Newgrange and the Giant’s Causeway

While in Ireland we got to see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Newgrange (in the Republic, and a “cultural” site), and the Giant’s Causeway (in the North, and a “natural” site). I would have loved to have seen the third, Skellig Michael in Co. Kerry, but access is strictly limited and entails a boat ride across an often choppy sea, and a perilous climb up steep and slippery steps – not ideal for a tour group of 35!

1. Newgrange is the largest monumental structure at Brú na Bóinne (“Palace of the Boyne”), a complex of tombs, stone circles, and other manmade features just north of the River Boyne in County Meath, north of Dublin. Drogheda (the site of a frightful Cromwellian massacre in 1649, and also the site of the famous Battle of the Boyne in 1690) is about ten kilometers to the east of Brú na Bóinne, but we were there to see something much older: a neolithic passage tomb dating from c. 3200 BC, and thus predating Stonehenge and the Giza pyramids. 

From the outside, it’s really just a large earthen mound, with a retaining wall on the front made up of white quartz cobblestones. This wall is the work of one Michael O’Kelly, the main twentieth-century archaeologist for the site and is based on his “best guess” of what it might have looked like in the neolithic. Needless to say, this feature is somewhat controversial.

Things get really interesting, however, when you enter the doorway shown above. You squeeze down a dry stone passageway for about twenty meters, and arrive in a corbeled interior chamber with three side “chapels,” each with its own stone “altar” (designated a basin). The guide claimed that this passageway is original and was never reconstructed – in fact, the entrance was covered and hidden until AD 1699, when a local landowner found it and brought it to the attention of antiquarians.

No photography was allowed inside, so I scan some illustrations.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóinne (2010), 2.

This is a view from the interior chamber looking back towards the entrance. The spiral motif is common at the site, but what it actually means is anyone’s guess.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóinne (2010), 17.

This is a view of the right-hand side chapel, with basin stone. Apparently cremated human remains were discovered on these stones, but the cremations did not take place in the chamber itself. This has given rise to the theory that bodies were cremated outside, and the remains brought into the chamber for a special ceremony, most likely at the Winter Solstice, then taken out and interred elsewhere (plenty of smaller burial tombs have been found at Brú na Bóinne).

From a postcard.

Why the Winter Solstice? Because that’s when sunlight penetrates to the interior. Here is another view of the entrance – note the “roofbox” over the door.

From George Eogan and Peigin Doyle, Guide to the Passage Tombs at Brú na Bóinne (2010), 20.

And here is how it works: note the upward slope of the passageway, which blocks out light from the doorway, and allows only the shaft of light from the roofbox to reach the central basin stone. The slight zigzag of the passageway also ensures that the light is focussed by the time it gets to the interior. Our guide turned out the lights in the interior chamber and then lit one that simulated the solstice effect, but she said that it was a poor substitute for the real thing. But to experience this, you have to apply for it. The sunlight gets in for a few minutes a day over a period of about five days, roughly Dec. 19-23. They let ten people in per day, and you can bring a friend, meaning that 100 people can experience the Winter Solstice at Newgrange every year. The trouble is that some 32000 people apply! So the odds really aren’t in your favor, although they have started live streaming it over the Internet.

Brú na Bóinne is by no means the only such neolithic site in Europe. All along the west coast, from Spain to Scandinavia, one finds the remains of these monumental structures, usually circular and astronomically aligned, indicating surplus wealth generated by agriculture, political organization to order them constructed, and far-flung communication networks to spread knowledge of building techniques, and trade networks to import construction materials (Brú na Bóinne contains material from as far south as the Wicklow Mountains, and as far north as Slieve Croob in County Down). Alas, they are definitely prehistoric, in that nothing resembling a script has ever been discovered at any of them, so much of our knowledge of this period must remain speculative. 

2. The Giant’s Causeway is a volcanic formation of about 40,000 interlocking basalt columns on the north coast of Northern Ireland. Similar sorts of formations may be seen elsewhere on the Earth (the one I’m most familiar with is Devil’s Tower in Wyoming), but they are rare and distinctive enough to be intensely captivating.

The standard theory is that the columns were created some sixty million years ago, when a large and thick lava flow cooled very slowly and, due to the chemistry of the basalt, formed regular polygonal columns. These were hidden deep underground, as the top layer of the basalt, exposed to the air, cooled much more rapidly and thus did not develop the distinctive pattern. Successive Ice Ages, however, stripped away those top layers, revealing the basalt columns and creating what, to a human, is a bizarre, ethereal sight.

But our tour guide, Jamie Kerr of EF Tours, mockingly denigrated this theory. She preferred the original, mythological explanation, and the reason why it bears the name “Giant’s Causeway.” A similar basalt formation may be found in Scotland on the Isle of Staffa, which gave rise to the idea that:

Finn McCool was a giant who, for the most part, lived a quiet life with his family here on the Northern Irish coast. But there were rivals, other giants, and perhaps to pre-empt a challenge from his Scottish neighbour, Benandonner, Finn laid down the gauntlet and then built the Giant’s Causeway so they could meet and do battle.

However, on his way over to Scotland, Finn spied Benandonner in the distance and realised that his rival was much bigger, taller and stronger than he had appeared from across the water. Finn decided he didn’t want to fight Benandonner any more and ran back home as fast as he could – so fast that he lost his boot on the shore.

Finn found his wife Oonagh and explained the terrible mistake he had made. Oonagh, being the brains of the pair, devised the plan of dressing up Finn as a baby and putting him into their son Oisin’s cot, covering him with blankets and wrapping a shawl around his head.

Just then there was a loud banging at the door – Benandonner! ‘Where’s Finn?’ he demanded, ‘I want to fight him!’

‘Calm down!’ said Oonagh, ‘Finn’s out herding the cows… but while you’re here why don’t you let me introduce you to our son Oisin?’

When Benandonner saw the giant baby in the cot he got scared. He thought, if that’s the size of the baby, how big is the father?

Benandonner immediately ran out of the house and home across the Causeway, tearing it behind him to make sure Finn couldn’t follow him.*

The current visitors’ center, which opened in 2012, is architecturally very well done (more at dezeen – check it out). It lies unobtrusively low to the ground, but its walls reflect the Causeway’s geological formation.

After our visit I kept seeing references to the Giant’s Causeway all over the place, and it seems to me it’s a symbol of Northern Ireland. This is a memento on display in the Belfast City Hall Museum. A bonus is that the six-sided columns (and in this case, six columns) can refer to the six counties of Northern Ireland.

I never made this connection, but the Giant’s Causeway is the setting for the cover of Led Zeppelin’s fifth studio album Houses of the Holy (1973). I loved this record in high school! Where’s that confounded bridge?

* From Anna Groves, A Souvenir Guide to the Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim (National Trust, 2016). The funny thing is that in recent times there really was a science vs. mythology dispute at the Causeway: some of the exhibits in the new visitors’ center, when it opened in 2012, gave a Young Earth creationist view of the site, soliciting praise from Answers in Genesis, and condemnation by Brian Cox, Richard Dawkins, et al. (Following a review, the creationist interpretation was downplayed.)

Cathedrals

A cathedral, of course, is nothing more than a church building where a bishop has his seat – his cathedra, hence the name. But usually, much attention and expense is lavished on cathedrals, making them aesthetically pleasing and architecturally and historically significant. I do enjoy visiting a cathedral when I get a chance. Here are some of the ones I got to see in Ireland.

1. The “Rock of Cashel,” Cashel, Co. Tipperary

This is essentially a ruin atop a hill, but it has a very rich history, and it is one of the more popular tourist attractions in Ireland (the Queen visited in 2011). The hill itself is associated with one of St. Patrick’s conversions, and was the seat of the kings of Munster until 1101, when King Muirchertach Ua Briain bequeathed it to a resurgent and reorganized Church (meaning that the Church would now take his side in his disputes with others). Cashel was established as an archbishopric at the Synod of Ráth Breasail in 1118, and shortly thereafter a chapel for Cormac McCarthy, king of Munster, was constructed on the rock, a small but handsome building of German influence, complete with a characteristically Irish round tower (pictured) some distance away. The cathedral itself was built over the course of the thirteenth century, connecting the chapel with the tower. Given the cathedral’s strategic location, the west end of the nave was enclosed and fortified as a residential castle, a feature I have never before seen. Alas, it was not enough to save the people who had taken shelter there during the Confederate Wars, when in 1647 Parliamentarian troops sacked it and massacred the royalists within. In the eighteenth century, the Rock ceased to act as the cathedral for the archdiocese (the seat was moved to the Church of St. John the Baptist and St. Patrick in Cashel, which we did not get a chance to see), and the archbishop, who was somehow connected with the Guinness family of beer fame, removed the roof for reasons known best to himself, rendering the building liturgically unusable. People are still interred in the graveyard, however.

Here is a better view of the Rock of Cashel, and on a nicer day, scanned from a postcard I bought.

2. Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Seat of the Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough. The church dates from 1028 when Sitriuc Silkbeard, the “Hiberno-Norse” king of Dublin, and Flannacán Ua Cellaig, king of Brega, returned from a pilgrimage to Rome. The Synod of Kells in 1152 elevated Dublin to the status of an archbishopric, joining Cashel, Armagh, and Tuam. Laurence O’Toole, the second archbishop of Dublin (1162-82), was canonized in 1225 and became the patron saint of the city; a relic of his heart was stolen from Christ Church in 2012. Most of the church fabric dates from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, but it was extensively renovated in the nineteenth, so there is a great deal of Victorian gothic as well (e.g., the floor tiles). The church is also known for hosting the grave of Richard de Clare, the second earl of Pembroke (commonly called “Strongbow”) who, allied with Dermot MacMurrough, was the first Englishman to invade Ireland in 1170, and for being the venue for the coronation of Lambert Simnel, an anti-Tudor pretender to the English throne in 1487. Also, the crypt housed an interesting exhibit on Magna Carta Hiberniae, that is, an issue of Magna Carta (1215), but for Ireland, with the appropriate substitutions (“Irish Church” for “English Church,” “Dublin” for “London,” etc.)

I scanned this view of the interior in from the visitor’s guide I bought.

The seal of the cathedral chapter illustrates that its formal dedication is to the Holy Trinity, thus the depiction of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. 

3. St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin

Just down the street from Christ Church, another cathedral, this one dedicated to St. Patrick. Why does Dublin have two cathedrals, both elaborate and within a short walking distance of each other? A good question! In the thirteenth century, this collegiate church was somehow elevated to cathedral status, and it may have been that someone was hoping to replace the monastic Christ Church with the secular St. Patrick’s. Many years of bickering produced an accord between the two in 1300, with Christ Church retaining supremacy, but St. Patrick’s having certain privileges including full cathedral status, and both cathedrals committing to work together if need be – like when the choirs of both churches combined to perform Handel’s Messiah at its debut in Dublin in 1742.

Since the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland in 1871, St. Patrick’s has been designated the “national cathedral,” while Christ Church remains the cathedral for the diocese of Dublin and Glendalough.

One distinguishing feature of St. Patrick’s is that it acted as the chapel of the Order of St. Patrick, which is technically still in existence, although no new members have been admitted since the 1930s. (The Republic of Ireland may have continued to grant coats of arms through a Chief Herald, but it has no interest in maintaining an order of chivalry.) On display: the banners of arms the knights as they were at the time of disestablishment in 1871.

The most famous dean of St. Patrick’s is of course the great Jonathan Swift, who held the office 1713-45 and who is memorialized and buried in the church.

The rose, royal arms, and portcullis of the cathedral seal mark it as particularly Tudor. I’m not exactly sure what the other symbols are supposed to mean, although I assume that’s St. Patrick in the base.

4. St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin

Still in Dublin, on the north side of the River Liffey, we find yet another cathedral, or rather a “pro-Cathedral,” dedicated to St. Mary. It is now that I must mention a central fact of Irish history: King Henry VIII (1509-47) tried to impose the Reformation on Ireland as he did on England, but he had much more control over the latter than the former. As a consequence, most English people accepted the Reformation, however grudgingly; only eccentrics like Thomas More held out, and paid for it with their lives. In Ireland, by contrast, there are parallel church organizations: Henry’s Church of Ireland, until 1871 the established church and to this day a member of the worldwide Anglican Communion, and the Roman Catholic Church, obedient to the Pope. The Church of Ireland took over all the extant church buildings and diocesan structure, but the Roman Catholic Church, despite all the government’s penal laws and other knavish tricks, retained the loyalty of most Irish people and did not go away. The Catholic church presumed to continue its own diocesan structure, a copy of the Church of Ireland’s, and to claim legitimate descent from the pre-Reformation church. Of necessity the Catholics were compelled to build their own church buildings, thus St. Mary’s, which dates from 1825 and is classical in form, predating the gothic revival by a few years. That it’s a “pro-Cathedral” (i.e., an acting cathedral) is a cheeky way by the Catholics of saying that they would like Christ Church back. (And why not, really? Let the Church of Ireland have St. Patrick’s, and let the Catholics get Christ Church. If nothing else it would make things simpler.)

5. St. Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry

St. Columb’s is within the walls of the old city, perched atop a hill. It is Londonderry’s oldest extant building, dating from 1633. As you can probably guess this makes it Church of Ireland. I could not take any pictures inside but here is a scan of a postcard I bought:

Many regimental colours and flags are displayed within. The caretaker kindly showed me a 48-star American flag, kept in a display drawer, left by the US troops who were stationed at Londonderry during the Second World War.

The seal of the dean and chapter is emblematic, showing a dove of peace bringing an olive branch to a castle, under the watchful eye of God.

6. St. Eugene’s Cathedral, Derry

As you look out from the walls of the old city toward the Bogside, you can’t miss St. Eugene’s, which stands out above the residential streets. The Roman Catholic cathedral was begun in 1849, opened for business in 1873, and finished in 1903. As you can see, this was a time when the gothic revival was in full swing. Many Irish-American Catholics gave money to help build it.

I enjoyed visiting this handsome, peaceful church.

7. St. Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast

The distinguishing feature of the Church of Ireland cathedral is the tall, needlelike spire where you’d expect something a bit more substantive. This “Spire of Hope” looks like the Spire of Dublin and, as this one dates from 2007, may have been inspired by Dublin’s. The lady at the desk said that St. Anne’s is built on what was once a swamp, and that the church is subsiding; the weight of a traditional spire would have compounded this problem.

Within the church, a number of things, including the “science pillar,” a Titanic memorial pall, the grave of Edward Carson (founder of Northern Ireland), a labyrinth that leads nowhere if you follow “the path of sin,” and numerous interesting side chapels.

The Cathedral identifies itself with a display of four coats of arms, three of the amalgamated dioceses for which it is the cathedral (Connor, Down, and Dromore) and one of the city of Belfast.

8. St. Peter’s Cathedral, Belfast

Alas, I didn’t actually get into the Roman Catholic cathedral for Belfast, as I arrived too early. But I did find a postcard of the interior which I have scanned:

This church was opened for worship in 1866, and as you can see is another gothic structure, but it wasn’t named a cathedral until 1986. It is in the Divis Street area near the Falls Road, i.e. what was once Ground Zero for the Troubles, and I can’t help but think the decision to move the bishop’s seat here was political somehow.

Dingle Peninsula

The first stop on our tour of Ireland was the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry. The famous Ring of Kerry is on the Iveragh Peninsula to the immediate south, but many people told me that the Dingle Peninsula is preferable in terms of history and natural beauty. I can’t make any comparisons, but I can say that it is very edifying indeed.

Upon our arrival in Dingle Town we were treated to a boat tour of Dingle harbor and got to see its most famous resident, Fungie the Dingle Dolphin. Our captain then took us out to sea and we got to enjoy the rugged beauty of west coast of Ireland.

The next day we took coach tour of the peninsula, which included stops at Inch Strand, St. Catherine’s Church in Ventry (resting place of the Irish scholar Pádraig Ó Fiannachta), a place to view the Great Blasket Islands, and the Gallarus Oratory (pictured), which I was very excited to see. There is a debate whether it is from the early or the high Middle Ages – I favor the latter interpretation, given that the beehive huts of the early-medieval Skellig Michael are round, and this one is longitudinal, and has a Romanesque-style window on the far end. But whether it was a chapel or a shelter of some kind (or both) remains a mystery. I admired the construction – each stone was shaped to fit, and as a consequence not much mortar was needed (it’s not quite a dry stone building). What is more, the cracks between the bricks slope outwards, so that water does not leak into the interior.

We stopped for lunch across from Dunbeg Fort, an Iron Age promontory fort near Slea Head. Unfortunately, we only got to see it from the road: it was severely damaged in a storm in 2014 and has been closed to visitors since then. We did get to see a well-formed ringfort from the coach, and we stopped at Kilmalkedar, a ruined twelfth-century church that was once the center of a monastery founded by St Maolcethair. The church itself may have been modeled on Cormac’s Chapel at the Rock of Cashel (more on this later), and the yard features numerous interesting things like a medieval sundial, some Ogham inscriptions, and from a more recent time, the grave of one Lieut. Thomas Russell, Irish Volunteers, 8th Battalion Clare Brigade, “Murdered by English Forces, Carraigaholt, Co. Clare, 17 March 1918, Aged 21.” That would be before the Khaki Election and the War of Independence – I wonder what the story is there.

Blarney

The Irish are stereotypically charming and garrulous, and we certainly met a number of people who fit that description. Of course, what they tell you is not necessarily true, but who cares?! As my fellow tour member Stephanie Marchant said, it’s a storytelling culture, just enjoy it.

• At the St. Columb’s Cathedral cemetery in Londonderry, our guide told us that poor people would be interred beneath the ground, but rich people got put into above-ground tombs. This provided a grander memorial, and allowed for an escape if someone was ever buried prematurely. The trouble is that if you really were dead, your corpse would start to rot, and passersby could smell it, and that’s where we get the expression “stinking rich.” (Actual reason: it’s merely an intensifier, like “drop-dead gorgeous.”)

• One of our tour members asked our guide at Dublin Castle what “KG” meant as a pair of postnominal letters. (A number of portraits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century grandees were of people designated “KG”). Without missing a beat, she replied that it stood for “King’s General.” (It actually stands for “Knight of the Garter.”)

• She also said that in the nineteenth century, women’s makeup had a wax foundation, and if a woman thus made-up sat too close to a fire, her makeup might melt off, so a kind soul invented a screen to put in front of the fire to mitigate the intensity of the heat and to keep women’s makeup on, and that’s where we get the expression “to save face.” (Actual reason: “‘Lose face’ began life in English as a translation of the Chinese phrase ‘tiu lien’. That phrase may also be expressed in English as ‘to suffer public disgrace’, that is, to be unable to show one’s face in public.”)

• The Vikings introduced metal coinage to Ireland, which the Irish thought was a good idea. But they didn’t have any pockets to keep it in, so they stuck the coins with beeswax onto their armpit hair. (I highly doubt this ever happened.)

• When Queen Victoria died, the residents of Dublin were ordered to paint their doors black as a sign of mourning. But not everyone admired Queen Victoria, so they painted their doors different bright colors as a protest (many terraced houses did indeed have different colored doors). As a bonus, you can easily recognize which door is yours, on a mile-long terrace of houses, if you’re coming home in the dark after an evening of drinking in the pub. (Query: what were doors painted before the authorities allegedly ordered them painted black? I can see people wanting to distinguish their houses with their own color of door, but I cannot imagine any level of government ordering people to paint their doors a certain color, even in 1901.)

• Regimental colors on display in churches are often falling apart. They are deliberately allowed to rot like this, because “Old soldiers never die, they just fade away.” UPDATE: The First Floor Tarpley military correspondent writes: “I think that may be true as a practice, although the real reason would likely be to do with the fact that the colours were consecrated and also the fact that no money was devoted to their upkeep once laid up. I think many churches are now preserving originals and displaying replicas in their place.”

• Our driver through Killarney National Park claimed that the original horse racing steeplechase took place between St. Mary’s Church (the “steeple” in question) in the town of Killarney and a site in what is now the park, and back again. (According to Wikipedia, the first such race was indeed in Ireland, but it was between Buttevant and Doneraile in County Cork.)

Language and Politics

Some notes, to complement my post from three years ago:

• On my transatlantic flight to Shannon airport I sat next to a charming young woman from County Donegal who was returning from a medical research conference in the United States and who is about to defend her dissertation at the University of Galway. Donegal contains one of the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland although she was not a native speaker of Irish (she was Xhosa, in fact), she did her duty and learned the language in school. The trouble, she told me, is that each of the three west coast Gaeltacht areas (Ulster, Connacht, and Munster) speak a different dialect of Irish, and they’re all different enough to cause problems. So when you go to take your final exam, there’s no guarantee that the person examining you will be speaking the same dialect that you’ve studied!

• Our first stop on the tour was the Dingle Peninsula, a Gaeltacht area (and home of the Munster dialect). There were plenty of signs in the language although I think I overheard it being spoken exactly once. Our guide told us that many high school students come during the summers and stay for two weeks in an Irish-speaking home, on a government-sponsored program to help promote the language. On a coach tour of the peninsula we stopped at St. Caitlín’s (i.e., Catherine’s) Church in the village of Ventry, which was distinguished by being the resting place of its longtime priest Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, who died in 2016 and who is responsible for translating the Bible into Irish. According to our guide, he was the first person ever to accomplish this feat. I thought, surely not – surely someone translated it before? Turns out that there have been previous translations, but Ó Fiannachta’s was the first Roman Catholic one (prior to Vatican II, of course, a Latin Bible was all that a good Catholic really needed). A stained glass window in the church commemorates Monsignor ó Fiannachta and specifically compares him to St. Jerome, who had originally translated the Bible into Latin in the fifth century.

• As I noted before, most personal names and most place names are translatable. That is, if you’re speaking in English, you use the English version, and if you’re speaking in Irish, you use the Irish version. Exceptions exist, of course: being a native Irish speaker and scholar, Pádraig Ó Fiannachta is so called, never “Patrick Fenton.” The Gaeltacht village of Lispole has been spared having its name rendered as such on this road sign:

Note how the other place names are given: Irish version first, in Title Case and italics, and English version second, in ALL CAPS and roman. This convention is a good one: it produces a clear distinction between the versions and probably cuts down on confusion, and hearkens back to the time when Irish required its own font.

• A number of other Irish names and words are standard when speaking English. I jotted down a few:

  • Oireachtas Éireann (the Irish legislature), comprising the Seanad Éireann and the Dáil Éireann
  • Teachta Dála (a member of the Dáil)
  • The political parties Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Sinn Féin
  • Garda Síochána (the police)
  • Taoiseach (Prime Minister, but note that his ceremonial superior is simply the President)
  • Tánaiste (the deputy Prime Minister)
  • Brú na Bóinne (the “Palace of the Boyne,” which I’ll be writing more about)
  • Amhrán na bhFiann,” the national anthem, which is sung in Irish (although there is an English equivalent called “A Soldier’s Song.”)
  • The transportation companies Bus Éireann and Aer Lingus
  • RTE, that is, the national broadcaster Raidió Teilifís Éireann
  • Éire (not “Ireland”) appears on postage stamps

Also, county names appear only in Irish on the number plates:

Cork

Kerry

Louth

• But note that the town of Dingle, which the Irish minister for Community, Rural, and Gaeltacht Affairs ordered in 2005 be known only by the Irish version of its name (“An Daingean”) held a plebiscite the following year to reverse this decision, and overwhelmingly voted to return to the bilingual place name dispensation. As one man stated: “People feel they are being bullied. They have lived with ‘Dingle’ all their lives.” Methinks tourism branding might have had something to do with it as well. If the place has been known and advertised as one thing, why mess with it? Not to mention that there already is a “Daingean” in Ireland, the seat of Co. Offaly.

• Our guide in Dublin Castle pointed out that most place names in English are simply phonetic renderings of the Irish names. The English generally didn’t bother to translate what the names actually meant. Thus did “Dubhlinn” become “Dublin,” and not “Blackpool” (which is what the name means, and which refers to a dark pool on the River Poddle near where it enters the Liffey). But why, I asked, is the Irish name for Dublin actually “Baile Átha Cliath” (pronounced “bally a klee”)? That, she told me, comes from a different geographical feature at a different site: a “hurdled ford” further up the River Liffey. (“Bally,” I discover, simply means “place of,” hence Ballyduff, Ballygally, Ballymena, Ballymoney, etc. But I don’t think that “Ballyackley” ever existed as an English name.)

Apparently Dubhlinn was the Viking settlement, and Áth Cliath the native Irish one; one name stuck in English, and the other in Irish. History is full of these sorts of nominal weirdnesses.

• But for a real naming dispute, you have to travel to the North, where “Are you Derry or Londonderry?” is a question one can ask in that particular city, by means of inquiring which “community” one belongs to.* That is, the nationalists prefer Derry, while the unionists Londonderry. Note that this is a dispute in English: the Irish equivalent of Derry is Doire, and presumably you could call it Londaindoire in Irish if you wanted to, although I highly doubt anyone ever does. According to Wikipedia, it wasn’t that big a deal prior to the advent of the Troubles (viz. the “Apprentice Boys of Derry“), at which time it became a shibboleth. I saw signs in the Republic reading “Doire DERRY” in the prescribed typography noted above, and I actually saw a “Londonderry” sign in the North, that is, some nationalists had gotten to it and effaced the offending prefix.

In the spirit of the Good Friday Agreement, how to solve this impasse? Many people say “Derry-Londonderry,” and I saw it written out “Derry/Londonderry” more than a few times. Our guide said that this has given rise to the jocular nickname “Stroke City.” I think that a good compromise would be to call the city “Derry” (it has a nationalist majority which naturally took control of the place once the gerrymandering was abolished) and the county “Londonderry” (there never was a “County Derry”).**

Failing that, you can always use the name of the local river and its estuary as an avoidance strategy, as does this place:

• At the time of the Romans, some of the people inhabiting what is now Scotland were known as the Picts, and spoke a Celtic language related Welsh and Breton (a Brittonic, or P-Celtic language). The Scots themselves were originally from Northern Ireland and settled western Scotland in the early Middle Ages, founding the kingdom of Dalraida. Thus is the country known today as Scotland, and Scottish Gaelic is a Goidelic, or Q-Celtic language, related to Irish and Manx. If this language was reintroduced into Northern Ireland as a result of the Scottish settlement in the seventeenth century, I saw no evidence of it. But I did see some signs in “Ulster Scots,” which some people hold up as the official minority language of Northern Ireland, and which, as far as they are concerned, is due the same amount of protection and promotion that the Republic lavishes on the Irish language. The trouble, as our guide pointed out, is that Ulster Scots “doesn’t really exist,” and I think she is right. Here is the opening paragraph for “Lunnonderrie” in Wikipedia:

Lunnonderry, kent by monie fowk as Derry, is the seicont mukkilest ceitie in Northren Ireland (eftir Belfast) an the fowert-mukkilest ceitie on the iland o Ireland. In the 2001 Census the ceitie proper haed 83,652 indwallers.

The ceitie ligs in the nor’wast o Northren Ireland naur the mairch wi Coonty Dunnygal, whilk is pairt o the Republic o Ireland. The ceitie is naur the mooth o Loch Foyle an kivers baith banks o the River Foyle. The auld wawd ceitie o Derry is on the wast bank o the River Foyle. The wast bank is aften kent as “Ceitiesyd” whyls the aest bank is aften kent as “Wattirsyd”.

In other words, it is English, with its speakers’ accent rendered phonetically, and certain dialect words that you might recognize (“kent,” “mukkilest”) if you have ever had to read Chaucer, Langland, or Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

But as a result of the Good Friday Agreement and the spirit of outreach that it has promoted, Irish has been finding more and more of a place in Northern Ireland.

* Apparently the name of the eighth letter of the alphabet also marks the distinction, at least according to an article from the Guardian from 2013:

Almost two thousand years later we are still split, and pronouncing H two ways: “aitch”, which is posh and “right”; and “haitch”, which is not posh and thus “wrong”. The two variants used to mark the religious divide in Northern Ireland – aitch was Protestant, haitch was Catholic, and getting it wrong could be a dangerous business.

UPDATE (8/18): the article in front of “H-Block” in this sentence from the Irish Independent, if it isn’t just an error, suggests that “haitch” still prevails in some parts of Ireland:

Its programme included a talk by the leaders of ‘The Great Escape’, when 38 IRA prisoners broke out of a H-Block in Long Kesh in 1983.

** One slight problem with this is that “County Londonderry” doesn’t really exist anymore, except for ceremonial purposes. All across the UK, in the 1970s, local government was reorganized, producing bogus “counties” like “West Midlands,” “Tyne and Wear” or, in Northern Ireland, “Causeway Coast and Glens.” I respect the way that the Republic has not meddled with these historic subdivisions (even though they are a legacy of English imperialism!). I was reading a newspaper article on the abortion referendum and noted a map of the results: populous counties (most notably, Dublin) had been subdivided into smaller units, while sparsely populated counties had been amalgamated (e.g. Sligo and Leitrim, if I’m not misremembering). But note that the counties themselves retain their territorial integrity. Up the Republic!

Nelson’s Pillar

The most distinguishing feature of Trafalgar Square in London is Nelson’s Column, put up in the 1840s to commemorate Admiral Horatio Nelson, the victor (although fatal casualty) of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. At that historic encounter, the Royal Navy defeated a combined Franco-Spanish fleet, thereby reasserting British control of the seas and foreclosing the possibility of a Napoleonic invasion.

Nelson’s Column, Trafalgar Square, London, June 2018.

Unfortunately for the Irish, it also foreclosed the possibility that the French would liberate them from the British, as Theobald Wolfe Tone and Robert Emmet had hoped. The local authorities thus erected a pillar to Nelson on Sackville Street in Dublin in 1809, in celebration of this triumph of the British Empire.

Nelson’s Pillar, Sackville Street, Dublin, c. 1830. Wikipedia.

You could climb up it for a view of the city, but aesthetically it tended to dominate the street, and not in a good way, at least according to several people quoted in an interesting book I bought at the Hodges Figgis bookstore in Dublin.

As the twentieth century wore on and Ireland gained more and more independence, the prominent place of Nelson’s column in Dublin seemed anomalous, especially as it was right next to the General Post Office, the headquarters of the rebels during the Easter Rising of 1916. Some people were determined to do something about this deplorable situation, and in 1966, just prior to the fiftieth anniversary of the Rising, two IRA members managed to plant a bomb halfway up the column, which exploded and brought the top half crashing down into the street. The cover photo Fallon’s book illustrates their handiwork. The Irish Army then demolished the rest. Spokesmen for the IRA disclaimed the action, saying that they were interested in the actual governance of Ireland, not in symbols of the previous regime, although apparently President Éamon De Valera telephoned a newspaper and suggested a headline: “British Admiral Leaves Dublin by Air.”

I was interested to discover that, since 2003, the Nelson Pillar has been replaced with something designated the Spire of Dublin, a stainless steel pin-like monument that extends 120 feet into the air. This was part of a redevelopment for O’Connell Street (as Sackville Street was renamed in the 1920s); it is generally seen as a monument to the “Celtic Tiger” boom years of the 1990s and 2000s.

Spire of Dublin, O’Connell Street, Dublin, May 2018.

Sanctioned or not, blowing up pillars then became somewhat of an IRA tradition. Here is an engraving of “Walker’s Pillar” as it appeared in the 1830s, overlooking the walls of Londonderry. George Walker was an English soldier and Anglican priest who was killed at the Battle of the Boyne, when the Protestant William III defeated the Catholic James II, and secured Protestant supremacy and continued Protestant settlement of Ireland.

Walker’s Pillar, Londonderry. Nineteenth-century engraving. Ebay.

And here’s what it looks like today: nothing more than a plinth, with the remains of a paint bomb thrown at it for good measure. The IRA blew up the column in 1973.

Plinth of Walker’s Pillar, Londonderry, Northern Ireland, June 2018.

Interestingly, this custom was not shared by the members of the Front de Liberation de Québec, who left the Nelson Column in Montreal in its original state.

Nelson’s Column, Montreal, 2005. Wikipedia.

Ireland

Currently teaching my history of Ireland course in preparation for a study-abroad trip there next week. Participating in one of these has been a long-term goal of mine ever since I came to Reinhardt fourteen years ago, but something has always intervened, so I am very much looking forward to this one. Thanks to star organizer Cheryl Brown and EF Tours, we will be visiting the Dingle Peninsula, the Rock of Cashel, Dublin, Newgrange, Derry, and Belfast. Of course, as with my trip to the Middle East in October, this will likely mean a paucity of blog posts for the duration (5/24-6/9), but I should have some good material to write about upon my return.

For St. Patrick’s Day

Although the article was first posted some time ago. From Irish Central:

The Black and Tans, who arrived in Ireland for the first time on March 25, 1920, were not so bad after all, it seems. According to a 2011 book by Canadian historian David Leeson, “The Black and Tans; British Police and Auxiliaries in the Irish War of Independence 1920-21,” published by Oxford University Press, we have been misled by the Irish history books for almost a century.

This will come as disturbing news to millions of Irish and Irish Americans who were raised on stories of the Black and Tans’ atrocities in Ireland during the War of Independence. This includes Vice President Joe Biden, by his own account.

The Black and Tans were a force of Temporary Constables recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary in maintaining control over the IRA during the Irish War of Independence. They were generally thought of as the scum of the British system – looking for British ex-soldiers turned psychopaths, turning them into an evil, murderous militia and releasing them from jails into Ireland.

Not so, says author David Leeson. And a review of the book by Eunan O’Halpin in The Irish Times says it will open many eyes.

Among the major surprises, I found reading O’Halpin’s review was that many of the Black and Tans were actually Irish-born and that regular British soldiers were far more likely to commit atrocities.He writes: “Leeson’s careful analysis of Black and Tan recruitment disposes of the widely altered charge that these temporary policemen were the sweepings of the British penal system. Rather, they were a miscellany of British and Irish ex-servicemen, almost none of whom had criminal records.

“He also suggests that pre-First World War soldiers were more likely than younger Black and Tans to commit disciplinary and criminal offenses in Ireland, challenging the assumption that the chronic ill discipline of these temporary policemen was specifically a manifestation of the brutalizing effects of the First World War on impressionable youths.”

More at the link. See also Eunan O’Halpin’s review. Something tells me that, like any revisionist view of Oliver Cromwell, this won’t have much influence in Ireland.

UPDATE: Was disappointed to see that the Toronto Maple Leafs were not wearing their throwback “St. Pats” sweaters tonight, for a Saturday St. Patrick’s Day home game against traditional Original Six rival Montreal. Between 1919 and 1927 the club was known as the “Toronto St. Patricks” and their colour was green. Here is a rendition of one of their uniforms, from the fascinating NHL Uniform Database:

The club was originally known as the Toronto Arenas when it was founded in 1917. This is their centennial season and they wore Toronto Arenas sweaters on December 19 against the Carolina Hurricanes. (I suspect there are limits on the number of throwback sweaters a team is allowed to wear each year.)

Irish Flag

The place of the Irish tricolor in Ireland was assured forever when it was flown by the rebels of 1916, but people forget that it is actually older than that. Ireland had its own unsuccessful Revolution of 1848, at which time the tricolor made its first appearance. The Irish Times reports this and fourteen other facts about the Irish flag, which turns 170 on March 7.