Monday, October 11, 2010

The Connemara Heritage and History Centre

Roundhouse in the Ring Fort
Research for a new story lured me to the Connemara Heritage & History Centre. I wanted to see their reconstructions of a crannóg (a prehistoric island dwelling) and a ring fort. The Centre listed its GPS coordinates on its web site. My husband punched them in, and Gertrude, our trusty GPS, guided us south from Westport through Connemara's haunting hills and boglands.

Neatly tucked at the foot of a small mountain, the Heritage Centre provided a wonderful audiovisual history of the region, ranging from the first Neolithic settlers to modern times. We learned that the Galway-to-Clifden railway, which ran from 1895 to 1935, opened up the remote Connemara region to the outside world. In 1907, Italian inventor Guglielmo Marconi, who married an O’Brien, established the first commercial transatlantic wireless telegraph station on Derrygimla Bog, three miles south of Clifden, the “Capital of Connemara.” The station maintained a twenty-four-hour communication service between Ireland and Nova Scotia until 1922, when it was destroyed during the Irish Civil War.

View of the Crannóg
After browsing the center’s modest but fascinating museum, we explored the huts in the ring fort and visited the crannóg.

Crannógs are man-made islands built in lakes and rivers by prehistoric and medieval people. Six hundred or so have been found in Scotland, but they are more common in Ireland, where the remains of about 2,000 crannógs have been uncovered in the lakes of the midlands, the north, and northwest.
Posing Before the Crannóg

The classic image of these island settlements is of a platform on stilts topped by a roundhouse and surrounded by a protective plank or wattle palisade. We may never know their true purpose, but archaeological findings suggest they might have been defensive retreats, or ceremonial sites, or entire communities that included royal residences. The dwellings could be reached by boat or on foot by traversing slightly submerged causeways of stone or wood.
A Connemara Pony
View of Dan O'Hara's Homestead

The O'Hara Cottage

Next, we ventured up the side of the mountain to visit a small herd of Connemara ponies and the restored homestead of 19th century tenant farmer Dan O’Hara. This unfortunate man was evicted from his farm after putting glass in his windows, a home improvement that caused the landlord to raise his rent. Dan couldn’t pay, and he and his wife and seven children were shipped off to New York. His wife and three of the children didn’t survive the voyage.

Interior of the O'Hara Cottage
The Heritage Centre staff keeps a peat fire burning in the cottage hearth, as if Dan would be along for his tea any minute. Chickens had the run of the yard, and we met a pair of docile donkeys and their adorable baby. All in all, a fascinating snapshot of life in pre-famine Ireland.

Mom and Baby

Me and Dad

Foghorn O'Leghorn


  1. Oh, Foghorn O'Leghorn has got to be the best! Seriously, is this not one of the most fascinating parts of Ireland? The stone beehive huts on the Dingle Peninsula are also very haunting and I hope you got there. If not--field trip!!!

  2. Miriam, I visited Dingle and the beehive huts last February. You'll like the pictures -
    And I agree, Connemara is one of Ireland's treasures. And I love Foghorn O'Leghorn!

  3. great post, Pat. I loved the pictures! I have to experience all these things through others since I've never been outside the US :(

  4. What a wonderful post! Love the pictures. I want to be there, anywhere in Scotland or Ireland. I've never been out of the United States. Someday I just may make it.

  5. So cool. I feel like I am taking a course in Irish and Scottish history hanging out with you and Donna. Loving it!! The photos are fantastic and how interesting about the huts built like that. Thanks!

  6. Dear Anita and Winona, I never left the U.S. until my kids were in college. We planned our first trip to Ireland for a major wedding anniversary, and we were supposed to leave on September 14, 2001. Needless to say, the sad events of September 11 canceled our trip. We didn't get to go until the following May, and we've sure made up for lost time! I'm happy to share my adventures. Will look forward to sharing yours one day. Thanks for visiting!

  7. Paisley, the more I learn about Ireland and Scotland, the more I realize how much I don't know. I'm grateful to everyone who shares their knowledge and happy to give back a smidgen and a smile now and then. Thanks for dropping by!

  8. Pat, your comment gave me hope! My kids are 11 and 14, so it's hard to be able to afford a trip to Ireland for 4. But we managed once, and will again, despite my daughter's trip to Europe next spring break! My 50th birthday is in 3 years, so I'm planning another trip for that summer. And hey, I've got a 25th anniversary in 2015...

    Wonderful post, and loved the pics, as usual.

  9. Cynthia, dreams can't come true if you don't dream them, right? I have no doubt you'll be back over there one of these days :-)

  10. I had to stop by and find out what a 'crannog' was. :) Thanks for sharing all your lovely pictures, Pat.

  11. Dawn, I would have thought it was something to eat! Glad you like the pix.

  12. Pat, that was fascinating. I love hearing your adventures! Thanks for sharing.

  13. My pleasure, Victoria. Glad you're enjoying the posts!

  14. Love your post, Pat! Even if I don't get here very often. You're pictures are making me want even more to go to Ireland. :)

  15. I would love to meet you in a pub there some day, Holly. Thanks for taking the time from your studies to visit!