The Fisherman – Poem by William Butler Yeats
ALTHOUGH I can see him still.
The freckled man who goes
To a grey place on a hill
In grey Connemara clothes
At dawn to cast his flies,
It’s long since I began
To call up to the eyes
This wise and simple man.
All day I’d looked in the face
What I had hoped ‘twould be
To write for my own race
And the reality;
The living men that I hate,
The dead man that I loved,
The craven man in his seat,
The insolent unreproved,
And no knave brought to book
Who has won a drunken cheer,
The witty man and his joke
Aimed at the commonest ear,
The clever man who cries
The catch-cries of the clown,
The beating down of the wise
And great Art beaten down.
Maybe a twelvemonth since
Suddenly I began,
In scorn of this audience,
Imagining a man,
And his sun-freckled face,
And grey Connemara cloth,
Climbing up to a place
Where stone is dark under froth,
And the down-turn of his wrist
When the flies drop in the stream;
A man who does not exist,
A man who is but a dream;
And cried, ‘Before I am old
I shall have written him one
poem maybe as cold
And passionate as the dawn.’
William Butler Yeats
The Workhouse Story
The Irish Workhouse – An Overview
What was the workhouse?
The workhouse has been described as “the most feared and hated institution ever established in Ireland.”
The workhouse was an institution which operated in Ireland for a period of some 80 years, from the early 1840s to the early 1920s. There were 163 workhouses in total. If people could not support themselves, they could come into the workhouse. Here they would do some work in return for food. People had to stay and live in the workhouse and so the system was known as indoor relief.
The whole family had to enter together. This was a way for the landlords to clear the land of tenants who could not pay rent. Life in the workhouse was meant to be harsh so as not to encourage people to stay. One of the cruellest aspects of the workhouse was that family members were split up into separate quarters. Children aged two or less could stay with their mothers. Sometimes, family members never saw each other again.
The workhouse was not a prison. People could leave if they liked. The high walls surrounding the workhouses were for keeping out, not for keeping people in.
How did workhouses come about?
In Ireland under Brehon Law, the native laws dating back to Celtic times, rulers had to take care of the sick and the poor. In the 5th Century, Christianity came to Ireland and with it monasteries began to develop. Over time, these monasteries took on the role of caring for the less fortunate. From the mid 1500s, Ireland was invaded by Protestant English settlers. The land was taken from the Irish, the religious were prosecuted and the whole care system broke down.
The situation was so bad that by the beginning of the 1800s, it is estimated that some 2.3 million people were at near starvation level. At the time Ireland’s population was nearing 8 million. By this time also, most of Ireland’s small farmers and landless labourers were dependent on the potato as their main food.
In England, Scotland and Wales there was poverty too. The workhouse was an English system. The first workhouses in England opened in 1836. Almost 700 workhouses were built in England and Wales. The main concern of the Poor Law Commissioners in England was to ensure that the system was not abused by lazy people. Scotland by contrast had a more humane system based on outdoor relief. One of the key differences between England and Ireland at the time was that work was available in England whereas in Ireland, whilst people were willing to work, there was no employment.
In 1800, under the Act of Union, Ireland became part of Britain. Numerous committees were set up to investigate the extreme poverty in Ireland, but nothing was done. However, as more and more Irish people flocked toBritain in search of employment, the British Government acted and sent over one of the English Poor Law Commissioners, George Nicholls, to find a solution. This was his first time i nIreland. He did a quick tour and reported back that Ireland needed a workhouse system similar to the English one. The Irish Poor Law Act became law in 1838.
What did this Poor Law actually mean in practice?
It divided the country into 130 unions. A further 33 were added after the “famine” years. Each union was to have a workhouse and the workhouses were to be financed by a tax on land. George Wilkinson was appointed as architect to the Irish Poor Law Commissioners, to design and supervise the building of the workhouses. The first workhouses opened in 1841.
Before the “famine years”, the number of people entering the workhouses was low. People were slow to leave their holdings. However, by the autumn of 1846, it became clear just how bad the situation was. The potato crop was diseased and inedible. It was emigration, starvation or the workhouse. People began to flood in.
The system, based as it was on indoor relief, could not cope with the overcrowding, the disease and the deaths. Corpses, without coffins, were carried on carts day after day to be thrown into mass burial pits in the workhouse grounds. (The years from 1846 to 1851 are known as the “famine” years. It should be noted however, that while the potato crop was largely wiped out through disease, there were plenty of other foodstuffs such as grain and livestock being exported toEngland.)
After the “famine” years, the numbers of people entering the workhouse decreased and over time it became a place for people that society did not want: unmarried mothers, children born outside of marriage, orphaned and abandoned children, “lunatics and idiots”, old and infirm people, tramps who travelled the roads.
Between 1838 and 1921, the principal features of the poor law and the workhouse system remained largely unchanged. The system was abolished in the early 1920s, when Ireland gained independence from Britain.
What was life in the workhouse like?
Life in the workhouse was harsh and frequently cruel. There were many rules. The food was poor. There was little to do. People were separated from their families, hungry, frustrated, badly treated, bored and mostly without hope. Often the inmates reacted against this, by breaking the rules and by fighting amongst themselves. Some preferred prison to the workhouse as the food was better and the regime not as strict.
Staff were often ex police men or army. There was a very high dismissal rate with many of staff being cruel, incompetent and dishonest.
The diet varied somewhat from workhouse to workhouse. Generally, it consisted of stirabout, which is like porridge, milk and potatoes. Children got bread. Adults received two meals a day and children three. Reports of the time show that the food was often of very poor quality. The workhouse diet remained very basic and it was not until the end of the 1800s that tea, bread for adults and a meat soup dinner were introduced.
Very little productive work was carried out. One of the rules was that the workhouse should not enter into competition with outside businesses. When numbers in the workhouse were large, it was difficult to find work for everybody. In the earlier years, the Capstan wheel was in operation in some workhouses. Women & children, maybe up to several hundred, went around in circles pushing a big wheel for grinding corn. Breaking stones for building roads was a common occupation for the men. The women did domestic jobs such as cleaning or helping in the kitchen or laundry and looking after the sick. Older inmates were put to work mending clothes and spinning wool. Girls were meant to be trained for domestic service. Oakum picking was carried out in many workhouses. This involved separating out the strands of old ship rope so that it could be reused.
There were large numbers of children in the workhouse. In 1850, there were up to 120,000 children. Conditions were terrible for them. An English Clergyman who was in Ireland at the time expressed his shock at the total failure to provide for these children. He described the children in Limerick workhouse as skeletons covered in soars and dressed in rags. Many of the children who survived the “famine” years grew up in the workhouse. They have been described as having “the same guttural voice, a blank expression and of having a strange similarity.” These children only knew the workhouse existence.
Children were supposed to go to school in the workhouse where they were meant to learn reading, writing, arithmetic and the principles of the Christian religion. The reality was quite different. School teachers were often incompetent and cruel, incapable of teaching enormous classes of hungry and dirty children. From the 1860s onwards, social reformers pressed for the boarding out of children to foster families but this was slow to happen, probably because the workhouse would have had to pay the foster families. From about the 1870s onwards, the religious orders began to get involved and started setting up industrial schools, where children were meant to receive training. By the early 1900s, the days of children in the workhouse were beginning to draw to a close.
Did people ever leave the workhouse?
One of the ways that workhouse numbers decreased was through emigration. The cost of emigration to landlords was less than that of keeping paupers in the workhouse. An Emigration Commission was set up. Its representatives visited every workhouse in Ireland. Those who wanted to emigrate were offered free passage, clothing and a little money. Between the years 1848-1850, 4,175 orphan girls aged 14-18 left Irish workhouses forAustralia under a scheme supported by the Australian government. In the 1850s, the Poor Law started to assist young female paupers to Canada where there was demand for domestic servants. Over 15,000 girls were sent there.
Was there anything good about the workhouse system?
Though separate, the workhouse was also paradoxically a part of the locality in which it was situated. It provided business to local suppliers, some employment and medical care to the general population. Originally, the workhouse infirmary or hospital was just for the sick inmates. No qualifications were required for nurses and the level of care was very poor. From the 1860s, qualified nursing sisters began to make their way into the workhouses. Care of the sick improved greatly and the workhouse hospital was opened to non inmates. These local hospitals were missed by many when the system was abolished in the early 1920s. Some of the workhouses became county hospitals or homes. However, for generations that followed, people had an awful fear of spending their final years in the County Home, being as it was part of the workhouse system.
Portumna Work House, A Gallery
Killary Harbour/An Caoláire Rua is a fjord located in the west of Ireland in the heart of Connemara which forms a natural border between counties Galway and Mayo. It is 16 kilometres long and in the centre over 45 metres deep. It is one of three glacial fjards that exist in Ireland, the others being Lough Swilly and Carlingford Lough.
On its northern shore lies the mountain of Mweelrea, Connacht’s highest mountain, rising to 814 metres. To the south rise the Maumturk Mountains and the Twelve Bens. The area contains some of Ireland’s most awe-inspiring and dramatic scenery.
I visit the Fjord back in January and captures these images, I felt that Christos Andreas Kourtis poem “Glacier” matched the amazing atmosphere here perfectly …..
Christos Andreas Kourtis
Nov 30, 2013
Slowly it slides on sub zero waters
trying to find a pathway to the sea
sheet of pure blue and heaven white
lumbers discreetly for aquiline is quite
From the top of the world
frozen fingers reach down
claws frantic on solid ground
No religion no sage
no saviour just age
and the relentless pull of gravity
will take it from mountain to the sea
This sculptress of valleys and dales
and fjords that can be seen for miles
travels without sound
By Christos Andreas Kourtis
At the end of last week I visited the Connemara Mountains in County Galway, one of Ireland most beautiful landscape areas.
The weather was just amazing, changing every ten minutes with heavy showers moving very quickly across the mountains and lakes.
I just love this part of Ireland, the mountains here contain the following ranges ….
Mountains in County Galway
The Twelve Bens or Twelve Pins (Irish Na Beanna Beola) is a mountain range in Connemara. Dedicated hill climbers can hike all twelve in a single day. The twelve Bens are a group of small mountains that are the dominant feature of the Connemara countryside. They are easily accessible from the N59 or from the villages of Letterfrack or Recess.
Mweelrea rising from the northern shores of Killary Harbour, is one of the finest mountain massifs in Ireland. It may be climbed from Delphi following the ridges to the fjord.
Mammturk Mountains are a picturesque mountain range in North Connemara. They are less well known than their more famous neighbours, the Twelve Bens on the other side of the Inagh Valley. They are not very big (max 667m) but a pleasant climb in fine weather, with superb views and no congestion.
Mount Gable (1370 feet) is one of the most beautiful and scenic mountain walks in Ireland. It dominates the isthmus between Lough Corrib and Lough Mask and guards one of the major routes into Connemara from the east. The starting point for a walk is approximately 2km from the village of Clonbur.
Slieve Aughty Mountains
The Slieve Aughty Mountains are a mountain range spread over both County Galway and County Clare. The highest peak in the Slieve Aughty Mountains is Maghera in Clare which rises to 400m (1,314ft). The mountain range consists of two ridges divided by the Owendallaigh river which flows west into Lough Cutra.
Connemara National Park, Image Gallery
Situated in the West of Ireland in County Galway is the Connemara National Park, covering 2,957 hectares of the most scenic Landscape in Ireland , including mountains, expanses of bogs, heaths, grasslands and woodlands. Some of the Park’s mountains, namely Benbaun, Bencullagh, Benbrack and Muckanaght, are part of the famous Twelve Bens or Beanna Beola range.
The Connemara National Park was established and opened to the public in 1980.
Much of the present Park lands formed part of the Kylemore Abbey Estate and the Letterfrack Industrial School, the remainder having been owned by private individuals. The southern part of the Park was at one time owned by Richard (Humanity Dick) Martin who helped to form the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals during the early 19th century. The Park lands are now wholly owned by the State and managed solely for National Park purposes.
Here I just wanted to Share a sense of this amazing National Park, using just some of the images I took during my last visit.
The Voyage of Brendan
The Voyage of Bran (Immram Brain) is a tale of a man’s journey across the sea to avenge his father’s murder. The content derives from Irish Mythology, but was written in the 8th Century.
Although there are many earlier references to the tale, one of the earliest preserved written versions of the legend is the 12th century Des Reis van Sint Brandaen (Dutch). Scholars believe it derived from a now lost middle High German text and combines Christian and fairy tale elements. It describes how a monk from Galway voyages for nine years, encountering the wonders and horrors of the world, such as Judas frozen on one side and burning on the other, people with swine heads, dog legs and wolf teeth carrying bows and arrows, and an enormous fish that encircles the ship by holding its tail in its mouth. The English poem Life of Saint Brandan is a later English derivative of the Dutch version.
As a genre, The Voyage of St. Brendan fits in with a then-popular form of literature, peculiar to Ireland, called an immram, which describes a hero’s series of adventures in a boat. For example, there appear to be similarities with The Voyage of Bran, written much earlier. The most commonly illustrated episode is his landing on an island that turns out to be a giant sea monster called Jasconius or Jascon. This too, has its parallels in other stories, not only in Irish mythology (Saint Brendan’s contemporary Saint Columba also met one) but in other traditions, from Sinbad the Sailor to Pinocchio. This style of storytelling meshed with a religious ascetic tradition whereby Irish monks would travel alone in boats, the same way their desert brothers used to isolate themselves in caves.
While it is generally assumed that the story is a religious allegory, there has been considerable ink spilled over the question of whether some parts of the story could have really happened. Christopher Columbus relied on the St. Brendan legends as part of his argument that it was indeed possible to travel to Asia by crossing the Atlantic. There is a St. Brendan Society that celebrates the belief that Brendan was the first European to “discover” America.
The Voyage of Bran
The Voyage of Bran (Immram Brain) is a tale of a man’s journey across the sea to avenge his father’s murder. The content derives from Irish Mythology, but was written in the C8th. Some Old Irish storyteller’s lists categorize the tale as an Echtra, or “Adventure”, but it contains the essential elements of an Immram, or “Voyage”. It may have influenced the story of Saint Brendan’s voyage later on.
In 1976, explorer Tim Severin built an ox leather curragh and over two summers sailed her from Ireland via the Hebrides, Faroe Islands and Iceland to Newfoundland to demonstrate that the saint’s purported voyage was feasible. On his voyage, he encountered various sights such as icebergs and sea animals such as whales and porpoises, which he suggests are factual counterparts to the fantastic sights from the legends of Brendan. See The Brendan Voyage, ISBN 0-349-10707-6.
By : Edwin John Pratt
For one carved instant as they flew,
The language had no simile—
Silver, crystal, ivory
Were tarnished. Etched upon the horizon blue,
The frieze must go unchallenged, for the lift
And carriage of the wings would stain the drift
Of stars against a tropic indigo
Or dull the parable of snow.
Now settling one by one
Within green hollows or where curled
Crests caught the spectrum from the sun,
A thousand wings are furled.
No clay-born lilies of the world
Could blow as free
As those wild orchids of the sea.
The landscape around Galway bay is one of the most beautiful in Ireland , offering long walks along sandy beach’s and scenic fishing bays.
The photographs below are from such a walk I took about two years ago during an Easter holiday in the area.
Fishing boats at Galway bay, Gallery
Sunday evening at Galway bay
One Sunday evening last year while visiting Galway bay, we went for a walk along the shoreline.
We came across this fishing boat resting in a small bay, I felt this image pictures Sunday evening very well.
Rested during the weekend, but ready to start again on Monday morning, just not yet !
I came across these grab shells on a beach at the far end of Galway bay last year and there were hundreds of them, crabs molt their shells every time they have out grown them, some people think that this is at the turn of a new moon.
A Poem :
A Green Crab’s Shell
by Mark Doty
Not, exactly, green:
closer to bronze
preserved in kind brine,
from a Greco-Roman wreck,
patinated and oddly
muscular. We cannot
know what his fantastic
legs were like–
of armament, crowned
by the foreclaws’
gesture of menace
and power. A gull’s
gobbled the center,
leaving this chamber
–size of a demitasse–
open to reveal
a shocking, Giotto blue.
Though it smells
of seaweed and ruin,
this little traveling case
comes with such lavish lining!
the brilliant rinse
of summer’s firmament.
What color is
the underside of skin?
Not so bad, to die,
if we could be opened
if the smallest chambers
revealed some sky.
Adult Tanner crab mating
Crabs (and other crustaceans) cannot grow in a linear fashion like most animals. Because they have a hard outer shell (the exoskeleton) that does not grow, they must shed their shells, a process called molting. Just as we outgrow our clothing, crabs outgrow their shells. Prior to molting, a crab reabsorbs some of the calcium carbonate from the old exoskeleton, then secretes enzymes to separate the old shell from the underlying skin (or epidermis). Then, the epidermis secretes a new, soft, paper-like shell beneath the old one. This process can take several weeks.