Yeats Tower

 

We were visiting Limerick and Galway recently and planned a visit to Thoor Ballylee Castle near Gort, county Galway.  I first heard of Thoor Ballylee last year during the Yeats 150th celebrations, it featured on an RTE news report, highlighting it’s connection to the poet and subsequently I saw the castle on news reports about the bad flooding in the midlands and west of Ireland during Winter 2015. The castle lies beside a river and during heavy rainfalls it is liable to flood, the water rose so high it was at the roof of the thatched cottage that is connected to the tower.

Thoor Ballylee Castle is a fortified, 15th (or 16th) century Hiberno-Norman tower house built by the Burgo or Burke clan, near the town of Gort in County Galway, Ireland. It is also known as Yeats’ Tower because it was once owned and inhabited by the poet William Butler Yeats.

Yeats bought the tower and cottage in 1916 as he liked the rural location, the tower was originally part of the nearby Coole Estate, home of Lady Augusta Gregory, Yeats’ lifelong friend. It was in nearby Coole park, the Irish literary revival was established.

Yeats had the tower and cottage renovated and lived here with his wife Georgina and their two children during the 1920’s.

The tower is maintained and run by a group of local volunteers the Thoor Ballylee Society and it is opened to the public as a tourist attraction for the summer months, we were lucky to visit just a few days before it closed for the season. You can tour the tower and climb its winding stairs right to the rooftop with great views over the surrounding countryside.  In the thatched cottage part, that is attached to the tower, they have a visitors section with exhibition information boards on Yeats, his poetry, lovers and muse and his life when he lived in the tower.

I read the book Willie & Maud – a Love story by Barry Shortall last year and it describes in detail about William’s many visits to the nearby Coole Park and his renovations to the tower, how he had the plaque you see in the photos mounted on the front of the tower and about an event during the civil war when the bridge beside the tower was blown up.

 

It is opened to visit during the summer months, you can check out the Thoor Ballylee website here for more opening times and for directions.

The Secret Scripture walking tour

Book a ticket for the guided Secret Scripture walking tour and discover Sligo town at the turn of the 20th century, from the perspective of one Sligo family, follow in their footsteps and see where they lived, worked and played. The Sligo secret scripture trail, is a local history and literary tour based around Sligo town. The award winning author Sebastian Barry, set his novels in Sligo town and wrote about his family who resided in Sligo at the time. This tour will take you through the streets of Sligo where the characters walked, combining the books and social history of Sligo.

Organiser: Melcoo Tours

Email: melcooireland at gmail dot com or info at melcoo dot com

Walking tour Sligo
Book a local history and literary tour of Sligo

 

Self-guided App Tours

You can also download an app I have created for the Secret Scripture tour.  The walking tour app is available on iOS and Android

Instructions:

Go to the Apple or Play store and search for Guidigo, download this free app, then search for Sligo Secret Scripture trail and sign in with a gmail, facebook or email account.

The app, guides you around several locations, the majority of which, can be reached on foot, the locations further out from the town, have been placed towards the end of the tour. We have suggested an order to explore the places but feel free to take the tour at your own pace, in whatever order suits you best. The map suggests a route of numbered stops but where you start and stop is entirely up to you. Instructions and directions are provided and you can check the map at any time, during the tour.

The tour is based around the books of author Sebastian Barry who set his novels, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, The Secret Scripture and The Temporary Gentleman in Sligo.

Book the Sligo Secret Scripture Walking Tour

Guided Walking Tour – Sligo Secret Scripture

The Sligo Secret Scripture Trail, is a literary & local history tour based around Sligo town and county.  The tour takes a snapshot of Sligo in the 1920’s and 1930’s from the viewpoint of one semi-fictional family, who lived and worked in the town.  The award winning author Sebastian Barry, set his novels in Sligo town and wrote about his family who resided in Sligo at the time.  This tour will take you through the streets of Sligo where the characters walked, giving you a sense of the local history and architectural heritage of the locations during this time

Click on the contact form on the blog or send a mail to melcooireland (at) gmail dot com to book private group tours.

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The Secret Scripture trail is also available to download as an app from Guidigo.

Walking Tour App available on iOS and Android

Go to the Apple or Play store and search for Guidigo, download this free app, then search for Sligo Secret Scripture trail and sign in with gmail, facebook or email and download the tour to your smartphone.

The app, guides you around several locations, the majority of which, can be reached on foot, the locations further out from the town, have been placed towards the end of the tour. We have suggested an order to explore the places but feel free to take the tour at your own pace, in whatever order suits you best. The map suggests a route of numbered stops but where you start and stop is entirely up to you. Instructions and directions are provided and you can check the map at any time, during the tour.

The tour is loosely based around the books of author Sebastian Barry who set his novels, The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, The Secret Scripture and The Temporary Gentleman in Sligo. Don’t worry, you don’t need to have read the books to enjoy the tour and no major spoilers are revealed, as the tour combines the books, social history, fashion and architectural heritage, to paint a picture of Sligo in the 1930’s.

To Edgeworthstown and Beyond

We took part in a new walking tour over the summer in County Longford.  The St. Mary’s to St. John’s & Beyond walking tour is an historical and literary trail based in the town of Edgeworthstown.

St Marys to St Johns and Beyond Walking heritage trail
St Marys to St Johns and Beyond Walking Tour (Click on images to enlarge & click outside of images to close)

The walking tour tells the history of the town and of the Edgeworth family and other famous literary figures connected with the family in County Longford, including the head of the family, Richard Lovell Edgeworth, who was an inventor, (find out what he invented here) and also about his daughter, the novelist Maria Edgeworth.

Maria Edgeworth Portrait
Maria Edgeworth Portrait in the Rectory

Maria Edgeworth, was born on 1st of January 1767 near Oxford in Great Britain but spent most of her life in Ireland.  Her novels include, Castle Rackrent and The Absentee, which were novels about Irish tenants and the Landlord classes.  Castle Rackrent was the first novel to give the ordinary Irish peasant a voice.

The tour starts from the gothic style St Mary’s Church, which is just off the N4 road in the town, we got an introduction on the Edgeworth family and a short history about the church.  The guide that day was Matt Farrell, he has a nice pleasant manner and is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic, which really helps to bring the stories and sites we visited to life.

St Marys Church Edgeworthstown
St Marys Church Edgeworthstown

We left the church and walked across the road into the grounds of the Manor nursing home which, was the ancestral home of the Edgeworth’s family.  We got to see the house and grounds where they lived and also the walled garden’s.

Edgeworth Walled Gardens
Edgeworth Literary Trail Gardens
Edgeworth Walled Gardens
Edgeworth Walled Gardens

As this is private property, it was great to view this site in particular on the tour.  We then moved onto the Main Street and found out about a few of the buildings in the town, this was very interesting as having passed through the town for many years, it was great to find out the background, one in particular was the connection to Charles Bianconi.

The Lodge Edgeworthstown
The Lodge Edgeworthstown
Porter House Edgeworth Trail
Porter House Edgeworth Trail

The tour then moved onto the Rectory and to St John’s Church and graveyard, where the Edgeworth family are buried.  We heard lots of interesting stories and history along the way connected to the Edgeworth’s and visitors to Edgeworthstown over the years, you can check, out the tour to hear all about them.

St Johns Church Edgeworthstown
St Johns Church Edgeworthstown

We were lucky to attend the walking tour during the Maria Edgeworth Literary festival and when we arrived, at the Rectory there was a short presentation by the artist Bernard Canavan as he presented a painting of the Edgeworth’s to the town, I really liked this painting it reminded me of Jack B Yeats work.  We also got to attend an interesting lecture on Maria Edgeworth given by Dr Derek Hand  in St John’s Church.

Matt Farrell Tour Guide Bernard Canavan Artist Edgeworthstown
The artist Bernard Canavan presents a painting to the people of Edgeworthstown

The tour is a great idea and is run by the Edgeworth Society and is a great boost to tourism in the county, I recommend doing the tour and afterwards, you can visit nearby Ardagh village.  This quaint village is synonymous with the poet Oliver Goldsmith.  (Check out our post here).

You can book a group tour or contact the Edgeworth Society through their website or on their Facebook page, to find out about their next organised public tour.

Sebastian Barry Literary Trail – Café Cairo

Are you a fan of the Secret Scripture ?  this café is referenced throughout all three books and provides the backdrop to many scenes from the books.  As a child Eneas’s mother brings him here for tea as they sheltered from the rain in The Whereabouts of Eneas McNulty, “usually they would not go into such a place, out of respect for the expense of bought tea..” after visiting the Cathedral.

The Café Cairo did exist in Sligo town, it opened for business on 13th January 1911, an announcement in the Sligo Champion newspaper at the time, declared that the owner a Miss Murtagh “begs to state that she will undertake to cater for all dinner, supper and luncheon parties” and as in the book it was located on Wine Street in Sligo town.

The original Egyptian themed café changed owners over the years and expanded to include a delicatessen and grocery section, it closed in the late 1970’s, it was located in the building on Wine street, now occupied by Cara Pharmacy.

Download the Sligo Secret Scripture Walking Tour

Sligo Walking tour

In The Secret Scripture, Rose Clear works here as a waitress and it is where she becomes acquainted with the McNulty brothers.  “The café served everyone in Sligo without criticism.  It was owned by a Quaker family, and we were told to run no one from the doors.”  Rose in her old age remembers her time working in the café fondly, serving the dames of Sligo, the lonely pensioners and Tom and his brother Jack,  “China tea and a deadfly bun.  Earl Grey for the brother.”

Then: Café Cairo circa 1930’s

Cafe Cairo 1930s
Source: Tom Harte Family Copyright – Owner of Café Cairo in the 1930’s

The café was well established in Sligo by the 1930’s and sponsored sporting events in the town.  In the café, an orchestra played daily to entertain customers and in The Secret Scripture, Rose played the piano in Tom McNulty Senior’s Orchestra in the dance hall at Strandhill.

An advertisement from the Café Cairo in the 1930’s, when Tom Harte owned and ran it.

Menu Café Cairo in the 1930's

 

Then: Nuns from Nazareth Order, walking on Wine street outside the Café Cairo in 1959

Cafe Cairo 1950s Sligo
Source: Jim Eccles Photography Copyright

Notice the Egyptian decorative motifs running along the side of the building front.

Now:  Former buildings of Café Cairo on Wine Street, today it is a pharmacy business.

Original site of Cafe Cairo Sligo melcoo

The windows and shop front remain largely the same and the shop sign attached to the building, is in the same spot as the original sign for the café in the 1950’s.

Original building of Cafe Cairo

A fire engine outside the Café Cairo in 1959, a small fire had broken out in the building but it continued to trade for another 20 years.

Cafe Cairo 1960s
Source: The Sligo Champion

This old postcard from the Francis Frith collection in 1960, shows the inside of the café serving cakes and selling groceries and cooked meats at its delicatessen counter.


In The Secret Scripture, Sebastian Barry uses the Egyptian theme in the café, to describe the ladies, the dames of Sligo, chatting and gossiping, “rising from them like dust from a desert caravan of camels” and in The Temporary Gentleman, Mai is one of the fashionable ladies of Sligo,  drinking tea in the Café Cairo, “arranged among the tables like the fabulous beasts of some impossible watering hole”.

Barry creates a wonderful picture of the exotic sounding cafe in his novels, the café operated for nearly 70 years in Sligo town, it closed before I was born, although I remember my mother mentioning it.

In the Secret Scripture movie released in 2017, the main character Rose, played by the actress Rooney Mara, works in a cafe referenced in the movie as the less impressive sounding Prunty’s.  This is an ode to the character in the books who owned the cafe, Rose in the books refers to the Quaker owner as Mrs Prunty.  Let us know in the comments section, if you ever visited the Café Cairo in Sligo ?

Check out other locations that inspired Sebastian Barry’s novels here.

Also, available on Android and iPhone, download the Guidigo App from the Play or Apple store and search for Sligo Secret Scripture.

You can also check out the guided tour here.

This blog post was first published in 2015 and updated in 2017.

Featured Image Source: Brown Betty tea room – Shorter College, c.1920

James Joyce Literary trail

On the Saturday morning of the St Patrick’s weekend, we made our way into town to do the James Joyce literary walking tour.  It’s run by the James Joyce centre which is based in a beautiful Georgian house on North Great Georges street, which is only a five minute walk from O’Connell Street in Dublin.  The street where the centre is based, North Great Georges Street, is an excellent example of 18th century architecture and the street itself is worth viewing.

Georgian street in North Dublin City
North Great Georges Street

For directions, click here.  The James Joyce Centre has exhibitions and hosts events connected to Joyce and his work all year round.

Joyce literary exhibition centre
James Joyce Centre on North Great Georges Street, Dublin

The tour is run once a week at 11 am on Saturdays mornings in the Autumn and Winter and three times a week in the Spring and Summer. The tour costs €10 euros each and lasts 90 minutes.  For the tour schedule, you can check out the James Joyce website here. The tour we did was based on Joyce’s short stories The Dubliners.

The tour is based around the north side of Dublin city centre and takes in some of the streets and buildings connected with Joyce’s life and the characters in The Dubliners short stories.  In  a way not much has changed since Joyce wrote The Dubliners, parts of the northside of the Liffey are still as gritty and ramshackled, as when Joyce wrote about it.


Old Dublin brothel referenced in Ulysses
No 4 Hardwicke Street Dublin, Boarding House referenced in The Dubliners

The tour guide was very knowledgeable and even though we hadn’t read any of Joyce’s work yet, the tour guide gave a background on the characters and events in the book and to the social history of Dublin at the time, which was really insightful.  All I really knew about Joyce  before the tour, was connected to the novel Ulysses and that the book is quite hard to read and the annual Bloomsday, where people dress up in Edwardian costume and do the Ulysses literary trail, roaming around Dublin for the day, which actually sounds like a lot of fun and I would be very tempted to do this year.

Images from James Joyce Literary tour

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We found out a lot about Joyce’s life and I have a greater understanding now of why Joyce’s statue on North Earl street is called “The Prick with the Stick”.   Joyce was a controversial figure and he wrote stories that were critical and showed the grittier side to Dublin, that people did not like.  The walking tour is well worth doing, even if you haven’t read any of his books, you won’t need to have a degree in English Literature, just an interest in Joyce and the social history of Ireland.

For more information, check out James Joyce website and Facebook page.



 

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I love everything that is old..

Travel back in time to an old world village in the midlands of Ireland. Ardagh is a hidden gem in Ireland, as we reckon, not many of the estimated 60,000 motorists who pass everyday within a few kilometres of Ardagh have been here or are aware of how different and unique this Irish village is.
Ardagh in County Longford, Ireland, is a village which can trace it’s roots back to the 5th century, when Saint Patrick founded a monastery here.  Today, it is known as a heritage village, it looks and feels like a village from the pages of a Jane Austin novel. I’ve always thought, it would make an ideal location for a movie like Pride and Prejudice, perhaps one day it can be used for a Oliver Goldsmith film. It has the look of a quaint 19th century English village.  It is an Estate Village designed and built in the 19th century, by the local landlords, the Fetherston Baronets.

The village buildings have been preserved and have protected structure status.  The village has many fine examples of mid 19th century Victorian architecture, from the village square, church and a bell tower.  The former Fetherston estate worker’s picturesque cottages are dotted around the village.  There were also later additions with the late nineteenth century public house building, called Lyons and the schoolhouse.


The 18th century writer, poet and gambler, Oliver Goldsmith, based his play “She stoops to conquer” in Ardagh.                                                 Ardagh and the townlands nearby are known as Goldsmith country.

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Image Credit: Oliver Goldsmith by Sir Joshua Reynolds by Joshua Reynolds – National Portrait Gallery: NPG 828 via Wikimedia 

Oliver Goldsmith had originally planned to become a member of the clergy and studied theology and law at Trinity College but never really took to studying and was even expelled at one stage for rioting. He eventually finished his studies but didn’t obtain the appropriate grade to become a clergyman.  He went onto Edinburgh and studied medicine but again failed to study and changed careers. During his lifetime, Oliver studied, travelled around Europe, wrote plays and poems and gambled a fair bit as well!

So it is quite ironic, that a man who never really took to formal education, should now have a prominent statue erected in front of Trinity College or perhaps it is quite apt, considering the dropout rates in colleges, as young people try to figure out what they want to do with their lives.

Oliver Goldsmith statue at the front of Trinity College

Ardagh is located in County Longford, about 8 kilometres from Edgeworthstown, Longford, off the N4 National road and between Ballymahon and Edgeworthstown, off the N55 Secondary road.

See directions on how to get to Ardagh.

We love old buildings and travelling to old historic sites, Ardagh really ticks a lot of boxes, as Oliver said..

I love every thing that is old; old friends, old times, old manners, old books, old wines.

Oliver Goldsmith, She Stoops to Conquer

Photos from Ardagh Village

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The Ardagh Heritage centre which is housed in the old village schoolhouse, has an exhibition about the history of Ardagh, which is well worth a visit, they also host different Art and Craft events regularly.

For more on Ardagh, check out the Longford tourism site.

Also, for more details on the buildings architecture, check out the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage (NIAH) website and the Archiseek website , which are both treasure troves of details.

Special mention goes out to the Goldsmith Inn, a pub in nearby Edgeworthstown, where we first heard of the writer, they have a nice little history of Oliver Goldsmith, hanging along the walls of the pub.



 

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