It was a time of intersections yesterday. It was the occasion of the spring equinox, when the winter finally passes to summer, and darkness to light. Yesterday, the hours of darkness in a day no longer exceed that of light, and from today, the days will be longer than the nights. There was, of course, a much more noticeable intersection that took place yesterday morning. A solar eclipse, caused by the moon passing in front of the sun, was due to begin around 8.30am, and I decided to photograph the event at the ancient monastic settlement at Clonmacnoise in Co. Offaly, about ten miles south of Athlone on the bank of the river Shannon. Yesterday’s moon was also a supermoon. I was in good spirits when I left Galway just after seven – the sun was shining and the sky was reasonably clear in all directions. However, as soon as I reached Athenry, I drove into a thick wall of fog and cloud, which didn’t change all the way to Clonmacnoise. More in hope than anything else, I picked my spot and set up my cameras. About ten minutes into the eclipse, the thickness of the cloud cover decreased, and the partial disk of the sun was clearly visible without the need for filters. In fact, a thin layer of cloud is ideal for casual observers, since the brightness of the sun is reduced to a safe level (I had brought filters in any case).
The religious settlements at Clonmacnoise lasted for around a thousand years – between the original settlement in the mid-sixth century to its decline following the last of many plundering in 1522 by the English garrison in Athlone. The pictures above depict twelfth-century Temple Finghin church and round tower in the foreground – built when the settlement had expanded into a large commercial and academic community and was probably at its zenith in terms of wealth and influence.
Clonmacnoise may well owe its existence to another natural intersection – that of the river Shannon with the Esker Riada, a series of gravel hills caused by the meltwater of the ancient glaciers that once covered the Irish landscape. The eskers were used as roads in ancient times (and in more recent times, were used as building materials for modern roads and motorways). While the Shannon provided a means for an explorer to get from south to north in the country, the esker trails provided a means to travel east to west. (I have a personal interest in the Esker Riada – part of it (the Rahugh/Kiltober ridge) passes within a mile of the family farm, and from there, there is a near-unbroken esker trail to Clonmacnoise.)
In the seventeenth-century, when Clonmacnoise was in much the same state as it is today, an ancient annal associated with the settlement (now lost) was translated from Irish to English by an Offalyman, Conell Mageoghagan. The Book of Clonmacnoise properties to tell the history of Ireland and beyond from the start of time up to the beginning of the fifteenth century. It mentions two eclipses – one in January, 863 and another at the beginning of February, 1023. The entry for 1023, apart from the eclipse, mentions the death of ‘Henry, monarch of the world’. This is a reference to Henry II, King of Germany and Italy and who was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in February, 1014 – two months before the Battle of Clontarf in Dublin. Though the forces of Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, were victorious at Clontarf, Brian was killed, along with his son Marched, his assumed heir. The two remaining sons became embroiled in a power struggle for succession, and the outcome is also recorded in the Book of Clonmacnoise under the 1023 entry :-
“Teige, son of K. Bryan Borowa, was naturally delivered by his owen Brother Donnagh to those of Elye o’Karoll, who accordingly killed him, as was desired of them by his Brother Donnogh.”
A lot of people, including myself, are making a four-day weekend out of the St. Patrick’s Day break, and I decided to start by getting up early for sunrise this morning. The sky over Salthill at 6.30 this morning was beautiful, and I decided to take a few pictures by the diving board. While I was there, I noticed that there was a girl skinny-dipping in the sea (she wasn’t easy to ignore due to her squeals of anguish at the sea temperature). About twenty minutes later, a group of exuberant youngsters ( mainly French students, I think) arrived at the diving board, determined to skinny-dip too. Actually, most of them didn’t make it into the sea, but about fifteen of them posed naked on top of the diving board and asked me to take a few snaps, since I was there. Nudity, photography and the internet are not always the wisest combination, so I’ll just post these pictures here (which are the only ones where everyone is facing away from the camera). You can still see their best attributes – their admirable lack of shyness.
Actually, neither the gorgeous sunrise nor the abundance of naked young people was the most amazing sight this morning. Just as everyone was getting dressed and milling about the changing area, an otter scuttled across the rocks by the board and slid back into the sea – it had obviously been there during the entire escapade, unnoticed and unfazed.
The Ballyhoura Walking Festival (pdf) takes place every May Bank Holiday weekend. The festival is based out of Kilfinane, a lovely little village in Limerick, but there is a good chance that you’ll end up tramping across the elevated parts of Tipperary as well. It’s a great weekend, and a lot of the energy is generated by the Ballyhoura Bears, the local hiking club. It’s been eight years since I participated in the festival – the May Bank Holiday weekend tends to have a number of hiking events happening all over the country. The picture above was taken on a hike during the 2007 Ballyhoura festival, and shows hikers gathered at the mouth of Lough Curra, a lake formed by ancient glacial erosion on the side of Galtymore mountain, the highest in the Galtee mountain range.
Fishermen at Lough Graney last autumn – the same morning (and the same fishermen) as in this picture.
There was once a regular steam-boat service that traveled from here to the city of Galway via Oughterard in the years after the Famine. This is the quay at Maam (Mám) which is linked via a channel to Lough Corrib. Today, only the odd fishing boat and lake boat are tied up here. The quay is overlooked by Keane’s pub, which was originally built (in 1833) for the Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo as a base to survey Connemara – Nimmo died before it was finished. In the background is a snow-covered Corcóg, part of the Maumturk mountain range in Connemara.
More pictures in the gallery here.
When Samuel Lewis published his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland in 1837, he noted that there was a fair in the villages of Barna and Freeport (which is now the western side of Barna) on the fifth of every month. Even today, local fishermen land fresh produce at the quay in Barna which often end up as a menu in the local restaurants that night. This picture shows a fishing boat that won’t catch anything, save a photographer’s eye. Pulled up beyond the high tide mark a short distance from the quay, this boat is slowly succumbing to the elements, sunrise after sunrise.