman, 'but he's well fed, that I do know.'  And with that I had to be reassured. (In the interests of strict truth, it should be added that DH was much relieved.)  That's the trouble of being a cat lover, though.  You can't bear to think of one left out in the cold, can you?

No risk of that with Polliwog and Marigold.  They commandeer the most comfortable chair by the fire even before the curtains are drawn these darker evenings.

And Paudge Mogeely (seen here in summer mood) always curls up with his best friend Tamzin at night.

Speaking of Tamzin and indeed Petroushka, they have had some good gallops on deserted beaches during our roamings.

They circle and chase and generally run about three times the distance that I walk when we're down on the shore, and then collapse in the car to catch their breath before the next stop.

Troushka wuz 'ere!

Tamzin got so hot and tired on one run that she simply collapsed into a nice shallow pool and lay there cooling down pleasantly.

So woolly and untidy had 'Troushka become, though, during the summer that a Visit to the Groomer was indicated.  I was rather worried about her, but needn't have been.  She enjoyed herself thoroughly.

Will you look at that smug little smoothie, accepting cuddles from her groomer as if we didn't exist!

Oh and here is something we discovered only today on the outskirts of Bandon.

Well it's been there some time - since the early 19th century in fact - but its history is what is fascinating.  Just behind that bridge is the back gate or tradesmen's entrance to the old estate of Castle Bernard, erstwhile home of the Earls of Bandon.  Horses and carts, servants in search of a place, delivery men, anybody who wasn't anybody important, went in by the back gate.  When the railway came to Bandon, it emerged from the town on its way to Clonakilty Junction just across the road from this bridge - behind where DH stood to take the picture.  Now any lord of the manor traditionally had the right to request the train to stop at his estate if he so required, and the Earls of Bandon exercised this right, whether for themselves, their friends, or even their horses.  And so the elegant upper classes would be driven down to the back gate (you would hardly expect them to walk!) and board the train here, a servant having been sent to the main station in advance to advise of this request stop. Isn't that fun?

Enough.  It's Samhain.    A pot of spiced apple butter is simmering on the woodstove.  The apples this year were plentiful indeed - so much so that I began to wish they weren't quite so productive!

Every morning, we got into the habit of taking a basket down to the orchard to gather the windfalls. Too many, but you can't just leave them there, can you?

I celebrated the colours of autumn by making a rather nice tuck-stitch scarf for a friend on the knitting machine.

It's Zauberball as I recall - perfect fall shades.

The blackbirds have been busy on the rowans which protect our boundaries along with the apple trees.

And the Samhain wreath is on the front door, complete with crab apples and berries, and Julian, my pet bat, named for the little town up in the California mountains where I bought him years ago.

Close the old Celtic year with a glass of something spiced and warming, and make your plans for the year ahead.  Blessings of the season be with you all.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Way We Used To Travel

It's not usually this way round.  Normally in early June, Europe is basking in summer sunshine while we in Ireland keep the raincoats and Aran sweaters handy.  This year, however, we have been blessed with the most wonderful weather - wall to wall sunshine, clear blue skies, and everything that was held back by the long grey winter and long grey spring now bursting into life.  And in stark contrast, Europe is having appalling climatic conditions, with floods everywhere, even Paris.

The good weather won't last here, of course.  Can't do.  But the rule is, if it's there, grab the opportunity.  And that is exactly what we have been doing over this last few days.  Confided the zoo to the tender hands of best friend's kennels, and set off early one morning for points north west.  The aim was to gather images for De Nextest Book.  Yes, happy news.  The publishers loved the idea and after a hectic couple of months doing a full draft chapter for their consideration, we got the go-ahead. The working title is Follow The Old Road - that is, don't stay on the nice fast motorway or main thoroughfare, but take that tempting turning, wend your way along old laneways and see what you discover.  More, take another look at harbours, rivers, old disused railway lines, canals, tracks winding over hilltops.  Find out how our ancestors travelled and catch an echo of their history.

We visited sleepy hamlets like Shannon Harbour where once the Grand Canal ended its journey from far-flung Dublin.  Now it's a tiny place, peaceful and quiet, but once it was thronged with travellers going to and from the capital city, bustling with trade, and with stage coaches arriving and departing several times a day.  Further upriver is Shannon Bridge with its magnificent arches and a whacking great fort built in the early 19thc when invasion of England by Napoleon via Ireland was a very real threat to the Crown.

You can see the fort across the river there.  It's a renowned restaurant now - Parker's, I think.

Shannon Bridge has long been a major crossing point, because it is here that one of the old roads of Ireland, the Esker Riada or Sli Mor, intersects with the great river.  No accident that Clonmacnoise was established here when Christianity came to Ireland.  It's very likely that somewhere as powerful as a crossroads of big river and big road would have been important from time immemorial.  Where the old places of strength remained, Christianity was swift to take over.  Part of the Esker Riada - an esker, as I am sure you know, is a natural raised ridge of gravel left behind after the Ice Age - is now known as the Pilgrim Road to Clonamacnoise, but it's been in use a lot longer than that.

It's only when you really think about these places along the Shannon, that you realise what an important part they played in everyday life.  Here is the shortest or shallowest crossing place.  Here is where the canal joined the river and barges from the Midlands or Dublin could travel down to Limerick or further up the main river itself.

Here is Termonbarry, where the Royal Canal runs into the Shannon (yes, two opposing companies built the Grand and the Royal, both from Dublin to the Shannon, both aiming to corner the market). If you go down to the canal pathway underneath the little humpbacked bridges, where once horses pulled the barges through, you can see the grooves of their pulling ropes worn into the stonework over years.  The ducks still paddle on the quiet waters,  the flowers still grow on the banks, but the horses have gone. Leisure boats now enjoy the canals where once major industry flourished, wealthy people travelled to visit friends, and emigrants took the first steps towards a new life across the sea..

Met up with an old favourite of mine in Ballymahon.  Oliver Goldsmith's Deserted Village was one of the earliest poems I learned by heart (must have been about four).  He left his native land to seek fame and fortune in London and create classics like She Stoops to Conquer and The Vicar of Wakefield.  Myself, I think The Deserted Village is based half on the landscapes he knew as a child, and half on English hamlets that he saw later on in life.  There is much of both cultures in the poem.

The fine weather had brought country families out to stack - or 'stook' - their turf so that the warm wind could blow through it and dry it thoroughly before they brought it home to build a rick in the yard against the winter wet and cold.  It was interesting to see that up here in the midlands they stacked them two or three at a time crossways, and upwards.  In West Cork they tend to lean four or five together with their tops touching.

Bogs and bogland were very much on the agenda for us because I was fulfilling a long-held ambition to visit one of the most exciting places possible - somewhere you could actually reach out and touch the far distant past.

Here is a stretch of genuine Irish bogland which has been part-cleared by the Irish Turf Board (Bord na Mona).  It's very close to where we were headed.

And this is what I had waited a long time to see.  It's indoors, it's kept in the dark most of the time, access is controlled.  But that's only fitting for a building project that dates from 146 BC.  Yes, 146 BC.  That's when somebody with considerable clout directed that a massive trackway should be built right across Corlea Bog, a place already well known to people of the time as a dangerous and difficult terrain.  Not only that, but this powerful leader dictated that the trackway should be wide enough for wheeled traffic, and should be built not of just any wood, but the very best oak.  That meant felling one heck of a lot of trees protected by the Irish laws of the time.  We always treasured our trees, and the old Brehon Laws lay down the fines and punishments for damaging any of them.

But the Corlea Trackway was built, very speedily, over one winter.  Dendrochronology has established that fairly firmly.  Now what could have been the purpose, the need, the overall guiding impulse?  The site is very close to one of the narrowest crossing points of the Shannon, and directly in line between Rathcroghan, palace of Queen Maeve, and the Hill of Uisneach, the ancient ceremonial centre of Ireland.  Was it required for a particular state occasion?  For a war?  We just don't know.  Not yet anyway.

There is more of the Corlea ancient road to be discovered.  Fortunately the OPW (Office of Public Works) was able to buy some more privately-owned bogland beyond this, and that is being preserved until funding can be secured to do some more archaeological work. Because getting this stretch of it to the state you can see above was extremely expensive.  Thanks be we had a visionary government at the time, back in the 1980s, which realised the stupendous importance of the chance find during turf cutting.  Dating it back as far as the Iron Age meant it was far earlier than anyone could have imagined. Old bog roads or 'toghers', made of wood and brush, are common enough around the country, as you'd expect with so much soggy land, but usually they were made for local purposes, to enable farmers to reach their fields, or the occasional traveller to continue his journey without a major detour.  Something of the size and quality of Corlea, though, was previously unknown here.  

What is really exciting too is a reference in the ancient Irish tale, The Wooing of Etain, where Midir is set what seems to be an impossible task of bridging just such a slough,, for which he calls upon Otherworld help:

No one had ever trodden that bog before... Into the bottom of the causeway they kept putting a forest with its trunks and roots, Midir standing and urging on the host on every side.  One would think that below him all the men of the world were raising a tumult.  After that, clay and gravel and stones were placed upon the bog.  Thereafter the steward came to Eochaid and brought tidings of the vast work he had witnessed, and he said there was not on the ridge of the world a magic power that surpassed it.

There is little doubt that it is the Corlea trackway enshrined here in the legend, carried down from generation to generation through folk memory.  I can tell you, we went away from there full of excitement and energy.  What was it built for? Why, as seems apparent, was it not used for very long?  What were the actual circumstances?  Oh to go back to that time, just for an hour or two...

[Lookit, I don't know why the text has changed size, ok?  I've tried to edit it over and over, but it's in a sulk since I quoted that ancient legend.  Maybe it's trying to tell me something...?]

But we were travelling on, upwards and westwards towards the route of an old railway which once linked remote Achill Island to the rest of Ireland.  Disused for over 75 years, the track has now been given a new lease of life as the Great Western Greenway, a wonderful walking and cycling route across stunning scenery all the way from bustling Westport to beautiful Achill Sound.

In the background you can see the lovely old arches of Burrishoole Bridge.

Horses lean over the fence to pass the time of day, a constant temptation to cyclists to take a rest and enjoy the view.

Here is the old railway station at Mulrany.  The Great Western Hotel here was the most luxurious place to stay for those who could afford it back in the late 19th and early 20th century.  The hotel is still there, still luxurious, but its clientele now arrives by car.

Achill Island is one of those spectacularly beautiful places that turns your heart upside down.  Hard enough for those trying to wrest a living from the poor soil back in the 19th century, but an oasis for visitors today.

And also the ideal place to bring up your family if you happen to be a wheatear with hungry mouths to feed during the long summer days.

Know who used to live here?  Granuaile, or Grace O'Malley, the pirate queen of the West.  Not so much a pirate really, our Grace, more of a highly practical local chieftain who didn't see why strange ships loaded with good things should be allowed to pass through her territory without paying allegiance and a small fee.  Granuaile is the one who, when the English tried to take her lands away, travelled all the way to London and bearded Queen Elizabeth I in her state chambers to argue her case.  (She got her way of course - even the tough Elizabeth hadn't met anyone quite like Grania before.)

The terminus of the Great Western was here, at Achill Sound, where travellers disembarked to cross to the island and met with poor emigrants headed in the opposite direction.  It's a hostel now, and you'd have to listen with the ear of faith to hear to long-gone sound of train whistles and long-ago voices.  Where the tracks used to run is at this time of year a mass of orchids, blooming happily in a sheltered spot below the level of the sea winds.

See the six-spot burnet moths on this orchid?   One way of life gives place to another.

It was a wonderful few days, with so many things that fired the mind and got the creative urge working overtime.  

Yes, of course the knitting came too.  This is Killaloe/Ballina (one town each side of the Shannon) down nearer to Limerick on the way home.  My maternal grandfather was born near here so it was nice to sit on the wall in the sunshine and relax.  I'm working on an exceptionally complex pair of twisted-stitch socks by Caoua Coffee for Sock Madness on Ravelry.

Here they are in closeup.  The cuffs weren't too difficult, but one suspects that the main chart (which looks like a plan for a moon landing1) will require constant and unremitting attention.

Oh, speaking of knitting, there was some more fun recently, when the Fruity Knitting Podcast asked for a short video on my work and where I lived.   I was honoured and DH was willing to do the technical stuff, so we chose a nice location overlooking the sea in West Cork. After that, Andrea and Andrew did miracles with the clip, even sorting out the sound of the sea breeze, which was surprisingly loud!

You can see the podcast on Fruity Knitting.  It's a fairly lengthy episode (the work those two put into it is amazing!)  but I come in at around 19.5 mins into the piece.

Here is one picture you won't see on the podcast.  'Troushka ran off along the beach in pursuit of another dog and flatly refused to return to the car.  In the end, the only way to restrain her was to take off my exquisitely handcrafted Boo Knits lace shawl and use it as a temporary leash!  I have to say the silk (and the lacework) survived the ordeal very well.  As did 'Troushka, who never holds grudges, bless her.

Plenty of work to be done in the months ahead.  O'Brien Press are hoping to see a (fairly) completed manuscript by the early autumn and we all know how quickly the weeks and months slip by.  Back to the grindstone!