Landscape as Witness - Field Trip: Day 19
Initially I had planned to head down to New Quay today and attempt to find walls around the area that were built during the famine to divide up the surrounding land. However, as I was passing through Bellharbour I remembered that I had been recommended to talk to somebody who lived next door to the local pub, Daly's. It appeared that nobody was home when I first called, but while I was in the area I thought I would take a look at my notebook to see if there was anybody else nearby that I could drop into. I had taken down the name of a man who lived in New Quay, so I dropped into Daly's to get some more directions to his house.
As I was just about to leave for New Quay I decided to call into the house one more time, as I could see that a couple of cars were parked just outside. Finally I gave up, and as I was walking towards the gate a car pulled up across the road. The driver turned out to be the owner of the house, and although he was heading elsewhere he kindly stopped to chat briefly about my project with me. Initially he seemed sceptical about the idea of documenting this particular subject, questioning why anyone would want to be reminded of all those people who died and emigrated the country during the famine years. However, he did concede that there was something to be learnt from it. Although he informed me that he didn't know much about the subject itself, he suggested that I call into him sometime next week when he was more likely to be available.
After this interaction I made my way to New Quay, and with the directions that I acquired from Daly's I was able to find the next man's house without any trouble at all. The door was answered by his brother, who told me that he was out at the moment but would have a good bit of knowledge on the famine as he had carried out his own research into the subject. I left my name and number with his brother, just in case he was interested in having a recorded conversation with me at some point over the next few weeks.
From there I decided to make my way to Kinvarra, taking full advantage of the good weather. I had originally been planning on searching for the famine house that was located just outside the town, but on arrival I thought I would call into the man that had eluded me during my last visit. Fortunately he was at home this time, and I proceeded to have a great chat with him. Although he didn't know much about the famine, he was able to give me a couple of names of people in the area that may be able to assist me in my research. As well as this he kindly invited me inside for a cup of tea and some toast, and we ended up having a fascinating conversation together. He had grown up in a small village at the foot of a nearby mountain, but had lived in Kinvarra for the last 40 years or so. Upon hearing about my interest in the famine house he informed me that it was located just passed Dunguaire Castle, however it was on private land. The owner of this land also owned one of the local pubs, so after our conversation I made my way down to the pub in question to request access.
The owner made it very clear that I would be entering the land at my own risk as there was a bull in the field, but said that I was free to do so. Although initially stating that he didn't know much about the famine, he was able to tell me a great deal about the history of the famine house itself. During the famine years the sick were brought there so as to keep them separate from the rest of the community. The famine house was a place where these people were just barely kept alive, however there were no injections available to cure them. It is said that the people staying there were buried half-alive at times, and that coffins were unable to be built fast enough due to the rate at which people were perishing. After the famine, a family moved into the building in an attempt to make it their home. Tragically, they moved in too soon after the famine had taken place and both their children died from tuberculosis. The owner's granduncle had been keen on turning it into a functioning house once more, but that never came to pass. It now lies in ruins at the top of a hill, facing the nearby Dunguaire Castle and Kinvarra beyond.
I thanked him for his knowledge and his time, and made my way 10 minutes down the road to the location of the famine house. I was told that the best way to gain access to the field was to turn left at a stone cross and make my way up a short but steep slope. It was recommended to me that I should only enter the field if the bull was nowhere in sight and even then, it would be in my best interest not to hang around there for too long. It was clearly not a route that many people took, as the slope itself was covered in blackberry bushes, half of which seemed to attach themselves to my legs. When I made it to the top, I had a quick scan of the field before making my way towards the house. Sections of the building have been completely engulfed by nature, however other elements of the house looked remarkably well considering how long it had been neglected for. This initial visit was more a recce of the area, and although I took a few images I am hoping to return to the site at a later date with both my digital camera and my Mamiya 7.
Before informing me of the history behind the famine house, the owner of the pub seemed cautious about telling me anything to do with the famine itself. He stated that "You never know what to believe", and that you could hear multiple contrasting stories about the same subject matter. This may explain why a lot of people are initially unwilling to talk about the famine, as they are unsure whether or not the stories they have been told are 100% factual. As I explained to the owner, I would much rather collect stories that only contain an element of truth and find a common link between them, rather than not collect any stories at all.