National Geographic : 1940 May
OLI) IRELANI), MOTHER OF NEW EIRE Much of western Ireland is rock. Men remove stones to uncover enough soil to plant a few potatoes. In marked contrast, the region around Killybegs is virtually stoneless. Rock, in fact, is quarried. Wire bounds vast green fields and fences cattle. A YARD OF TWEED IN TEN MINUTES Ardara is an important center for Donegal tweed. I visited a factory where all work is done by hand. In one room five men at five looms weave yard after yard of handsome tweed. "How long does it take you to weave one yard?" I interrupted a busy worker. "Ten minutes." "How many yards go into the piece you are working on?" "Seventy-five to eighty-enough for about ten men's suits." In the stock room I saw fancy woolen golf hose, sweaters, scarfs, and mittens, all knitted by women's hands in spare time. But of spare time there's plenty in this land of long winter evenings and dreary days when little can be done outside. "We have no organized knitting in the factory," the owner told me. "It's too slow. Women work on their own and bring fin ished articles to us. We sell to well-known houses in America, England, and all over the world." As he swept his arm in a wide circle, he knocked over a pile of sweaters bound for Peck and Peck, Fifth Avenue. FROM SHEEP'S BACK TO YOUR OWN Near Ardara I talked with a farmer. "If you wanted any tweed, you could tell my wife what mixture and how many yards." He relit his pipe and settled down on the stone wall. "She'd do everything herself-even to dyeing the wool from the backs of my sheep. And if you'd stay for tea, you could watch her at the loom." "What sort of dyes do you use?" "There's crottle-that's a lichen; we use heather for yellow; we get black from the alder tree; and blue comes from briar roots. But you'll have to ask my wife; she does the dyeing, and she can tell you more about the other colors." Donegal fell away behind. I glanced back at the hills where white cottages snuggled like children under blue downy quilts. At a scissorslike crossroads I took a short cut to Trim. Roses softened crum bling castle walls; swans rippled the Boyne like a gentle breeze; cows grazed under Gothic arches of a roofless medieval abbey. Continuing south, I found Kilkenny busy as a bank on payday. People moved like conscientious ants through the streets and disappeared into shops. They popped out to vanish again around a corner or over the bridge that spans the River Nore. Wild ducks winging over the river flew higher to clear St. Canice's Cathedral. I followed their swift westward flight and came to Cashel at sundown. WHERE ONCE DWELT IRISH KINGS Once the seat of early Irish kings, Cashel became a holy city. On the two-acre area of this mass of limestone, rising 300 feet above fertile plains, a disciple of St. Patrick built the first church. Centuries later, in the Middle Ages, a cathedral dominated the Rock (Plate X and page 648). In 1495 the Earl of Kildare purposely burned the cathedral. He excused himself to Henry VII by saying he thought the Archbishop was in it. Approaching the south coast, I smelled the sea again. At Ardmore men on the beach were gathering seaweed. In late September and early October it washes ashore. Two barefoot workers in rolled-up trousers walked out to meet the surf. Using wooden rakes with ten-inch teeth, they dragged the weed to piles on the sand. Horse carts took the seaweed to farms where it would be dried to make fertilizer for beetroot and potatoes. To pick up mail before sailing from C6bh, I called at Cork's post office. "Will you be leaving our country for America now?" asked the clerk. "Yes, and I'm sorry," I said. "But America's a grand country," he countered. "A native of Cork once said: 'Returning to Ireland from America is like stepping from the 20th century back into the 18th.' In one way, at least," he smiled, "we're ahead of America: our sun rises several hours before yours." I wanted to remind him that the sun rose on an Irish civilization centuries before white men settled in America. And I thought of the Irish sun rising tomorrow on a new Gaelic land as green and fresh as ever bloomed the old.