The Most Beautiful Villages of Ireland

The Most Beautiful Villages of Ireland

by Christopher Fitz-Simon
     
 

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A visual trip through the Emerald Isle: an unparalleled portrayal of the rural beauty and charm of Ireland.
Clusters of white cottages huddled between hills of an unbelievably rich green, villages of a single street, dazzling in their array of color washes and picturesque shop-fronts—such are the villages of Ireland, which to this day are living working

Overview

A visual trip through the Emerald Isle: an unparalleled portrayal of the rural beauty and charm of Ireland.
Clusters of white cottages huddled between hills of an unbelievably rich green, villages of a single street, dazzling in their array of color washes and picturesque shop-fronts—such are the villages of Ireland, which to this day are living working communities.
The most beautiful of these villages are captured here in Christopher Fitz-Simon’s sensitive commentaries and Hugh Palmer’s evocative photographs. This is a journey full of rural gems, some famous, others less so. Here are the colored coastal villages of Cork, their vibrant houses sloping down to a sea that so many Irish people crossed to found other communities in America. Here too are the stunning medieval churches of Roscommon and Galway; and the villages of Antrim, standing ruggedly in defiance of the northern seas.

Editorial Reviews

Deborah Merck Sanders
Quaint, charming and predictably green. . . . The pages echo with tranquility in this composite masterfully photographed by Hugh Palmer.
Veranda

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780500289310
Publisher:
Thames & Hudson
Publication date:
06/01/2011
Series:
Most Beautiful Villages Series
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
283,512
Product dimensions:
7.60(w) x 9.50(h) x 0.80(d)

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Introduction


The island of Ireland has an area of 21,803 square miles and a population of 5,275,000. Its climate is temperate; a `soft' day — of which there can be many — means one on which it is not persistently wet; yet Ireland's reputation for rainfall is somewhat unfair, for statistics show that there is an average of only sixty-five days in the year without significant sunshine; and a fine August day by a Fermanagh lake or beside the sea in Connemara is so enchanting it puts all dreams of the Mediterranean or California out of one's head. According to an American song, Ireland `nestles in the Ocean': that ocean is the North Atlantic, and its Gulf Stream ensures much warmer winters than other European countries in the same latitude; usually there is snow for only a few weeks in upland regions, and no snow at all around the coast.

    Politically speaking, the island is composed of Northern Ireland — which is part of the United Kingdom — and the Irish Republic. In common parlance these divisions are imprecisely referred to as, respectively, `The North' and `The South' — yet Donegal, the most northerly county of all, is part of the Republic. Such inconsistencies add to what is often described as the charm of Irish life. In terms of size and population, Ireland may be likened precisely to the State of Indiana: thereafter, however, all resemblance ends, for probably no land-mass in the world contains such a variety of topographical features concentrated in so confined a space.

    Each one of the thirty-two counties has its own physical identity. There areno lakes in County Offaly, but in adjoining Westmeath there are more than twenty. In County Kildare, no hill rises above a thousand feet, but neighbouring Wicklow is entirely mountainous. Even within counties there can be extreme contrasts: the eastern half of Galway is flat, green and fertile, while the western is rugged, multicoloured and barren.

    In social and demographic terms the divergences are curious and, at face value, puzzling. The people of the town of Sligo speak with an entirely different accent and intonation from their neighbours in Enniskillen, only forty miles away; one might as well be in different countries — and some would argue that one is. In east and west Cork, locally perceived differences in speech, customs, traditions and outlook are so abstruse as to be wholly appreciated only by those fortunate enough to have spent a lifetime in that attractive county; the distinctions are as enigmatic as the subtly changing landscape, observed as one travels on the road from Youghal in the east of the county to Castletownbere in the west.

    The lively and interesting variations in the personality and character of the people have their origins in the migrations and settlements imposed by the politics of the past. During the numerous `troubled times' which have punctuated Irish history, the causes of conflict have been generally seen as stemming from British incursion, colonization and government. Certainly this is the kernel to what still seems to be the persistent enigma of Northern Ireland. Since the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, the Republic has slowly, and at last triumphantly, taken its place — as the insurgent Robert Emmet presciently remarked in 1803 — `among the nations of the world'. The international media, with its propensity for the kind of simplification which reduces any circumstance to its least meaningful, has tended to equate the Loyalism (to the British Crown) of Northern Ireland with Protestantism, and Republicanism with Roman Catholicism. It was in response to this kind of unlearned generalization that a testy George Bernard Shaw declared a hundred years ago that he was `a genuinely typical Irishman — of the Danish, Norman, Cromwellian and (of course) Scotch invasions'. He then remarked that though `arrogantly Protestant by family tradition', he was `an inveterate Republican and Home Ruler'. He continued: `It is true that one of my grandfathers was an Orangeman; but then his sister was an Abbess; and his uncle, I am proud to say, was hanged as a rebel!'. Such intricacies of allegiance and attitude continue to permeate Irish life in all parts of the country.

    In not including `Celts' among his list of forbears, Shaw may have been showing uncharacteristic academic caution, for opinions differ as to who exactly the Celts may have been. Early Irish art, for example, is often sweepingly referred to as `Celtic', but the extraordinary tombs and incised stone carvings of the Boyne Valley necropolis were created by a Neolithic people who were here prior to the Celtic migrations from central Europe. Our ideas of Celtic art stem largely from the nineteenth-century rediscovery of Ireland's past, and include such diverse manifestations as the stone sculptures of Newgrange and Knowth of about 3000 B.C., the gold Mooghaun Collar of about 700 B.C., the Tara Brooch of about A.D. 700 and the illuminated Book of Kells of about the same time. Dating is as hazardous as the terminology.

    The landscape of Ireland is richly endowed with artefacts indicative of several passing civilizations. Dolmens raised about two thousand years before Christ, court cairns, Ogham stones, and the great sculptural high crosses of the early Christian period are reminders of these ever-changing cultures. Over sixty round towers — of the kind which are almost as emblematic of Ireland as the harp and shamrock — also occur in Scotland, and were built to the same pattern from the 5th to the 12th centuries A.D. The numerous abbeys — now almost invariably ruinous due to Henry VIII's dissolution followed by Cromwell's destruction — bear witness to a close affinity with the European mainland. Contrast these with handsome Palladian and neoclassical country mansions and we see further European influences, appearing comparatively late, and mainly via England. The Gothic Revival in Ireland was almost entirely English-inspired. (For those wishing to see examples of five thousand years of building and decorative art all in one day, Meath is the county!)

    While the received picture of Ireland, north and south, remains that of a land and a people chiefly involved in agricultural pursuits, and while exports of dairy and garden produce, meat and beverages are indeed on the increase, the fact is that manufactured goods — including computers and pharmaceuticals — are now by far the most important staples of the economy. Tourism is a growing industry: by 1998 the number of people visiting Ireland exceeded the local population of five million — fortunately these visitors did not all arrive at the same time! During the summer months, however, major attractions such as the Trinity College Library in Dublin, the Boyne Valley necropolis or Muckross House and National Park in Killarney, can become uncomfortably crowded. The spring and autumn are therefore the pleasantest times for a leisurely tour, and rates in hotels and guest houses are substantially lower.

    The villages in this book have been chosen in order to give a sense of variety rather than to represent every county. The term `village', indeed, is not an Irish one. When Irish people speak of going to `the town', they may have nothing more in view than a cross-roads with, perhaps, a few houses, a church and a pub. The Irish baile signifies a `townland', which is something akin to the Scottish `bailiwick' or English `bailey' and may not necessarily contain any dwellings at all. In the Irish language, a sráidbaile, or `street-townland', is the nearest one approaches to `village', and a `town' is described as a baile-mór, or `great townland'. Thus, the people of many of the places featured in this book would be very surprised to learn that they live in a `village'.

    If one were to select villages purely on the basis of the charm and interest of streetscape and environs, one could produce several books of the same title. The aim here, however, has been to provide a sense of the variety of styles of Irish village — from scattered settlements, or clocháin, to the neat estate villages built by `improving landlords'. There are villages which take their character from their situation and the consequent occupations of the people — fishing or milling or the distribution of a specific product such as linen; there are riverine villages, canalside villages, villages which are market-towns in miniature, villages which exist because of some great ecclesiastical foundation. The traditional Irish village of thatched white-washed cottages probably has pride of place, though few remain — yet villages built of a local stone with slated roofs, or villages where painted stucco assails the eye with astonishing brilliance are equally traditional, townland by townland, county by county, province by province.

Meet the Author

Christopher Fitz-Simon is an Irish author whose books include The Arts in Ireland and The Most Beautiful Villages of Ireland.

Hugh Palmer is one of Britain’s leading photographers of architecture and gardens. His books include The Most Beautiful Villages of Greece, The Most Beautiful Villages of Provence, and The Most Beautiful Villages of Ireland.

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