Memories Of Secret Coves, Hidden Steps and Pirate Queens

On the hill of Howth in north County Dublin a secret pirate cove awaits would-be explorers, daring enough to descend one hundred and ninety-nine steps carved out of the sheer cliff face.

In my post today, I once again hope to take you off the beaten path, and help you discover some of Ireland’s hidden treasures.

199 Steps In Howth

When I was a little girl growing up in Dublin, my grand aunt loved weekend outings with all my cousins in tow. One of our favorite hang outs was on the beach at the bottom of the “199 steps” in Howth.

My cliff stair collage above shows how these stone steps are carved out of the cliff, winding their way from the shore to Howth summit.

Looking Towards the Bailey Lighthouse Howth

This is Grace O’Malley territory. The famous Irish pirate queen visited Howth on many occasions.

My grandaunt loved to tell us this very cove was where Grace O’Malley always came ashore in Howth. Considering Grace O’Malley, or Granuaile in Irish (pronounced Graw-nea-wale) lived between the years 1530 and 1603, the truth of this tall tale may never be known.

Undeterred my grandaunt relayed stories of pirates working by torch light to hack and cut 199 steps from the rocky cliff face, to allow their pirate queen ascend to Howth’s summit undetected by the English.

Looking Down At the Cove Below 199 Steps in Howth

We loved to wind our way along the cliff path in search of the first step to this secret pirate cove. We looked down from on high dreaming of Grace’s lost treasure, just waiting behind some rock for our eager eyes to find.

Steps Leading to a Hidden Beach in Howth

Last summer I rediscovered these secret steps with my children.

Once I told them of potential pirate treasure, the made quick work of navigating the treacherous steps.

Grace O'Malley's Secret Cove in Howth

A sense of mystery and magic awaits on the rocky shore below.

Barnacle covered rock

You can easily imagine the pirate queen herself standing on top of this barnacle covered rock issuing orders to her crew of Mayo men.

A Strange Rock on an Irish Shore

This strange rock has not shifted since I was a little girl.

I imagined a big, strong pirate flung the smaller red rock across the beach with such force that it lodged into the larger boulder.

I’m certain there’s a perfectly sound geological explanation for this rock formation, but let’s face it, nothing beats a good pirate story.

Ireland's Shoreline - Rocky Beaches

This is no sandy beach. Shoes are definitely required for pebble covered shores…..

Seaweed Covered Rocks

……. and seaweed strewn rocks.

Searching for Pirate's Treasure

My kiddos were convinced Grace O’Malley’s treasure lay beneath the large rocks at the base of these cliffs. I spent hours as a child climbing those very rocks. In four decades they don’t seem to have budged even an inch.

The Beach Below 199 Steps in Howth

A small row boat could easily have been maneuvered close to the rocky shore at this very point, allowing the brave Grace reach dry land. 

O’Malley’s connections to Howth are not just part of my late grandaunt’s vivid imagination.

In 1576 Grace O’Malley tried to call upon Lord Howth at his castle only to be informed the family was at dinner and she was not a welcome guest.

 

Dublin Ferry From the Beach in Howth

This rejection did not sit well with the bold Grace. The Lord of Howth soon felt the full brunt of this pirate queen’s wrath, when she abducted his grandson and heir.

The terms of the child’s release included a promise from Lord Howth to keep the gates of his castle open to unexpected visitors, and to always set an extra place at every meal.

This pledge is still honored at Howth Castle to this very day, with an extra place setting laid at table.  I wonder if Grace’s ghost ever inspects the distance between the knife and fork.

This ferry passed as we roamed the shoreline, following in the wake of pirate vessels from years gone by. What a day, imagining ghosts and pirates roaming around searching for treasure.

199 Steps in Howth

And so, after an energetic day playing on a secret pirate cove in Howth, the long trek upward and homeward began. There are no cable cars or lifts to take treasure hunters back to the cliff top. The only way home is to shift one foot after the other until all 199 steps are finally surmounted.

For anyone interested in a stiff climb to a secret (or not-so-secret anymore) cove, access to the 199 steps lies on the left hand side of the cliff as you walk out the headland towards the Bailey Lighthouse. That’s all the information I’m willing to part with, and if you can’t find it, perhaps you’ll find the way on an old pirate treasure map.

Wishing you all happy trails, discovering your very own hidden Ireland.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

Villages In North Cork – An Entertaining Video Series

Cork Videos produce short films of ordinary people, telling about ordinary things in towns and villages around County Cork, Ireland. I was delighted when Tony Kennedy, the producer of these films, e-mailed me to share his entertaining and informative amateur videos of North Cork villages.

These simple films share chats with locals, images of shops, points of interest, churches and schools – all-in-all a very thoughtful exploration of what makes these little communities tick.

Now, since my family hail from North Cork, just outside Kildorrery, I simply had to share this little snapshot of the village I know so well.

 

Famous Kildorrery Town:

 

Like many places in Ireland, Kildorrery even has it’s very own song, entitled “Famous Kildorrery Town.” The town is so famous, you’ve probably never heard of it, but hopefully this little blog post will help remedy that.  Here’s the chorus of our famous song:

“Have you ever been up to Kildorrery

Indeed if you haven’t that’s quare

Sure it’s only five miles from Ardpatrick

And three from the cross of Red Chair

And when at that cross you are landed

You will see a big hill looking down

And on top of that hill bare naked and chill

Stands famous Kildorrery town.”

 

This song is sung by Kildorrery GAA supporters at matches throughout the county and province. I just had to highlight the lyrics in Kildorrery GAA blue.

 

Elizabeth Bowen:

 

The writer, Elizabeth Bowen, whose family lived at Bowen’s Court just outside the village, described the area as follows:

 

“Kildorrery is so placed as to be a landmark for miles.

Cross-shaped, and of some size, it has the characteristics of a hill-village

– rather sad weathered houses, sky seen through arches, draughty streets,

an exposed graveyard, a chapel launched over the distance like a ship.

Though its name means church of the oak grove, one can see no trees:

the Ballyhouras are very near, to the north.

Only when Kildorrery stands full in the sunset has it an all celestial smile.”

- Elizabeth Bowen, 1942

 

It sounds like Elizabeth was in agreement with the “bare naked and chill” description by our local songwriter of years gone by.

 

North Cork Videos – A Glance At Kildorrery, County Cork.

 

And so, without further ado, here is a little snapshot of the little corner of Ireland I love so well.

 

 

If you enjoyed this little glimpse of Kildorrery there are more short films of other Cork villages waiting to be viewed on the Cork Videos YouTube channel.

Thanks to Tony for giving me permission to share his work with you today.

 

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

 

Irish American Mom

 

 

Irish Cottage Kitchens Of Days Gone By

In traditional Irish cottages of days gone by, the kitchen was the central hub, witnessing the busy comings and goings of daily life. The turf-burning hearth was the focal point.

I have lovely, peaceful memories of my own granny’s kitchen. When I was a very young child a black kettle was constantly boiling, hanging from a pot hook over the open flames.

I remember the day the old hook was removed to make way for a brand new stove. I was only five or six years old at the time, but even then I knew this great change marked the end of an era.

Irish Cottage Kitchens of Days Gone By

In Granny’s kitchen the cuckoo clock chimed on the hour and half hour. Willow pattern plates stood proudly on the shelves of her dresser.

A red light burned beneath a picture of the Sacred Heart. An oil cloth covered a large oak table surrounded by old straight back chairs, some with wicker seats.

I wrote the following short poem to commemorate the loving memories I hold in my heart of Granny’s cottage kitchen.

 

Return In Thought

by Mairéad Geary

 

Return in thought
To granny’s cottage kitchen,
The dresser
Neatly stacked
With blue and white delph,
Ready and waiting
To supply
Endless cups of tea,
With currant cake
Slathered in creamy butter,
And sweet, red jam.

 

Irish Dresser

Return in thought,
To the scrubbed oak table,
Surrounded
By rickety, wicker chairs,
Ready and waiting,
To support,
Friendly players of forty-five,
Drinking tea and whiskey,
Pennies and shillings,
Neatly stacked ,
To wile away the hours.

 

Table In An Irish Parlour

Return in thought,
To flickering flames,
And turf sod fires,
Blackened pothooks,
Ready and waiting,
To support,
Boiling kettles.
Sweet soda breads,
Baking slowly
In the cast iron
Bastible.

 

An Irish Hearth
Return in thought
To well worn wash boards,
The rhythmic routine
Of clothes lines,
Ready and waiting,
To support,
The daily toil,
Of laundry.
White shirts,
And colored frocks,
Fluttering outside the window.

 

An Old Irish Washboard

Now let your thoughts stray
As summer breezes,
Swell those old
Lace curtains,
Ready and willing,
To transport,
The spirits,
Of our ancestors,
Back to the hearth and home,
That once,
They loved so well.

 

Lace Curtains In An Irish Cottage Window

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

 

Irish American Mom

Lingering Irish Twilight

Twilight is a mystical time, especially during summertime in Ireland. The sun struggles to set on the western ocean horizon, casting supernatural light across the waves and land. Here twilight is not measured in minutes or hours, but by magical, timeless moments.

Sunset and Twilight In Ireland

For most readers the word ‘twilight’ conjures up images of vampires and Stephanie Meyer’s saga. Not for me. Twilight reminds me of Ireland, where magical half-light lingers. 

American twilight is different, shorter and more business like, except I suppose in Alaska. In Kentucky, the sun heads for the horizon and achieves its goal in spectacular fashion.  Here in America we even praise the “twilight’s last gleaming” in our National Anthem.

In Ireland, the summer sun takes a little more time to finally set, lingering on the verge of the horizon, shedding mysterious half-light across ocean swells and patchwork fields.

Apparently Ireland is further from the equator than the lower 48 US states, lengthening Irish twilight hours in summer.

IMG_4135

The slow setting Irish summer sun creates a time when the faeries, the gatekeepers of the Celtic Otherworld, can spirit humans away to a land beyond time.

William Butler Yeats was inspired by twilight’s mystical light. His book The Celtic Twilight is a collection of Irish folklore. Here Celtic queens visit humble housewives, dead warriors spring to life, and blind storytellers share the secrets of our mythical past. This is Irish folk art at its finest. Yeats helped ensure these ancient tales would persist in the perpetual twilight of folk history.

When I was a little girl, my grandaunt Nan loved to read poetry. On the wall of her living room she had framed the following verse by Yeats. I read it over and over again as a little girl, enthralled by the magic of his words.

IMG_2565

He Wishes For the Cloths of Heaven

W.B. Yeats

 

“Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light,

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

 

photo

James Joyce also used his talented pen to describe the beautiful colors of Irish twilight.

Chamber Music

by James Joyce

 

“The twilight turns from amethyst

To deep and deeper blue,

The lamp fills with a pale green glow

The trees of the avenue.”

Howth sunset

 There are a few words in the Irish language that refer to this time of day.

“Coimheascair” (pronounced kwiv ashkur) refers to twilight, but it also means struggle. Was the word applied to the end of day to highlight the struggle between sunlight and moon light? I like the poetic origins of this connection.

“Clapsholas” (pronounced clop hullus) means “last light”.

IMG_2870

Another word is “idirsholas” (pronounced idur hullus) meaning “between light”, or “idir an dá sholas ” (pronounced idur on daw hullus) meaning between the two lights.  Once again, beautifully poetic.

IMG_2859

The Donegal poet Cathal Sharkey writes of this time of day in the Gaelic Language. Here is a little excerpt of his lyrical, descriptive verse.

 

Níl Aon Ní

le Cathal O Searcaigh

 

“Níl aon ní, aon ní, a stór

níos suaimhní ná clapsholas smólaigh

i gCaiseal na gCorr,”

 

There is nothing, nothing, my love

More tranquil than a twilight of thrushes  starlings

In Caiseal na gCorr (pronounced Cashel na Gur)

 

This is my best effort at translating these beautiful words – any Gaelic scholars out there, please feel free to assist with the correct meaning in the comment section.  It’s many years since I studied Irish in school.

IMG_0903

And so, I hope these few thoughts about my fond recollections of Irish twilights will help you end your day on a positive note.  No matter how hard your day may be, I hope twilight is a reminder of all the wonders of life that lie ahead.

Slán agus beannacht leat!

(Goodbye and blessings)

Irish American Mom

 

Tribute To An Irish Mother

Mothers will be celebrated throughout the United States this Sunday. When working on a post to describe the attributes of Irish and Irish American mothers, I came across this speech, delivered a number of years ago to a gathering of the Irish America Fund, by the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.

His heartfelt, poignant words, dedicated to his own mother, perfectly sum up the way I feel about my Irish mother.  My words seemed inadequate beside this beautiful tribute. I decided instead to share his eloquent speech with you today, as a tribute to mothers everywhere.

 

Tribute to an Irish Mother

 

“Catherine Eugenia Finnegan Biden is the soul, spirit and essence of what it means to be an Irish American.

 

She is spiritual.

She is romantic.

She honors tradition,

and understands the thickest of all substances is blood,

and the greatest of all virtues is love.

 

She has taught her children, all her children in my neighborhood who flocked to her hearth, that you are defined by your sense of honor and you are redeemed by your loyalty.  She is quintessentially Irish — a combination of pragmatism and optimism.

She also understands as my friend Pat Moynihan once said, there is no “point in being Irish if you don’t know that the world is going to break your heart eventually.”

But she is more. She measures success in how quickly you get up after you have been knocked down.

 

She believes bravery lives in every heart,

and her expectation is that it will be summoned.

Failure at some point in everyone’s life is inevitable,

but giving up is unforgivable.

 

As long as you are alive you have an obligation to strive. And you are not dead until you’ve seen God’s face. My mother is a living portrait of what it means to be Irish – - proud, on the edge of defiance. Generous to a fault. Loyal to the end.

She made not only me believe, but scores of my friends and acquaintances believe in themselves. As a child I stuttered. She said it was because I was so bright I couldn’t get the thoughts out quickly enough. When my face was dirty, and I was not as well dressed as others, she told me how handsome I was. When my wife and daughter were killed, she told me God sends no cross a man is not able to bear.

 

And when I triumphed, she reminded me it was because of others.

 

She was watching through the kitchen window as I got knocked down by two bigger guys behind my grandfather’s home. She sent me back out and demanded that I, to use their phrase, “bloody their nose,” so I could walk down that alley the next day.

When my father quit his job on the spot because his abusive boss threw a bucket full of silver dollars on the floor of a car dealership to humiliate his employees, she told him how proud she was.

 

No one is better than you,

You are every man’s equal,

and every man is equal to you.

You must be a man of your word,

for without your word you are not a man.

 

When I was in eighth grade, I was a lieutenant on the safety patrol. My job was to keep order on the bus. My sister and best friend Valerie acted up. At dinner that night I told my mother and father I had a dilemma. I had to turn my sister in – it was a matter of honor. My parents said that was not my only option. The next day I turned my badge in.

I believe the traits that make my mother a remarkable woman mirror the traits that make the Irish a remarkable people. Bent, but never bowed. Discriminated against, but always looking down at their discriminator. Economically deprived, but spiritually enriched. Denied an education, but a land of scholars and poets.

As I look out at those massive Corinthian columns, I see my 5 foot, 2 inch mother, who stands taller in my eyes than any pillar in this room.

And I think of the Irish poem “Any Woman” by Katherine Tynan:

 

“I am the pillars of the house;

The keystone of the arch am I.

Take me away, and roof and wall

Would fall to ruin utterly.

 

I am the fire upon the hearth,

I am the light of the good sun,

I am the heat that warms the earth,

Which else were colder than a stone.”

 

- From a speech by Joseph R. Biden

 

Joe Biden’s mother passed away in 2010.  Her legacy is truly appreciated by her son. 

As an Irish American Mom I strive to be a straight-talking but supportive, encouraging mother, just like she was.

Wishing you all a very happy Mother’s Day.

 

 

 

Lá Na Máithreacha Shona Daoibh!

(Happy Mother’s Day)

Irish American Mom