The format today will be similar to the "Odds and Ends" series, a veritable pu pu platter of tasty tidbits. The primary difference will be that inspiration came almost entirely from the far corners of the 12MC army. I still have several other reader contributions waiting in the wings too. Please be patient if you mailed something to 12MC in the last couple of months. I’ll get to everything eventually.
Kilkenny Castle. My Own Photo.
I encountered placenames in Ireland with the prefix "Kil-" nearly everywhere during my recent overseas adventure. These included the towns of Kilkenny and Killarney plus the County of Kildare. The prefix occurred too frequently to happen by random chance, I figured.
Some quick research solved the mystery. In Irish Gaelic the prefix meant "Church." The same was true apparently for Scottish Gaelic and originally spelled Cill. For example a surname like Kilpatrick might translate as something like the Church of St. Patrick.
It reminded me of the suffix -kill one sees sporadically in eastern areas of the United States originally settled by the Dutch, including parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware. Examples would include the Schuylkill River that flows through Philadelphia as well as everyone’s favorite, the seemingly redundant (although actually not) Murderkill River of Delaware. Kill in this context meant a creek or a riverbed.
Funny how the same basic word could have such drastically different meanings in English, Irish and Dutch.
A Long Way to Go
Sunset over Mooselookmeguntic Lake by Rob Albright, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) license
Reader Joe wondered about the longest town name in the United States. He came across an article that suggested Bellefontaine Neighbors (map), a suburb of St. Louis, Missouri. It claimed to have "the longest name of any incorporated place in the United States" at 22 letters.
The situation became much more complicated as I explored it. Essentially the title came down to what set of qualifiers one wanted to use. Bellefontaine Neighbors settled on "incorporated place" to stake its claim. I referred to the US Board on Geographic Names, which offered Winchester-on-the-Severn, Maryland as the longest name with a hyphen (24 characters) and a tie between Mooselookmeguntic, Maine and Kleinfeltersville, Pennsylvania for continuous uninterrupted letters (17 characters) as the longest names for populated places in the United States.
Those of course paled in comparison to Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu, New Zealand (85 characters) and Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch, Wales (58 characters).
Bellefontaine was pronounced Bell-fount-in, by the way.
Simpson County Offset
Simpson County Offset
Some readers provided both an observation and an explanation. Such was the case with reader Mike. I’d noticed the "Simpson County Offset" before although I had no idea how it could have originated and never pursued it. The roots went all the way back to colonial times and the border between Virginia and North Carolina, a line that extended all the way to the Pacific Ocean, theoretically. Later that line formed the basis of the border between Tennessee and Kentucky, and it wasn’t completely straight because of various surveying errors.
A series of corrections had to be made including within a section separating Simpson County, Kentucky from Sumner County, Tennessee. One particularly cantankerous farmer refused to believe his land could ever be in Kentucky.
By 1830 it became obvious that the line was in the wrong place, which is why surveyors were sent to the area to redraw the line. Those surveyors determined about where the boundary line was supposed to be but wisely recommended in their report that the official border be left where it was… However, this didn’t settle the matter. A generation after this survey, … a settler named Middleton continued to claim that 101 acres of his property that protruded into Kentucky was rightfully in Tennessee. Two surveyors sent to the area to settle the dispute in 1859 agreed with him.
Now we know.
Water for Water
view towards downtown Denver from Cherry Creek Dam road by Scorpions and Centaurs, on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) license
Reader Ken lives near Denver, Colorado and it dawned on him that Cherry Creek Reservoir (map) was an example of a body of water named for a smaller body of water. He wondered if this was unique, or at least unusual.
I discovered a number of similar instances in the Geographic Names Information System. It might be interesting to determine the largest water feature named for a smaller water feature. Nothing came to mind off the top of my head. Maybe the 12MC audience has some suggestions.
Parting of the Waters
By United States Geological Survey [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Richard, who described himself as a "long time reader/lurker" mentioned the Parting of the Waters (map). This was very interesting. Deep in the Bridger-Teton National Forest of Wyoming, "North Two Ocean Creek flows down from a plateau, slams into the Continental Divide in the form of the summit ridge of Two Ocean Pass and then splits into two: the aptly named Atlantic Creek and Pacific Creek." At that spot, water flowing down from Two Ocean Creek stood about an equal chance of ending up either in the Atlantic watershed or Pacific watershed.
It got me to ponder how a seemingly innocuous twist of fate could produce vastly different outcomes.
Ireland set a tourist route along its western edge between Donegal and Cork the "Wild Atlantic Way." Distinctive signs including a logo of what appeared to be something like ww — although stretched out farther like waves — marking the path. We didn’t follow the route purposely although we encountered its roadsigns often as we explored peninsulas and islands where water met land with spectacular results.
We came upon Achill Island (map) by happenstance. The runner of the family wanted to race in Ireland and discovered through some Internet sleuthing that the Achill Half Marathon would take place during our visit. Otherwise I’m sure we wouldn’t have learned about Achill. We would have missed an opportunity to experience a pretty awesome place.
It almost seems like I’m giving away a secret, and I’m feeling a little guilty simply for revealing the existence of Achill Island even to the trusty members of Twelve Mile Circle audience. The views were spectacular, as dramatic as any seacoast we saw anywhere in Ireland including those famous places featured prominently in the tourist guides. However we never felt crowded on Achill. There were a handful of B&B’s and small hotels along with summer cottages spread amongst a sparse permanent population. We drove to scenic overlooks, hiking along ridges and through historic sites, hardly ever encountering another person.
We stayed in Keel, with direct access to Keel Beach (map) literally a walk across the back yard. Just look at this Blue Flag beach! There would be high-rise condos and a hundred times more people just about anywhere else in the world with that beach and that backdrop. I hated leaving Achill Island, although grateful for encountering it by blind luck.
Don’t tell anybody. We’ll make it our little secret.
Farther south, we drove along the full extent of the southern edge of the Dingle Peninsula. I’m saving other stories from the peninsula for different installments so I won’t go into a lot of detail. The scenery was also impressive. We began to experience the tour buses, though. Getting stuck behind those buses as they slowed to a crawl on serpentine roads became frustrating and tiresome after awhile. It wasn’t a lot of fun staring at the back of a bus instead of mountains and ocean. We stopped frequently at overlooks to let the buses pull off into the distance, savored the terrain and returned to the route.
Ring of Kerry
Ladies View, Killarney National Park
Of course we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the next peninsula farther south, to the renowned Ring of Kerry. It’s famous and for well-deserved reasons, for picturesque seacoasts, hillsides and inland lakes. It also attracted an order of magnitude more tourists than Dingle, again with the buses that lumbered around the ring in a constant anticlockwise procession. We understood that situation in advance and planned around it.
We drove the northern segment from Killarney to Portmagee (map) early in the morning before any buses began their daily circuit of passengers who preferred to leave the driving to the professionals. I could sympathize with that. The roads were narrow, winding and a little scary at times when trucks passed in the opposite direction on hairpin curves. That never deterred me though. We had to catch a boat heading to the island of Skellig Michael so the plan worked out perfectly for us. We also experienced the incredible scenery of Killarney National Park on those same scary roads on a different day, going between Kenmare and Killarney (map).
I didn’t complete the loop, however, having to forgo the southern segment because of our over-packed itinerary. We saw a lot of it from the sea and figured that was good enough.
Beara was the next peninsula in line to the south. People told us the Ring of Beara rivaled the Ring of Kerry, without the crowds. That one will have to wait until the next trip though. We saw it only from the sea and only from a distance.
That gave me another good reason to return someday.
The Ireland articles:
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.
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.
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.
The Ireland articles: