“God bless the work”

“If a person visited during the [butter] churning, they had to say ‘God bless the work’ and help for even one turn”

The above was stated by John Long and his wife (unnamed) of Rossard, Bunclody, Co. Wexford in conversation with P. T. O’Riain in June 1940. Here now in January 2015 you find yourself visiting this site as I churn out a thesis and hopefully this old custom of support and wishing for divine intervention still survives.

The visitor was also required to help even in a very small way in order to bring the job to fruition. Over the last number of years desk-based and field survey have identified a huge number of features on the ridges, peaks and slopes of the Blackstairs that have previously been unrecorded, which are altering our understanding of this and similar landscapes elsewhere in Ireland. Mountains (and certainly the Blackstairs) are not the product of nature going unchecked and left to its own devices, Instead they are fragile landscapes with thousands of years of human impact which has fluctuated between intensive use and abandonment over time to give us the patchwork landscape we see today. The deep scars left by centuries of turf-cutting, the ruins of former homes and temporary shelters, the network of trackways in various states of visibility and the myriad of field walls across the slopes which enclose areas of dense heather and gorse and have themselves become overgrown with peat are testament to this. Most of these are post-medieval in date and and probably pre-date the Famine period and the ensuing rural depopulation. As these sites are so late in date, there is still a social memory attached to many of them even right down to the names of those who occupied or used them.

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Some of the features you might see in the Blackstairs. Field walls and sheep passes (example Knockroe); standing stones (example Dranagh; Megalithic tombs (example Knockroe Portal Tomb); Hut Sites (example Blackrock Mountain); Cairns (example Knockroe summit); House Structures (example “The Tower” Barracks, Knockymulgurry)

I reiterate my earlier call for assistance with any information on the Blackstairs Mountains in the past that you might have. Themes that have been identified so far include:

– agricultural activity (crops, potatoes, sheep, cattle

– settlement (where houses were located, who lived in them)

– any traces of transhumance/ booleying the seasonal movement of livestock up to the mountain for the summer months where they were tended to by herders who would build shelters for themselves (Documented and recorded in many uplands but unidentified so far in the Blackstairs except in one possible case)

– Quarrying activity

– turf-cutting activity

-movement (and the methods) and the mountains as a facilitator of traffic and communication rather than a barrier

-the Famine, relief schemes and their effects.

Ballycrystal 1839

Field walls (red lines) and houses (blue dots) recorded on the First Edition Ordnance Survey Maps overlain on modern satellite imagery in Ballycrystal to the south east of Mount Leinster give an idea of the former extent of settlement and agriculture in the uplands

Similarly the Blackstairs is a landscape which is under constant alteration; in the short term due to sudden events such as fires; the seasonal with vegetational growth patterns; and the long term with forestry management and changes to land use or erosion. These changes both mask and reveal archaeological features and in some cases only for a very short window of time. So if you find yourself in the Blackstairs, keep your eyes peeled for anything that may be of archaeological significance from small artefacts such as clay pipes right up to prehistoric field systems that may appear out of eroding peat.

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Clay pipe stem identified on turf-cutters trackway on the slopes of Knockroe during Carlow Walking Festival 2014

Without recording this information it will either be lost or become confused over time. A huge amount of information and leads have been provided already and I wish to thank all those who have provided these. The people on the ground are the key to understanding the past and without that this project would have hit a dead end a long time ago. Hopefully now you can help see it through to the end.

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The varying modern and historic extents of field systems in the uplands

Bibliography

National Folklore Collection, MS 1063, page 27. Information provided by John Long and his wife of Rossard, Bunclody, Co. Wexford to P. T. O’Riain. June 1940

Feature Friday: Carloviana 2015

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Carloviana 2015 Front Cover

Last night saw the launch of Carloviana 2015 (No. 63), the journal of the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society in the Seven Oaks Hotel Carlow by Raghnall Ó Floinn, Director of the National Museum of Ireland. The editor, Martin Nevin and his team have once again brought together a bumper issue with over 208 pages of history, archaeology, folklore, genealogy and photographs of County Carlow and its wider influences.

There’s something in it for everyone but there are a number of articles which might be of particular interest for those who follow this Facebook page & blog.

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Articles 1-11

There is a growing interest in the value of the Blackstairs Mountains in the last number of years and the growing number of articles focusing specifically on the region is higher in this edition than ever before.

  1. “The Flight of the Raven” by Liam O’Neill is a piece of historical fiction based on the early prehistoric remains of the area.
  2. “The Hidden Bridges of the Mountain River and its Tributaries by Francis Coady does exactly what it says on the tin and describes the development and architectural features of the little known and underappreciated Mountain River bridges (sourced in the Blackstairs) with some lovely photographs.
  3. “Improvisations on the Theme of an Irish Wall” by Roger Bennett discusses the design and construction of the Carlow wall artpiece which featured at Dublin Airport which inspired the field walls of County Carlow including those in the Blackstairs
  4. “The Ringfort Society” by Liam O’Neill discusses the early medieval settlement and ringforts around the Drumphea region
  5. “Blackstairs and Mount Leinster” by Barry Dalby describes in detail the meaning and origins of the names of these two mountains and some of their surroundings
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Articles 12-23

For those more interested in archaeology rather than place, the number of articles on this subject has also increased dramatically in the last number of years and this year is no different:

  1. “Ogham Stones and County Carlow” by Dr. Colman Etchingham not only describes and discusses the Carlow examples of these features but also dispels some of the myths which often surround them!
  2. “Dinn Rígh, Co. Carlow, home to the Kings of Leinster” by Dermot Mulligan (curator of Carlow County Museum delves into the origins of the provincial name “Leinster” and its connections with this royal site
  3. “The Ballon Hill Archaeological Project” by Deirdre Kearney and Nial O’Neill introduces the history and archaeology of the hill which appears to have been of major significance in prehistory (and underappreciated until now).
  4. “The Prehistoric Houses of County Carlow” by Nial O’Neill describes and discusses the nine known prehistoric houses from County Carlow revealed through archaeological excavations all of which were found in advance of the M9/M10 motorway construction.
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Articles 24-35

Of course these are just a fraction of the articles and topics featured. With Christmas less than a month away, this would make a fantastic present for anyone with even a remote interest in County Carlow’s past or history/ archaeology/ folklore in general. You can pick up a copy in a number of outlets in the county and towns. If you can’t make it back to Carlow in time, never fear, the modern age allows it to be delivered to your door from the Carlow Historical and Archaeological Society’s website. There’s also an article written by yours truly, co-authored with my namesake Grandfather but you’ll have to buy it to know the title. Move quick there’s only a limited supply!!!

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Back Cover featuring an enlarged drawing of Carlow Town from a Crown Commission report 1563

Feature Friday: Saint Martin’s Day Traditions

While not exactly a physical feature for us to see and visit, the subject of this week’s installation was still an important traditional feature of it’s time and reminds us of the types of small scale activities which leave little visible trace for us today in the landscape. Knowledge of these events can only be accessed through local folklore and the documentary evidence.

The last century has seen Remembrance Day and its commemorative events dominating our attention and news sources on November 11th. The date is longer remembered however as the Feast of Saint Martin of Tours (AD316-397) who left the Roman Army to become a monk. One of his more famous legends is that he cut his cloak in two to give half to a freezing beggar. That night he had a dream where he saw Christ introduce him to angels as the man who clothed him. For this reason he was popular with the poor and his feast was celebrated annually across Europe. Saint Martin was also popular in Ireland where pilgrimages were carried out to holy wells dedicated to him such as the example at Ballynacally Co Clare which will be the subject of an upcoming blog post over on the Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland page. The National Folklore Archive held in UCD contains a wealth of accounts of these events two of which were sourced in the Blackstairs Region. These were gathered as part of a targeted survey on Saint Martin’s Day folklore.

Saint Martin

The Charity of Saint-Martin , oil on canvas by Louis Anselme Longa. Image Source: http://goo.gl/nZ7owq

Observing this Feast was said to bring great luck to the household for the rest of the year. It was also said that no machine wheels should turn on November 11th as Saint Martin had been killed in a mill.

A young cockerel was killed on the eve of the feast day outside the house and the blood collected and sprinkled on the doorway and threshold.  This was left to wear away naturally and was not to be cleaned off as it acted as a safeguard against evil entering the household for the next 12 months. Sacrificing the bird to the Saint was also believed to safe-guard the household’s livestock from harm, disease or ill-fortune for the rest of the year.The cockerel was then eaten on the Feast Day as part of the celebrations either boiled or roast.

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House Site above Rathanna Village facing the Crannagh ridgeline. Photo: Séamus Ó Murchú

If you had a sick cow or sheep on the day, part of its ear was cut off and offered up to Saint Martin. If the animal was cured it couldn’t be sold and had to be kept until it died naturally.

The survey also questioned the use of Martin as a name in the collectors region and the townland of Ballymartin between Corries Cross and Borris in Co. Carlow was noted in these records. The Christian name Martin was identified as being widespread in the area although not associated in particular with any one family. Seán Ó Clúmáin highlighted the extensive use of the name in the Saint Mullins region in 1939 by exhaustively listing all the families which used the name with there being at the time of writing Martin; Doyle, Murphy, Joyce, Lennon, Fenlon, Dwyer, Cushen, Coady, Kelly, Brennan, Dreelan, Ryan, Kinsella, Hennessy, Gahen, SHeehy, Byrne, Purcell, O’Mara, Foley, Quigley, Fogarty, Deegan, Comerford, O’Shea, Walshe, Fitzgerald, O’Connor, Grennan, Corcoran, Drew, Keeffe and King.

As for how to choose which of your cockerel’s to be sacrificed , Walter Furlong, Grange (aged 83 in 1954) had the answer “A cock crowing at unusual hours was unlucky so it was given up and killed”.

I’m not sure if that was unlucky for the household or the bird!

Bibliography

Pernoud, R. 2006 Martin of Tours: Soldier, Bishop and Saint. San Francisco; Ignatius Press.

National Folklore Archive MS 682 (pages 78-80). Information collected by Seán Ó Clumáin, Nás na Rígh 06/12/1939 in Saint Mullins Area from multiple unnamed sources.

National Folklore Archive MS 1344 (pages 152-153). Information collected by J.G. Delaney, Parnell St. Wexford 16/07/1954 from Walter Furlong (farmer), Grange aged 83. Furlong got his information from his mother when he was 23 [c.1894]

http://pilgrimagemedievalireland.com/

Feature Friday: Cairn (“The Height of Stones”) Ballyglisheen

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Summit Cairn, Cloroge More, Co. Wexford

Cairns are by far the most common feature type in the Blackstairs Mountains after field wall systems. This feature type falls into many categories including summit cairns, Bronze Age burial cairns, ring cairns and field clearance cairns. Like many upland sites whose morphological features stretch across multiple periods, dates for these are often impossible to assess without excavation and even this may be fruitless. In some cases, even their function may be difficult to discern. For example a large cairn on a mountain summit may simply be a pile of stones while in other cases they are passage tombs (e.g. Seefin, Co. Wicklow WI006-003) or Bronze Age burials (e.g. Tibradden, Co, Dublin DU025-005). In some cases however local folklore can answer the question of a sites origins and function at least in the more recent past.

06. View of chamber from east

Tibradden Cairn. Heavily reworked in the 19th Century, excavation by the Royal Irish Academy in 1849 revealed a primary burial of cremated bone alongside a food vessel followed by a secondary urn burial (Evans 1966, 111)

A hillwalker climbing up Blackstairs Mountain via Knockymulgurry will follow the Old Gowlin road and eventually join either the Tower or the Wexford Road. These continue upslope and over the Cooliagh Gap (“The Meeting Point”), the site of annual Lughnasa gathering until the mid-20th Century known as “Mountain Sunday” on the last Sunday in July.  The roads were once an important communication artery between the Carlow and Wexford sides of the range as the long ridgeline created an imposing barrier to travel which otherwise needed to be circumnavigated. All are disused and overgrown today but have their own interesting stories to tell which will form the basis of future posts.

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View along the Old Gowlin Road

In a relict field enclosure between the Tower and Old Gowlin Road you will see a large sub-circular central cairn of stones with two enclosing circles of stone. The central cairn is 10m in diameter and stands 1.5m high. The site is relatively flat despite its width while the radiating circles measure 25m and 31m respectively. Hawthorn trees have come to grow out of the cairn structure and it is heavily overgrown for most of the year with ferns suggesting that it may partly be an earthwork overlain with stone. It is however visible in google earth and bing imagery.

The cairn is known locally as “The Height of Stones”. It is said to originate as a memorial to a local man Mr. Cantillon who was killed at that spot by a kick from a stallion. A local tradition obliged any passer-by to add a stone to the cairn in memory of the deceased (Michael Byrne pers. comm.). Given the amount of traffic this roadway would have received both as an important routeway between County Carlow and County Wexford and during the annual gatherings it is easy to see how its size would have grown to what survives today. Similarly the fields to the north are known as “The Rye Stubbles” and it is said that they produced an excellent crop. It is possible that stones brought to the surface during ploughing were cleared onto the cairn.

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Standing stone, Knockymulgurry. Known locally as Price’s Stone. It may have originally served as a route marker before the formal construction of the roads

It is also possible that this is an earlier site which was manipulated to suit a later purpose. There is large standing stone (CW025-005) to the north of the site at the old crossroads. Similarly there is Iron Age activity suggested by the Lughnasa gathering, a legend of the pre-Christian deity Cathair Mor at Caher Roe’s Den which overlooks the site as well as absolute proof in the discovery of a deer trap in a peat hag on Blackstairs Mountain in 2011.

Whatever its original date or purpose, spare a thought for Mr Cantillon next time you pass!

Bibliography

Byrne, Michael, Dranagh, Co. Carlow. Pers. Comm.

Conry, M. 2006 Carlow Granite: Years of History Written in Stone. Carlow; Chapelstown Press

Evans, E. E. 1966 Prehistoric and Early Christian Ireland: A guide. London; B T Batsford Ltd.

http://www.archaeology.ie

Feature Friday: The Cailín Slipes Cursus

Centuries ago a race of giants and witches inhabited the Blackstairs Mountains. Their tables, chairs and footprints can still be found across the landscape today. As in all societies rivalries built up over time and one day this escalated into a full blown feud between a witch who lived on Mount Leinster and her enemy in Wexford/ Wicklow. In her anger she picked up a stone, her fingers crushing its sides and hurled it towards her antagonist. It soared through the air and came crashing down in the townland of Clonee where it remains today. As she threw it, she lost her balance and slid down the mountain, her huge bulk carving a track through the turf leaving two huge banks of earth along her course which can still be seen on the Black Banks. She finally came to rest in the modern day village of Myshall where the impact from her knees was left in a stone now in the graveyard.

 

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Figure 1 The Cailín Slipes, Black Banks, Carlow

That is the folklore, now for the archaeology. The first in the new series of posts called “Feature Friday” is a spectacular site on the slopes of the Black Banks. Overlooking the village of Myshall, this feature can be seen from the North including the Corribut Gap carpark. Known locally as the Cailín Slipes, this feature has been interpreted as a cursus monument. Cursus comes from the Latin racecourse as early antiquarians believed them to be Roman race tracks. Cursus monuments consist of two long banks running parallel to one another which are sometimes joined at one end by a straight or rounded bank. They date to the Neolithic period (c.4000-2500BC) and their function is still a matter of debate. They vary in length with the most famous examples in Ireland being the one next to Newgrange (100m long & 20m wide) and one on the Hill of Tara (250m long & 20m wide) more popularly known as “The Banqueting Hall”. Cursus monuments also occur in Britain such as at Stonehenge. The biggest and most elaborate cursus is Dorset cursus in the sout of England. This has a total length of approximately 10km and it has been estimated that half a million work hours went into its construction. Much of it has been levelled today but it is still visible as cropmarks. The great Rudston monolith (7.6m) in Yorkshire England has three cursus monuments leading up to its hilltop location.

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Figure 2 The Rudston Monolith, Yorkshire

Generally they are found near or leading up to other Neolithic monuments (e.g. beside the Newgrange passage tomb, leading up to the Mound of the Hostages at Tara or Stonehenge). In the case of the Dorset cursus, prehistoric monuments are built all along its course. As well as these lowland examples, cursus monuments have also been identified in the uplands such as the example on Keadeen Mountain, Wicklow (see Ivor Kenny’s blog for a more detailed discussion on that example http://ivorkenny.wordpress.com/tag/cursus/). While the Keadeen example appears to be lead up to a summit cairn, the same cannot be said for the Black Banks although a feature now either destroyed or overlain by peat may have once stood at the summit. Alternatively it could have led to the ridge from where the summit cairn on Mount Leinster could have been accessed. The only prehistoric features in the area are a possible passage tomb/ summit cairn on the summit of Slievebawn and the Nine Stones stone alignment. Climbing up along its course is difficult as the builders appeared to have chosen the steepest part of the mountain!!! Peat growth and vegetation makes it difficult to identify the banks in places while walking along it and the construction of the roadway leading to the Nine Stones carpark has cut through and obliterated all sight of it from this position. From satellite imagery we can see it continuing downslope towards Coolasnaghta however this is impossible to see on the ground.

Whatever its true purpose, function and reason for construction, the local folklore around Myshall and the area has an interesting explanation for its formation as we have seen.  A witch who lived on Mount Leinster got into an argument with another witch in Wexford/ Wicklow. In a fit of rage she picked up a stone and threw it at her enemy but in the process lost her balance and slipped down the mountain. The result was the huge track we see on the mountain today known as The Cailín Slipes or the Witches Slide. The standing stone in Clonee is said to be the stone she threw as evidenced by the grooves left from the mark of her hands. The point where she finally came to rest can be seen in Myshall graveyard as the impact from her knees left a mark in a stone there, we know it today as a medieval double bullaun stone.

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Figure 3 Myshall Double Bullaun Stone/ The Witches knee marks

 

Oiche na Gaoithe

“At 1 o’Clock a most tremendous hurricane commenced, which rocked the house beneath us as if it were a ship! Awfully sublime!” John O’Donovan, Monday 07th January 1839

John O’Donovan. Image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5a/Odonovan.jpg/220px-Odonovan.jpg

Just one of the accounts of the night of the 06/07th January 175 years ago today when a huge storm hit the country and came to be known in folk memory as “Óiche na Gaoithe” or The Night of the Big Wind and looking out the window today and listening to the sound, it seems that the weather is commemorating the occasion by sending us Hurricane Christine.

Today we can predict and prepare for most weather events but 175 years ago, people did not have the luxury of scientific measurements and weather satellites so when the storm made landfall every community was completely unprepared for the worst battering the country has ever seen (waves broke over the top of the Cliffs of Moher in Clare, 700feet above sea level). What made it worse was the calm and tranquillity in the lead up to the event. Snow had covered the country before the 06th and while most of the country was preparing for Little Christmas or the Feast of the Epiphany, John O’Donovan and Thomas O’Conor of the First Ordnance Survey were caught in a blizzard in the Wicklow Mountains on their way to Glendalough and had to stop on the way and stay in Charley Clarke’s public house which was not up to their standard. Much of folk memory remembers an unusually warm day on Sunday the 06th of January, so warm in fact that the blanket of snow which had covered the country melted away. John O’Donovan wrote of that day’s experience:

“we set out across the same mountain (in which we had been stopped by the Snow). I never felt so tired! Sinking thro’ the half-dissolved masses of snow and occasionally down to the knees in ruts in the road… We were now within five miles of the Glen, but a misty rain, truly annoying, dashed constantly in our faces until we arrived at St. Kevin’s Shrine. Horribly beautiful! And truly romantic, but not sublime!”.

That misty rain was the only veiled warning the island got. By 6pm on the 06th wind speeds were reaching hurricane force and heavy rain was increasing and becoming sleety in places. “In towns and villages, fires flickered and doors slammed. Church bells chimed, dogs whined and cats screeched. Fishermen turned their ears west as a distant, increasingly loud rumble was heard on the frothy horizon” (Bunbury 2014). By 10 o’clock that night the island was subjected to the full force of the worst documented weather event in Irish history until 6 o’clock the following morning. As the wind rocketed through every gap in houses, tearing some to the ground, lifting roofs and knocking chimneys candles and fires would probably have been extinguished leaving families experiencing the full ferocity of nature in total darkness except for the occasional lightning strike. Even the great mansions and better built houses did not escape the destruction many losing their entire roofs or having chimney pots crashing through into the rooms below.

Since the winds had rose to deafening levels at 1 o’clock, O’Donovan could not get back to sleep. At 2’oclock, the storm rose to such a ferocity that he left his bed with the intention of fleeing the building, afraid the roof would come in on top of him. But no sooner was he out of bed

“than the window was dashed in upon the floor! And after it a squall mighty as a thunderbolt. I then, fearing that the roof would be blown off at once, pushed out the shutter and closed it as soon as the direct squall had passed off, and placed myself diagonally against it to prevent the next squall from getting at the roof inside, but the next blast shot me completely out of my position, and forced in the window!”

O’Donovan managed to get the shutter closed a second time and pressed himself against it to keep it closed for an hour while O’Conor who had been roused by the blast which threw O’Donovan ran to get help from the house owner who was himself trying to secure his cattle in a now wrecked out-house. Eventually he returned to secure the window and by morning O’Donovan was sitting by a fire trying to warm up after his freezing ordeal bracing the window. He finished his account of the nights events by frustratingly stating “Pity I have not paper to tell the rest”. He later described the impact of the storm on the landscape as “the entire country had been swept clean by some gigantic broom”.

A number of people were killed that night, mainly by falling masonry and in some cases where fires erupted. Fear spread through Dublin that a great fire might take off like happened to London in 1666. Sheep were swept from hillsides and cattle were reported to have frozen to death in the fields. Canals were blown dry and reputedly the bodies of victims killed during the Battle of the Boyne were exposed on the river banks. Tree were knocked in such large amounts that it was said not an oak tree planted pre-1839 existed in Ireland. A statistic was produced stating that 4,846 chimneys were knocked that night. While Carlow escaped relatively unscathed compared to large parts of the country, the storm still left it’s mark.

Night of the Big Wind in Carlow

Carlow Cathedral today

Carlow town was hit badly through the night and a number of serious injuries were reported. The newly built (1833) Catholic Cathedral, the first built since Catholic Emancipation had been won had a pinnacle knocked from the crown on top of the steeple. It crashed into the roof below, smashing through into the front gallery and shattered it. The last chimney on top of Carlow castle was knocked while houses were deroofed, hay stacks scattered and out-houses levelled. One resident, Thomas C. Butler had just left his bedroom when his ceiling caved in by the weight of the chimneys which had fallen on it. A back window on the Carlow Club House hotel then on Dublin Street was forced in and shattered, brace and all. So powerful was the wind hurtling through the town that it required a number of men to keep the shutters closed while another brace was found.

Carlow Cathedral pinnacles and the front gallery where one crashed through causing considerable damage

Out in the countryside the destruction was no less with serious injury reported but again escaping much of the full onslaught of the hurricane. A mile length of wall which surrounded the estate of Colonel Henry Bruen’s demesne at Oak Park was levelled. It was reported that the roofs and walls of even the best built structures shook as if it were an earthquake.

With so much destruction chaos must have loomed for days afterwards especially amongst livestock farmers. Fences and walls would have either been knocked by the wind or burst by frightened animals. While many farmers would have lost animals either through death, injury or flight, more must have knowingly gained a few head of sheep or cattle in the confusion. One Carlow man was reported as having sold ten shillings worth of slates blown down from houses which he had gone out and gathered. It was said that more people were rendered homeless by that single nights event than were evicted between 1850 and 1880. While the immediate impact was catastrophic there was a silver lining for the younger survivors and eyewitnesses of the event. When the Old Age Pensions Act was introduced in 1909, all those over 70 were made eligible. Since pre 1865 birth records were poor it was decided that anybody who could remember The Night of the Big Wind could claim the pension. One applicant Tim Joyce from Limerick explained “I always thought I was 60 but my friends came to me and told me they were certain I was 70 and as there were three or four of them against me, the evidence was too strong against me. I put in for the pension and got it”.

Bibliography

Bunbury, T. 2014 “The Night of the Big Wind”. In Ireland’s Own 5,427, 4-9.

Carr, P. 1991 The Big Wind; the story of the legendary big wind of 1839, Ireland’s greatest natural disaster. Belfast; White Row.

Letter from John O’Donovan to Thomas A. Larcom 07th January 1839. In Herity, M. (ed) 2013 Ordnance Survey Letters Wicklow and Carlow. Dublin; Fourmasters Press, 71-72.

The Tower, Knockmulgurry

The Tower, Knockmulgurry

Another aerial photograph taken using a kite, this time over a site known as “The Tower” above Knockmulgurry and on the slopes beneath Caher Roe’s Den. The site is located on the side of a disused roadway known as the Tower Road. Above this is the Wexford Road, both of which meet at a site known as “The Meeting Point” where a Lughnasa festival was held at the end of July until recently.
The site is in a ruinous state today but consisted of a two storey rectangular structure aligned North-South with the southern gable still standing. There is a window on the top floor of this wall. There is an additional rectangular room or outhouse on the east side and a the base of a circular tower on the south-western corner. The steep slope was cut away and levelled out to make way for the construction of this structure. The site is situated in an area surrounded by field systems in various states of use. Some of these were used for the cultivation of rye.
It is marked as a roofed structure on the first edition Ordnance Survey maps (1839) but only consists of the main structure and the circular tower. It appears as a ruin on the 25″ series (1890’s) although the circular tower is still shown as being roofed and the eastern room or outhouse has been added in the meantime.

Jack Ryan’s Walls

Jack Ryan's Walls

Kite Aerial Photograph taken in November of a site known as Jack Ryan’s Walls on the eastern slopes of Knockroe Mountain. The site is east of Shannon’s New Fields. Nearby enclosures show signs of ridge and furrow indicating former cultivation, Ruin of this site marked on the first edition 25″ maps (1890’s) but not on first edition 6″ maps (1839). It consists of two structures. There is no sign of a formal fireplace in it’s current state.  The green grassy patch in the small outside enclosure indicates a higher soil fertility possibly from keeping an animal such as a pig on the site.

The Blackstairs Blitz

A Heinkel He111H-6 is loaded before a bombing mission. Image: http://www.wwiivehicles.com/germany/aircraft/bomber/heinkel-he-111-bomber/heinkel-he-111-h6-bomber-01.png

A German Bomber takes off from fortress Europe on the night of the 1st January 1941 as part of a bombing mission over Britain. The Blitz is still ongoing after the Battle of Britain.  Accounts from the night say that on their way to their targets they are intercepted by the RAF who chased them out over the Irish Sea.

Heinkel He111H-6 in flight Image: http://www.wwiivehicles.com/germany/aircraft/bomber/heinkel-he-111-bomber/heinkel-he-111-h6-47-bomber-01.png

Meanwhile an unsuspecting family are winding down for the night in the Scullogue Gap in the shadow of Knockroe Mountain in County Carlow. The Shannon family, John, James and Michael, brothers of the homeowner Patrick Shannon Snr along with their sisters Bridget and Mary Ellen and Patricks nephew Raymond and niece Kathleen after reciting the rosary and sitting by the fire all went to bed like any ordinary night.

Supermarine Spitfire, world famous for its role in the defence of Britain. Image: http://www.raf.mod.uk/history/gallery.cfm

Whether it was intercepted or whether it got lost,  we can only assume the bomber made its way across neutral Ireland in an attempt to return home when at 7 o clock in the morning, as the Nationalist newspaper from the 11th January reported, “The tranquillity and silence of that peaceful valley of Knockroe, reposing ‘neath the towering peaks of Mount Leinster and the lordly Blackstairs on the other, was suddenly disturbed ‘ere day broke on Thursday morning 2nd, by the invasion of an unidentified aircraft which streaked out from the frosty sky to cause a rude awakening and separate the inmates of a happy homestead by dispatching three of them to eternity… For miles around the countryside was shaken and the echo of eight bombs dropped was plainly heard”.

Mount Leinster Image: gsi.ie

One of these eight bombs had struck the home of the Shannon family as they Nationalist reported that after they retired to bed “little did they or anyone else realise that on this fateful night that this fateful family was to be separated forever in this life, that three of this happy household that lay down did so to sleep their last long sleep, which, sad to relate, was the case as was known to all corners of the globe some few hours later”.

The bombs were dropped in more or less a straight line. Two hit the slopes of Mount Leinster, the third was a direct hit on the Shannon house. Two more fell on the laneway to the house, two more hit Blackstairs Mountain on the opposite side of the valley and the last landed in a stream.

Blackstairs Mountain Image: Wikipedia

Mary Ellen Shannon (44), Brigid Shannon (38) and Kathleen Shannon (16) were all killed instantly. James Shannon (45) and Michael Shannon (37) were seriously injured. Miraculously John Shannon (43), his brother Patrick the homeowner (48) and his son Raymond (17) all escaped unhurt and it was John and Raymond who went for help. “Neighbours snatched up lamps and hurried to the pathetic scene along the snow-covered roadway in the half light of the morning. They had to climb the big craters in the laneway from which stones of huge weight were scattered about”. James Shannon was found first beneath 200 kilos of stone and rubble. Michael was found next, first identified only by his bare feet sticking out from a pile of rubble. Bridget Shannon was found next, blown completely clear of the house and landing beside an outhouse. Half an hour later Mary Ellen and Kathleen were found with nothing but fragments left of the beds they slept in.

Only the east gable was left standing and it had been here that Patrick, John and Raymond had slept. John recounted later how he “was awakened by a thunderous crash, and he jumped out of bed and went to the bedroom door. When he opened the door he saw that the whole house had disappeared up to the very edge of the door at which he stood. They made their escape through one of the windows. James and Michael slept next to the kitchen and were so close to the explosion that their beds were found in the adjoining fields.

One of the first rescuers at the scene, Mr. Breen of Knockroe reported how “he was awakened by the drone of an aeroplane in the early morning. He felt his own house vibrating, and jumped out of bed and hastily dressed himself. Taking a flash lamp he rushed out of doors to see what had happened. It was half light at the time, and he saw flashes of light on the Blackstairs Mountain. At first he thought the mountain was ablaze. He saw several quick flashes and heard deafening explosions and saw an aeroplane flying in a south westerly direction towards New Ross”. The Nationalist report goes on to give other accounts from the rescue and continues with the funeral arrangements and the inquest that followed.

The Shannon House Today. Image; http://wexfordhillwalkingclub.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/shannons-house.jpg

The house was rebuilt with local effort after the tragedy and remained in the Shannon family until Raymond died in 1994 and the house was sold. The house is passed on the ascent towards Mount Leinster via Knockroe. A reminder to all those who pass is a simple plaque placed in a wall with the year “1941” inscribed.

The memorial plaque. Image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/54/Commemorative_Plaque_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1221998.jpg/599px-Commemorative_Plaque_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1221998.jpg

The bombs were probably dropped in an attempt to lose weight and gain altitude as they closed in on the mountains after their plane was damaged following the engagement with the RAF. Perhaps instead they had got lost on their way over the Channel and instead of suffering humiliation on their return, the decided to release their load rather than return fully laden. However, conspiracy theories question that as it was by no means an isolated incident.

 From the 1st– 3rd January 1941 a series of German bombs were dropped over Ireland. The first hit Julianstown and Duleek, Co. Meath on the 1st of January with no injuries. Two were dropped on wasteground on the Fortfield road in Dublin, more were dropped in Wicklow, and high explosive and incendery bombs landed on the Curragh racecourse The following morning 2 bombs levelled a number of homes in Terenure, Dublin, injuring seven, while three were dropped in Ballymurrin, Wexford with no damage. This was then followed by the Knockroe incident. The last happened on the morning of the 3rd January when two houses were hit on the Donore Avenue, Dublin injuring 20. The War Room website reports that:

Following this series of events, suspicion arose in some circles that the bombings might have been deliberate action by one or more of the belligerents in an attempt to draw Ireland into the war. They occurred after a curious incident prior to the New Year when the German Legation requested that extra staff be allowed to join them by flying into Rinneanna [near the Shannon in Clare]. The Irish government refused and the question was put to rest. Others believed that they were captured German weapons dropped from British aircraft again in an attempt to force Ireland into the war. This idea was fueled in recent weeks by German Propaganda radio broadcasts, which suggested that the British might try something such as this.

Whatever the Knockroe case was probably a tragic accident and the house was more than likely not targeted deliberately.

The unsuspecting Blackstairs Mountains were part of national and world affairs for a brief period in the 1940’s. Just one of the many famous incidents to occur on its slopes and hopefully I’ll get time to write a few more in the future.

Blackstairs Mountains from Dranagh Mountain
Bibliography
Murphy, T. Death from the Sky; The Knockroe Tragedy. Carloviana 2001, 10-13.
The War Rooms website; bombings http://www.csn.ul.ie/~dan/war/bombings.html
Aviation crashes in Ireland 1939-45 http://www.csn.ul.ie/~dan/war/crashes.htm
The Nationalist 11/01/1941 (all quotations are from the Nationalist report)

Deer Trap Find, Blackstairs Mountains

The Blackstairs Mountains have many secrets and these are slowly coming to light.
Blackstairs Mountains ridgeline from Dranagh Mountain
(Blackstairs Mountain is the first large peak you see protruding over the ridgeline in the centre of the image)
While out walking in June 2011, Mike Monahon, Carlow, noticed some wood fragments poaking out of a peat hag on the summit of Blackstairs Mountain, County Carlow. After removing some of the peat he noticed that some of the pieces appeared to be worked and given it’s location (on top of the second highest peak in the Blackstairs) he deemed it must be archaeological and covered it back up. He returned home and contacted the National Museum of Ireland. 
Peat Hag which contained the find

On the 25th of June 2011, Dr. Andy Halpin, Assistant Keeper of Irish Antiquities travelled to Carlow to identify the reported object. He was accompanied by Mike Monahon, Dermot Mulligan, curator of the County Carlow Museum Ann Murphy and myself. A partial removal of the covering peat confirmed the initial suspicion that the object was a deer trap. It was decided to leave the object in situ until a plan had been put in place for its removal later that summer. The find was covered back with peat to maintain it in its wet environment.

Deer Trap being exposed by Dr. Halpin

Deer Trap in the Peat
Deer Trap in the peat
Mike Monahon beside his find

 On the 27th of July, Dr. Halpin returned to extract the deer trap from the peat. He invited me along and we excavated the deer trap under excellent weather conditions. It had been planned to extract the find with a helicopter time permitting on the same day or on the following day if excavation took too long. This was to protect the object as the descent was rocky, wet and difficult and a fall could have damaged the object. When the find was extracted it was decided to leave the trap on the mountain and return the following day for extraction. The fragmented remains were bagged and covered with sods so as to protect them.

Deer Trap once we removed the top layer of peat to its exposure at the time of finding
Exposed deer trap
View of deer trap
cross piece in previous image indicated by lighter colour in wood
Tool marks
Underside view
The hag after removal

  Thursday 28th of June proved to be a very wet day and the benefit of hindsight proved that the helicopter should have been called in the previous day. The top of the mountain was completely covered in cloud and mist so it would have been far too dangerous to land any helicopter. After waiting for a number of hours to see if the cloud would lift it was decided that the find would have to be carried down. This was done in one go (with a number of breaks!) and the find was brought to Dublin for conservation.

We had to hand lift it all the way down (and given that it was waterlogged in the peat for at least a few hundred years it was very heavy)

Deer traps have been found dating from the Bronze Age through to the medieval period so there was a broad date on our trap. Another example from Carlow was found during the excavation of the M9 in Prumplestown Lower. This was dated 660-810 AD. It backed up evidence for the use of deer traps in the medieval period. A cross in Clonmacnoise depicts a deer with its leg caught in one of these traps.
Prumplestown Trap (photo: Rubicon Archaeology)

Deer traps worked by placing the trap on the ground, the deer would put its foot in the hole and spikes would prevent it from pulling it back up again. 

So excitingly I found out today that the deer trap (which is currently under conservation) was radiocarbon dated. I assumed from previous examples in the museum and elsewhere in Europe that it was probably medieval. But this one returned a date of 2102 ± 33 BP and so probably dates 203-42BC. 
So an example of some lovely and definitely Iron Age activity in the Blackstairs Mountains!!! Nice!

References:
Check out the rubicon blog about the Prumplestown Lower deer trap for more info.
http://rubiconblog.com/2010/11/30/caught-in-a-trap-why-deer-needed-suspicious-minds-in-early-medieval-ireland/