Skellig Peek

A Trinity of Skellig Images

Now’s time to share a trinity of images from a morning spent about the Skellig Islands May 2014.

Pam and I have many stories from that day, a favorite is from the parking lot of Portmagee where we met the fast boat to the island. I prepared for the day by making a reservation for our ride. We traveled from Killarney, where an early morning breakfast feast spread by The Killarney Royal Hotel fortified us for the adventure. Throughout our tour, experiencing Ireland was like taking blinders off, this first experience on The Ring of Kerry was no exception, driving on a tight timeline to reach Portmagee with minutes to spare, every turn of the road presented a new delight.

Grateful to have made it to Portmagee, we quickly pulled our kit together. As I closed the bonnet, Pam exclaimed “our umbrellas.” At this point of the story we laugh together. Umbrellas indeed. I had a dim clue of what lay in store for us and insisted the umbrellas be left behind, a counter-intuitive decision for a rainy Irish day the Wild Atlantic Way. Regardless of the time, we needed a bathroom break as there will be no facilities on the fast boat or the World Heritage Site where there is no space for human waste products.

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Skelligs from Valentia Island
I was here perched on a cliff of Valentia Island across from Portmagee looking southwest across Valentia Sound.

The humor is in our welcome aboard the fast boat, like a fishing boat with a small cabin and small deck dominated by the engine hatch. We crowded on, handed a full set of fisherman slickers. This is a heavy coat with hood and pants, all waterproof. Our close timing guaranteed the worse seat, away from the cabin in the open. It was a new experience for us and we felt a sense of dread as the craft left the protection of Valentia Sound into the open Atlantic Ocean.

We faced a west wind, driving 12+ foot waves, as the boat breached each wave the crest went over the cabin in a waterfall of salt water. Up and down, up and down. Thankfully neither of us lost breakfast as some did. I do not have photographs of the trip out or the approach to the island, my equipment was safely packed away.

In the above photograph you see the entire course of our approach to the island, a bit more than 10 (land) miles from Portmagee. We toured Valentia Island that afternoon.

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Skellig Steps
Climbing the side of Skellig Michael, approach to the peak and monastery.

There is a fair climb to the top to view the former monastery buildings. The steps are uneven and, when wet as it was that day, slippery.  I wore a waterproof North Face shell with hood for the low threatening clouds.  There was no rain as such, a constant fog on the top kept all exposed surfaces wet.

From the point on, until the top, was the most exposed and uncomfortable (frightening, chilling…you get the idea).  Spare yourself the experience if you are afraid of open spaces and heights.  Here was a stiff wind blowing from the right, on the left the cliff falls away to the ocean.  Ahead, the path narrows to about 10 inches with a cliff wall on one side, the precipice on the other.  Then come the monastery entrance and rock wall safety.

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Monk Cell
Monk Cell, Grave and Cross

This single image gives a succinct impression of the monastery setting.  The bee hive shaped stone monk cell requires a stooped crawl to enter.  Inside, the space is small and, thankfully, dry.  The structure keeps out the rain and wind, a marvel of stone construction. This cell is off to the side, on a cliff balcony, over the wall an ocean precipice.

My closing advice is to plan your time wisely.  The ship boards in less than an hour, in that time you climb the 700 steps and explore.  There are people all over the place, in waves. To capture the structures without humans, you need to wait until the cohort become bored and leaves.  There will be a space before the next wave of tourists breaks. Leave enough time to descend the steps safely.  People have suffered fatal falls on the steps and cliffs, it is easy to do.  Make your personal safety a priority.

Click for another Ireland Posting, “On the River Cong.”

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserves

Framed Convex Mirror, Killarney Royal Hotel

The morning of our day on the Dingle Peninsula I left the room early, my Sony Alpha 700 in hand, while Pam finished her preparations.  The elevator deposited me in the lobby and I proceeded to capture images of the Killarney Royal Hotel, our base for three nights.

This marvelous “antique” mirror caught my eye. We are used to seeing convex mirrors in the upper corners of elevators, strategically located at hallway junctions, automated teller machines and parking garages all with the intention of providing a wide, fisheye, view to detect unsavory, lurking types and danger.

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This spotless, framed convex mirror is from a older, saner time.  Such objects came in use from the 1400’s (15th century). When all glass was blown, a convex surface was easier to produce than a flat and, since all glass was expensive to produce, a convex mirror was a popular luxury item, an expensively framed status symbol.

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As the mirrors were an element of elite surroundings, art came to include them as objects in the midground, the surface reflecting back to the viewer a different viewpoint. An opportunity for an artist to demonstrate virtuosity. Examples are Jan van Eyck’s “Arnolfini Portrait” and the left wing of the Werl Triptych by Robert Campin.

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Known as the “sorcerer’s eye” from the all encompassing view and, in keeping with our modern uses, even back then also called a”banker’s eye.”  Symbolically, the 15th century paintings used a pristine mirror to represent the Immaculate Conception.

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The five images here are the final result of trial and error, working out the details of using a flash in the relatively low light of the morning lobby, avoiding my reflection, maintaining a sharp focus throughout the field, capturing the unique details of the frame without distortion and the mirror’s wide angle view.  I gave up on the flash and, instead, did this series at f5.6 and the ISO incremented 800 to 3,200. As such, the exposure ranged from 1/5 to 1/25 of a second. All shots were handheld.

Framed Convex Mirror– CLICK ME!!!!

I hope you enjoy the results. This was a promising start to our memorable day of exploration.

Here’s the next installment of our Dingle Exploration….

Here’s a previous Ireland posting…..

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Hag’s Chair or Mass Rock?

Ancient Tradition

Part of our day in County Meath, Ireland  
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Known as the Hag’s Chair in some contexts, K29 or the Mass Rock, in others, set as a Cairn T, Loughcrew kerbstone thousands of years ago the carved symbols on front, rear and seat are very worn. There is no surviving record to inform us of the stone’s purpose. The upper side appears carved to enhance the form as chair.   Set to the north of Cairn T, not in front of the entrance as with Newgrange, even this is a mystery.  It is the third largest curbstone.

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The popular name refers to the hill itself, “The Hill of the Witch” (In Irish, Sliabh na Caillí).   In lore sites such as this are associated with The Others (“fairies”), living lives parallel to ours.

Tradition holds that, during times of the Penal Laws, Catholics gathers on for Mass using this curbstone as the altar.   By this it is known as the Mass Rock.

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Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

The Cloigtheach of Glendalough

A fine round stone tower of mica slate and granite

Cloigtheach is the Irish language name for a round stone tower.  The word’s literal meaning is “Bell House.”  This fine example of mica slate and granite is found in the Glendalough valley of County Wicklow, Ireland.

The sun was past noon when we arrived at this glacial valley of the Wicklow mountains.  In the few hours available I shot the tower from numerous angles and chose this because the tower is placed in the larger natural environment, viewed as a singular object apart from the monastic city the tower is placed among.

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Saint Kevin founded a monastic settlement within Glendalough valley almost 1,500 years ago, in the late 6th century A.D. As a religious center the monastery flourished for 600+ years, becoming a monastic city. Destroyed by English forces in 1398, it was disestablished at that time. Still, Glendalough served as a pilgrimage destination through the intervening centuries. The surviving buildings date from the 10th through 12th centuries.

Rebuilding and restoration efforts began 1876, including the roof of this tower using original stones. At 30.48 meters (100 feet) tall the Cloigtheach of Glendalough is the landmark by which the site is known.

Here is my previous Ireland Posting……

Here is my next Ireland posting….

Copyright 2021 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Ireland on the Mind at Christmas

Irish Christmas Spirit

Where would we be without Saint Patrick?  He was a force, to be sure.  A favorite story,  is the landing of his return to the island 432 AD.  The tides on the eastern coast of the Irish Sea can be strong.  His plan was to sail up to coast further north than what we call today Strangford Lough.  On passing this inlet the boat was swept into the lough tidal narrows.  Circumstances called for a landing, rather than wait for the tide.  Patrick came ashore where the Slaney River enter the lough and “quickly converted” the local chieftan, Dichu, who provided a barn for holding services.  The name of the town “Saul” in Irish is Sabhall Phádraig, translated as “Patrick’s Barn.”

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In this posting I’ll go lighter on descriptions of technique.  Leave it to say I held to the Canon fixed lens EF 50mm f1.2L USM throughout.  Some, like the photograph of Saint Patrick, used a tripod.  Others, like the latter two of the following Irish Themed Cross set were handheld.  Generally a flash was used to supplement ambient sunlight from a large north-facing bay window.

Here the “celtic” cross is converted to an Irish theme through a substitution of a shamrock with golden decoration inspired by pagan neolithic petroglyphs for the nimbus (circle) intersecting the central intersection of arms and stem.

For the first three I played with aperture, taking advantage of the stability of a tripod.  The final two of the set are handheld.

Note the fanciful leprechaun snowman with pot o’ gold, on the left.

Blown glass Irish dancers.

“Travel memories”

Lets’s finish up with a resin cast Santa Claus in hiking garb.  Hiking is a favorite activity of ours.  Featuring a stout staff and Aran Island sweater.

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Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Christmas Angels

Merry Christmas

The angels of our Christmas tree and home remind us of the Jesus birth stories of scripture and the force of love in our own lives.

What comes to mind with the sudden appearance of Gabriel to Mary and that astounding message? Unlike the attempt of Jonah to avoid his calling, the subtext to Mary’s ready acceptance is the risks faced by an affianced woman who becomes pregnant. The book of Deuteronomy (Chapter 22 verses 13 – 21) calls for stoning a woman who presents herself for marriage as a virgin, when she is not.

When learning of Mary’s pregnancy, Joseph’s reaction, as a follower of Mosaic Law, was to divorce her quietly to avoid exposing her to shame. It was a visit from an angel, in a dream, that convinced Joseph to accept Mary (Matthew Chapter 2, verses 18 – 24).

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An angel visited shepherds, announcing “today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is the Messiah and Lord.” Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God.” Luke Chapter 2, verses 8 – 13.

ChristmasAngel-1

Was it an angel who warned the Magi, in a dream, not to return to King Herod with news of Jesus (Matthew Chapter 2 Verse 12)? Scriptures clearly state (Matthew Chapter 2 verse 13) “the angle of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Rise, take the child and his mother, flee to Egypt.”

ChristmasAngel-4

People can be angelic in expressing love for others through action. I am thinking of a movie Pam and I viewed last evening, “The Theory of Everything.” Jane Wilde, in her love for Stephen Hawking, stays with him when, shortly after their romance began, he was diagnosed with ALS. The prognosis was death in two years. In all likelihood, Jane gave Stephen his life and work through loving him. He is alive and working today at 75.

Nested Angel

The love of our parents is more common, no less precious.

ChristmasAngel-7

A note on the photographs, I used a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark III dslr with Canon lens EF 50 mm f/1.2L, Canon Speedlite 600Ex-Rt, Manfrotto studio tripod and hydrostatic ball head.  Some of the photographs were hand held.  When the flash was used, it supplemented ambient light from a large north facing bay window.

Copyright 2020 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Views of the Valley, Glendalough

A dramatic natural setting

Looking out over the Valley of the Two Lakes from the Glendalough Monastic City.

One of the lakes for which the valley is named, above the headstones in the mid-distance

Look closely at the carved scroll at the foot of the cross.

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Memorial from a mother to her 6 year old son and husband

The site is within a semi-natural oak woodland.

Valley walls are dramatic and steep

For more background of this site, see my posting “The Cloigheach of Glendalough.”

Copyright 2017 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Saint Patrick’s Return to Ireland

Thoughts on the Fifth Century return of Saint Patrick to Ireland

In follow-up to my last post my IStock photograph of Saint Patrick on the Hill of Tara was accepted and is available for viewing (click the link to go there).

Since July 2008 SeaGen produces electricity (1.2 MW) for between 18 and 20 hours a day while the tide is forced in and out of Strangeford Lough through the Narrows where the generator is installed. SeaGen is the first large scale commercial production of electricity from the tide. Located between the Northern Ireland towns of Strangeford and Portaferry, the strength of the tides there were used by the earliest tidal mill known, the Nendrum Monastery mill dating 787 based on archeological excavation.

History records Patrick converted the island of Erin (Ireland) to Christianity in the Fifth Century AD as a return to his place of captivity and slavery.

Saint Patrick legend, Down Cathedral
An informational plaque mounted on granite next to the grave of Saint Patrick.

There is a connection between SeaGen and the return of Patrick to Ireland. The first sanctuary dedicated by Patrick was at Saul, County Down not far from River Quoile that drains into Strangeford Lough. Historians identify Patrick’s first landing site, upon return, as Wicklow where he was forced to leave by the locals. Heading north in the boats of the time, the strong tide of Strangeford Narrows pulled them into the Lough and, from there, headed up the River Quoile to encounter the local chieftain, Díchu mac Trichim. Patrick’s first Irish convert to Christianity, the feast of Saint Dichu is April 29.

On June 7, 2014 Pam and I visited this area. Here are some photographs of the traditional burial place of Saint Patrick.

View of Downpatrick
View of Downpatrick from the hill of the Cathedral Church of Holy Trinity (Down Cathedral)

Downpatrick High Cross
The High Cross of Downpatrick fronts Down Cathedral on a hill overlooking the town. The informational placard reads
“The granite head and shaft date to about 900 AD and were once re-used as part of a Market Cross at the bottom of English Street. The pieces were found in various places in town, reassembled and presented to the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral in 1897.”

St Patrick's Grave
The placard text reads:
“A large memorial stone of Mourne granite was place here in 1900 to mark the traditional burial-place of St. Patrick. The stone was quarried at Slieve-na-largie near Castlewellan, and it took 12 men 14 days to cut from the quarry.”

Inscription, St Patrick Grave
Inscription on the upper surface of stone marking grave of Saint Patrick.

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Or click this link or any photograph or this link to select a print with custom framing from my “Ireland” Fine Art Gallery.

Here’s another of my Ireland postings featuring Irish history, “Irish Countryside: Aghameen Schoolhouse.”

Copyright 2018 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Saint Patrick’s Return to the Hill of Tara

The year 2000 AD return of Saint Patrick to the Hill of Tara

To continue my posting “Endless Views of Ireland from Hill of Tara” my first submission of three Hill of Tara photographs to Getty Istock had two of the photographs returned for revision.

For the fenced statue of Saint Patrick the reviewed wrote:

Please provide a full description for the work of art featured in this image. Include the artist, date of creation, location, etc. Works of art created by someone other than yourself must be free of copyright protection to be considered. If this work of art is indeed under copyright protection, a property release signed by the copyright holder will need to be provided.

Hmmmm….What I do while capturing a photograph of a statue is take photos of any plaque, sign, whatever to acquire the name of the creator, how it came to be there, community connections. There was nothing around the statue nor the very informative Office of Public Works placards at the entrance.  I was proud to submit the statue photograph, as it turned out so well, and hoped for the best.

Last week, I put in a query to Ireland’s Office of Public Works (OPW), the agency responsible for the Hill of Tara, and did not receive a response when, for other queries, they were helpful.  This Saturday and Monday mornings, several hours of internet research revealed this history.

The original statue was placed on Tara sometime after the 1829 Catholic emancipation.  It was molded concrete, created by Thomas Curry of Navan at his own expense to honor the connection of Saint Patrick to Tara.

The OPW removed Curry’s statue 1992 for repair of a century of wear.  During the removal the statue was damaged beyond repair and, afterwards, was further damaged by vandals who decapitated and used it for target practice.

Initially, the OWP decided not to replace Saint Patrick citing the “pagan” nature of the place. After an angry meeting of local people at the Skryne Parish Hall.  In this meeting the local Rathfeigh Historical Society formed the “Committee to Restore St. Patrick to Tara.”  In turn, pressure was put on Michael D. Higgins, Minister for Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht (and the OPW). It was decided a new statue was to be created, based on a competition, and instead of it former place at the hill summit (called Rath na Rí), it was to be near the entrance, outside the Interpretative Center, to offer a Céad Míle Fáilte to visitors and be seen on departure.

The outcome was the competition winner was rejected by locals.  The winning entry, by sculptor Annette Hennessy, did not follow competition rules that specified the statue incorporate traditional features to include shamrocks, harp, miter, a crozier and, perhaps, fleeing snakes. Hennessy’s design was of a shaven headed teenage boy in a short (“mini-skirt”) kilt, a handbag-shaped bell in hand.  She agreed hers was “not a traditional style statue” saying it “acknowledges our Pagan Celtic history.”

The rejection included a statement from Dr. Leo Curran, chairman of the Rathfeigh Historical Society, “We agreed that most of the monuments in Tara are from the pre-Christian era, but St. Patrick should be at the uppermost layer, representing Christian tradition extinguishing paganism.”

By this time, a new government and minister were in place.  The decision was made to search Ireland to find a suitable, existing, replacement statue.  By 2000 the present statue, donated by the Sisters of Charity, was in place at the Hill of Tara entrance.

At the end of this post I provide the two references from my internet research and from which many facts and all the quotes were used here.  I concluded the statue author was anonymous without copyright protection and submitted a revised image description, attaching a copy of my research.

Let’s see what happens to my IStock photograph of Saint Patrick on the Hill of Tara.

Please browse my reasonably priced stock photography.  License a photograph, download and use it for your website or blog.  Click this link to browse all my Getty IStock Photography offerings.

Or click this link or any photograph or this link to select a print with custom framing from my “Ireland” Fine Art Gallery.

Here’s another of my Ireland postings featuring another IStock photograph, “On the River Cong.”

References :
“Should St Patrick stand again on Tara?” Independent, Dublin, Ireland March 17, 1999.
“Statue of Saint Patrick”, Meath Roots web site. The page includes photograph of the Thomas Curry statue.

Copyright 2018 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved

Endless Views of Ireland from Hill of Tara

Climb the Hill of Tara for endless views of Ireland

Arriving around noon on a Tuesday, Pam and I were greeted at the Hill of Tara for these children, headed to the school bus.

Schoolchildren on Hill of Tara – CLICK ME for more Ireland photography.

A statue of Saint Patrick fittingly welcomes visitors to the Hill of Tara, County Meath, Ireland. This statue of cast concrete was an existing statue donated by the Sisters of Charity, moved from an existing installation to the Hill of Tara in the year 2000 AD. The creator is anonymous, the is no plaque or other attribution on or around the statue.
The original statue was erected on the summit of the Hill of Tara shortly after Catholic emancipation in 1829, commemorated the events of 433AD when St. Patrick lit a bonfire on the nearby hill of Slane on the eve of Easter Sunday. Slane was the second site we visited on our day of arrival, Saturday, May 24.

Lighting such a fire was contrary to the pagan laws of the time which dictated that the first fire lit that night be in Tara. Observing St. Patrick’s bonfire from afar, the chief druid of the ancient Gaelic capital predicted that if the flame were not extinguished that night, Christianity would never be extinguished in Ireland.
The saint’s bonfire continued burning and the next morning, Easter Sunday, St. Patrick entered Tara to convert the king and his followers to Christianity.

Here is more about the history of this statue.

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A series of mounds surmounts the hilltop, one is visible across the expanse of grass.

Hill of Tara View – CLICK ME for more Ireland photography.

Climbing higher, the view opens.

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On the top, views from all cardinal directions, 360 degrees.

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The Hill of Slane is visible in the east, the tall cathedral ruin though not visible in this view.

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The first of the following panel is a view northwest from looking across County Meath with views of Counties Westmeath and Cavan. On the horizon, right, is Hag’s Mountain, (Irish: Sliabh na Caillí) , site of the Loughcrew Cairns. The standing stone is the “Stone of Destiny: (Irish: Lia Fáil), which served in coronation the coronation of the High Kings of Ireland. It stands on the Inauguration Mound (Irish: an Forrad) of Tara. This photograph was taken the morning of May 27, 2014 hours before the stone was vandalized, doused with green and red paint.

A bit to the east is the Mound of the Hostages, a passage tomb.

Walk into a glade, through the ancient graveyard to the visitors center in a deconsecrated church.

Browse my reasonably priced stock photography. This blog features three (3) photographs I published last week to Getty Istock and my Fine Art gallery.

License the photo, download and use it. Click this link to browse all my Getty IStock Photography offerings.

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Here’s another of my Ireland postings, “Skellig Puffins.”

Copyright 2018 Michael Stephen Wills All Rights Reserved