Today we went about 90 minutes northwest to Roscommon Castle. It’s one of those places that by rights should be overrun by tourists, but sits humbly behind some houses, unmarked aside from a small sign that was grudgingly placed in the last several years. It was built in 1269 for the Chief Governor of Ireland under Henry III, partly as a thumb in the eye of Feilim O’Conor, the Irish King of Connaght, whom the English had just defeated. Possession of it went back-and-forth between the English and the Irish, until it was laid to ruin by the forces of O.C. (ask your student) in 1652. It’s a great place to climb around and take pictures, so we did a lot of both.
Three Amigos (JD, Kevin, Elliot):
Lyn and Caroline:
And Obligatory Group Shot v.4, this time with Mike and me:
Next up was Strokestown, where an 18th century estate has been restored to its original condition. The original owners were loath to have to see, much less interact with, the Irish peasants who served them, so they came up with some innovative design concepts. They built a dark, dank tunnel around the building’s perimeter, coming from the servant wing, and a gallery (long balcony) over one side of the kitchen. Rather than yell down to the sweating masses in the workspace below, they would drop them notes about menus for their multiple-course dinners–the lobster soup recipe looked quite nice. Meanwhile, the Irish locals were getting by on buttermilk and an average of fourteen pounds of potatoes per day. Per person. That’s not a typo.
Strokestown is also the site of the national Famine Museum, which presents a wealth of information about this disastrous era in Irish history. An Gorta Mor (the Great Hunger, commonly known as the Pototo Famine) started in 1845, peaked in 1847, and had lasting impacts on Ireland and the many countries its people emigrated to for survival. In the Famine years, some two million people, a quarter of the population, died or fled the country, and the exodus continued for decades.
The museum contains some profoundly moving documents from those years, including notes from starving tenants begging Major Dennis Mahon, the owner, for food, rent relief, or money for passage elsewhere. He obliged by sending over a thousand of them to Canada on “coffin ships,” on which a quarter of them died of disease or starvation, and evicting over 3000 of them from their tenancies (these documents, many signed with an “x,” are also on display), consigning them to workhouses or, for the even less fortunate, “skalbeens,” which were grass-covered holes in the ground. In 1847, Mahon was eventually assassinated under circumstances that are still unclear.
Strokestown also has a walled and gated four-acre “pleasure garden” that is still wonderfully tended. One hopes that the starving tenants outside the walls could catch a whiff of the roses now and then.
Here’s a shot of our excellent driver, Brendan, whose day job (though he’s working nights this week) is Sergeant in the Galway Garda (police; pronounced “garDEE”). I’m happy to report that he has, to-date, only met your children in his role pictured here.
On Wednesday we had a special guest come to class, fiddler/ storyteller/ actor/ comedian/ playwright/ Irish TV host/ world traveler Aindrias de Staic. I had met him when I was here six years ago, and he brings a strong dose of local flavor, in the form of fiddle tunes and stories (including his own struggles with, and creative channeling of, ADHD) into the classroom. It was clearly an occasion for O.G.S. v.5.