Originally uploaded by Pat and Amy’s pics
 

 

Ever since watching The Wind that Shakes the Barley, which was filmed in North County Cork, I have wanted to see the landscape of that area for myself. When I mentioned my desire to visit the north Cork County village of Macroom, a native Corkonian told us, “Macroom is f*** all.” However, after our jaunt to the area this weekend, I will have to respectfully disagree with him. Macroom is a charming and bustling town, but the real appeal lies outside of the city in the Boggeragh Mountains.

Recently we bought a book, Sean Teegan’s Scenic Walks in Cork, describing several walks in the North Cork region, so we pulled out the maps this weekend and hit the trail. Well, technically they were paved country roads but traffic was almost nil. In two hours of walking about, we were passed by five cars at the most.

In addition to seeing several stone antiquities, we also stumbled upon the ruins of a penal church, with a small plaque posted at the site explaining its history. “Penal churches” were necessary because beginning in the late 16th Century, a series of laws (known to history as the penal laws) were put in place by the English which severely restricted the rights of Catholics in Ireland. Whether these laws were meant to induce Catholics to convert or simply enacted for political reasons is debated, but it would be centuries before the penal laws were slowly repealed. In any case, Catholics were sometimes forced to practice their faith privately, and so the penal churches were made.

Even the ruins of a centuries-old church are quite modern when compared to the many bronze-age stone monuments scattered among the pastures along the way. As Teegan explains, “Nowhere else in Munster is the concentration of stone circles, stone alignments, standing stones, wedge tombs, circular forts so great as in the Boggeragh area.”

It’s not entirely clear what the significance of the stone circles or standing stones is, since there obviously isn’t a 3,000-year old source to consult (Why I Did It, by Thag O’Shea). But, while no one quite knows why stone circles always have an odd number of stones, their arrangement almost certainly has astrological significance.

In the states, historical architecture could be just an old barn from the early 20th-century. You may imagine, then, how awe inspiring it is to see a 4,000 year-old tomb or stone monument out in the middle of some farmer’s field. More than once we’ve been out driving, and the scenery reminds us of Oregon. But then we see a castle, or a church built in 1190, or these incredibly old stone monuments, and we realize, no, this isn’t like home.

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