Ireland 2019: The Aran Islands, Part One

The Day after our trip to the Cliffs of Moher (see here) we visited the island of Inishmore, the largest of the three Aran Islands in the Atlantic Ocean just off Galway Bay. The Aran Islands are recognized as the heart of Gaeltacht Ireland, where Irish is the primary language. A hundred years ago the islands were a remote outpost whose hardy inhabitants fought daily life-or-death battles against the elements. These battles continue today during the long Irish winters but in summer tourists board ferries and flock to the islands to see the ruins, listen to the locals and perhaps purchase a woolen sweater to keep warm when winter approaches.

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Ireland 2019: Galway’s Magdalen Laundry

We ventured back and forth between Galway’s New Coach Station and our Eyre Square Townhouse hotel several times during our one-week stay in Galway. On one day we exited the bus station after our trip to the Cliffs of Moher (see here) and Dunguaire Castle (see here) and decided to see what that statue kitty korner to the coach station, sitting among a couple of trees on the corner of Forster Street and Bothar Brendain Ui Eithir, was all about. It was a statue of a woman holding up a bed sheet behind her and underneath her are the words “In memory of the Magdalen Women.” We learned later that the building just across the street was built in the 1990s to house a branch of the Anglo Irish Bank. The bank building replaced a building that housed the local Magdalen Laundry, the site of Galway’s involvement in one of two great Irish religious scandals that surfaced in the last 50 years.

Magdalen Women memorial.  The sculpture by Mick Wilkins was placed on the corner of Forster Street and Bothar Brendain Ui Eithir in 2009.  The building in the background is Galway’s New Coach Station. An excerpt from Patricia Brogan’s poem Make Visible the Tree is on the plinth. Ms Brogan’s complete poem is on a stone slab nearby.

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The first Magdalen Laundry, also known as Magdalene Asylum, was founded in England in 1758 and was operated by Protestants and for Protestants only. These institutions soon spread to Ireland and to other countries including Sweden, Australia and the United States. By the 1850s most of the laundries in Ireland were run by Catholics. Since 1922 there have been ten laundries scattered throughout Ireland and they were run by one of four religious institutions: the Sisters of Charity, The Sisters of Our Lady of Charity, the Good Shepherd Sisters, and the Sisters of Mercy. Galway’s Magdalen Laundry was run by the Sisters of Mercy. These institutions were originally meant for housing prostitutes but eventually any unwed mother could be sent to a laundry. In fact, a girl could simply be flirtatious or beautiful and her family could have her committed where she could possibly be incarcerated for the rest of her life.

By the 1990s word was getting out about these prisons and the torture and abuse going on inside them. The lid was blown wide open when a mass grave of more than 150 individuals was discovered in Dublin in 1993. The last Magdalen Laundry in Ireland closed down in 1996 but most of the records are still secretive. It is thought that the number of women incarcerated in Ireland in the 20th century is about 10,000.

There was a lot of uproar pointed primarily at the nuns and how they ran their laundries but it should be pointed out that this whole national operation was organized and condoned by both the Catholic Church and the government of Ireland. The blame for allowing these crimes to go on for more than two hundred years should be equally assigned to the parish priest and his boss the Bishop of the diocese, to the local policeman and to the laws established by the federal government in Dublin, to parents who turned their own children in to the asylums, and of course to the nuns who ran the operations.
In 2013 Enda Kenny, then Ireland’s Taoiseach, issued a formal state apology for the government’s role in the scandal. About 600 of the laundry victims (they call themselves “Maggies”) were still alive in 2014.

There have been many books and reports about the Magdalen Laundries in the last 20 years. And a few movies. In 2002 Peter Mullan directed a film entitled The Magdalene Sisters and it was received with world-wide acclaim. The movie Philomena, starring Judi Dench, came out in 2013. It is a true story of a laundry survivor who searched for 50 years to find her son who was taken from her and sold to a wealthy American couple for adoption.

Patricia Burke Brogan, poet and playwright

Patricia Burke Brogan was a novice for the Sisters of Mercy back in 1963 where she taught in a Catholic school in Galway. During the summer of that year she was transferred to the Magdalene Laundry on Forster Street to supervise the women incarcerated there.  She was horrified with the working conditions and abuse she witnessed there and she quit the order and decided to become an artist and writer.
Her first play she called Eclipsed was performed in 1992 at the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival where it won the Fringe First award. It is a story that takes place in a fictional Magdalene Laundry in a fictional Irish city but is based on her experience with the laundry in Galway. The play has won several awards including the USA Moss Hart award in 1994 and has been produced more than 100 times on three continents.
Ms Brogan has also published two book of her poems: Above the Waves Calligraphy and Decollage New and Selected Poems (which includes Make Visible the Tree) and has written three other plays: Requiem of Love, Clarenda’s Mirror and Stained Glass of Samhain. This last play is a sequel to Eclipsed and picks up at the same Magdalene Laundry ten years later. She has also written an autobiography called Memoirs with Grykes and Turloughs and is an accomplished printmaker and graphics artist.

Mick Wilkins, sculptor

Mick Wilkins was born in County Cork in 1959 and has been sculpting in stone since 1985. For several years his workshop was located in Spiddal, Galway and his works can be found all over Galway. He recently moved back to Cork and is presently working at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork City. See here for his portfolio.

St Patrick’s Church is a half block down Forster Street from the Magdalene Laundry memorial. The church was built in 1972. The old church, built in 1842, is still standing nearby but is no longer used for religious purposes.

The next day we went to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. Stay tuned.

Irish Music BonusMagdalen Laundry by Frances Black

There are a few songs about the Magdalene Laundries of Ireland. Canadian singer and songwriter Joni Mitchell wrote Magdalene Laundries back in the 90s. Don Mescall of County Limerick wrote his version, called Magdalen Laundry, some years later and Frances Black, Mary’s younger sister, recorded it in 2003.

Frances was a member of The Black Family musical group in the 1980s with her sister Mary and brothers Shay, Michael and Martin and then she joined the Irish music band Arcady in 1988 but for most of her successful singing career she has been singing solo. She is the founder of the Rise Foundation, an organization that supports family members of people addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling. In 2016 she was elected senator to Seanad Eirann and for the last three years she has been an outspoken supporter of Palestinian rights and a foe of the Israeli government’s policy of building settlements on Palestinian land. Her proposed Occupied Territories Bill would if enacted ban trade between Ireland and the illegal settlements of the West Bank which includes East Jerusalem.

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Ireland 2019: The Siege of Dunguaire Castle

Ireland is a besieged nation. Its castles and walled cities have been besieged for centuries. The Norman conquest of Ireland began with the Siege of Wexford in 1169. The Cromwellian conquest was completed with the Siege of Galway in 1652. The Protestants loyal to William III repulsed the Catholics loyal to James II at the Siege of Derry in 1689. The city of Limerick was besieged twice in the same war: the Catholics won in 1690 but lost in 1691. And then an American family besieged Dunguaire Castle in the summer of 2019.

Nine members of my family invade the castle while I cover with my Canon.

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Lucky for us, it was rather late in the day and the place was virtually empty and the only shots that day came not from a cannon but from my Canon DSLR.

Dunguaire Castle lies at the southern edge of Galway Bay near the village of Kinvara and is not far from the County Clare border.

Dunguaire Castle sits on a rocky outcropping on the southern shores of Galway Bay where an ancient fort or dun once stood that belonged to King Guiare of Connacht in the 7th century. The tower house was built in the 16th century by the O’Hynes clan who ruled the Kinvara area for several hundred years. The castle was taken over by the Martyn family, one of the 14 tribes of Galway, in the 17th century and Richard Martyn, Mayor of Galway, lived here until 1642.

Dunguaire Castle is about a half hour drive from Galway’s new coach station.

Oliver St John Gogarty, the famous poet, playwright, athlete, surgeon and politician, bought Dunguaire Castle in 1924 and used it as a literary retreat and meeting house for some of his friends in the Irish literary revival movement. The literary giants who visited the castle during this time included W. B. Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Edward Martin and J.M. Synge.

Christabel, Lady Ampthill bought the property in 1954 and completed the restoration that Gogarty started.

The gate at the bottom of the hill.

Shannon Development now owns the castle which is open from April to October every year for tours, musical entertainment events and medieval banquets. Trip Advisor rates the castle as # 5 of 21 shows and concerts in Galway.

My younger daughter and her family in front of the castle.

Dunguaire Casle reminds me of the Castle of Eilean Donan in Scotland which we visited during our three-day tour of the Isle of Skye in 2016 (see here and here).

My older daughter and her family inspected the latest castle restoration.

My granddaughter Mia at the tower’s main entrance.

My younger daughter and her family like visiting old castles.

My older daughter and her family enjoyed the excursion.

Inside the courtyard past the tower.

Tower wall from the courtyard.

Oliver St John Gogarty turned the castle into a meeting house for his literary friends.

Other tourists stormed the castle after us and soon retreated.

Dunguaire Castle at the end of the Siege.

We went on another all day tour the next day, this time to Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands. That will be the subject of my next post.

Irish Music Bonus — The Fields of Athenry by Paddy Reilly

During our seven-day stay in western Ireland we got the chance to explore not only our central Galway base but also areas north (Connemara), south (Dunguaire Castle and the Cliffs of Moher), and west (the Aran Islands). But we just didn’t find the time to explore any place east of Galway. And so we missed the village of Athenry which lies 25 kilometers east of the city.

Irish songwriter Pete St John wrote The Fields of Athenry in 1979 and Paddy Reilly recorded it in 1982 and it became a huge hit, lasting for 70 weeks on the Irish charts. It has been 40 years since St John penned his masterpiece and during those years the song has become a national favorite and the unofficial anthem for both the all-Ireland professional rugby team and Ireland’s national football (soccer) team. The tale St John spins about Mary and her husband Michael who “steals Trevelyan’s corn so the young can see the morn” is fictional but the British oppression of the starving Irish during the Famine years is a fact. Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan was a British civil servant who served as Assistant Secretary of HM Treasury during the Famine years. He is often given the blame for the quasi-genocidal government policy of hindering the distribution of food, a policy that resulted in the deaths of over a million people.

Let’s listen to Paddy singing the song in 1985 when he was a guest of The Dubliners at their Festival Folk held at Dublin National Stadium. Halfway through the song John Sheehan puts down his fiddle and picks up his tin whistle. Wow!

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Ireland 2019: The Cliffs of Moher

It was our third day in Galway and the first of several days that we devoted to all day bus tours of areas nearby. On this day we decided to visit the Cliffs of Moher and other sites in County Clare south of Galway. Tourists have many types of tours and local tour companies to chose from and we checked out a few of these and decided on Healy Tours. As it turned out, the only people who purchased tour tickets for that day were the ten members of my family and so we piled into one of their Mercedes mini buses and Patrick, our driver and tour guide, headed south to County Clare. We were on our own private tour!

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Ireland 2019: The Concert at St Nicholas’ Church in Galway

Most people who profess belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ call themselves Christians. And most Western European Christians call themselves either Catholics or Protestants.
But not so for the members of the Church of Ireland. They call themselves Catholics AND Protestants. On our second night in Galway we found ourselves walking to a Church of Ireland church after dinner. This church has been around for an eternity and for a long time it was a Catholic Church, then for a short while Protestant, then back and forth between Catholic and Church of Ireland. To make this even more complicated, members of three different Orthodox communities (most Christians in eastern Europe call themselves Orthodox Christians) come to this church to worship. Now this may sound very interesting to some but others are probably asking why on earth are we looking forward to seeing the inside of this church?

Here’s why:

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Ireland 2019: Galway’s Riverside Walk

Our Tuesday walk began with our morning venture from our Eyre Street hotel to Eyre Square (see here) and continued down Galway’s Main Street (see here) all the way to the Spanish Arch at the mouth of the River Corrib. We then turned around and walked back to our hotel via the Riverside Walk that starts at the Wolf Tone Bridge near the Jury’s Inn hotel. This portion of our walk was for the most part quiet, calm and serene with interesting landscapes and riverscapes at every turn, a high contrast to the hustle and bustle we encountered on Williamsgate, William, Shop, High and Quay Streets.

Our granddaughters explore the Spanish Arch. There actually are two arches left in the wall but the entire wall is simply called Spanish Arch.

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Anglo-Normans founded the city of Galway in the early 13th century and almost immediately began building a wall to surround the city and keep the Irish out. In 1584 an extension of the city wall with four arches was built to the water’s edge. They were probably called the Spanish Arches because of the Spanish ships that would be docked nearby. By this time Galway was a prosperous merchant city that traded with various European countries but especially Spain and Portugal.

Detail of old City Wall with one of the Spanish arches on lower left.

Explanation of nearby plants on terrace between the Spanish Arch and the Galway Museum.

The Galway City Museum is just a short distance from the Spanish Arch.

The Galway City Museum was founded in 2006. A prior museum was housed in the Comerford House next door to the Spanish Arch.

Looking across the Corrib at the Galway district known as The Claddagh.

View from the water’s edge at the Spanish Arch.

View across the Corrib from the beginning of the Riverside Walk near the Jury’s Inn.

The Fisheries Watchtower in front of the New Ireland building is now a museum. The bridge on the left is the Wolfe Tone.

Another view of the Fisheries Watchtower Museum on Nun’s Island. It was built in 1853 to monitor the salmon fishing on the river.

Corrib River scene with O’Brien’s Bridge in the background.

Claire likes swans.

There was water on both sides of our walkway, allowing reflections of buildings on our right.

The Il Vicolo restaurant is ranked by TripAdvisor #90 of 586 restaurants in Galway. I would rank it higher simply for its view!

O’Brien’s  Bridge was built around 1880.

Colorful plants at water’s edge.

Kevin Faller’s poem “Home Town” and the scene he was writing about. One of more than 20 plaques on Galway’s Poetry Trail.

Faller (1920 – 1983) was born and raised in Galway. He lived in Dublin for most of his life as a journalist and scriptwriter but often returned to the locales of his boyhood for the scenes of his poems.

Galway Arms Inn and the dam by O’Brien’s Bridge.

Faller worked for RTE for many years as a scriptwriter and in the early 60s he produced many documentaries for Broadsheet from interviews with the salmon fishermen and others who frequented a bar once known as The Submarine and now called the Galway Arms Inn.

This channel was most likely once a mill race.

Galway Cathedral (Roman Catholic).

The official name of Galway’s Catholic cathedral is The Cathedral of Our Lady Assumed into Heaven and St Nicholas. According to Wikipedia, “Construction began in 1958 on the site of the old city prison. It was completed in 1965, making it the last great stone cathedral to be built in Europe.”

My daughter and her family were usually ahead of us on our walk. But this one time we plodded ahead and then I turned around to take their picture.

Isn’t this pretty?

St Vincent’s Sisters of Mercy Convent.

Sally Long’s Rock Bar on the corner of Newtonsmith and Mary Streets.

My daughter and her family continued on their walk but my wife and I decided to return to our hotel to rest for awhile before dinner and concert. So we exited the walkway and walked down Newtonsmith to Mary Street which becomes Eyre Street and soon we were back at our hotel.

I will cover the evening concert we attended at St Nicholas Church in my next post.

Irish Music BonusGalway Shawl by Finbar Furey.

The Galway shawl was popular with the women of west Ireland during the 19th century but went out of style in the 20th century and the old women who still wore them were called “shawlies.”  Then Maureen O’Hara wore one in The Quiet Man and they became popular again!

This song has been around since the 1930s and has been recorded by a host of Irish bands and singers including Dolores Keane, Johnny McEvoy, the Dubliners and Dervish. This video features Finbar Furey, one of the greatest names in the history of Traditional Irish music. Finbar started out playing with his Traveler brothers in the 1960s but more recently is on his own. Sometimes he performs duets with his daughter Aine. Sometimes he sings with his son Martin who used to be a member of the High Kings. You usually find Finbar playing a low whistle or the Uileann pipes but this time he is plunking on a banjo.


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Ireland 2019: The Main Street of Galway

The main street of Galway starts at the west end of Eyre Square and goes downhill all the way to the water’s edge. Tourists go there to eat, drink, shop and people watch. Local Galwegians go there to eat, drink, shop and watch the tourists. Everyone goes to hear the buskers. There’s only one problem here: there isn’t any main street of Galway. There are five main streets.

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