Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Ireland: December in Dingle

Curwhibble (n.): a whatcha-ma-callit; thing-a-ma-bob; whosey-whatsit. (English, obscure)

This post is long overdue and covers oodles of stuff. I ain't even sorry.

Okay, I'm a little sorry. But I'm writing from India! Internet's a bit harder to come by here.

I got to Ireland just before Christmas and spent two weeks exploring the Dingle Peninsula. When it isn't hailing, Dingle is absolutely gorgeous; there are rocky cliffs and beautiful inlets and bays, endless sheep and gently sloping hills. And, as luck would have it, ruins! Well, it wasn't really luck. I did that on purpose. But there are so many ruins that I don't think I could have visited them all even if I had spent the entire year there.

My first stop was Kilmalkedar Church, a Romanesque-style stone church that has lost its roof and is being slowly reclaimed by the greenery. Its holy wells, sundial, Ogham stone and even the church interior are weathered after centuries spent on the coast of Ireland, but the graveyard is still in use and frequented by locals. Kilmalkedar, as it turns out, is a place of pilgrimage--a stop on the Saints Road, which winds its way through the peninsula and stops at various holy sites.

Nearby and another stop on the Saints Road is Gallarus Oratory, a small stone building that was built sometime between the 6th and 12th centuries (I know it's a big window, but that's the fun part of archaeology) and was used as a place of religious devotion and refuge. I visited in the middle of a hurricane, and I can attest to its sturdiness!

Next was the Riasc Monastic Site, which is all that remains of a large community of early Christian monks. All that is left are the low walls of the former buildings of the site, and a couple weathered crosses. Of course, wandering around in places that are so filled with ruins got me thinking about conservation, restoration, and preservation. When I think of ruins I think of abandonment--places that no longer have a use beyond their status as monuments. Although really, these places haven't been abandoned at all. The Saints Road is a popular pilgrimage--some go as far as to call it the Camino of Ireland, and some of its stops have historical ties to other pilgrimages in Europe. Kilmalkedar still serves as an important local landmark; when I was there at least two families came to pay their respects at graves, and it's a well-visited spot on the Saints Road. So who's to say these ruins no longer have a use? They don't seem to be abandoned at all; rather, their purpose has changed over time. And interestingly enough, it's that change that has allowed for their continued existence and use, preserving them through the ages.

I also visited Ardfert Cathedral, which is in Tralee, and has had conservation work done in the past on its stonework. There's even a museum! Of course, since I seem to have developed a distinct ability to visit sites when they're not fully operational or even really open, the museum was thoroughly closed. But there are still outdoor placards with helpful didactics, and yet another graveyard that is a glorious mix of old and new.

Finally I started making my way to Dublin, stopping in Cashel along the way. On the top of the hill overlooking the town is the Rock of Cashel, a castle which not only enormous and beautiful but also home to a very important conservation project in Cormac's Chapel. The chapel is made almost entirely of sandstone in the Romanesque style and is currently the flagship of an effort across Europe to protect and stabilize sandstone structures in wet climates. The humidity and rainy weather in Ireland and other parts of Europe are degrading the stone and introducing microorganisms that further damage the plaster used in wall paintings. Currently efforts are focused on climate control and preventing further deterioration by isolating and protecting the sandstone from the elements, as well as UV irradiation to stop further colonization by microorganisms. In Cormac's Chapel unique wall paintings and carvings have already been lost, but the efforts by conservators will hopefully prevent any further loss in this historic chapel. There are similar projects being implemented in the Rock's Gothic cathedral where there are more wall paintings, but luckily these are not on sandstone and have stood the test of time (and water) better than their Romanesque counterparts.

Next up, January in Dublin. Maybe someday I'll publish a blog post right on time--but today is not that day. Happy six-month blogaversary!

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