Ireland, Part 2 (A Distressing Period)

On July 22, 2014 · 0 Comments

Somewhere close to 8.2 million people lived in Ireland in 1841. Then came Phytopthora Infestans, a fungus-like microorganism that attacked Irish potato fields with a fearsome blight and utter devastation. The Great Famine killed more than a million people through starvation or disease between 1845 and 1850. Two million survivors fled their native land avoiding similar fates in the immediate aftermath, and the population continued to bleed over multiple generations to North America and to Australia and to other accommodating places.

Today about 6.4 people live on the Irish island, with 4.59 million in the Republic of Ireland and 1.84 million in Northern Ireland. It is feasible that the pre-famine population might finally be reached again by 2046, TWO CENTURIES after the initial calamity.

It’s not my purpose to delve deeply into the history and geopolitical underpinnings of the Great Famine. Plenty of sources with vastly greater knowledge and insight exist to fill that role. I approached the subject as an observer of a small number of people and places left in its wake as they existed today.

Famine Cottage



Seemingly every town — for completely understandable reasons — had a famine museum, a memorial, or maybe just the crumbling ruins of homes formerly occupied by those long gone. A visitor should visit at least one famine site, and we stopped at the Famine Cottage at Slea Head on the Dingle Peninsula (map).

We’d explored far along the peninsula, almost all the way to the extreme western point on the Irish mainland to see an Iron Age ruin, the Dunbeg Fort. Unfortunately a howling storm damaged the property earlier in the year, closing the site to visitors so that it could be viewed only from a distance. However, a Famine Cottage operated as a roadside attraction practically at the same spot so we took that as a cue to walk through the property. This was an actual farm and homestead from the time period, not a replica, and restored in the manner of how it would have appeared when people lived there during those dark years. It would have been a difficult life on that windswept mountainside even during the best of times.


Slievemore Deserted Village



I think the ruins of the deserted village of Achill Island (map) had an even greater impact, complete with a cold foggy drizzle to heighten a sense of gloom and despair. This wasn’t a lone residence as we saw on Dingle, it was an entire settlement of a hundred homes.

Achill lay beyond the standard tour bus circuit. Nobody collected a fee. A mile of crumbling stone houses stood beside a barren path. We were alone at that spot except for our thoughts.

Excavations sponsored by the Achill Archaeological Field School confirmed that people lived on the sheltered southern slopes of Slievemore mountain for several thousand years. A permanent village formed at the site during the early Medieval period.

The houses were built of unmortared stone, which means that no cement or mortar was used to hold the stones together. Each house consisted of just one room and this room was used as kitchen, living room, bedroom and even stable. For many years people lived in the village and then in 1845 Famine struck in Achill as it did in the rest of Ireland. Most of the families moved to the nearby village of Dooagh, which is beside the sea, while some others emigrated.

Residents abandoned their settlement although it survived for awhile as "booley" housing, a term for structures that were used during summer months while people tending to livestock. The practice of transhumance lasted longer on Achill than just about anywhere else in Ireland, and indeed well into the 20th Century, in remote places like Slievemore. However the village never recovered. It slipped into complete abandonment as years slipped by, an eerie site on a gloomy day.


Family History



My great-grandfather grew up in Ireland in the decades after the famine, born at the family farm in Mountcollins, Co. Limerick in 1868 (map). An impoverished Catholic farm boy didn’t have to stray far to get into trouble during that era. The family spirited him to Cork where he caught a ship heading to the United States, one step ahead of the authorities. Thomas O’Connor left Ireland in 1888 and died in 1958, never returning to his homeland. This was such a common and permanent occurrence that the Irish referred to the situation generically as an American Wake. It was almost as if the person leaving had died. The United States became Thomas O’Connor’s new home and he had 73 living descendants in his adopted land when he passed away, including a grandson named for him. Later there would be a great-grandson also named named for him who would visit his boyhood home and post these words to Twelve Mile Circle.

We spent a day with our Irish relatives, my elderly father getting at least one more chance to better understand his equally elderly second-cousins. They drove us to the small house where Thomas was born, now a rundown storage shed on a farm that still belonged to the family. We saw the church where he was baptized and the place where he went to school. We touched the gravestone of his parents. We read the family genealogy charts with so many stories of people who left for Texas, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, North Carolina, Washington DC, or just generically USA, often marked with the phrase "no further information."

The Great Famine famine and the troubling decades afterwards changed Ireland profoundly, a tremendous turmoil that still reverberates. My family story differed little from a million others.

Ireland, Part 1 (Castles and Ruins)

On July 20, 2014 · 0 Comments

My typing fingers grew a little rusty over the last couple of weeks. Those of you who follow 12MC on Twitter already knew that I was in Ireland because I posted a steady stream of photographs. What may have been less understood was that I wrote all Twelve Mile Circle articles ahead of time. That’s right, the blog was on autopilot for awhile although I was still able to approve comments, update the complete index map and attend to administrative tasks of that nature.

The next several articles will relate to my Irish adventures and shift towards a travelogue briefly rather than tackle the usual compendium of geo-oddities. Historically, those haven’t been the most viewed articles so I won’t take it personally if readers decide to skip a few until we get back to normal business. I like writing them and that’s what I’m going to do.

When one thinks of Ireland in a somewhat stereotypical sense, one often envisions medieval structures like castles, abbeys, and cathedrals of weathered stone in various states of decay. Maybe that’s just me. Nonetheless, that seemed like a good starting point for the series. My younger son wanted to see "lots of castles" and that’s what I fed him. I think even he was tired of walking through crumbling ruins by the time we left. I’ll focus on four ancient buildings in four different Irish counties that we visited.

Granuaile’s Tower



This might be my favorite photograph from the trip except for maybe the puffin, although I’m getting ahead of myself.

Achill Island on the western coast of County Mayo appeared as a quiet, unspoiled landscape bypassed by the largest of the tourist hordes. Known more for its beaches and scenery, Achill had only one ancient fortification still standing, Granuaile’s Tower at Kildavnet (map). It had an impressive backstory.

The Tower at Kildavnet, in the south-east corner of Achill Island, is a perfect example of a 15th century Irish tower house. The Gaelic Chiefs of the time copied a Norman design and constructed many such tower houses. The tower at Kildavnet is thought to have been constructed by the Clan O’Malley in about 1429, but is associated locally with a descendant of the original builders, Grace O’Malley or Granuaile. This legendary pirate queen is thought to have been born around 1530 and died in about 1603.

The tower belonged to a woman of significant power and means known as the "The Pirate Queen of Connaught." Gráinne Ní Mháille (Grace O’Malley in its anglicized version) inherited the family business from her father. Some would characterize it a shipping enterprise while others might have noted elements of pirating. The lines were a little fuzzier back then. Nonetheless Granuaile established strongholds along the western Irish coast and this was one of the towers she used to protect and control her domain.


Ross Castle



Ross Castle in Killarney (map) was another excellent example of an Irish tower house of the period. It dated probably to the 15th Century, originally built by the O’Donoghue clan, later owned by the Brownes of Killarney and finally served as a military barracks until the 19th Century.

Today it’s an often-visited part of Killarney National Park in County Kerry. Ross Castle sat conveniently along the famous "Ring of Kerry" tourist road so it’s evolved into a more-or-less obligatory stop for sightseers in one of the most heavily visited areas of Ireland. This was the only place where I saw signs in the car park warning people to remove valuables from their vehicles. This was also the only place where we had to be content with external views of the castle because tours were sold out. Still, if one is in Killarney, one should probably visit Ross Castle (if only to book a boat from there to visit Innisfallen Island, which I’ll talk about in a later episode).


Rock of Cashel



The Rock of Cashel was a real castle (map), not simply a tower house for pirates or lesser nobility. The imposing Rock of Cashel, Carraig Phádraig, served as the home of the Kings of Munster, in what is now County Tipperary.

It was here that St. Patrick converted the reigning king to Christianity in the 6th Century according to legend. A later king, Muirchertach Ua Briain, gave his mighty fortress to the Church around the year 1100. An imposing cathedral was added to the grounds in the 1200′s. The site fell into disrepair over several centuries although more recent restorations preserved what remained, and visitors are allowed to wander the grounds mostly unimpeded.


St. Canice’s Cathedral



I enjoyed St. Canice’s Cathedral of the Church of Ireland, in County Kilkenny (map). The church itself was remarkable although I’d recommend its Round Tower as something to be included on the itinerary too.

Round towers – a particularly Irish feature – were built at major religious sites as places of refuge for body and treasure, during the times of the Viking raids from the end of the 8th century. St Canice’s round tower offers a breathtaking 360 degree view of the surrounding countryside from its summit – hardly surprising since that was the other reason they were built. The presence of the round tower here is the clearest sign of the antiquity of St Canice’s as an important religious site. There is a reference that suggests a mid-9th century date for it, making it the oldest standing structure in the City.

The thought of climbing a 30 metre (100 ft.) tower that was 1,200 years old might seem unnerving to many visitors, and as a case in point my wife and older son decided to remain earthbound. It was up to my younger son and I to uphold the family honor and reach the summit. I won’t lie — it wasn’t for the faint of heart. The climb involved a succession of seven ladders leading to small wooden platforms in increasingly narrow spaces as the diameter of the tower tapered towards the top. This wouldn’t be enjoyable for those with claustrophobia, acrophobia, or irrational fears of old towers crumbling at any moment whatever phobia that might be named. Fortunately my son and I had none of those fears and we reaped a splendid bird’s eye view of surrounding Kilkenny.

My kids never did understand why I quietly muttered "You Bastards!" every time someone mentioned Kilkenny.


Others

We visited a number of other medieval structures, too.

Some of these may be featured in later installments. Others may not. Feel free to check images I’ve posted on each of these places using the photo links provided.

Delphia

On July 17, 2014 · 1 Comments

The start for this research came from a recent tragic incident, a drowning at Triadelphia Reservoir in Maryland. My mental sympathies extended to the young victim’s family and friends of course. Afterwards I began to wonder how the reservoir got its unusual name, with a triad (a group of three) applied to "Delphia."


Philadelphia Sunset
Philadelphia Sunset by Peter Miller, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The most common application of the suffix Delphia had to be the City of Philadelphia (map) in Pennsylvania, colloquially known as the City of Brotherly Love.(¹) Regardless of whether this unofficial motto should apply, and it’s open to debate, the phrase derived from a colonial-era translation of ancient Greek. Philadelphia was "taken by William Penn to mean ‘brotherly love,’ from philos ‘loving’ + adelphos ‘brother’."

Peeling that back farther, the ancient Greek word δελφύς (delphús) — and apologies in advance if the original word rendered incorrectly on the page — meant womb. The same term also applied to Dolphin, essentially a "fish" with a womb. The Oracle of Delphi in ancient Greece originated from the same root, and according to legend "Apollo first came to Delphi in the shape of a dolphin" which created a nice symmetry with the various word meanings.

Let’s set all those aside. My command of ancient Greek was even worse than my understanding of living foreign languages. I probably butchered the explanation. Let’s focus on a modern translation of the suffix to mean "brother" and return to Triadelphia.


Tri(a)delphia


Triadelphia Reservoir
Triadelphia Reservoir by Doug Miller, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license

Triadelphia, the reservoir in Maryland that straddled the Montgomery County / Howard County line derived its name from an earlier placename, a town called Triadelphia. Spellings often dropped the initial "a", and in fact the USGS listed both Triadelphia and Tridelphia as acceptable variations. Residents abandoned the town in the later part of the Nineteenth Century after a series of floods along the Patuxent River. Its former site was later submerged beneath the waters of the reservoir. The Sandy Spring museum explained the name,

Triadelphia ("three brothers") was founded in 1809 by brothers-in-law Thomas Moore, Isaac Briggs, and Caleb Bentley, who married Brooke sisters. Its water wheels powered a cotton spinning mill… Around the mills sprang up a structured little city… The town throbbed with 400 people.

That answered the question of three brothers. Similarly another Triadelphia, this time in West Virginia, seemed to have three men associated with its founding as well (map). Numerous sources speculated that perhaps these men were three sons of an early resident, the town’s first mayor, Colonel Joshiah Thompson. Research conducted in 1941 as part of the Depression-era Work Projects Administration offered a different explanation however. It attributed the name to three close friends who settled in the area circa 1800 and donated the townsite, the previously-mentioned Thompson along with Amasa Brown and John D. Foster.

I discovered a final Triadelphia in Morgan County, Ohio, via the Geographic Names Information System. The "History of Morgan County, Ohio" mentioned Triadelphia however it did not provide an explanation beyond "It was laid out in 1838 by A. Roberts." That book was published in 1886 so the source of the triad was apparently unknown or unworthy of mention even back then so it remained a mystery to me. I also found a Flickr set on the abandoned Deerfield Township school located in Triadelphia (also Google Street View) although that went down a bit of a tangent.


Arkadelphia


Profile of Speer Pavilion, Ouachita Baptist University
Profile of Speer Pavilion, Ouachita Baptist University by Trevor Huxham, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

The more well-known Arkadelphia had to be the one in Arkansas (map). It had ten thousand residents at the last Census so it certainly qualified as a meaningfully populated place. It was also the home of two universities, Ouachita Baptist University and Henderson State University, which explained the photo I selected, above.

The source of the name was uncertain.

At the end of the 1830s, the first lots were plotted, and Blakeleytown became Arkadelphia. The name’s originator and precise date of origin are lost; later accounts agree that early settler James Trigg reported, without attribution, that when Arkadelphia became the county seat and thus needed a more dignified name, locals combined two Greek words for “arc of brotherhood” and changed the third letter. However, many settlers came from Alabama and perhaps borrowed the name of Arkadelphia from a town north of Birmingham.

I’ll note another option, a hunch really, since I lack definitive evidence. Perhaps the Ark portion came from a shortening of Arkansas. People did that for Texarkana just 75 miles (120 kilometres) down the road so it seemed to be more than a passing possibility.

What about the Arkadelphia in Alabama (map)? It continued to exist albeit as nothing more than a bump in the road. Nobody really knew its derivation; it could have been borrowed from another town or it could have incorporated the name of an early settler (seems to have some merit). All I discovered was that it served as the home of the Arkadelphia Speedway.


(A)delphia



Adelphia, New Jersey

Adelphia translated more generically as "brotherhood" so I figured the back-stories for such locations wouldn’t have the same level of fascination or complexity. Adelphia in New Jersey seemed to be the largest of such populated places. According to the "History of Howell Township," New Jersey:

Early colonial settlement in and surrounding present-day Howell Township revolved around agriculture as the principle industry and activity. Settlement patterns roughly corresponded to the location of high-quality soils… A permanent structure for the Bethesda Methodist Church was built in 1779 on what is now Lakewood Road (Donahay, 1967). The area was later called Turkey, from which Turkey Swamp Park in Freehold Township is named, before becoming known as Adelphia.

I agreed with those early town founders. Adelphia sounded better than Turkey.

GNIS also listed several small populated places named simply Delphia, located in Kentucky, Montana and South Carolina.


Somewhat Related

I found a couple of other references to the Delphia suffix.

  • Texadelphia was a small restaurant chain specializing in "Texas Cheesesteak," an obvious reference to the original restaurant location and an homage to Philadelphia, the acknowledged birthplace of the cheesesteak.
  • The two major superorders of marsupials are Ameridelphia (opossum and such) and Australidelphia (kangaroo, wombat, koala and such). Here the suffix referred to the animals’ pouch, described by early classifiers as something like an external "womb."

(¹) Sports fans from other cities might disagree. I was certainly aware of the Chief Zee incident as I grew up in the area with a football team that must not be named.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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