Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Connemara: Chorr na Móna

In the province of Connacht and the western part of County Galway is a region known as Connemara. It is supposedly the largest of the Gaeltacht, an area where Irish is the every day language. Other Gaeltacht areas include Dhún na nGall (Donegal), Mhaigh Eo (Mayo), Chiarraí (Kerry), and the Oileán Árann (Aran Islands).

Monday, July 6. First stop: Kylemore Abbey. Originally built in the 1860's and called Kylemore Castle, it was the home of wealthy Englishman Mitchell Henry and his wife. The Benedictine Order of Nuns. I bought a jar of rhubarb-lemon jam.

Go, nuns.

Killary Harbor is Ireland's only fjord, the u-shaped valley carved out by a glacier.

It is also the location of a famine road. This was a road built by starving peasants during the Great Potato Famine (1840s) in exchange for a little money to buy food.

The road served no purpose. It doesn't go anywhere, and it never carried any traffic.

The English in charge of the ridiculously meager relief, thought the Irish peasants needed to work for their food, devastating potato blight and or not. Can you imagine expending what little energy you have by building a useless road? How demoralizing would that be?

Across the fjord you can see the vertical rows of the abandoned potato beds, derogatorily referred to as "lazy beds". These were actually ingenius in design, as they allowed the water to run off freely. The plants thrived in these beds all over Ireland, until the blight.

Meet Phytophthora infestans, the fungus responsible for destroying one third of Ireland's potato crop in 1845 and again in 1848. These losses were at the extremes of previous European experience. Even more disastrously, three-quarters of the crop failed in 1846.

"The potato blight struck the whole of Europe in the late 1840s. The blight seems to have arrived from the United States in 1844 with a shipment of seed potatoes offloaded at Ostende in Belgium. No serious damage was caused that year but the disease spread rapidly throughout the continent in the latter half of 1845 and again in 1846. Although yields everywhere were adversely affected there was no potato famine in Europe, certainly nothing on the same scale as the Irish catastrophe..."

----- Phytophthora infestans (Mont.) de Bary, by Alice M. DeJarnett

In fact, the blight is back, and this time, it's personal.

We stopped at Cong, a town in the center of the setting for the movie, "The Quiet Man".

In this town were the ruins of an abbey. Goireland.com tells us that Cong Abbey is "situated on the site of an earlier monastery founded in the 7th century, this is an Augustinian Abbey founded possibly in the 12th century."

There is also a house built over the water, which looks cool:

There. Evidence that I am still alive, yet woefully behind posting updates.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Amazing pics! Thanks for sharing!