The History Road Trip

Photo: Bernard Castle, outside of Bandon

I have had the most beautiful weekend. Everything is better now that I can drive. Yesterday I drove into Cork again and met up with a wonderful girl who is involved in the arts scene in Cork. She showed me around some of the sights, the English Market, the Peace Park, then we went for a vegetarian lunch and visited THE BEST SHOP IN THE WHOLE WORLD. I am not kidding. Its called, ‘Vibes and Scribes’ and it has wonderful books, but also material, ribbons, lace, buttons, beads, stickers, ink, stamps, glitter, yarn, wire, pendants, easels, canvases, paint, hats, feathers etc. etc. I had to restrain myself from spending all of my money on pretty pink frilly things and polka-dot things and soft, fluffy things and glass, swirly things. I kept going, ‘But its only one euro! Surely I can find a use for three metres worth of Union Jack ribbon! I’ll… put it on a… a… costume!’ Even in my ‘restraint’ I still bought 3 books (2 about the Celtic Tiger and where to go from here, the other on a notorious murder case in Cork 19th century history), 3 bits of scrap material (I’m going to put them on a costume!), 2 packets of stickers and 1 ribbon.
Today, the girls’ uncle took me on a trip to Kinsale, which is a town on the sea, and at the mouth of the Bandon River, where Bono and Simon le Bon (of Duran Duran) used to live. It is stunning. Apparently Edmund Spenser wrote part of the Faerie Queene somewhere nearby. During the Celtic Tiger years, the town became a playground for the rich of Ireland and Europe, and you can see why. Its all twisty streets and cute stores and fantastic restaurants. Everything faces the quiet harbour and the rolling green hills that face out towards the Celtic Sea.
Along the way, the uncle showed me a variety of spots of local history. I just adore learning about it all. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, its all so old! I know that sounds dumb, but as I was telling the uncle today, most of my history knowledge starts from the 18th century, specifically from the Enlightenment (I had a random thought today, which is that the 18th century was the time Australia was colonised by Britian. Even though I wasn’t ever really overly interested in Australian history, I wonder if, sub-consciously I was influenced by this date? I didn’t like history before the Enlightenment because I couldn’t fathom anything earlier than that? Because there are no physical historical Western sites in Australia that were from an earlier date? I don’t know, long bow, I guess, but it still intrigued me). Many of these places were from the 1600’s, one church we went into had a list of rectors from the 14th century to the present day! This completely blew my mind. To be standing in a building, to be walking over stones that someone was standing in, walking on the stones of 700 years ago was a truly amazing experience. I know there are plenty of places like this in Europe, but these sites, particularly the churches, are not tourist destinations, they’re just local places. You don’t have to pay to go in, there’s no one checking you out, you just walk in. The uncle said a quick prayer in the Catholic Church. Over the 17th century church stones, there hang little notices about Over-55’s exercise groups and local markets. It makes it feel like the community and people have such history and longevity, rather than just the buildings.
Anyway, we started off in the area around Bandon. The uncle asked, ‘Have you seen the castle yet?’ The what???? ‘Ok, we’re going to the castle first.’
So, we take a right-hand turn just off the road to Bandon, and there, on the grounds of the golf course, are the ruins of Bandon Castle, the seat of the Lord of Bandon, built in the 17th century, and then burnt to the ground by the IRA in the 1920’s. The current ‘Lady of Bandon’ (Lady Jennifer, if you please) lives in a bungalow to the side of the castle. She apparently owns all the woods and land that I have been traipsing about for the past two weeks, which just blows my mind. I had presumed it was public land.
On the way to Kinsale, we pass an old Orange Lodge, which were places of Loyalist/Unionist/Protestant support and activity, which again was burnt by the old IRA in the 1920’s and is now a private home.
In Kinsale, we visited the ruins of two forts from the 1600’s, and saw some graves from the Lusitania disaster in 1915 (where a German U-boat sunk an American passenger ship, causing the deaths of 1200 innocent civilians), the wreck of which lies just outside of Kinsale Harbour.
Kinsale is also the spot of one of the last major battles between the Irish Army and the British Army in the 17th century. The Spanish sent an Armada to assist their fellow Catholics, but only 3500 Spaniards managed to land, the remaining 2500 (as well as most of the gunpowder) had to turn around due to bad weather. The Brits had around 12,000, whereas the Irish had 6,000, plus the 3,500 from Spain. The battle and ensuing siege lasted for 3 years, and the Irish eventually surrendered completely just after Queen Elizabeth’s death. The surrender marked a turning point in the conflict between the 2 countries, and was the start of the real British stranglehold over Ireland.
The uncle also told me about his mate, an Irish anarchist, who regularly protests in Kinsale, because of the local golf course. This golf course is internationally renowned, but it is highly controversial, because it has abandoned the ‘walking rights of way’. The ‘walking rights of way’ are set into law in Ireland, and its the reason why people don’t really mind you wandering into their fields. It seems a bit more in-depth than this, but, basically, if there is no other way to walk, people in the surrounding properties have to allow people to wander through their fields. The golf course do not allow this anymore and the Cork anarchists are very unhappy about the fact. They protest by walking around the golf course. Which seems like a particularly pleasant way to hold a protest (you know, as opposed to chaining yourself to coal tankers, or throwing yourself bodily against locked doors and/or policemen)
We saw a Church of Ireland (so, Anglican) church from the 14th century, as well as some Catholic churches from more recent times (the irony is, that although only 3% of the Irish population is now Church of Ireland, there are still heaps of Church of Ireland churches around, and most of the very old churches in Ireland belong to the Church of Ireland and not the Catholic Church, because, of course, the even older Catholic churches were destroyed by the Brits during the sad course of Irish history). We read all the plaques in the churches, and there were some fascinating stories, like the nun born in Kinsale, but who ended up in Marrickville, the Kinsale native who was in the British army, and was at Waterloo as well as the American War of Independence and 2 brothers from WWI who had the last name ‘Darling’ (and, although they both died very young – 20 and 23- only a few months apart from each other in 1915, I couldn’t help having a giggle, thinking of Rowan Atkinson and Captain Darling… ‘Hello, Darling’ in Blackadder).
So, its been an amazingly wonderful day/weekend. I really, truly love this area. It is so beautiful. I love the people, who always say hello when you pass them, I love the quiet little pubs and their friendly waiters, I love the windy, windy streets that seem to be shared equally between the pedestrians and the traffic, I love the colourful little houses with the geraniums in their windows and the fact that streams and waterfalls trickle everywhere. I love love love where I am right now.

Photo: Kinsale Harbour
His hooker’s in the Scilly van, 25
When seines are in the foam,
But money never made the man,
Nor wealth a happy home,
So, bless’d with love and liberty,
While he can trim a sail, 30
He ’ll trust in God, and cling to me—
The Boatman of Kinsale.

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