Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Castlelyons - an Irish Gem

The small village of Castlelyons in Co. Cork, Ireland appeared deserted when we drove into it and as we seemed to be the only car on the road there was no fear of being run over when taking the photo below. As if to confirm its silence the main street was dominated by the ruins of an old Carmelite abbey.
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Little is known of the origins of the abbey for there are few surviving written records. It is thought that it dates from the beginning of the 14th century although the existing ruins are from a hundred years later.
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The size of the nave is huge measuring over sixty feet in length and twenty in width. It is separated from the chancel by the tower which although very ruined still has its complete spiral staircase which can be climbed – but not for the faint-hearted. The chancel which is also very large (over fifty feet in length) is where the altar would have been placed. A number of grave slabs survive some of which still have visible markings.
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The cloister, where the monks walked and meditated, is less complete but the turf square and parts of columns gives a sense of the place. The monastery was dissolved during the Reformation and passed into private hands. Now it is a national monument.Castlelyons (12)   copyright
A mile or two from the abbey ruins is the Castlelyons Graveyard at Kill-St-Anne. At its centre is a mausoleum built about 1747. The interior is circular with just one marble monument to James Barry, Earl of Barrymore and carved in 1753. External steps lead to a crypt below.
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Close to the first lies a second mausoleum, also built in the eighteenth century, for the Peard family, local landlords. Their earliest grave (dated 1683) lies elsewhere in the churchyard and commemorates Richard Peard, an ensign from Devonshire in England.Castlelyons (20)   copyright
The church – or more accurately churches – lie in ruins for a more recent one was built within the original. They date from the eighteenth and fourteenth centuries respectively. The remains of the bell tower and gothic arches are from the earlier date, the elaborate stone window which are in the later ruins are reputed to have belonged to the original church. Whatever the truth of this tale, the result is beautiful and romantic.
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The churchyard is a haven for wildlife and native flowers flourish beside mown paths. Beside the old cemetery is another, newer one still in use and equally well-maintained as were the old abbey ruins and the village itself. Castlelyons maybe off the beaten track but it is well worth making the effort to visit. It is rural Ireland at its very best.
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Much information has been gleaned from information boards within the village and also the Castlelyons village website – link here. Apart from details of its history the website shows that despite its small size, the village social life is thriving.



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Thursday, 7 May 2015

JFK and the Irish Famine

The Great Famine – also called the Irish Potato Famine – killed a million people between 1845 and 1852 and created much bitterness towards the ruling British.  Restrictive laws against Catholics who made up over three-quarters of the population, including the prohibition of owning land, had been relaxed but the majority still held only tiny parcels of land, the remainder owned by absentee British aristocracy.  As a result, only potatoes could provide anywhere near enough food for their families and these were grown at the expense of all other crops.  When the previously unknown disease, blight, destroyed them they had no access to other foodstuffs.   At the height of the famine, enough food was being produced elsewhere in the country but this was sent for export fuelling ever greater resentment.  Evictions too were common.  The alternative to death was emigration and over a million left for a new life elsewhere.  Pictured below is the Dunbrody Famine Ship, moored at New Ross, Co. Wexford, a replica of the original boat.

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The New World was a popular destination and in 1849 Patrick Kennedy, great-grandfather of American President, John F Kennedy and whose family lived near New Ross sailed to Boston, albeit from Liverpool, England. Marrying soon after his arrival he died nine years later of cholera at the age of 35.

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In 1963, President Kennedy visited New Ross and his ancestral home at nearby Dunganstown.  In 2008 his statue was unveiled by his sister Jean Kennedy Smith.

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Fifty years after JFK’s visit, the Emigrant Flame was lit by his sister and daughter, Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg.  The fire was taken from the Eternal Flame by his graveside in Arlington Cemetery travelling 3500 miles: it burns constantly to commemorate all emigrants throughout the world.

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