Sunday, May 29, 2011

Another cask of bog butter found, in Tullamore, Co Offaly

Two turf-cutters have just discovered a wooden cask of bog butter outside Tullamore, Co Offaly that may be two to three thousand years old. Joe Clancy and his nephew Brian were cutting turf in Ballard Bog when they came upon what they described as 'a huge piece of timber.' They took it out with a spade, and found that it was bog butter in container.

Ancient Bog Butter Discovered In Ballard Bog thumbnail

The container has carved marks around the edges, a removable lid with handles and holes, possibly for carrying. It's about a foot in diameter, about two feet tall, and weighed just over 100 pounds. After going home and researching 'bog butter' on the Internet, Joe Clancy packed the container in wet peat and brought it home, and immediately contacted the National Museum of Ireland. Joe Clancy also remarked that the white substance inside the container still had a 'dairy smell.'

Or, as Seamus Heaney put it in his poem, 'Bogland':  'Butter sunk under / More than a hundred years / Was recovered salty and white.'

Andy Halpin, the archaeologist from National Museum who visited the site to take measurements and recover the specimen for further examination, said that tests would reveal how old the butter is, and speculated that it could have been buried in the Ballard area because it was on the ancient boundary between two territories.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Coral beach outside Carraroe, Co Galway

Here's a short video of a coral beach just southwest of Carraroe, Co Galway. There's no sand on this beach, just crushed coral that looks like bone, and lots of limpet shells. Here's a still photo of the coral and shells, too. If you listen closely, you can hear the hiss of the waves as they retreat from the beach. Ahh...what a delicious sound!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Knockranny Court Tomb, near Ballyfarnon, Co Roscommon

Thought you might like to see and hear the sound of a wood surrounding an ancient court tomb in Roscommon. A feast of bluebells and birdsong. Betty and I stumbled upon this by accident, one of those spectacularly serendipitous discoveries that you remember forever...

Archaeological tidbit:  A 'Court Tomb' usually refers to a Neolithic (New Stone Age ~3000 BCE) burial site with a flat-roofed gallery, sometimes fronted by a semi-circular 'courtyard' marked out by stones. Sometimes the structures are quite complex, with more than one internal chamber. Other names for Court Tombs are Court Cairns, Court Graves, or Horned Cairns.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Ireland, April 2011

Just back from a research trip to Ireland for THE SERPENT'S EGG. And I just figured out how to embed a slideshow here in my blog, so I hope you enjoy it!

The trip was unbelievably wonderful, with visits to Sunny Meadow Farm (an impressive operation run by my friend Dermot O'Mara); farmers' markets in Mountshannon (organized by my friend Molly Lynch O'Mara) and Dingle; cheesemakers in East Galway and Dingle (okay, I just realized that I have lots of pictures of goats—I only posted a few!); went for a luxurious soak at the bog spa in Clara, Co. Offaly; walked out onto Faddan More Bog in Tipperary, where the 9th-century Faddan More Psalter was discovered in 2006; and stopped by the National Museum of Ireland, where I had a great chat with Eamonn Kelly, the Keeper of Antiquities. All very useful and enlightening!

I also had the pleasure of meeting Eileen and Tim Collins in Dingle. Eileen and her family run Kirrary House B&B and Scuird Archaeological Tours in Dingle, both frequented by our friends Sherry and Don Ladig. They hit it off so well that Sherry came home the last time and penned an air for Eileen, which Paddy and his group O'Rourke's Feast played at their February 4 concert. I had the honor of playing a short video from the concert for Eileen and Tim, which was exciting.

I also spent a lot of time dashing around to ancient sites with my delightful Aunt Betty, who proved to be a most congenial traveling companion. We found neolithic cemeteries, court tombs, crannogs, ringforts and places where the little people might live, as well as the entrance to the Otherworld (it's near Rathcroghan in County Roscommon—who knew?)

And did I mention the food? I love eating like France in Ireland, and we managed very well, finding artisan cheesemakers in Galway and Kerry (even French-style paté in Dingle), and feasting on homemade breads and home-grown vegetables from farms and markets.

I also sussed out a few of the places we'll be staying on the tour in September, including Cassidy's Hotel in Dublin, the Kilronan Castle Hotel in Roscommon, and the Falls Hotel in Ennistymon, all very comfortable places. Thanks to Mary Pat Flanagan and everyone at CIE Tours for their help in making arrangements.

Many, many thanks, also to the friends whose hospitality buoyed us along the way—Jody and Sean Henry in Portumna, and Sean and Mary O'Driscoll in Cork. Margaret and Brian McGrath also gave us a fine welcome at Riverside Lodge outside Kilfenora in County Clare. Margaret made some fabulous brown bread and the MOST delicious Guinness cake, and Brian showed us around to monuments not many people ever get to see in the Burren. Of course, we had to climb over several stone walls and get up close and personal with some nervous cattle, but that's why we were there!