Monday, October 31, 2016

At The Turning of the Celtic Year

Would you believe it's Samhain already and more than high time we caught up on things here.  Can't believe it's June since the last posting, but things have been fairly busy chez Celtic Memory with the whole summer given over to chasing locations and pictures for De Nextest Book.

What the publishers needed urgently was a more or less complete chapter complete with images, so that they could start designing an overall look.  As you will perhaps know already, the theme of the new book is Finding The Old Road - that is, rediscovering the ways and means our ancestors used when they travelled.  Anything but the modern road in fact - from rivers to trackways, canals to railways, bog roads to butter roads, and how you can still find the traces of these old ways in the countryside if you take the trouble to go searching.

Canals were the chosen topic for the sample chapter and it took more than one trip up and around the country before DH was satisfied that he had nearly enough pictures (he'll never be completely satisfied, and I'd be worried if he were!)

Here is a peaceful moment on the Leinster Aqueduct where it crosses the River Liffey near Sallins.  Petroushka and Tamzin are exchanging pleasantries with another rambling dog.

And here are some tranquil barges not far away.  Doesn't it look like a wonderfully slow and relaxing way to travel?  We've got so used to the jet age that it would probably take quite an effort to slow our pulses down to the stage where we would actually enjoy being able to look at blades of grass while we journeyed along!

Now this is somewhere for which we'd been searching - Lock 13 on the Royal Canal.  It's not always a simple matter to find a particular lock because our road system has expanded somewhat since the late 18th century and what was once the watery main thoroughfare is now a backwater indeed.  But we got there - probably not as quickly as that cyclist who had come the sensible way, along the towpath.

Wanted to find the 13th lock because it is reputed to be haunted, and this being Samhain, one should mention it, don't you think?  A long long time ago, there was a dreadful accident here and many people were drowned.  To this day (or night, to be accurate) it is said that you can still hear the cries and groans of those who were lost, and boatmen will never willingly tie up near here during the darker hours.

This is the lock itself, and, as luck would have it, a train was passing at just the right moment.  When the railway came to Ireland, the Great Western decided it would make a lot of sense to buy up the entire Royal Canal route and thus save itself a lot of trouble by using the already laid-down towpath for its tracks.  And so train and canal run side by side from Dublin all the way to Mullingar.  What's that?  Is the railway haunted too?  Well, it has been whispered that a ghost train can be heard along this stretch by the 13th lock at certain times of the year.  Now I don't know if that's true or not, since I haven't heard it - the only one of which I know is the Loo Bridge ghost train which definitely can be heard whistling along the lonely valley to Kenmare on a track which fell into disuse some sixty years ago.  Maybe one of you should watch by this lock one night soon?

'Don't you do no such a thing!' shrieked this little kitten who suddenly and unexpectedly appeared by the side of the lock.  He must have come from one of the old tumbledown and heavily overgrown lockside buildings but did it very silently if that was the case.  He pattered up and down, being most civil but keeping a careful distance, and you could definitely hear the warning in his voice.

'Don't go next or nigh that lock, nor yet that railway line!  Strange things do happen here at night now that the year is changing.  I do tuck myself into my snug nest and put my paws over my ears I do when I hear the clanging of that bell and the whistle of that train where no train should be at midnight!  Steam and puffing and the like, it's no place for a sensible cat to be!'

Yes, of course I went rushing to the nearest house to enquire if the kitten had a good home.  'I don't know exactly who owns him,' said the friendly woman, 'but he's well fed, that I do know.'  And with that I had to be reassured. (In the interests of strict truth, it should be added that DH was much relieved.)  That's the trouble of being a cat lover, though.  You can't bear to think of one left out in the cold, can you?

No risk of that with Polliwog and Marigold.  They commandeer the most comfortable chair by the fire even before the curtains are drawn these darker evenings.

And Paudge Mogeely (seen here in summer mood) always curls up with his best friend Tamzin at night.

Speaking of Tamzin and indeed Petroushka, they have had some good gallops on deserted beaches during our roamings.

They circle and chase and generally run about three times the distance that I walk when we're down on the shore, and then collapse in the car to catch their breath before the next stop.

Troushka wuz 'ere!

Tamzin got so hot and tired on one run that she simply collapsed into a nice shallow pool and lay there cooling down pleasantly.

So woolly and untidy had 'Troushka become, though, during the summer that a Visit to the Groomer was indicated.  I was rather worried about her, but needn't have been.  She enjoyed herself thoroughly.

Will you look at that smug little smoothie, accepting cuddles from her groomer as if we didn't exist!

Oh and here is something we discovered only today on the outskirts of Bandon.

Well it's been there some time - since the early 19th century in fact - but its history is what is fascinating.  Just behind that bridge is the back gate or tradesmen's entrance to the old estate of Castle Bernard, erstwhile home of the Earls of Bandon.  Horses and carts, servants in search of a place, delivery men, anybody who wasn't anybody important, went in by the back gate.  When the railway came to Bandon, it emerged from the town on its way to Clonakilty Junction just across the road from this bridge - behind where DH stood to take the picture.  Now any lord of the manor traditionally had the right to request the train to stop at his estate if he so required, and the Earls of Bandon exercised this right, whether for themselves, their friends, or even their horses.  And so the elegant upper classes would be driven down to the back gate (you would hardly expect them to walk!) and board the train here, a servant having been sent to the main station in advance to advise of this request stop. Isn't that fun?

Enough.  It's Samhain.    A pot of spiced apple butter is simmering on the woodstove.  The apples this year were plentiful indeed - so much so that I began to wish they weren't quite so productive!

Every morning, we got into the habit of taking a basket down to the orchard to gather the windfalls. Too many, but you can't just leave them there, can you?

I celebrated the colours of autumn by making a rather nice tuck-stitch scarf for a friend on the knitting machine.

It's Zauberball as I recall - perfect fall shades.

The blackbirds have been busy on the rowans which protect our boundaries along with the apple trees.

And the Samhain wreath is on the front door, complete with crab apples and berries, and Julian, my pet bat, named for the little town up in the California mountains where I bought him years ago.

Close the old Celtic year with a glass of something spiced and warming, and make your plans for the year ahead.  Blessings of the season be with you all.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

The Way We Used To Travel

It's not usually this way round.  Normally in early June, Europe is basking in summer sunshine while we in Ireland keep the raincoats and Aran sweaters handy.  This year, however, we have been blessed with the most wonderful weather - wall to wall sunshine, clear blue skies, and everything that was held back by the long grey winter and long grey spring now bursting into life.  And in stark contrast, Europe is having appalling climatic conditions, with floods everywhere, even Paris.

The good weather won't last here, of course.  Can't do.  But the rule is, if it's there, grab the opportunity.  And that is exactly what we have been doing over this last few days.  Confided the zoo to the tender hands of best friend's kennels, and set off early one morning for points north west.  The aim was to gather images for De Nextest Book.  Yes, happy news.  The publishers loved the idea and after a hectic couple of months doing a full draft chapter for their consideration, we got the go-ahead. The working title is Follow The Old Road - that is, don't stay on the nice fast motorway or main thoroughfare, but take that tempting turning, wend your way along old laneways and see what you discover.  More, take another look at harbours, rivers, old disused railway lines, canals, tracks winding over hilltops.  Find out how our ancestors travelled and catch an echo of their history.

We visited sleepy hamlets like Shannon Harbour where once the Grand Canal ended its journey from far-flung Dublin.  Now it's a tiny place, peaceful and quiet, but once it was thronged with travellers going to and from the capital city, bustling with trade, and with stage coaches arriving and departing several times a day.  Further upriver is Shannon Bridge with its magnificent arches and a whacking great fort built in the early 19thc when invasion of England by Napoleon via Ireland was a very real threat to the Crown.

You can see the fort across the river there.  It's a renowned restaurant now - Parker's, I think.

Shannon Bridge has long been a major crossing point, because it is here that one of the old roads of Ireland, the Esker Riada or Sli Mor, intersects with the great river.  No accident that Clonmacnoise was established here when Christianity came to Ireland.  It's very likely that somewhere as powerful as a crossroads of big river and big road would have been important from time immemorial.  Where the old places of strength remained, Christianity was swift to take over.  Part of the Esker Riada - an esker, as I am sure you know, is a natural raised ridge of gravel left behind after the Ice Age - is now known as the Pilgrim Road to Clonamacnoise, but it's been in use a lot longer than that.

It's only when you really think about these places along the Shannon, that you realise what an important part they played in everyday life.  Here is the shortest or shallowest crossing place.  Here is where the canal joined the river and barges from the Midlands or Dublin could travel down to Limerick or further up the main river itself.

Here is Termonbarry, where the Royal Canal runs into the Shannon (yes, two opposing companies built the Grand and the Royal, both from Dublin to the Shannon, both aiming to corner the market). If you go down to the canal pathway underneath the little humpbacked bridges, where once horses pulled the barges through, you can see the grooves of their pulling ropes worn into the stonework over years.  The ducks still paddle on the quiet waters,  the flowers still grow on the banks, but the horses have gone. Leisure boats now enjoy the canals where once major industry flourished, wealthy people travelled to visit friends, and emigrants took the first steps towards a new life across the sea..

Met up with an old favourite of mine in Ballymahon.  Oliver Goldsmith's Deserted Village was one of the earliest poems I learned by heart (must have been about four).  He left his native land to seek fame and fortune in London and create classics like She Stoops to Conquer and The Vicar of Wakefield.  Myself, I think The Deserted Village is based half on the landscapes he knew as a child, and half on English hamlets that he saw later on in life.  There is much of both cultures in the poem.

The fine weather had brought country families out to stack - or 'stook' - their turf so that the warm wind could blow through it and dry it thoroughly before they brought it home to build a rick in the yard against the winter wet and cold.  It was interesting to see that up here in the midlands they stacked them two or three at a time crossways, and upwards.  In West Cork they tend to lean four or five together with their tops touching.

Bogs and bogland were very much on the agenda for us because I was fulfilling a long-held ambition to visit one of the most exciting places possible - somewhere you could actually reach out and touch the far distant past.

Here is a stretch of genuine Irish bogland which has been part-cleared by the Irish Turf Board (Bord na Mona).  It's very close to where we were headed.

And this is what I had waited a long time to see.  It's indoors, it's kept in the dark most of the time, access is controlled.  But that's only fitting for a building project that dates from 146 BC.  Yes, 146 BC.  That's when somebody with considerable clout directed that a massive trackway should be built right across Corlea Bog, a place already well known to people of the time as a dangerous and difficult terrain.  Not only that, but this powerful leader dictated that the trackway should be wide enough for wheeled traffic, and should be built not of just any wood, but the very best oak.  That meant felling one heck of a lot of trees protected by the Irish laws of the time.  We always treasured our trees, and the old Brehon Laws lay down the fines and punishments for damaging any of them.

But the Corlea Trackway was built, very speedily, over one winter.  Dendrochronology has established that fairly firmly.  Now what could have been the purpose, the need, the overall guiding impulse?  The site is very close to one of the narrowest crossing points of the Shannon, and directly in line between Rathcroghan, palace of Queen Maeve, and the Hill of Uisneach, the ancient ceremonial centre of Ireland.  Was it required for a particular state occasion?  For a war?  We just don't know.  Not yet anyway.

There is more of the Corlea ancient road to be discovered.  Fortunately the OPW (Office of Public Works) was able to buy some more privately-owned bogland beyond this, and that is being preserved until funding can be secured to do some more archaeological work. Because getting this stretch of it to the state you can see above was extremely expensive.  Thanks be we had a visionary government at the time, back in the 1980s, which realised the stupendous importance of the chance find during turf cutting.  Dating it back as far as the Iron Age meant it was far earlier than anyone could have imagined. Old bog roads or 'toghers', made of wood and brush, are common enough around the country, as you'd expect with so much soggy land, but usually they were made for local purposes, to enable farmers to reach their fields, or the occasional traveller to continue his journey without a major detour.  Something of the size and quality of Corlea, though, was previously unknown here.  

What is really exciting too is a reference in the ancient Irish tale, The Wooing of Etain, where Midir is set what seems to be an impossible task of bridging just such a slough,, for which he calls upon Otherworld help:

No one had ever trodden that bog before... Into the bottom of the causeway they kept putting a forest with its trunks and roots, Midir standing and urging on the host on every side.  One would think that below him all the men of the world were raising a tumult.  After that, clay and gravel and stones were placed upon the bog.  Thereafter the steward came to Eochaid and brought tidings of the vast work he had witnessed, and he said there was not on the ridge of the world a magic power that surpassed it.

There is little doubt that it is the Corlea trackway enshrined here in the legend, carried down from generation to generation through folk memory.  I can tell you, we went away from there full of excitement and energy.  What was it built for? Why, as seems apparent, was it not used for very long?  What were the actual circumstances?  Oh to go back to that time, just for an hour or two...

[Lookit, I don't know why the text has changed size, ok?  I've tried to edit it over and over, but it's in a sulk since I quoted that ancient legend.  Maybe it's trying to tell me something...?]

But we were travelling on, upwards and westwards towards the route of an old railway which once linked remote Achill Island to the rest of Ireland.  Disused for over 75 years, the track has now been given a new lease of life as the Great Western Greenway, a wonderful walking and cycling route across stunning scenery all the way from bustling Westport to beautiful Achill Sound.

In the background you can see the lovely old arches of Burrishoole Bridge.

Horses lean over the fence to pass the time of day, a constant temptation to cyclists to take a rest and enjoy the view.

Here is the old railway station at Mulrany.  The Great Western Hotel here was the most luxurious place to stay for those who could afford it back in the late 19th and early 20th century.  The hotel is still there, still luxurious, but its clientele now arrives by car.

Achill Island is one of those spectacularly beautiful places that turns your heart upside down.  Hard enough for those trying to wrest a living from the poor soil back in the 19th century, but an oasis for visitors today.

And also the ideal place to bring up your family if you happen to be a wheatear with hungry mouths to feed during the long summer days.

Know who used to live here?  Granuaile, or Grace O'Malley, the pirate queen of the West.  Not so much a pirate really, our Grace, more of a highly practical local chieftain who didn't see why strange ships loaded with good things should be allowed to pass through her territory without paying allegiance and a small fee.  Granuaile is the one who, when the English tried to take her lands away, travelled all the way to London and bearded Queen Elizabeth I in her state chambers to argue her case.  (She got her way of course - even the tough Elizabeth hadn't met anyone quite like Grania before.)

The terminus of the Great Western was here, at Achill Sound, where travellers disembarked to cross to the island and met with poor emigrants headed in the opposite direction.  It's a hostel now, and you'd have to listen with the ear of faith to hear to long-gone sound of train whistles and long-ago voices.  Where the tracks used to run is at this time of year a mass of orchids, blooming happily in a sheltered spot below the level of the sea winds.

See the six-spot burnet moths on this orchid?   One way of life gives place to another.

It was a wonderful few days, with so many things that fired the mind and got the creative urge working overtime.  

Yes, of course the knitting came too.  This is Killaloe/Ballina (one town each side of the Shannon) down nearer to Limerick on the way home.  My maternal grandfather was born near here so it was nice to sit on the wall in the sunshine and relax.  I'm working on an exceptionally complex pair of twisted-stitch socks by Caoua Coffee for Sock Madness on Ravelry.

Here they are in closeup.  The cuffs weren't too difficult, but one suspects that the main chart (which looks like a plan for a moon landing1) will require constant and unremitting attention.

Oh, speaking of knitting, there was some more fun recently, when the Fruity Knitting Podcast asked for a short video on my work and where I lived.   I was honoured and DH was willing to do the technical stuff, so we chose a nice location overlooking the sea in West Cork. After that, Andrea and Andrew did miracles with the clip, even sorting out the sound of the sea breeze, which was surprisingly loud!

You can see the podcast on Fruity Knitting.  It's a fairly lengthy episode (the work those two put into it is amazing!)  but I come in at around 19.5 mins into the piece.

Here is one picture you won't see on the podcast.  'Troushka ran off along the beach in pursuit of another dog and flatly refused to return to the car.  In the end, the only way to restrain her was to take off my exquisitely handcrafted Boo Knits lace shawl and use it as a temporary leash!  I have to say the silk (and the lacework) survived the ordeal very well.  As did 'Troushka, who never holds grudges, bless her.

Plenty of work to be done in the months ahead.  O'Brien Press are hoping to see a (fairly) completed manuscript by the early autumn and we all know how quickly the weeks and months slip by.  Back to the grindstone!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Of Savage Shreddings, Seasonal Storms, and Secret Searchings

At this time of year, there is always a great deal of crafting and planning and packaging and general kerfuffle as we create gifts that we hope the recipients will love.  

This donkey took a surprisingly long time to make and swallowed so much stuffing you wouldn't believe it.  I didn't want to make him too hard and solid, because he was intended for a very small little boy, but he was still greedy for more and more filling, no matter how much I crammed in.  Polliwog and Paudge Mogeely reserved their opinion on him, and positively encouraged me to get to the post office with the bulky package at the earliest possible convenience.

Once Mr Donkey had headed off, it was time to complete this scarlet shawl (it's Shaelyn, if you're looking for the pattern) in a fine mohair blend.  I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't have enough yarn to finish the bind off, and just look at the few inches surplus, down there on the left hand side!  That was finished on a wing and a prayer.  It was sent off to a dear friend on whom it will look spectacular.  She has promised to send me a picture of herself wearing it.

And then, it being December, there was the very pleasant annual ritual of the Advent Scarf.  Every year a large number of us around the globe get together to knit this scarf which is different every year.  A new clue is sent out each morning.  The idea is that you spend a little time in a peaceful way, knitting on that day's section and relaxing before real life butts in.  It's designed and run by patient and hardworking moderator Zemy, who is always understanding of panics and problems and there to help.

But she couldn't help with this one.

Here is my scarf, after Day 2 was completed.

You can see Estonian lace patterns on either side, and a cable shaping up in the middle.  It's beginning to look really beautiful, isn't it?  I had done a provisional cast-on, so that I could join both ends of the finished piece neatly, and have a looped infinity scarf to show off at Christmas.

But I reckoned without this devilish little fiend.

Yes, angelic little Marigold Rusalka.  I should have anticipated what was coming when I saw her sitting on the banister above the daily calendar, clearly waiting for the knitalong to start.  But I was busy.  Too much to think about, too much to do.

Each morning, after I had finished, I rolled the knitting up in its bag and then, for safety, put the bag under some books.  Should be safe there, I thought.


I came down from my study that second evening to find a ghastly sight spread across the floor of the living room.  No, I don't have photographs.  It was too awful a situation.  The yarn, I should perhaps mention, was a very rare and beautiful cashmere/silk blend in softest cream.  I had a big squishy ball of it, carefully wound.  

Or rather I had had.  Now it was a wild and widespread tangle of loops and knots and exuberant weaving experiments, around the legs of chairs and tables, in and out, round and about.  And dearest little Marigold lay contentedly on top.

Some of us become stronger through challenges like this.  I didn't.  I lifted the kitten off and put her elsewhere.  Then I gathered up the untidy chewed heap and put it back in the bag (somehow it took a lot more room than before.  The wooden circular needle showed quite a few needle teeth marks too).  Put it upstairs and shoved all thoughts of Advent knitalongs firmly from my mind.  

But you can't leave a yarn like that betrayed and forlorn and forgotten.  So I had to face it again, take it from the bag and spread it out (yes, in another room, far from Marigold, indeed from any of the zoo).  It took three full days to unwind and untangle that yarn (miraculously there was only one actual chewed break - the silk must have been stronger than I thought.)  It was carefully rewound into a skein and given a very gentle bath, then hung in a quiet place to dry.

But the heart of the project was gone, the joy, the anticipation.  Just couldn't face starting all over again.  And by now, everybody else was weeks ahead.

But then, one morning (it happened to be my parents' wedding anniversary which I always remember because they got married in December and went skiing in Switzerland for their honeymoon, which was quite daring at the time), I saw that the newest knit clue had dropped into my mailbox and half-heartedly I clicked on it, thinking that I really should explain to the others why I hadn't been around on the chat site lately.

And it so happened that that day's pattern incorporated a delicate little lace design known as Lingonberry.  Now I adore lingonberries.  Some of my happiest memories are of sitting in a cosy restaurant in Finland enjoying reindeer stew with lingonberries.  And I wondered if, after all, it might be possible to get back into the knitalong and pay homage to lingonberries at the same time.  So that's what I did.  The new scarf is far simpler, being just the graceful lingonberry design rather than the spectacular sampler, but I was at least knitting along with everybody else, which was what mattered.

Here it is so far, with SuperBrat being told to promise faithfully never to meddle with it again, and looking at me with those insolent golden eyes that say 'Is it kidding me, you are?'

You might not be aware of it, but we have had the stormiest, windiest, wettest December on record in Ireland.  Every night we have gone to bed to the sound of shrieking winds, and every morning woken to rain lashing at the windows.  Fortunately Celtic Memory's home is on a hill, so flooding has not been a problem, but so many people around the country have been suffering that it breaks your heart.  Imagine getting ready for Christmas and then having floodwater rush through your home, sweeping away all your preparations?  Imagine having to leave your precious home and all the security it once promised, to huddle in a community hall?  And we have so many farmers who have been desperately trying to save their cattle and sheep and horses and somehow find shelter and feed for them.  As of tonight, the forecasters can't see any end in sight.  All they can say is that it's likely to continue for another two or three weeks.  Ireland is well used to acting as a sponge for rain, but no land can take this much.  There are parts of the world, clearly, which are not getting this water, and who need it just as badly as we want it to stop.  Wish I could organise it.

But yesterday was a brief, wonderful break, with strong cold winds but a clear blue sky.  And we rushed out to get some air, some exercise, and give the youngest dog, Petroushka, a reminder that yes, there were beaches and gallops and fun to be had in the world.

Only a few miles from home we were warned to stop in our tracks by this friendly man in gum boots.  Try a side road, he suggested.  Straight ahead of you, it's a lake for miles.  So we did, and managed to struggle through that particular inundation in a foot or two of water.

Down by Crookhaven, the sea was dashing on the rocks and roaring among the bays.  Definitely not a day for paddling, but it was wonderful to breathe salty fresh air again.

And 'Troushka loved every minute of it, scrabbling over stones, leaping rock pools, sampling the seawater and remembering belatedly that it wasn't a good idea, and generally being a happy dog.

The high winds had brought in some rare birds to our shores too.  Last month we saw an American bittern near Castlefreke, and yesterday we had the privilege of close contact with some splendid glossy ibises who must have been blown across from Florida.

I hope this bird and his companions have a happy time here, feeding up and relaxing.  And that, perhaps, they stay awhile.  If there are enough of them, maybe they'll decide to settle in West Cork?

Here is the Fastnet Lighthouse, barely visible through the seaspray, with the waves dashing against its rocks.  It's automatic now, but what must it have been like in the days when three or four men handled that great light, to ensure no ships went aground in storms like this?

Now we're back to storms and rain, but there are some advantages to being kept indoors.  It meant that a good deal of time could be spent working on ideas for De Nextest Book, which is now, at last, taking dim shape.  I can tell you that it's going to be about the old roads, the old trackways, the ancient routes which linked different parts of Ireland, and what you can discover even today when you step off the tarmac and the speedway and follow the path less trodden.  Who could joy in getting to a destination in ten seconds less than yesterday when by turning quietly off into a side lane, you enter a world where waving bushes almost meet across your windscreen, where grass grows in the centre of the path, and history is all around you?

A very happy New Year to you all.  May 2016 bring all that you wish for (but don't forget to swim out to meet your ship of dreams halfway, instead of waiting for it to come to you!)

Sunday, September 27, 2015

In Which A Boggy Mountainside Is Survived and A Glorious Old World Orchard Is Visited

I was having the divil's own luck with that Druid's Stocking I mentioned last time.  The infinitesimally tiny needles and the fine yarn, though undeniably a beautiful green, made for a dreadfully harsh fabric, not to mention the havoc they were playing with my fingers and thumb joints.  Eventually I got sense and went up a few sizes in needle and called upon the aid of a lovely warm soft pale grey yarn that I'd used before.  Instant happiness!

Here are the new and the old, which I fitted round a pair of boots by the crabapple tree.  You probably can't see the lovely patterning on the pale grey but it's there, believe me.  This is just the cuff so far, and then that gets turned down and you start on the leg of the stocking.  Which has its own delightfully complex cabling.  Meggie really is a brilliant knit designer.

And, the birthday of a very small young friend coming up soon, I whipped up this little bag last night.

It's the Toy Tote Bag by Sherry Etheridge and is just big enough to take some tiny gifts and sweets.  Then it can be used later on for special treasures and slung over a small shoulder.  A really speedy crochet project for suddenly-needed gifts - you could put anything inside it from pretty soaps and flannels to indulgent chocolate treats.

We decided the other day that it really was high time to go and get good pictures of a particular stone circle down at Kealkil on the back road to Bantry.  Getting there wasn't too much of a problem (as long as you can cope with climbing steep sinuous boreens about the width of a loaf of bread and never knowing if you'll meet a tractor or hay wagon coming the other way at full speed, and, having lived here a fairly long time, we can) but actually reaching the monument itself posed more of a challenge.  There was a stiff iron gate standing stern amid a positive sea of mud and manure.  As if that were not enough, somebody had spilled black sticky oil all around the opening side.  Which meant the dog had to be carried, as I wasn't prepared to deal with black sticky oily paws for the rest of the day and night.  We crossed one field, and then had to tackle the next obstacle - a steep ladder, again emerging from the depths of a quagmire, up to a bramble-bedecked bank, and another ladder down the other side.  Dog had to be lifted again.  This was Petroushka, by the way, who, though still a puppy, weighs twice as much as the other two and then some.

And then, having gained the final stretch,  the entire field itself turned out to be a bog, with quaking tussocks of grass standing up in deep pools of inky water.  How you can get a bogland on top of a hill, where you would think every drop would have drained off, beats me, but there is one here, take my word for it.   Crossing it was no fun at all.  You would probably have come down to solid rock after you'd sunk to your ankles, but it still wasn't the kind of afternoon stroll you would have chosen.

Eventually, though, we got to the stone circle and it was worth it.  The circle itself is small, but there are two superb tall standing stones outside it, as well as a ruined cairn.

You can get an idea of the height of the tallest stone in this picture - I'm about 5'7" so I would say it was twice that.  Bantry Bay is in the background, and the Kerry mountains beyond that.

Most of our clothes required special cleaning when we got home (to say nothing of Petroushka) but it was worth it.  Beautiful monument.  If only one hadn't got the distinct feeling that somebody didn't want us there and had taken steps to discourage visitors.

Now it's the season of mists and mellow fruitfulness as you all know (unless of course you live in the southern hemisphere, in which case you're starting to enjoy spring) and here that means apples.  Our own crabapples (seen above with the Druids Stockings) aren't ready to pick yet, but we knew of a wonderful orchard on the east side of Cork and made our way there when we judged the time to be right.

This is 16thc Barryscourt Castle where Heritage Ireland is doing a tremendous job of restoring not only the structure but the surrounding gardens too.  To this end, they planted an orchard with as many of the old Irish apple trees as they could find. Isn't that a lovely thing to do?

How could you resist apples with beautiful names like Offaly Lady's Fingers or Irish Peach?  Kerry Pippin or Crofton Scarlet?

I just had to get a closer look at this Ardcairn Russet...

And they very very kindly let us take away some of the windfalls.  I have evolved a great method of making apple butter, using the slow-cooker (crockpot to you New Worlders), and have already got the first couple of pots filled and labelled.

May your own autumn be full of fine foraging and happy preparations for filling the pantry shelves before winter.