Wednesday, August 31, 2011

On Saturday night, the team was in Belfast to celebrate the end of our time together.  There was good food, good company, good Guinness (or Magners!), and good craic.  Stuart had shared some of his Dad's poetry with us.  Maybe it was being at Kelly's where there was a great session going on with some trad music.  Or maybe it was the sense we were all leaving, much like the character in the poem.  But our thoughts turned to good byes, and someone came up with th idea of Stuart reciting his Dad's poem for us.  Many, many thanks to Monty Alexander for sharing his work.  Everyone who read the poem identified somehow with it on some level.

I remember long ago, beside the warm turf fire
Father resting in his chair, before he did retire
Oil lamp with double burner, sitting on the shelf
High up, out of reach, for someone like myself

The newspaper it was poised, so as to catch the light
Enabling him to read it, in a glow that was not bright
Plug tobacco’s heavy fragrance hung upon the air
Nowhere I’ve ever been, does that scene compare

Griddle, pot and pan, at that hour were all at rest
For supper, soda farl and pancake, butter of the best
Then to bed under patchwork quilts, we lay down to sleep
Before this nightly repose, we’d pray us the Lord to keep

When grown I walked the loanin, by the dry stone wall
That far off sad departing, I here now recall
Mother kissed me on the cheek, a tear within her eye
A sister trudged beside me, wrecked by sob and sigh

Father shook me by the hand, and told me to take care
And remember all of them, I was leaving there
Aware of my crunching boots, I looked back in a final nod
My future to America, I placed before our God

Passing the school where I was taught, on that far off morn
I vowed the write to one and all, just there where I was born
Believing I was on my own, I happened to look round
The Dog, he had followed me, paddling along the ground

I patted him upon the head and ordered him back home
No longer would we hunt and fish, o’er the hills to roam
He just stopped and stood there, as I disappeared from view
Never to see each other again; this he somehow knew

Years have passed since I sat, beside the burning turf
I’ve seen mountains high and valleys low, and the Pacific’s surf
Here in my adopted land, I have dallied and I’ve wrought
Conflict I have faced, I have hunted and I’ve fought

But in the gloom of evening, when each day is over
I see Whin Bushes blooming, the Shamrock and the Clover
Bramble intertwined with Thorn, along the lanes of home
In the land of Erin, from whence I was to roam

Monday, August 29, 2011

There's no place like home......

We just heard, once we arrived in Dublin and resigned ourselves to having to stay here and forcing ourselves to see the treasures of the city, or giving up and visiting a pub or two or three, that we have a flight home.  We will be resting in our own beds tomorrow night.  Well, a couple of us will be, the others must remain behind and wait for another flight.

Our bus left Belfast and we arrived about 2 1/2 hours later in Dublin.  We had a spot of tea and a cup of soup at Madigans on O'Connell Street.  Even though it is August everyone has jackets on.  As you can see by the picture, life is a little tough for us.  When life gives you lemons.......

Having a little time we visited the Dublin Writers' Museum.  Now I've been  to Dublin before and this was not on my top ten list.  Big mistake.  Being housed in a Georgian mansion, the museum brings you through the full evolution of Ireland's literature.  It starts off with early monastic writings, through  Swift and Goldsmith.  It moves on to one of my favorite author's, Synge, who wrote of the Arans, and into the modern Irish writers.  It takes you through the authors of saints and poets.
Christ Church currently belongs to the Church of Ireland but at one time was a monastic church.  It dates from 1030.  The crypt has tombs from the middle ages and a mummified cat and mouse that became stuck in the church organ centuries ago.  The stonework has gargoyles and little pieces of artwork from the masons from almost a thousand years ago.
By the time we left the church it was time to visit the Temple Bar area.  A pint (or two, or was it three) of Guinness with trad music and good people with whom to share.  That is the definition of craic.  So as I pack my bags and head home I say to this place, "Slan go foill."  (Goodbye for now.) 

Sunday, August 28, 2011

An American in Exile in Belfast

I think this says it all.
The title of the book is "To Be Honest, I Am Ready to Leave"

The Ulster Museum  explores many facets of archaeology, art, and natural science.  We saw examples of the giant deer that once roamed Ireland before man arrived.  Its antlers could be over 10 feet wide, the largest in the world.  There were also exhibits on the Spanish Armada, 18th century artists such as Turner and Gainsborough, and early finds in the Irish bog.

Knowing my passion for early Irish history, Stuart and Dermot took time out to be goodwill ambassadors to show us just a few of the many ancient sites right around Belfast.

The Giant’s Ring is an example of an earthwork’s monument built about 2700 BC.  In the middle is a tomb made of 5 upright stones.  This area was a ceremonial place probably reserved for the priestly class.  It might have been dug by hand using a period tool such as an antler horn.

We then visited the remains of one of Ireland’s hundreds of high towers.  These were used in the invasion period to protect a site, maybe monastic, from a Viking raid.  The monks would enter the tower for protection, leaving whatever was outside to the fates.  The towers may also have been used for some type of storage.

Another prehistoric structure we visited was a rath- a hill fort.  This one dates from the early Christian period of Ireland.  From here small clans would feel protected and could possible see enemies approaching.  You may note the cow in the photo, from which the group ran screaming (sort of).  It has a vicious look in her eyes if you ask me.  Anyway, there are so many of these Ireland has tried to index them all, but it is impossible to keep each one in the most pristine condition.

Demon cow with view of Belfast in back
I’ve always liked ancient monastic sites.  This was the Benedictine Abbey of Nendrum.  What remains is the church area.  It’s located just a few meters from the coat.  One can imagine a silent Viking ship skimming along the water disguised by the morning fog.  A hoard of screaming Vikings emerge from the boat attack the small abbey, taking the gold chalices and patens, dragging sheep and cows to the boat, and kidnapping a few monks to be sold as slaves in other harbor towns.  No wonder the monks built several ring enclosures and had a tower from which a guard would be posted.  Calm seas and moonless nights meant the Vikings were about.

Tomorrow, we’re on the rocky road to Dublin looking for a flight.  This morning I visited St Bridget’s Church and lit a candle.  Let’s see if it works!

Saturday- Iverstown to Belfast, NI

Salvation!  Internet has been located.  Here is what I wrote last night.

It is Saturday night at 11:14 pm Irish time, and I don’t know when I’ll be going home.  I’m sitting here waiting, hoping, and praying we will be told our (air)ship is coming to take us across the Atlantic.  I feel much like Hugh must have if he left from Derry and sat on the docks for days or even weeks before his ship came in.  Of course I know my final destination, he had no idea.    The hurricane has us stuck in Ireland.  One might think how fortunate we are, but school starts Monday and there will be children looking for their teacher.  The word now is we are leaving Friday or Sunday of next week.  One of the students has referred to it as “the Hugh Cummiskey experience.”

Today I saw my first “Orangemen.”  The summer is marching time in N. Ireland.  Loyalist groups put on their dark suits, bowler hats, and sashes and march with bands and loud bass drums through different towns and neighborhoods.  The purpose is to remember William of Orange who defeated the Catholics thus beginning the English presence in Ireland.  I had read and seen films of the Orangemen, but never witnessed any myself.  It was all very sterile to view it from my chair at home, but to watch them strut along the road made me ask myself how I would feel if I experienced this every summer. 

When we arrived in Belfast we took a Black Cab tour.  They go on both sides of the city describing the political and religious strife that has haunted this beautiful city for centuries.  They refer to it as “the troubles.”  Again, I’ve read enough Irish history and seen enough documentaries to think I knew the situation.  I didn’t, and I still don't.  Our guide, Paul, drove us around pointing out the murals of the Loyalists who maintain they have the right to be here and rule.  And the Catholic side who maintain they are the original settlers of this place.  Throughout both sides these murals speak far more than mere words.  Have a look.

At one point Paul dropped us off in a very heavy Loyalist section.  There were dozens and dozens of Union Jacks flying on flagpoles, bannered across streets, painted on walls, and the Red Hand of Ulster displayed as a sign of Loyalist presence.  I wanted to leave.  I’m sure these are good and wonderful people who work hard and just want to raise their families, but the tension in the air made it more than I could take.

We met up with Colm, Eileen, and the students at Kelly’s Pub where there was a session going on.  The music, the atmosphere, and the company was the complete opposite of the earlier experience.  I think it demonstrated the real spirit of the people here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Tyrone Dig - Day 5

In April of 1822 Hugh Cummiskey and his band of 30 laborers walked from Charlestown, Massachusetts to Lowell where they met Kirk Boott who hired them to widen and deepen the canals of the new mill city.

That is the way almost every biography that I have read (or written myself) of Hugh Cummiskey begins.  Though not complete, we might say that a new beginning is warranted.

In the year 1790, in the townland of Crossan in County Tyrone, a son was born.  The family lived in a cottage at the end of Crossan Road.  The home was simple, but efficient; the stones held together by clay and often white washed, the roof being thatched.  A cow was kept inside the family home against the outside wall.  The sheds in back of the house were used to keep chickens from which the family would be supplied eggs.  The garden in back of the house grew the family’s food supply, mostly consisting of potatoes.  The cows in the pasture provided the milk and butter, which along with the potatoes and eggs made up the greatest portion of the family diet.  They kept their homestead, which was average-sized for the period, extremely tidy with no refuse allowed to gather in the yard.  This was a proud family.  Just up the path from the house were the remains of an ancient ring fort, where on the little free time the children had they might go and play.  Situated on slight hill, the family home looked out on the fields and pastures of their neighbors marked off by ash trees and dry stone walls.  It is here Hugh Cummiskey began his life.

I like this a lot better.  It makes Hugh more human.  I am beginning to understand him more.  You don’t really feel you know someone until you’ve been invited to their home and got to see what their life is like.  I’m a little closer to Hugh now than I was a week ago.

Colm gave me a wonderful gift today, the best yet.  Time.  As the students did the final measurements and Colm did his paperwork I had almost a couple of hours to walk the area.  Sleep did not come easily last night.  I am drawn between home and here.  Yesterday the mood was a little somber.  I was sure today I’d be depressed.  So I spent my time walking the path to the house imagining Hugh and his siblings being told to do their chores.  I took time to listen to the sheep in the various meadows, the lowing of the cows, and the songs of the birds.  I examined the white wash flaking of the stone walls.  And then I met Hugh.  He was in the garden standing there with a spade.  He apologized for not having tea ready.  I asked what he thought of what we’re doing.  Being a humble man (at least by modern accounts he seems to have been that way) he merely smiled and gave a grin.  Farmers in Tyrone are not known for saying a lot.  Of course this visit did not really happen, but it’s better than saying the end.  Something tells me if Hugh was there he’d tip his hat and say, “Slan abhaile” (Safe home)

Something tells me we will meet again.

 We were pleased to have Brian Lambkin and his wife, Pat Fitzgerald and his two sons Owen and Conor visit the site today.  They are from the Ulster American Folk Park and authors of Migration in Irish History.  It's great to see they share interest in Hugh's story.

Our last in the series of a day in the life of an archaeologist comes from Sarah-
Trench 1 was opened to explore the relationship between the wall of the later part of the house and the ground surface.  It was located at a point where most of the wall had collapsed; therefore, it was hoped the excavation would uncover features of the wall which are now missing and details of the ground surface that are now covered. The area outside a window often collects domestic waste material, which can be indicative of the lifestyle of the period; for example, clay pipes, tin, glass or pottery.

A 1m x 2m trench, orientated North-South was opened. After removing the thin sod and topsoil, most of the collapsed wall was found; including machine cut red brick which suggested a feature such as a window. At the Northern extent of the trench large amounts of clear glass, wood and one nail were found depicting the location of the window: opposite the remaining window on the North wall of the house. Parts of burnt wood, from the house fire of 1979, brown glass and a button were also found in this context.

After removing the collapsed layer, a thin gravel layer or metalled surface was exposed. This was the yard contemporary with the older part of the house: the byre. It continued as a yard while the house was extended and when it was in use. There were no artefacts from this context which suggests it was kept clean; discarded material may have been brushed into the nearby shallow ditch.
This layer and the subsoil beneath were cut to make a gully between 10 -12cm from the wall of the house. This gave enough space for plinth stones to be inserted, and then the later part of the house was built. The subsoil was then re-deposited against the base of the supporting stones. The remainder of the gully filled later, as it was probably left open as a drain while the house was still in use.

This trench revealed, as predicted, the location of the window on the later part of the house and the association between the ground and the wall. The lack of finds is unusual as the yard was in use for many decades; further excavation may reveal a midden somewhere surrounding the yard.

Sarah Keer

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Tyrone Dig - Day 3

The beginning of the end.  Today was a very technical day.  The drawings were made, measurements taken, surveys done.  As much as I miss home, I don’t want to leave.  There’s more to the story.  We began filling in a trench and returning it to the way it was 4 days ago.  I had the same feeling that I did in Lowell.  It’s a bit sad.  I’m not one for good-byes, too final.  It means that there is and, that I don’t want to happen yet.  For some reason I feel an affinity for this place called Crossan.  Maybe it’s just romanticizing an ideal.  Or maybe it’s identifying with something we all long for- to find out where we came from.  I’m beginning to know Hugh more as a person than a historical figure.  And leaving now leaves a void- too many unanswered questions.  I wish he was standing next to me in the cow pasture so we could have a good chat.

As it rained today we all gathered inside the old homestead.  Someone shared the idea that Hugh must have done that many times before he decided to leave; sitting by the fireplace, listening to the rain dripping from the thatched roof, questioning if this was his destiny. 

We had a number of visitors today.  Ronan Mc Hugh from Queen’s and the Lowell digs came to survey the buildings.  Emily Murray also from Queen’s who has been helping with the dig said her good-byes.  It amazes me that the two folks always take the time to explain what they are doing to a neophyte as myself.  They are there as archaeologists as well as educators.  I have a newfound respect for the science of archaeology.

Lynn McKeer, from Queen’s and the Lowell Cemetery project, also stopped by, in the middle of the rain.  She reminded me this was a way of life in Ireland.  We  had a great time at St Pat’s last April.  Eileen, Lynn, and myself are still working on all the data from that visit.  Lynn was kind enough o bring “a box of buns.”  At the end of the dig the team literally scoffed the goodies down.  I tried a 15, don’t know what it is, but I’m hooked.

Oliver Donnelly, the land owner, brought Pat over.  He’s a local farmer who knew the last family who lived in this place.  You could see him looking around remembering it as it was many years ago.  He recalled the fireplace and loft.  There was a moment when he held onto the well peering into the home.  You could see he was back in time, and ran his hands along the stones.  He spoke of the pride the family had of their white-washed home and the chickens that ran on the very ground we excavated.  Oliver and Pat have a love for this land, and we are privileged to share that with this, at least for this week.

Frank Talty and Patty have returned from their University duties in Donegal.  Tomorrow is our last day at Crossans.  Lastly, I asked Dermot to write his notes for the day and share with you a day in the life of an archaeologist.
Trench 2 was opened to explore the associated features with the original byre house (This being a type of house common in rural Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries, half of the house occupied by the humans, and half was for the animals). In this type of house, a drain is normally present, coming out from the door of the house, used to drain the waste from the animals away from the living quarters. A 2m x 1m trench was opened across the door of the house, which it was thought would hopefully catch this expected drain feature.
                Excavation revealed a large deposit of stones, directly in front of the house, along the whole length of the trench. This layer was termed c.202/203. It consisted of smaller stones, packed between four larger revetment type stones, used to hold the smaller stones together. This layer was interpreted as being used to create a step up into the house, not contemporary with when the house was being occupied by humans, but probably associated with its more recent function, being used solely to house animals. Beyond this layer, with the opposite side of the trench, a yard like surface, c.209 was discovered, interpreted as being older than the stone deposit c.202/203.
                When this stone layer was removed, a cut into the subsoil was evident. Once this cut was cleared out to its fullest extent, it was clear that we had in fact come across the drain feature. The stone deposit seems to have been added to fill up the drain once it was no longer was required.
                We can therefore be confident that our primary interpretations of the sequence of building which occurred were correct. The byre house being the first home constructed here, most likely in the late 18th century, before later being extended into the larger house, of which the remains of which we can see today.

Dermot Redmond
Post-graduate student, Queens University Belfast

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Tyrone Dig - Day 3

Teachers recognize that they are always students.  I’ve learned so much every day from this team, not just lessons in archaeology or history, but in working with a team, supporting each other, and listening to another’s viewpoint..

Emily, Sarah, and Eunice at Trench #1

We got to the site early today anxious to get back to the trenches.  None of the pits has revealed anything wonderful or mysterious, but there are finds typical of a farmhouse of this period.  Today Stuart’s pit got 2 clay pipe stems. 

Rain- here in N. Ireland, it’s just par for the course.  Twice today we had torrents of rain for about an hour.  The pits filled in meaning they had to be emptied by hand- twice.  You can see the look of depression on Demetrios’ face and Dermot bailing water.

One highlight of the day was having the BBC visit us.  We had our 3 minutes of fame on the tele.

The are many elements to recording what happens here.  This is an extract from a field record as recorded by Stuart-
Summary of Trench Three Excavation
Trench Three was opened in a clearing south of the house.  This location was selected for investigation as it was though that it may have been a garden associated with the homestead.  This area is raised slightly compared to the rest of the site and the lack of rushes indicated a good degree of drainage.  Based on this evidence it was decided that this area was the most likely location of a garden that probably would have been used for growing potatoes and other vegetables.  It was hoped that excavation of this possible garden would uncover lazy beds associated with spade cultivation.  In addition it was believed that if this vicinity was used for growing vegetables a large quantity of artifacts such as clay pipe stems, pottery shards, etc would be uncovered as these types of artifacts are usually associated with middening and fertilization of a vegetable crop. 
A 3 x 1 metre trench, orientated east-west was opened in the north-west quadrant of the possible garden.   Excavation began by removing the Sod Layer (Context-301), this layer included few finds, the most notable being part of a ceramic dish.  Below the Sods was a layer of mid brown cultivation soil (Context-302) with some charcoal flecks.  This soil was rich and of a good quality so probably would have been used for some sort of cultivation.  In addition this context was devoid of large stones which would suggest that they had all been removed during frequent cultivation work.  This layer like Context-301 included few artifacts, the most significant being two pieces of clay pipe, one of which had been burnt.  Removal of this context revealed the natural stony subsoil (Context-303) and unfortunately there was no evidence of lazy beds.  Nevertheless the minimal artifacts found and the lack of evidence for spade cultivation does not rule out the possibility of this area being used as a garden.
Stuart Alexander
Yesterday I posted a picture of Colm using a hammer on Stuart.  Here is today's shot.  I couldn't think of an appropriate caption.  Email me your ideas.  Just look in my profile.  I'd like to hear what you think about the picture or even your thoughts on the dig.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Tyrone Dig - Day 2

Why did Hugh leave?  What was his experience like?  When you're standing at his homestead you have to ask yourself why would anyone leave here?  The countryside is like Paradise.  Why did my great grandfather leave Donegal?  The place too is awesomely beautiful?  What would drive someone to leave HOME?  In Hugh's case we don't know, but after today's visit to the Ulster American Folk Park, we have some informed ideas. 
We were met by Brian Lambkin and members of his staff who gave us some new perspectives on answering some questions we still have unanswered about Hugh.  Why Boston?  How was he funded?  Who was here to meet him?  When we return home,  we can put Walter to work on researching some unexplored territory.  By the way Brian has a great book on Irish immigration and emigration.  It's called Migration in Irish History, 1607 - 2007.
The Ulster American Folk Park is similar to Old Sturbridge Village, but with a unique twist.  You visit a number of homes which would be typical of Ulster in the 18th and 19th century.  Single room
house where cattle stayed right with the family were the norm for farmers in this area during this period.  The village also contains a Mass house where priest would gather people during penal times.  To be able to walk through an entire area of cottages like this, gives one a small sense of what Hugh (and our own ancestors experienced). 

Then you enter the booking office to get your ticket to board the ship.  The ticket could cost several weeks' wages.  Some landowners bought tickets for their renters just to get them off of their land.  For the next 6 weeks or up to 12 weeks, this would be your home.
Once you disembark you are in America.  The park has replicated or actually brought over examples of housing such as log cabins, early American barns, and a stone house.  What did Hugh experience?  Walter researched his Naturalization record showing him to be living in Charlestown running a brewery.  Very quickly he has jobs doing light engineering work.  What was his life like in Crossan to prepare him for this role in Boston, and within 5 years of his arrival, Lowell?
The more answers we get, the more questions arise.  Don't forget Hugh's story is our story.  What he experienced thousands of others also experienced.  Maybe your own?  I've reflected on this a bit.  We have no real certainty of my own Irish ancestors, just stories.  (Have you written them down?  Don't wait for your kids to ask you to do it.  Make it a unique Christmas gift.)  Since I don't know about my family, I am using Hugh's experience to help fill in the blanks in my family's story.

Working with the group I am in is an unbelievable pleasure.  I cannot tell you the wonderful bonding the folks have for each other.  BUT stress happens as it does in all families.  And this is where Colm finally has it out with Stewart.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tyrone Dig - Day 1

A number of years ago there was a book that talked about the 100 places you have to visit before you die.  I have my own list.  One was to walk down into the Grand Canyon.  I did that twice (not to the very bottom, but considering less than 1% ever leave the rim, not a bad job).  Another was to visit Mesa Verde and climb the cliff walls and sit in an Anasazi cave.  Did it.  Also on the list was to visit my grandfather's birthplace in Milingivie, Scotland.  The farm on which he is born is now part of a massive condominium complex, but did it.  Also on my list was to visit Hugh out Cummiskey's home.  About 30 years ago when I first visited Ireland,  I came with a group of guys.  We drove across the country visiting as many pubs as we could.  I suggested that we go to Tyrone and maybe look for Hugh's home.  Needless to say the idea was unanimously vetoed.  That wish was never fulfilled until today.

In 1817 Hugh Cummiskey left his home and came to Boston.  We do not know if he came alone or with relatives.  We can imagine his American wake being held before he left.  He walked out of this house knowing that he would never see his family or home again. 

Here it is almost 200 years later and we're here to find out more about this man the city of Lowell claims as one of its favored sons.  The home is a great example of the typical Irish cottage.  It is probably from the mid1700s, stone held together by clay.  Part of the house would have had the family cow, kept inside for protection and to possibly provide some warmth.  The roof at the time would have been thatched.  The house was lived in right up to the 1980s when fire did some damage to the building.

Originally it was a single room, but an extension was added at some point.  Out buildings were also in evidence.  In back of the house was probably the garden area where potatoes were likely the main if only product.  In back of the garden were grazing fields for the cows.  Those who lived there probably were subsistence framers, growing only enough to feed the family, and hopefully having enough to sell something to pay the rent or taxes.

What drove Hugh out?  Probably what was happening all over Ireland at this time.  Landlords, many of them absentee, were making demands on the farmers who had no choice but to pay or leave.  Maybe the night before he left he was given a proper feast with whatever the family had left.  Maybe some music was played and the poteen was passed (Hugh turned out to run a brewery in Boston).  But then the time came.  He said his goodbyes, walked down the lane.  maybe turned for the last time to see the place he called home, and walked into history.

The team began digging 3 trenches.  The first layer of sod was removed.  Emily Murray joined us today.  She a member of the Queen's team.
I was asked by Frank to add this next picture.  It is one of the few photos of him actually holding a shovel.  He said he would need proof.

We also got to meet the present owner of the land Oliver Donnelly.  He has kindly let the team onto his property to carry out the dig.  His family has lived in Crossans for many generations.  We are fortunate to have someone who has such a pride in his heritage to allow the work to be done.  Here he is with Colm and Ryan.