Abandoned Cathedral

Click to see the animal and plant carvings

I mentioned our historic local graveyard last summer, but didn’t have pictures at the time. Here’s the fantastic Thirteenth Century Romanesque window from its tiny ruined cathedral. Click image for embiggening, the mediaeval details are gorgeous.

This and the surrounding monastic settlement are associated with Saint Brendan, called The Navigator, who may have reached North America in the early Sixth Century, hundreds of years before even Leif Ericson. We can’t be sure of course, there’s nothing you could even laughingly call documentary evidence, but the legend that Brendan had found islands to the west was widely known through Europe and is thought to have been taken by Columbus as evidence for his “small world” theory.

Of course there may be no basis in fact for the legend at all. Saint Brendan’s journey may not have been a sea voyage, but a spiritual, metaphorical one. He may not even have existed, but like so many Irish saints have been the Christianisation of a Celtic god or superhero. The legend certainly seems to borrow from the pre-Christian Voyage of Bran (perhaps the world’s oldest story involving time-travel to the future).

On the other hand… He would certainly have had the motivation. Irish monks were in the habit of taking sea voyages at that time, though scholarly debate continues over whether the main purpose of the trips was missionary or to seek an ever greater degree of hermetic asceticism. And such a long voyage seems to have been technically feasible, even with the crude leather ships of the time. Yes, leather.

And one curiosity: Among all the stuff about lighting a fire on an island only to find that they were camping on a whale, or being encircled by a sea serpent that bites its own tail, it is mentioned that they found an “island of grapes” – pretty much what the Vikings thought they’d found when they set foot on North America.

Hmm…

Ireland’s Olympus

Pretty pretty petrol pump

Wow. I’m not sure what kind of weekend you had here, but I don’t know when I’ve been hotter. No actually I do. It was at the Hoover Dam. I’ve just been in the warmest place I’ve ever known, with the sole exception of the Nevada-Arizona border. Seriously, I’ve been to colder parts of Africa.

Yet this was Carlingford, County Louth. I can’t quite explain how but I ended up at a festival of Celtic culture there, helping to keep a three-year-old from wandering about. When you consider that we were watching Highland Games, with such events as hammer throwing, caber tossing and hurling weights backwards over your shoulders, you can appreciate how important it is to keep your three-year-olds from wandering about. The sports might be odd but the athletes were spectacular; some of them were so broad they’d be taller lying on their sides. And of course, all in skirts. Yet it was one of the smaller – I believe his name was Ray O’Dwyer from Tipperary – who threw a hammer one hundred feet that day, a new Irish record. Though when I say smaller, you have to remember that’s relative. He would be about four times the size of me.

Huge dudes in frocks

Apart from the Highland Games there was some Scottish dancing and a local pipe band. If it wasn’t for a bit of Breton dance it would’ve been a Gaels-only affair. Alongside all the culture there were – thank God – some of the usual funfair kid-distractors, including a “Safari Train” decorated with some really quite astonishing caricatures.

Fun for all the family, if your family is racist

When it finally cooled we went to PJ’s, a lovely old pub that has survived being extended without completely losing its character, and applied after-sun cream in lavish quantities. Later we went to a concert of Breton music in a converted church, most of which I spent outside attempting to talk the aforementioned small child out of screaming. So if you were passing through Carlingford and happened to see a man holding a struggling, yelling child in a graveyard, there was no need to be worried. He shut up eventually.

Noon the following day I was sitting out drinking beer, not so much burning in the sun now as catching light, when one of those things happened – I met an old friend I’d lost touch with six or seven years before. We went for dinner to celebrate in Magee’s Bistro, which was really good and not expensive. I had the frogs’ legs because I’d never tried them before, and my love of nature compels me to taste it all. Frogs legs, it turns out, have a flavour just like snake.

Oh all right, between very tender chicken and good squid. Nice, but I don’t think I’ll eat them again. There was something too sad about the way they came in little pairs.

My friend's front wall

Turned out my friend owned a cottage not far from the village, so we stayed the night there. What I didn’t realise until the morning is that it was right on the sea. I mean, like other houses are on the street. When I awoke it was high tide – and the sea was up to her front wall.

Her garden shed

Which was low and white, like a wall in Greece. And the sun was like Greece. And the sea. When my other friends – and the small child – arrived the tide was out again, and we walked across Dundalk bay chasing crabs and picking mussels. I’m cooking those mussels for dinner now. Sometimes the world is perfect.