Friday, September 5, 2008

August 2008

I have to be honest and say that August wasn't the easiest month for us.
In fact it was probably our toughest time since February, when just after
moving here we were jobless, homesick and our cottage was colder than an
icebox. It's all part of the adventure and we know that this too shall pass.

Ori in a rare moment of August sunshine

Our 13-year old dog Ori was diagnosed with a liver tumor in May when she
was getting checked out by the vet for the plane trip to Ireland. At her
age, and given the size of the tumor, surgery was not recommended.
She's still hanging in there but her belly is huge now while the rest
of her is getting thinner. She is not in pain and still has a hearty
appetite, but she can no longer get up on her own and will only walk
very short distances once we get her on her feet. We have to accept
that she is coming toward the end of her life and we've made
arrangements with a vet who can come to the cottage to euthanize her
when the time comes. He said we'll know when it's time because she'll
either stop eating or her breathing will become very labored. It could
be another few weeks or hopefully a few months, and we are spoiling her
as much as we possibly can. We're very grateful that we were able to
bring her here from the US in time to enjoy her last few months.

Meanwhile, Sonya (our blind dog) is doing very well. To see her walk
around the house and gardens you would hardly know she's blind. She
gets a good walk every day through the beautiful fields and lanes
around our house. I wear a bell on my right ankle so Sonya can follow the sound when we're walking. Occasionally she loses track of me and stops, turning her head in all directions to try locate the sound. Then I have to shake the bell loudly by doing the hokey-pokey - you know, stick my right foot in and shake it all about.

August showers bring September flowers
Nasturtiums planted from seed last May

Dahlias love the rain

The other tough thing has been the weather. Last month was the wettest August on record here. For Ireland, that's really saying something! It precipitated in one form or another (rain, drizzle, mist or heavy fog) almost every single day last month, with almost 10 inches of rain compared to the usual 3-4 inches. Most notable was the intensity of the rain - usually it rains lightly but there were some serious tropical downpours. Some areas of the country, including Dublin, experienced heavy flooding - people were evacuated from their homes and major highways and railway lines were closed.

My friends and former co-workers in Ithaca are probably having a good
chuckle right now hearing me complain about the rain. I was always
freaking out about the lack of rain for our home garden and city of
Ithaca plantings that were my responsibility. Now it's as if every
prayer for rain that I have ever hurled heavenward was answered in

The rain has been amazing for some plants, especially the shrubs and
perennials. A 3 foot tall clematis we planted in May that now has a
multitude of vines exceeding 12 feet. But too much rain was bad for
other plants, like our potatoes and tomatoes that all got blight.
(The potatoes were salvageable but the tomatoes all ended up on the
compost heap. So sad.) Cool-season vegetables have been great - we're
growing the biggest onions, carrots and broccoli ever.

Here's joke we heard in the pub: "We've been having a Muslim summer - a
little bit Sunni but mostly Shiite." It's somewhat reassuring to know
that even by Irish standards it's been really horrible.
Still, we're thankful that we have our health and a variety of
interesting activities to do inside, like playing music, writing and painting.
Now I understand why the arts are such an important part of the culture in
Ireland. You have to do something that feeds your soul when the rain is
lashing down outside the windows.

History at Craggonowen Heritage Centre
Despite the rain we did a couple of cool things last month within Clare.
We're sticking close to home due to Ori's health as she certainly can't
be left with anyone else now. Early in the month we spent a day at
Cragganowen, a heritage site with an old castle and reconstructed
versions of a ringfort, a crannog (a ringfort built on a man-made
island) and a fulacht fia (an ancient cooking site). Members of a
re-enactment group in period costumes were engaging in day-to-day tasks
appropriate to each particular setting.

Medieval times at the castle

A knight and his lady camped in front of the castle

The knight talking about his battle armor

Spinning wool dyed with plants

Weaving on a traditional loom

Wall hangings in the castle

The silversmith and his wench

Top floor of the castle

Bronze Age at the Fulacht Fia
A fulacht fia is an ancient cooking site which might have also been used
for religious ceremonies. A large rectangular pit was dug out and lined
with clay so it would hold water. Rocks heated in a nearby fire were
thrown into the water pit until the water was almost boiling, then a
huge hunk of some kind of meat (wild boar, deer, etc) was wrapped in
leaves and cooked in the boiling water. I bet they used these things as
hot tubs as well.

The day we were there a bunch of hobbity-looking re-enactors were demonstrating the art of forging bronze tools and weapons.

The guy on the left is pumping a set of leather bellows. The bellows feed air to a very hot fire in the round clay pot via the hollowed out branches. Within the clay pot there is a clay beaker containing a mixture of raw copper and tin. The guy on the right is getting ready to lift the beaker of molten metal out of the fire.

Pouring the liquid metal from the red-hot beaker into the mold for
an axehead. The mold, which is in two halves, is made from clay and
bound together with rawhide.

A minute later they take the newly forged axehead out of the mold to
inspect it. Once they have a hot fire going they can crank out several
dozen bronze tools or weapons per day.

Comparing the newly forged axhead to one that's been cleaned up and polished, a process that could take several more hours.

A selection of weapons and tools forged from bronze, some mounted on
wooden handles.

We learned everything about casting bronze tools. But no matter how closely I observed, and regardless of what angle I took photos from, I didn't find the answer to this burning question:
What do bronze age re-enactors wear under their woolen cloaks?
Do they stay true to historical accuracy or are they wearing their Fruit of the
It would have been a chilly day for those who stayed true to

Iron Age at the Crannog
A crannog is a circular man-made island in a lake with a ringfort
constructed on top. They built up these island with layers of timber,
wattle, brush and mud, and the idea was extra defense - an enemy would
be slowed down and more vulnerable wading or swimming while attacking
your ringfort.

The lads on the crannog were making chain mail.

They started with a length of straight wire which they coiled tightly around
a metal rod. The coils were cut apart to make small uniformly sized
rings. These rings were then pounded with a heavy hammer to make them
flatter and thinner, and finally riveted one to the other to make the
chain mail. This is a really slow process. I asked these guys how long
it takes, and they said it would take the knight's apprentice about a
month to make the headpiece shown in the picture below.
Sir William dons his chain mail.

Early Christian era in the ringfort
Ringforts are raised circular homesteads which usually contained several
yurt-like homes. There are tens of thousands of remains of ringforts in
Ireland; there are about 5 within walking distance of our cottage.

Grinding grains and baking bread on an open fire

A movie of a battle scene inside the ringfort. They rule was
that they had to stay behind the line on the ground while attacking
each other with spears.

Archeological Excavation at Caherconnell Ringfort
This is an aerial view of Caherconnell, a huge stone ringfort in the Burren. (I wish I was in a plane when I took this, but I was actually in the visitor center taking a picture of the interpretive signage on the wall.) Caherconnell had continuous habitation from the first to sixteenth centuries. This was determined last year when there was an archeological dig in the ringfort.

Looking at Caherconnell ringfort from ground level.

Archeologists had noticed an interesting looking formation of large stones just outside the ringfort and speculated that it might be the exit of a souterrain, an underground escape passage from inside the ringfort. In August they conducted a dig of the area and invited members of the public to participate. Thankfully this was one of the few days in August when it didn't rain.

About 25 volunteers showed up to help. We worked with an archeological team and a U. of Galway professor who specializes in Irish medieval structures

Digging it!

While the volunteers and archeologists were having a tea break, I could get a clear photo of the dig. Here we've stripped the grass and topsoil off, revealing the stone structure below.

One of the exciting finds of the day was two Edward the First silver coins. One was minted in 1300 and the other in 1310. This photo shows one side of the coin bearing a cross with shamrocks in each corner. The medieval history professor said it was unusual to see these two symbols together on a coin.

Imagine those two coins just lying there in the top few inches of soil for the last 700 years!