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.
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 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.
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.
This isn’t one of those lists passed around the Intertubes. You’ve all seen them and I’m certain you know what I mean. No Monkey’s Eyebrow or Turkey Scratch here. These are placenames that I’ve encountered as I’ve conducted the daily task of keeping Twelve Mile Circle current. They came from various sources as I researched articles or as I obsessed over reader statistics. As usual, I attempted to peer behind the curtain to understand the reasons for these names.
I noticed Full through Google Analytics. Somebody from Full landed upon 12MC and left behind a little digital footprint for me. Nothing more. Sure, whatever "Full" referenced in any one of Switzerland’s four official languages, whether German, French, Italian or Romansh, probably didn’t mean the same thing as English. Nonetheless the thought of a Full town made me smile. It could spark a lot of entertaining jokes.
A little digging determined that Google Analytics shortened Full and the actual name was Full-Reuenthal. German Wikipedia mentioned that Full began as Wulna circa 1303-1307 and merged with Reuenthal in 1798 to form Full-Reuenthal. It then explained, "Dieser Ortsname ist von (ze) follinun abgeleitet, was auf Althochdeutsch «beim aufgeschütteten Boden» bedeutet." Google Translate deciphered that as, "This place name is derived from (ze) follinun, which means to Old High German ‘during backfill soil’."
During backfill soil? That didn’t make sense. I ran the identical phrase through several different translation websites and generated other possibilities.
- “with heaped upon the ground”
- “with heaped up the ground”
- “with the piled up ground”
- “at the bottom heaped-up”
- “for the deposited ground”
I think that provided sufficient context to understand to the Full meaning. Do we have any native German speakers in the 12MC audience who might be able to offer further clarity?
Cooks River Cycleway by Brian Yap, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
This scenic cycleway is an amenity of Hurlstone Park
Once again, Google Analytics hurled an interesting placename towards my direction. A reader arrived from a spot identified as Hurlstone, in suburban Sydney, Australia. I could imagine residents dodging rocks as an unidentified malcontent hurled missiles in their direction.
The name had been truncated in the reader log just as I’d observed with Full. The complete name was Hurlstone Park (map). I found an explanation of the name in the Dictionary of Sydney.
In 1910 a new post office was approved for Fernhill, but the Postmaster General’s Department insisted that the name of the locality would need to be changed as there were already two post offices with that name, one in Victoria and one in Queensland. A local referendum was held in conjunction with a municipal election, the choice being between Hurlstone, Fernboro or Garnett Hill. Hurlstone was selected. This was the name of a college that had been founded by John Kinloch (on the site of today’s Yeo Park, south Ashfield) and given his mother’s maiden name.
The surname Hurlstone "derived from a geographical locality. ‘of Hurlston,’ a township in the parish of Acton, Cheshire," somewhere right about here. The original Hurlston placename seemed to have derived from "’fenced farm’ from the pre 7th century Olde English ‘hurdl-tun’"
Fenced farm. That was lame. It had nothing to do with hurling stones.
Tippity Wichity Island, Maryland, Maryland, USA
I found Tippity Wichity Island while researching Saint Marys River. It was right there in the river channel outside of St. Marys City in Maryland. Tippity Wichity wasn’t a large parcel so I figured I wouldn’t find any meaningful information about it, and frankly was quite satisfied simply to discover an image even if I couldn’t embed it because it was copyright protected. The island was rather modest.
Then I ran across an article in ChesapeakeBoating.net, Ghosting Past Tippity Wichity which provided an explanation for the unusual name.
There, according to noted Potomac River historian Frederick Tilp, Howgate established "a gambling, drinking, and girlie place known as Happie Land and then altered the place name to a short version of Tippling-house and Witchery-house"-Tippity-Witchity. Eventually, the island itself took on the name, accommodating a lively trade with crews from schooners and cargo vessels who would visit for a little entertainment.
Tippling houses specialized in liquor by the glass. Witchery House was an unfamiliar phrase to me although I could read between the lines, and assumed witchery probably referred to its alternate definition, "Compelling power exercised by beauty, eloquence, or other attractive or fascinating qualities." rather than the actual practice of witchcraft. There was drinking and um, not witchcraft, happening on Tippity Wichity Island. Happie Land, indeed.
Walkaway Railway Station Museum, Walkaway, Western Australia
Walkaway. Why would someone walk away? That didn’t sound like an attractive endorsement for a town. I noticed Walkaway in Western Australia while working on Make Tracks to Midland. This was a station on a line operated by the Midland Railway Company a century ago, and the station later became a museum with "railway artifacts, military relics, local history."
I couldn’t find a definitive source for its name. Every website seemed to copy directly from its Wikipedia page and that site didn’t offer attribution either. Let me join the masses and spread the same statement in an entirely irresponsible manner: "Its name is a corruption of the native ‘Wagga wah’, referring to the bend in the nearby Greenough River." It must be true because the Internet said so. Right?
Regular 12MC readers learned long ago that I salivate over the geography of website visitors as reported by Google Analytics, the more unusual the better. I activated that feature during the earliest days of Twelve Mile Circle and I’ve created quite a compendium of traffic logs. Savvy readers have toyed with my daily ritual, my mildly obsessive Analytics scan. They’ve traveled to far-flung destinations, opened their browsers and landed on various 12MC pages, and then wondered if I’d paid attention. Often I’ve noticed the anomaly. I’m always thrilled to discover visits from obscure places whether I understood their sources or not. It’s like getting a delightful wordless postcard.
Thus, this article highlights some of the instances when 12MC readers turned the tables on me. Instead of content coming from me, it was they who intentionally delivering a little digital present. The flow of information reversed its normal direction.
Charbakh, Yerevan, Armenia by Matt Werner, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
I can always count on "January First-of-May" from Moscow to access Twelve Mile Circle from random locations within Russia or other parts of the former Soviet Union. Once I noticed a spike in traffic from Kaliningrad Oblast. Yup, that was the source. It happened again recently with Yerevan, Armenia (map). I don’t receive too many visitors from Armenia — just 50 visits in 7 years — and 14 hits from Yerevan arrived in a neat cluster a few weeks ago. That definitely grabbed my attention!
Then I received the explanation via a comment on an old article pondering Fictional Geo-Marathons. One fictional route involved Armenia.
As far as I can tell, this is the only article with an actual semi-significant mention of the country, so I’ll say it here: yeah, that’s yet again me, in a hotel in north-eastern Yerevan.
Keep traveling, January First-of-May!
Douala by Christine Vaufrey, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license
Cameroon remained one of those stubborn holdouts that hadn’t ever sent a visitor to the 12MC website. I was incredibly happy and surprised when Cameroon registered a string of hits in 2012, centered around Douala (map). I shared that sentiment in "A Plan for Rare Visitors" which prompted a wonderful explanation from "Lyn."
I was your Cameroon reader, glad that it added to an interesting article and response on here. I was visiting Douala recently for work. I’ve been a long time reader/lurker and know how you enjoy weird web hits.
Indeed. Twelve Mile Circle has registered only 10 Cameroonian visits in its entire history. The first five happened during Lyn’s visit.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Photo By Brian Arbanas © 2010 All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.
Of course I have to mention a visit by "jlumsden" to Fernando de Noronha, Brasil in 2010. He’d let me know prior to departing on a month-long trip through the nation and I’d watched map dots light-up as he hit Belo Horizonte, Mariana, Ouro Preto, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador de Bahia, and São Paulo. The highlight had to have been his stopover at remote and obscure Fernando de Noronha, located well off of the South American coast in the Atlantic Ocean (map).
This became the basis for an entire 12MC article, Fernando de Noronha, complete with accompanying photographs taken during the trip like the one above.
Missed Opportunities and Wishful Thinking
pitcairn_island by doublecnz, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
I’m pretty sure I had at least one visitor from Vatican City. That led me to speculate that perhaps the Holy See used an Italian service provider and registered Rome as its geographic location for outgoing traffic. Twelve Mile Circle has recorded several hundred Roman visitors with no way to break them down more specifically. I still don’t know.
A relative of a regular reader planned to visit the Pitcairn Islands, population 67, with hopes of jumping onto the 12MC website. This was a place so remote that it didn’t have an airport. Absent a private yacht or a brief cruise ship stop, the only way to get there is on the supply vessel MV Claymore II. The ship makes only 8 trips per year and visitors have to stay on Pitcairn for 4 or 11 days. No other options. A ".pn" top-level country code domain would have been the ultimate capture.
Feel free to play the game from your own Internet-accessible device. Heading to an unusual location? Ping the 12MC website. I probably won’t notice your next trip to Disney World or London although plenty of other sites will pique my interest especially if they generate a sudden burst of activity. A lot of climatologists read Twelve Mile Circle. Can’t one of you winter over in Antarctica?