Sunday, November 06, 2016

Stone Age To Flying Boats In Ireland

On our second day in Ireland we woke to more light rain, but were determined to show Katherine a little bit more of Ireland, especially of the area in County Limerick. 

After another delicious breakfast at the Old Castle House bed and breakfast, we followed the same road we had taken the day before back almost to Limerick city, then turned south east for the drive to Lough Gur Heritage Center and the Great Stone Circle at Holycross near Bruff. The map above is too small to really help, but we drove from the circle on the far left, all the way over to where the dots end at Lough Gur circle, then to the two smaller circles near it where the church and stone circle were, then back by way of the dashed line, and on to the second circle from the left, at Foynes. After leaving Foynes, we went back to the far left circle, Glin.

Here Katherine and Sweetie stand in front of Lough Gur. The area of Lough Gur is an ancient settlement. They have found signs of human habitation dating back over 6,000 years. At one time one of the kinds of settlements were crannogs; huts build on artificial islands in lakes. This provided the protection of water...same idea as a moat I guess. Lough Gur is a beautiful large lake and there were at least one of this kind of settlement, as well as later settlements on the surrounding hills.

We went to the visitor's center first where I sat in a wonderful carved wooden chair.

The visitor's center was a replica of the thatched hut with dry laid stone walls which (I think) would have been the kind of hut used on the crannog. Sometimes a bridge was used to connect the island to the surrounding land, but sometimes dug-out canoes would be the only way to get to the islands. Today the space between the artificial island and the shore has silted in, so it just looks like part of the land. 

These islands were protected with a timber fence and had thatched houses. Planting ws done on the surrounding land. It was often too wet for crops, so they developed the practice of planting in ridges of land pushed up in long hills...a method still used for potato planting. Typical crops were barley and Emmer and Spelt wheat, plus vegetables. Hunting and gathering were still a major source of food.

We hiked up a fairly steep trail to the top of one of the hills, 

passing painted rocks made to look like fairy dwellings (after all school children often visit educational places like this and the Irish are known for a bit of whimsey now and then) and sites of dwelling from a later time than the crannogs. 

The view from the top was lovely, even though the day was overcast. After we hiked down to lake level, we found a 'wishing chair' 

as well as an interesting sign that apparently shows that the lake has a severe drop off.

I was surprised since, as we were arriving, a class of students had recently passed that area in kayaks and I didn't see them wearing life jackets...but I could have missed those. 

Our next stop was at a nearby church ruin about a mile away. We had a different view of the Lough from there, 

but the real attractions were the headstones, including many very old Irish crosses and similar carved headstones. 

The ruins itself were all in stone. It was hard to imagine it with an altar or stained glass windows or pews. As a country church maybe all it had were rough benches.

A short distance away in Bruff we came to the Great Stone Circle of Holycross, a private property owned by Timothy Casey, but open to the public because he wants to share the immense stone circle of large standing stones. 

There have been archaeological excavations here, but I was mostly impressed with the stones. Here is what the author of Standing Stones website has to say:
"The circle at Grange is quite something. It is banked in that the stones are pressed right up against an outer henge. The diameter of the circle is 47.5m and is perfectly circular. During excavations a post hole in the centre of circle was found from which the circle could have been measured out with a rope. I don’t think I have ever seen a stone circle with such a variation in stone size. Some are barely over 50cm tall while the largest (known as Rannach Croim Duibh) stands at 4m in height. The bank into which the stones are set is ditchless and roughly 1.2m high and 9m wide. Unusually there is a formal entrance to the circle on the E side of the circle. A stone lined entrance has been set out and is still impressive to walk up and into the circle...especially in the fog. A lot of archaeological material was found during excavation and carbon dating indicates a construction date around 2000BC. Beaker ware was found at the site and was found to be very similar to Beaker ware found in Somerset in England and to me that would indicate a close connection between these people.

Another stone circle and two standing stones can be seen from this site, when it is not foggy, and there is a possible megalithic tomb on the other side of the road that would be visible from the circle is it wasn’t for the modern road. This is truly a fantastic site at an amazing place. Even if you only have a passing interest in these places you will certainly be impressed by this place."
 From website The Standing Stone -

We walked all around the circle after visiting a bit with Timothy. It is a magical place somehow.  On the summer solstice apparently the sun rises so that it sits for a short while directly over the tallest stone, throwing a shadow into the clear area within the circle. In the photo above Katherine stands near the tallest stone. Maybe we can go back to experience the solstice one day.

Having had our historical fun, we stopped nearby for a quick (and late) lunch, then headed back to Glin. 

On the way we stopped at Foynes. Our hope had been to visit the Flying Boat museum, but we arrived too late for the full experience. We did have the opportunity to go to the top of the control tower, recently reconstructed, where we could see the Shannon river and the area where the planes would have landed during the 40's when Foynes was the European terminus for the trans-Atlantic flying boats service. The tower had old photos, including this one of the original tower from the 1940s.

The bottom photo is an artists representation of how it probably looked when there was regular flying boat service at Foynes prior to the opening of Shannon Airport, which was built to accommodate the newer jet airlines. 

 Since Irish Coffee was invented here it seemed only right to have some, although I decided to have some nice hot tea myself.

We had dinner that night with Shayne and Barbara in the nearby town of Tarbert, which is also one end of the ferry between Co. Clare and Co. Kerry. More great food and conversation. It was hard to leave knowing that our time with them was over for a while again. So, during our all too brief stay in Ireland we traversed a bit of County Clare (Shannon Airport), County Limerick (Lough Gur, Foynes, Glin) and a tiny bit of County Kerry (Tarbert). One day we'll have to make it to Dublin I guess.

Another good night's sleep, followed by another great breakfast and we made our way early Tuesday morning to Shannon airport for our flight to Marseille, France, via Heathrow airport.


  1. One of the best things about Scotland was the beautiful green - and the plethora of historical sites that were just eons old, that everyone just took for granted.

    Love that wishing chair!

  2. Yes, it makes me feel small and insignificant to stand in that circle of stones, knowing how old they are. The greens of the landscape were muted that day by clouds, but still beautiful. Sonoma County right now has gorgeous shades of green all over the place, a gift of the recent rains and a few sunny days that followed.