You can't turn around in Ireland without bumping into history. Sometimes it's stuff that is brand new to the listener and has no emotional "hook", as it were. Other times, it involves well known characters about whom you may already know a fair bit. When the latter happens, it can be like receiving an autographed painting direct from a favorite artist: you thought you knew it all, but here, in living color, is another piece of the mystery! And it's all for YOU!
I won't say I knew everything there is to know about Sir Walter Raleigh, but having visited Virginia and the Carolinas, and having worked at the Renaissance Faire, I felt confident that I knew a bit more than your average Yank. Or at least felt a glimmer of personal connection.
Wait – could I be thinking of Sir Francis Drake instead? Uhh… Probably best not to think about it. Just sit back and enjoy the moment, right? Right! (ps: the chip butties are at the very end of the post, so you'll have to stick around for the full range of naughtiness ;)
First stop: a watchtower to get a good view of the town.
My friend, Noel, took me to town of Youghal, a coastal town on the estuary of the River Blackwater, about an hour east of Cork. Now, Noel is Irish and naturally has a much more refined ear when it comes to local pronunciation of town names. His own name, too, if you can imagine.
To my ear, "Noel" sounds not entirely dissimilar to "Youghal". He disagrees and insists that "Noel" is like "no-el" but said kind of mushed together, whereas "Youghal" is somewhere between "y'all" and "you'll". I say he's a killjoy because I wanted to make terrible rhyming jokes about my day in Youghal with Noel. But what can you do when people insist on accuracy? Pfft!
Which is fuzzier, the moss or the focus?
Our first stop was a former watchtower atop the old city walls. The view was spectacular and Noel pointed out many interesting bits of architectural interest that we would be visiting later. I smiled and nodded because, although I was looking forward to seeing things up close, I was distracted by one of my favorite things about Ireland: the mossy stonework.
I just adore the wee mosses, ferns, and lichens that decorate the faces of stone constructs across the country. So much texture and character, I love it! I actually did get a few well focused shots of the landscape through the crenellations of the tower, but I liked the up close bits too much not to include them. I mean, there are even tiny purple flowers – how cool is that?
The tower was open to the elements. And I do mean totally open. There was no guard rail to keep the inattentive visitor from continuing to clomp their way to the top, only to discover they'd fallen right back down to the base. But still, that's one of the things I love about Europe – more often than not, you're expected to look after yourself. If you can't be arsed to pay attention to where you put your feet, you will not find yourself in a position to sue someone for your own carelessness.
Not that Irish folks are unsympathetic, far from it. If anything, it would be a chance to tell a great story and share a pint. Assuming you survived, of course.
Coat o' arms. And legs. Paws, really.
There is a lovely little coat of arms on the tower, though I do not know whose it was. I believe this part of the wall was built during Elizabethan times, but this doesn't match Queen Elizabeth's devices, as far as I can tell. Nor Sir Walter Raleigh. And the stone looks to be a bit newer than the rest. Still, I am loving the textures!
Good for what ails (ales?) ya!
Next we stopped into a pub that, according to Noel, hasn't changed in 50 years. It was a grocery store, once upon a time, and still has many of the original fixtures in place. These include drawers, scales, a window for taking orders, and a partially sectioned off area of the pub that used to be where the alcohol was kept.
Noel found two things particularly amusing about the whole setup. The first was a bunch of kegs in the front section – coming in or going out, I don't know – that had sacks of potatoes sitting on top of them. (I was glad he noticed it first and found it funny; I would have felt guilty for chuckling over stereotypes. Ahem.) The second was a bunch of religious iconography in paper form, pasted into a little wall nook, in the center of which was a mobile for Powers whiskey. It's not clear if the proprietor deliberately created the juxtaposition out of a sense of irony, but I doubt it.
"Three small glasses a day, for good health and lively blood".
Something else Noel pointed out to me was the Buckfast Tonic Wine on the shelves. It's made by Benedictine monks at the Buckfast Abbey. People used to drink it for its alleged health benefits. The caption under the photo was the advertising slogan.
It has been linked to crime in areas of Scotland and Ireland that are economically challenged. That is especially true among young people. In fact, the UK (I believe) started to require that it be sold in plastic bottles, as many intoxicated perpetrators would smash the glass and use it as a weapon. Fortifying indeed!
My only experience with fortified wine – that is, wine (fermented) mixed with spirits (distilled) for the purpose of preserving the wine – had been a small glass or two of vermouth in Barcelona. I didn't know what "fortified" meant at the time. Now that it's been explained to me, I understand why my tolerance for it is so low. What a lightweight!
She's like a brick… house!
One of the things we'd been able to see from the tower was the back of a rather large house. Noel called it "the Dutch house" because of the architecture. Wikipedia calls it "the Red House". Since it was built for the Uniacke family, a name of Anglo-Norman origin, and because "red house" is so incredibly dull, I'll go with Noel's choice. It has a great, whopping sun room and… well, how about I just show you?
That's it in the middle there, yup.
Ok, so not quite as salmony red from the back, but look at that sun room! And the nifty, sun-friendly window for the parlor. BIG house with lots o' sun, quite a luxury.
Please note the small castle poking up at the left of the frame, too. Noel says the ground floor was where a merchant would have kept his goods, while living on the next two floors, and having the ability to shut the entire thing up and hold off sieges, too. Wikipedia says, "Tynte's Castle is a late 15th-century urban tower house. It is almost the only fortified relic of feudalism now in Youghal. It was built by the Walsh family in 1602…" Funny thing was, as we were walking down the street, I was about to saunter right on past it. What can I say? I wasn't expecting a castle in the middle of town.
Unofficial Youghal coat of arms.
Spotted this across the street from the grounds of St. Mary's Collegiate Church. It used to be the seal of the Youghal Corporation, so isn't a proper coat of arms, apparently. Or maybe someone made one too many bad puns about the ship and it was forever banned from being official. Too bad, because "boat of arms" has a nice ring to it.
Upside down, giant piece of honeycomb fudge.
There were a lot of clever and environmentally friendly architectural tricks employed before the dawn of plastics. The stones incorporated into outside walls of houses had to be kept as dry as possible – a good trick in Ireland! – lest they begin to crack and crumble. One of the ways of doing this was preventing rainwater from the eaves from dripping directly down the side of the house. Instead of gargoyles, many buildings had deep overhangs and little pointy bits to direct the water. This one made me think of caramel or fudge for some reason. I wasn't even hungry at the time, though I am now!
Noel says bricks are much better at keeping out the damp than stones. It was Romans that brought bricks to England, however, and they didn't quite make hop to the next island over. To quote Noel,
"We didn't get the Romans. They never said,
'Here, Paddy! Let me show you this!' "
It wasn't until wealthy Brits brought them over (and utterly failed to share for quite a long time) that Ireland saw this advance in technology.
Myrtle Grove: possibly mis-identified house.
This house is reputedly the home of Sir Walter Raleigh, who was mayor of Youghal for some time. Noel doesn't believe that it belonged to him because of the type of chimney. He says they are too narrow and were built more for warming the rooms, which was a luxury that came after Raleigh's time.
Just a splash of paint and a little sprucing up is all it needs.
This house, right next door, is the one Noel believes is more likely to have been his residence. It has wide chimneys, indicating that it has large enough hearths to accommodate the huge cooking pot that would have been a regular fixture in Raleigh's time. Both houses are currently occupied, which is something I find absolutely fascinating.
Quite ingenious is the use of compost back in the day. You see that the house doesn't have windows on the ground floor? This, according to Noel, is because rubbish and refuse were piled outside the house at ground level in order to keep it warm. I can't imagine it smelled very pleasantly, but if you're trying to figure out a way to survive an Irish winter, I imagine odor is the least of your concerns!
Regardless of which house it was, there are two more tidbits that caught my attention:
- This is the location where potatoes were first brought from Virginia to Ireland. Raleigh planted them in his garden here, thus beginning generations of Irish stereotyping.
- He also brought back tobacco. I'm not sure what people smoked before then, but there is a story that a panicked servant doused Raleigh with water the first time he lit up. This SLAYS me!
St. Mary's Collegiate Church shares a wall with Myrtle Grove. In fact, Noel and I had to creep through the bushes and stand on tip-toe to see the second of the two houses. I snapped this picture as we walked around toward the front of the church and was ridiculously happy with the way the shot came out. This may be my favorite from the whole set. Who knew moss could be so colorful?
Where ARE those naughty bits?
All right, all right… I know I promised chip butties and other such scandalous things. Here is your first peek. It may not look like much because it has been defaced, but once upon a time this was a sheela na gig.
Now, I don't hold with the idea that some parts of the body are ok and some are not. I am more of the opinion shared by Don Schrader,
“To hear many religious people talk,
one would think God created the torso, head, legs and arms
but the devil slapped on the genitals.”
Opinions about things like the sheela na gig are an example of this kind of thinking. The figure was created to be sacred yet was later declared profane. It is a carving of a naked woman showing a large, open vulva. It likely represented fertility and veneration of a Mother Goddess figure, though there are ongoing debates.
The vast majority of churches in Ireland are built upon sacred pagan sites. In fact, many of the early churches and church practices incorporated a great deal of paganism. (This is true in other parts of Europe, as well.) At St. Mary's, this means that at least one sheela na gig was carved into a stone on the outside. As in many cases, including the strategic covering up of a replica of Michelangelo's David by Queen Victoria, a later, more conservative church or monarch probably had the figure removed.
Without birth, none of us would be here. It's a natural – nay, necessary – part of being alive, so why does shame have a place in that? All hail the sheela na gig!
The Sword Rest. As in, "where is the rest of the sword?" perhaps.
Don't you hate it when you buy a fancy new gadget and hang on to the packaging, only to later lose the gadget itself, then stumble across the box as a painful reminder at some later date? Well, I do. I imagine the folks of Youghal feel a similar twinge of sadness when they head to church and see the lovely mayoral Sword Rest that once housed the sword of office for the Lord Mayors of the town.
It's known that Sir Walter Raleigh was in possession of the sword during his time in office, but not much is said about its whereabouts after that. There's a chance that it disappeared during the Nine Years War, an Irish rebellion against the plantations and other oppressive moves by England. However, that is pure speculation on my part.
Together for eterni-tea.
"…THE BODDIES OF RICHARD BENNET AND ELLIS BARRY HIS WYFE…" I guess growing up in the US it never occurred to me that you'd want to bury people inside a church. European churches, on the other hand, seem thick with bodies. I wonder how you rate a place out of the rain.
Noel says that the "wyfe" is from the Barry family of Barry's Tea fame. Hence the pun in the caption.
In the same part of the church are buried several other seemingly random people. One of them, it is said, received all his lands and titles because he was the bastard half brother of James I. So scandalous – and in a church! Heavens!
Oh, you know. Hanging out being dead and stuff.
Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork, apparently rates a spot in the church. Indeed, the south transept is known as the Boyle Chapel. He was a big part of the plantations in Munster (boo!) and, according to Wikipedia, his sons fought against the Catholic Rebellion of the 1640s and '50s. Wonder what he'd think about being interred in an Anglican church.
But really, the main reason I grabbed a snap because it's clear that the sad and somber look of effigies was on holiday in 1643. There are figures of his first and second wives, and their children, above and below him in similar poses. It's a regular family picnic! …why we don't have happy carvings of dead people anymore?
Teeny, tiny Viking.
As I first noticed on a visit to France, the people of generations past tended to be a bit more wee than their modern counterparts. Medieval castle doorways, beds in Pompeii, and now Viking tombs have consistently revealed themselves to be designed for frames that today would be considered quite diminutive. Their mighty war ships were apparently even smaller, as evidenced by the tiny carving on the lid.
This tomb, dating from somewhere between 850-1050 AD, has a sign above it that reads:
"The piratical vessels of the Danes or Ostmen, entered the Blackwater, and sailed up to the abbey of Dair Inis (Molina Abbey) which they plundered. Thence proceeding to Lismore, they sacked its religious houses, and returned laden with booty."
Ok, I admit it – I mostly included this so I could say "booty". Hey, it's not every day you get to say that in church!
Walter Raleigh in the middle there with fearsome yellow lettering on a pink ribbon!
In a different part of the church is some lovely stained glass with many coats of arms. It's rather an interesting statement about religion when a church is filled with symbols of fighting and war. For example, on Richard Boyle's tomb there are a few devices that have crescent moons displayed. Noel says this means their families participated in the Crusades. The moon symbol proclaims, "Yeehaw! We killed Muslims!" Uh…
I find it creepier and sadder than corpses in church that some folks still feel this way 600 years later. Can't we all just get along?
Poor chest, being used in such a manner.
Rumor has it that Oliver Cromwell stood upon this very chest and gave a speech. I imagine it was the 17th century version of, "You will be assimilated. Resistance is futile." Perhaps with an "amen" tacked on the end.
As an aside, when I worked at the Renaissance Faires in California, I played a Puritan. One of my fellow Puritans had a son whom she would gleefully dress up in period garb and bring along to play. It was a bit of historical re-enactment and LOTS of comedy.
I recently asked her to refresh my memory about the horrible ways in which we all took advantage of her son's cuteness. She said '…we would ask him what he wanted to do when he grew up and he'd say, "I'm going to lop off the crowned heads of England!" It helped that he had a mighty round head and a cherubic face at the time.'
Oh, Ollie, you slay me! …and thousands of other people, too. Ahem.
Looks nicer this way, even with the gravestones.
As we were leaving the grounds of St. Mary's, Noel could not resist taking one more photo of the possible residence of Sir Walter Raleigh. I must admit, it is more scenic from this angle. Well done, Noel!
This is the butty you've been waiting for…
You've seen the not-at-all-naughty sheela na gig on the outside of the church, learned that royal bastards may be buried inside the church, but do you know where to go after church? Why, out for fish and chips, of course!
So what is shocking about fish and chips? Not much, really, except that Noel taught me something he learned in the UK: how to make a "chip butty". Although it sounds like a title for a Sir Mix-a-lot follow up tune, it is only sinful in how unexpectedly delicious it is!
- take a slice of soft, white, sandwich bread
- generously butter half of it
- lay some fresh chips (fries) on the buttered half – they must be HOT!
- dribble a small amount of ketchup on the chips
- fold the bread over the chips and devour
Good gracious! I never expected to enjoy a sandwich made of potatoes, but the butter just makes everything magical. In the photo above, I actually put on a little too much ketchup. It's meant to be a delicate flavor enhancer, not something to drown out the rest of the ingredients. I don't know how it tastes in the UK, but with Irish butter… *Homer Simpson drooling noises*
I may need to convince Noel to take me back to Youghal soon to get another butty fix. Who knew that something with such a silly name could be so delicious? Unlike dangerous stunts involving 4×4's, propane tanks, and duct tape, DO try this at home, kids! Too delish.
What travel naughtiness have you gotten up to lately?