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My "Best of Ireland" Tour Journal

Chapter 1: General Notes On Ireland

Ireland covers an area of 32,572 square miles. It is 301 miles from north to south and 181 miles from west to east. It is divided into 32 counties and these are divided between 4 provinces. Long ago each province had its own king with a High King ruling over all. In 1169 the last of the High Kings was defeated by the Normans. In 1197 the last High King died. Now the division into provinces is not very important. The four provinces are: Munster Leinster - the largest Connaght - the poorest Ulster - Mostly part of Northern Ireland. It contains 9 counties, 6 of which are under British rule. The other 3 belong to the Republic of Ireland.

The country is divided by the River Shannon - the longest river in the British Isles. The land east of the Shannon is good, arable land. The land to the west is poor. The centre of Ireland is mostly a flat limestone plateau. The frequent rain reacts with the limestone to make Ireland so green and verdant.

Ireland is only 8% forested. There is a reforestation project underway with Canadian Pine and Norwegian Spruce being planted. Also oak and fir are being planted. The goal is to reach 25% forestation. The trees will be left untouched for the first 20 years. 1/7th of Ireland is bog land. Most of it is in the west. Most bogs are privately owned. They open them around St. Patrick's day, as soon as they have dried out enough to harvest. First they take off the "scraw", or top layer, and dig into the bog with a "slain". The turf (or peat - although peat is actually the layer under the "turf" which is used for soil amendments) is pulled out in the shape of a brick and laid on top of the bog to dry. Once dried it is light-weight and clean and, when completely dry, strongly resists taking up moisture again. It is burned in many Irish fireplaces. A person can "buy" a stretch of 60 yards to harvest to do them for the winter. Peat leaves a very fine residue when burned but doesn't throw sparks, therefore it can be burned in an open fire with no danger. In Donegal and elsewhere it has always been considered bad luck to ever let your fire die out. It takes 100 years to replace 1" of peat harvested. Once harvested the bogs are drained and are now being planted in forests. The Bog of Allen, in the center of Ireland, is government owned. In 1947 the government set up the "Turf Board" to regulate the industry. Machine harvesting has been perfected but the end product burns faster than the hand-harvested. It takes 2 and a half times the amount of machine-harvested turf to give off the same amount of heat. Many environmentalists are trying to stop the harvesting of peat and protect the bogs.

The fuchsia grows wild in Ireland. It was originally imported by the monks returning from South America. It is sometimes called "the dancing ladies". It is also known commonly as "Jesus' tears".

It is estimated that there are 250,000 acres of rhododendrons growing in Ireland. In the 18th century the Irish gentry would bring back plants from their Mediterranean travels. The Urban Council has been trying to keep the rhododendrons under control because they are crowding out other native growth.

The average farm in Ireland is only 50 acres. Most peat bogs in Ireland are privately owned.

The population currently sits at around 5 million. It is now growing for the first time since the famine. County Cork is the largest county. There is approximately 1 million people in the six northern counties ruled by the British. Currently Ireland is facing a labour shortage. They are offering free passage for people living in any of the member states of the European Economic Union (EEU). Additionally, there are about 1000 people per month requesting refugee status in Ireland. The average birth rate is 2.3 children per family. Ninety six percent of the population is Roman Catholic. The remaining 4% is made up mostly of Church of Ireland (Anglican), Presbyterian, Methodist and Jewish. Fifty percent of the population is under 25 years old.

Ireland is regarded as a Celtic country. The Celts arrived in Ireland between 500 - 200 B.C. It is not certain where they came from. The group arriving in Ireland, the Goudilic Celts (where the word Gaelic comes from) was the same group that settled Scotland and the north of France. They were an organized, tribal, pagan society. They paid homage to their kings. The seat of the pagan High King was on the Hills of Tara in County Meade. They set aside specific days to attend to specific duties: Monday was wash day Tuesday was bread making day Wednesday was wine making day Thursday was for taking care of finances Friday was for making love Saturday was for drinking Sunday was a day of rest

Before the coming of Christianity the pagans worshipped water. Later, the wells were blessed in the name of the religious leader of the particular area. The bringing of Christianity is attributed to St. Patrick. He is said to have come to Ireland as a slave when he was just a boy. One night he had a vision which instructed him to go to Rome. He did as the vision instructed, was educated in Rome, and returned as a priest in 432. For 29 years he traveled Ireland converting the Irish to Catholicism. For the next 300 years Ireland became known as the land of priests and scholars. Many monastic settlements sprang up. The people were totally independent. They settled next to a river for fish, used animal skins for their leather needs, and grew their own vegetables for food, dyes and for writing. Their buildings were made of wood. Men came from all over Europe to study and live lives of prayer. Many returned to Europe to spread the word there.

The Claddagh ring originated in a small village in County Galway. A member of the Claddagh area was kidnapped and imprisoned as a slave in Algeria. While there he was made to work learning the trade of metal working, particularly with gold and silver. He seemed to have a natural talent for it. Later, when he finally found his way back to Ireland he used his talent to design a wedding ring for a clan member. On the ring, the heart signifies love, the two hands signify "your love is in my hands" and vice versa, and the crown represents trust and fidelity. The Claddagh ring remains very popular for weddings and engagements to this day.

Travelling the highways of Ireland one sees many roadside sculptures. These are referred to by the locals as the "Percentage Sculptures". There is a law that for every new road built, 10% of the cost must be spent on roadside sculpture or landscaping.

It was the practice of the monasteries to bury the ashes of their cremated dead in gold urns. The Vikings heard about these golden urns and, in 1014, attacked with the goal of plundering these burial sites. Brian Boru defeated them.

Thatched roofs: Originally gorse and heather were used for thatching if you couldn't afford straw. After the combine harvester became popular, straw was harder to find and people started using reeds. It takes a good Thatcher to know when the reeds are ready to be used. Reeds are stronger than straw and better at keeping the crows at bay. The branches of the hazel tree are pared, slit down the middle and pointed at both ends. They're used similar to a hairpin to pin down the reeds. A thatched roof made of straw would typically last 25-30 years. One made of reeds could last up to 70 years. In the modern times having a thatched roof put on a new home is a form of inverted snobbery. It is much more expensive than an ordinary roof because skilled Thatchers are hard to find and the cost for insurance is high. The eaves on a thatched roof are very deep. People used to run under them to shelter from the rain. Anything going on inside the home could be heard through the eaves hence the origin of the term "eavesdropping". Also, thatched roofs were one the causes of the popularity of four poster beds. Because the roofs could harbour insects and had a tendency to drop bits of straw from time to time, the beds were covered by a canopy that would catch the debris and prevent it from falling on the hapless sleepers. Also, four posters were popular because homes had no central heating. At night you could climb in bed and pull the bed curtains closed to keep the air inside warm for sleeping.

Since 1973 it has been illegal in Ireland to build a new home without a fireplace.

Why do the English and Irish travel on the left hand side of the road? In early times the Gentry travelled with all of their worldly goods. They would frequently be attacked by highwaymen. Since most people are right-handed, by travelling on the left side of the road they kept their sword hand free for defense.

Arthur Guinness was the brewmaster to the Bishop of Cashel. There were two vines on the back wall of the Bishop's castle that Guinness experimented with. He opened his own brewery in 1759. The Lords Iveigh and Moyne are members of the Guiness family. A very popular poem was once used as a promotion for Guinness stout:

Some Guinness spilt on the barroom floor as the bar closed down for the night.
When out of a hole in the barroom wall a wee mouse crept into sight.
He sipped that Guinness from the barroom floor and back on his haunches he sat.
Then they heard him roar the whole night long "Bring on that God-damned cat!".

Poiteen is a moonshine made from barley and potato skins. It is commonly made in remote areas for "medicinal purposes."

"Balli" means "town"
"Guertine" means "garden"
"Taoiseach" means Prime Minister
Gaelic football and Hurling are native Irish games.

Cisterien Monks introduced mortar to the stone building in Ireland. They built Boyle Abbey around 1161.

The Normans conquered Britain in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings. They were granted the lands of Wales. They invaded Ireland from Wales in 1169. One of them - Gerald - was said to have fathered 100 children. They became known as Fitz-Gerald, or sons of Gerald. "Fitz" was a Norman word which usually signified "bastard". The family eventually split and became the Earls of Kildare and Dukes of Dublin in one county and the Earls of Desmond in another. The Norman invasion changed the course of history for Ireland forever.

Upon arriving in Ireland, at first the Normans built with wood but the Celts kept burning down their buildings so they started building with stone. King Henry visited the area and decided he wanted the lands of Ireland for his son John. He approached Pope Adrian and received a Papal Bull in 1172 giving him the lands. From that time until the late 1900's, Ireland was under British rule.

Four sites were picked for John's castles: Limerick - still standing Dungarven Lismore Carlingfordlocke - still standing

In 1197 the last of the old Kings died.

In 1649 Cromwell came to Ireland. England was at war. Because of the beheading of Charles I, Cromwell was named the "Protector" of England. He came to Ireland with an army of mercenaries because he was afraid that the powerful Butler family of Ireland could raise a large enough army to threaten England and reinstate the monarchy. He paid the mercenaries by granting them Irish lands. They drove the Irish to the west of the River Shannon where the land was poor. The Cromwellian soldiers took the land to the east of the Shannon. There were too many people to the west to live off the land. Many were sold as slaves to the West Indies, many emigrated, and many more took to the road and became "tinkers". The descendants of these Tinkers are now known as "Travellers". Currently there are about 23,000 families of Travellers throughout Ireland. One of the largest traveling families is the O'Briens. Also the O'Connors. They still marry within their own communities and have their own language and customs.

After the Cromwell invasions and subsequent confiscating of lands, the Penal Laws were introduced. The Irish games, dress, dancing, singing and language were outlawed. People could not have property worth more than 10 or livestock worth more than 5. Priests were outlawed and people were not allowed to worship as Catholics. They were required to pay 10% of their income to the Church of Ireland (Anglican). The Catholic religion went underground and priests would hold mass in remote areas. The Irish language survived by the efforts of travelling scholars with students also hiding in the hills and hedgerows.

During the reign of Queen Anne (1704 - 1714) a group of persecuted Germans moved to St. Catherine's Island. Later, 85 of them moved to Ireland and bought tenancies in the Limerick area. These people were Lutherans. Anne, being of German extraction, was hoping the influx would serve to break down the Irish culture and religion. However, when Lutherans died, their bibles were buried with them. Eventually, there were no more Lutheran bibles left therefore their own practices were a strong factor in the loss of the Lutheran religion in their descendants. The Methodist church filled the void left by the Lutherans.

The 1798 uprising in Dublin led to the Act of Union in 1801.

Daniel O'Connell was born in 1775 to a poor family. He was fostered by a wealthy uncle, Morris O'Connell) who made his money through the smuggling of goods and people. Daniel was smuggled to France to be educated despite the laws of the English. He became a barrister at a time when the penal law forbade the education of Irish Catholics. He fought for the rights of the Irish. In 1829 he managed to get them the right to vote. He died of pneumonia in Genoa in 1849 on his way back to Rome. He was greatly respected by the Irish people. He is said to have willed "his heart to Rome, his soul to Heaven, and his body to Ireland".

The Republic of Ireland is part of the European Economic Union (EEU). The whole of western Ireland is considered, by the EEU, to be "disadvantaged" therefore the farmers in that area are now receiving subsidies which place them in a much better economic position then they have ever been before.

In the 19th century there was the Finian movement in the USA and the Irish Republican Brotherhood in Ireland. In 1867 the leaders of a planned uprising were caught and executed. Shortly after the group changed their name to the Irish Republican Army. In the early days they fought a just cause and were widely respected.

Charles Stewart Parnell, born in County Wicklow, was educated at Harvard. He was elected to Parliament and was able to pass a series of Land Acts then passed two home rule bills by the House of Commons. They were then vetoed by the House of Lords. Later, John Redman made a deal with the Prime Minister to do away with the veto power if the Irish would fight for England in the upcoming war. It was passed in 1912, then was not honoured after the start of the war.

In 1916 there was an uprising, mostly in Dublin. It took the British by surprise. The Irish got control of all of the major buildings. The British sent gunboats up the river and captured and hanged the 13 ringleaders.

In 1918 the Irish formed a political party called Sein Fein. They should rightfully have sat on the British government but were not permitted to. During the Civil War the Irish hero, Michael Collins, was killed. Up until 1921 Ireland was one country. The Treaty of 1921 granted Ireland independence, keeping 6 counties of Ulster under British rule.

During the reign of Elizabeth I the lands from west Donegal to east Antrum were in the hands of the O'Neill's in the east and the O'Donnell's in the west. They were the Earls of Tier Neil and Tier Connell.

In 1601, the Earls sent to Spain to request an armada be sent to assist them in getting rid of the English from their lands. The Spanish agreed and were to land close to the English-held counties where the Irish would meet them to join forces. Instead, the Spanish landed south in Kinsale, County Cork. The Irish armies had to make a forced march, in the dead of winter, from the north to the south to meet the Spaniards. Hence, the English were prepared for them. The Battle of Kinsale provided total defeat and humiliation for the Irish forces. Being unable to even face their own people, they wandered the country for 6 years and in 1607 fled the country entirely with their families and settled in France and then Rome.

Elizabeth died in 1603. James VI of Scotland became James I of Ireland. He drove off the tenants and the extended families of O'Donnell and O'Neill and gave the lands to English friends in 1608 to start "plantations". Eventually, the descendants of the O'Neills and the O'Donnells wanted to come back and reclaim their lands. In 1709 there was the "Battle of the Diamonds" which was also unsuccessful for the Irish.

The Orange order was then set up to "protect" the Protestants. The Catholics then set up the Order of Hibernia for their "protection". Eventually the "planters" brought industry to the area in the form of ship-building and distilleries by approaching the London Guilds. The industries were confined to the six north eastern counties. When the Act of Union was proposed in 1801 some people were trying to have it repealed from the beginning. The 6 north eastern counties had a good number of English businessmen and their families settled there and they were uneasy of what the future would hold for them if they would now come under Irish rule. Edward Carson set up an organization called the Ulster Volunteers to protect their interests. The group's policies always sided with the Tory government in England.

Finally, after several years a Treaty was signed in 1921 granting self-rule to the Republic Of Ireland. However 6 of the 9 counties in the Province of Ulster were to remain under the rule of England. England was in agreement with this because they needed these Tory votes and because most of the industry was in these counties. The English plantation owners in these counties were in agreement because, if they were to be part of the Republic of Ireland, they feared repercussions for the treatment they had given to the former Irish land-owners and their families.

The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is 230 miles long. In Northern Ireland the voting was set up based on property owned, not on one vote per person. A civil rights movement was formed in 1968 with the purpose of securing equal rights for everyone - one vote per person. The British army was sent in to deal with the demonstrations.

From 1972 until February 2001 Northern Ireland was ruled from Westminister. Senator George Mitchell from the USA came over to work on a solution. As a result of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, a new Assembly was set up but never really sat together.

A "De-commissioning Committee" was set up under Canadian General John de Chastelaine to eliminate arms. A new election was set for August 12th 2001.

The term "famine is probably a misnomer. There was plenty of food to go around but it wasn't available to those who needed it most. It was a landlord/tenant situation. The tenants had to work the land for their landlord and pay them for their tenancies. They had no rights. They could not sell their tenancies. A lot of tenants had sub-tenants thereby dividing the growing space even more.

Under the Corn Laws, the people who grew grain in Ireland were forced to export it to England. Each tenant had 1 acre to grow food for their own family. They grew potatoes which they combined with buttermilk for their nutritional needs. This was their staple diet.

In 1845 the potato blight hit. The potatoes were rotting in the fields. The authorities were contacted. The Lord Lieutenant contacted the English Government (Mr. Trevellian). Trevellian didn't believe the situation was as bad as reported because "the Irish had a tendancy toward exaggeration". In 1846 the blight hit again but this time they didn't even have left over supplies from the year before. Trevellian still did not believe the situation could be as bad as described. The Quakers, from America, who traveled on horseback across the country started reporting what they were seeing. Trevellian still felt the reports were exaggerated. In 1847 people started dying. The worst hit was in West County Cork where the blight had been first reported two years previously. Trevellian still did not respond appropriately.

The USA sent corn over. It was taken by Trevellian's men and put in storage to be meted out over time. By the time the enormity of the situation was acknowledged, much of the corn had spoiled. Besides this, the corn was fodder corn and required special methods to cook it adequately. Most of the starving poor were illiterate and could not understand the written instructions. The same thing happened later in the famine when rice was sent. The people were unfamiliar with it, ate it raw and many got very ill. The weakest actually died from eating it. People ate whatever they could find: birds, mice, gorse bushes, fish if they were lucky enough to catch any. People were dying where they stood. They were buried where they died.

The landlords owned the fishing rights to the rivers and most wouldn't allow the tenants to fish. They thought it would be cheaper to just let them leave or for them to die. This was the beginning of what has since been termed the "ethnic cleansing" of Ireland. Many people went to Liverpool for passage to America but found work there and stayed. Others made their way onto "coffin ships" where they were packed in with no food, no hygiene facilities and little water. Disease was common. Diphtheria, Typhoid and Cholera were collectively known as "cabin fever". Those who died were thrown overboard.

Those who arrived in the US and Canada were quarantined on their ships. In Gros Isles, Canada, many of the doctors who went on board contracted the fevers and died.

One of the more benevolent of the landlords disguised himself as a peasant and traveled on one of the coffin ships to see for himself what his tenants were experiencing. He was appalled and sent a full report to the government. In 1852 the Maritime Laws were changed to put the onus on the shipping companies to provide food for their passengers.

Investigation into the potato blight found that it came from America and spread all over the world. However, since the Irish population was the only one so heavily dependent on potatoes, it was the worst affected.

Because of their history, the Irish have always been known for their generosity and for being very conscious of other countries suffering from famine.

The Hawthorne bush has long been associated with famine and death in Ireland because the blossoming branches were used to cover up the smell of the ill, the dying, and the dead. The Irish, to this day, will not bring the lovely-scented blossoms into their homes.

During the years of the famine many countries sent aid. However, no one fully understood the extent of the problem until it was too late.

People Make Places by Pat O'Connor
The Great Hunger by Cecil Woodham Smith
Woodbrook by David Thompson

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