Ireland, Part 1 (Castles and Ruins)

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.

On July 17, 2014 · 1 Comments

4 Nations, 2 Tripoints, 1 Lake

I thought I’d written an article about Africa’s Lake Chad a long time ago so I was surprised to see it still listed on my potential topics spreadsheet as I culled through it recently. A quick search of the 12MC WordPress database found minor references to Lake Chad and little else. I guess I should address that oversight.



Lake Chad Area

The basin feeding into the lake is endorheic. Water falling here doesn’t have an outlet to the sea. Instead liquid drains to the lowest point of elevation in the typical manner, in this case a depression in the earth caused by tectonic forces, to create Lake Chad. Calling it a lake might be a bit misleading as it includes a mixture of smaller lakes and ponds and pools and marshes and mud. Lake Chad grows and contracts as rain falls or it doesn’t, in an annual cycle of wet and dry seasons, through times of abundance and times of drought. This is a very shallow lake, only 10.5 metres (34 feet) at its deepest point, so expansion or contraction can be quite dramatic even within a single year during the interplay between evaporation and replenishment.

The Lake Chad Basin Commission proposed three Lake Chads, a set of variations noted as small, medium and large Lake Chad.

Lake Chad covers less than 10% of the area it occupied in 1960… The current Lake Chad is an ordinary "small Lake Chad", as it has been several times in the past. It has hardly witnessed any major changes since the beginning of the Sahelian drought of 70 years, except for minor seasonal and interannual fluctuations which are typical of its normal functioning.

Other sources sounded considerably less optimistic. The United Nations’ AfricaRenewal described it as "one of the most important agricultural heritage sites in the world, providing a lifeline to nearly 30 million people" and noted "The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called the situation an ‘ecological catastrophe,’ predicting that the lake could disappear this century" Whether natural cycle or permanent situation, this dwindling freshwater reservoir contributed to international tensions.


Drawing Lines


lac tchad
lac tchad by barth1003, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license

European colonial powers all wanted a piece of the lake, an unusually large source of water near the southern rim of the Sahara Desert. That transformed into four different African nations sharing Lake Chad once colonial powers relinquished control: Nigeria, Niger, Chad (or Tchad) and Cameroon. It also created two different tripoints within the lake: a Nigeria, Niger, Chad tripoint; and a Chad, Cameroon, Nigeria tripoint. Two of the nations do not share a border. Niger and Cameroon are separated by about 85 kilometres (53 miles).

I wondered about the unusual northern appendage of Cameroon that extended up to Lake Chad like a sipping straw. This traced back to European control too, an artifact of German possession of "Kamerun" for several decades prior to the First World War. The United Kingdom also grabbed a corner of the lake in the formation of Nigeria and France behaved similarly with respect to Niger and Chad. Thus three European powers near the turn of the Twentieth Century coveted the waters, carved the land into colonies, and set the stage for its current international configuration.



That northern notch of Cameroon carried an appropriate name, the Région de l’Extrême-Nord, meaning Extreme North Region or Far North Region when converted into English (both are used). The northernmost department of this region was Logone-et-Chari. The department also had a northernmost settlement, Blangoua, along the Chari River near the point where it emptied into Lake Chad itself. That was the end of the road, as extremely north as one could settle in the extreme north of Cameroon. I found a YouTube video about this isolated Cameroonian outpost, or at least I think that’s what I found because it was in French. Regardless, the imagery provided a fascinating window on the people who lived along the lake.


Implications

Four nations sharing a valuable resource had to find a way to cooperate. This led to the creation of the Lake Chad Basin Commission:

The mandate of the Commission is to sustainably and equitably manage the Lake Chad and other shared water resources of the Lake Chad Basin, to preserve the ecosystems of the Lake Chad Conventional Basin, to promote regional integration, peace and security across the Basin.

Nonetheless peace and security have been at risk in the last several years because of the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, including the Lake Chad border area. As noted by Cameroon Info.Net:

Using porous borders with Chad, Niger and Cameroon in the desolate scrubland around Lake Chad, they are smuggling bigger weapons, staging cross-border raids, killing and kidnapping in an escalation of violence that could further draw Nigeria’s neighbours into its counter-insurgency fight, security officials say.

Reuters reported that Cameroon was sending 700 soldiers into the Extreme North in March 2014 "as part of a regional force to tackle armed groups in an area where Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram operates."

The future looked pretty scary in the Lake Chad region.

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12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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