Thursday, July 10, 2008
Fort Dunree, Famine Village
Just returned from two nights up in Donegal -- the northernmost
county in the Republic. The photos are from an abandoned barracks
at Fort Dunree -- don't you love the graffiti?!!
We saw so many things yesterday, I lay in bed last night and tried
to recount my day and was bombarded with images. We decided
to spend our day in Inishowen, a peninsula at the northern tip
of the country. It's remote, rugged and rural. (Inishowen is also the
title of one of my favorite Joseph O'Connor novels [brother of
Sinead].) Started with a ferry ride across Lough Swilly --
tiny boat, perhaps could hold 15 vehicles, open air.
Tooled up to Fort Dunree, built in Napleonic times to defend
against French marauders. Spectacular views from the top!
Windy, fiddlehead-fern and heather hillsides, no one but us.
Our next stop was the Famine Village. Our host at the guest house
recommended it to us, but I knew nothing about it. I expected
something much like the Famine Village on Achill Island --
was I in for a surprise! We drove up to a cluster of white huts
with thatched roofs, with doors and window frames painted
in whimsical blues, pinks, red, greens. Upon entering a courtyard
we saw a busload of senior citizens sitting on benches, heard
quaint music being broadcast over the public address system. Hmm.
As we began to wander, our path took us into long, tin-roofed huts
where inside, lifesize scenes from the famine had been re-enacted --
all very spooky and quirky (and dark): peasants digging potatoes,
attending mass at a penal altar, children attending "hedge schools,"
emaciated bodies in an open grave. We learned later that this is a
labor of love by a local man, who apparently is so shy he finds it
difficult to even say "hello" to someone. At the finish of our
self-guided tour, we were served tea and one very small slice
of corn-soda bread with butter and jam.
I was pretty blown away by it all -- initially because I had expected
something else, and then the seeming whimsy of the scene upon
our entrance (famine? what famine?), followed by the not-quite
lifelike dioramas, complete with baby-dolls and skeletons.
When we left, the woman attending the front desk asked up
repeatedly and enthusiastically if we enjoyed it -- we did!