Monday, May 18, 2015

TWO OMANIS IN: Quin, Co. Clare, Craggaunowen, 2013

It was a wet, soggy day, the day we decided to drive to the other end of county Clare (ok, I decided, since I am the one who cares about museums and basically Iron Age and Bronze Age Ireland out of the two of us). Nonetheless, my husband admitted that of all the tourist attractions we'd gone to (not many) this one was the best worth our money and gas mileage: Craggaunowen. Craggaunowen is a restoration and reconstruction of pre-historic and early Christian era housing and living. My thing, certainly, so we had to go. Plus, my husband enjoys learning how other people lived, and he found so many things in common with the Irish and Omanis, that he understands why Americans decided they all came from Ireland (Irish people grumbled to us, that they didn't send that many Irish to America;) ). The "Gathering" was on, so you have to forgive. We were the only GCC tourists we saw.
This (above) example of an Irish tower house, dates back to the 1550s, and was built by John MacSioda MacNamara (for Omanis, Mac is ibn and O' is ben, same same).  It was basically left in disrepair after the collapse of the Gaelic nobility, in the 1700s. In the 19th century some repairs were made to it by a man called honest Tom Steele, and it was purchased and restored by medieval art advisor to Sotheby's, John Hunt, who also saw the reconstructions of bronze, iron, and Viking era structures on the property, and furnished the property with his own personal belongings. He left the property (fortunately) to the Irish people, and it really is a treasure. I am sure on sunnier days, the reenactments are awesome (battles, court life, women's dressing, cooking etc). I heard, in August (Lunghnassa Festival I believe) there is a big festival here, and if I went again, I'd so go for that.
 Examples of ancient Irish textiles (similar to Bedouin women's weaving in Oman).
 One of the re-enactors who demonstrates life in the castle (although in the 14th century, a drop spindle would have been used, not a spinning wheel, which is the same as how Omanis spun until the 80s).
If this had been an Omani fort, no safety railing (or fire escape signage) would be present;)
At the top of the tower stairs, we took a step out onto the defensive ramparts (but it was pretty cold out so we took a quick step back in very shortly after).
Only high ranking nobility in the early 9th-16th century usually had stuffed goose down mattresses, a lot of the warrior elite slept on stuffed straw mattresses, maybe covered with linen, and many other slept in the main hall by the fire on freshly strewn reeds or straw simply coating the floors. Putting reeds down, was a practice of hospitality for guests. I assume (second picture down from this sentence) that bed originally had a feather mattress, costly, and thus, not surviving to our time period.
Afterwards, we took a short walk to see the Togher (an example of an iron-age road), which was oak wood planks. My photo sucked, because I tripped walking along it, and yeah, that shows, cross-country transportation in this time period, without water access by boats, was hard-going for most, since walking was the order of the day, and only the nobility would have ridden horses, and maybe richer merchants, donkeys. However, on this walk we did see an Irish boar and piglets, which was totally cool. Unlike most Muslims, pigs don't freak me out because of dietary restrictions. Wild boar freak me out from reading too much medieval literature. People getting gored to death by wild boar, weirdly common feature.
Across from the tower house, there is an re-enactment of iron-age farming techniques, and the cutting of peat moss (for fueling the hearth fire). Very interesting agricultural practices, about seasons, drainage, and how animal husbandry went alongside the cultivation of grain, peas, and beans.
Of course, the whole reason I wanted to come here, was to see the Crannog, a mostly-Iron-age dwelling type that for protective reasons, were built on artificial lakes. Bronze-age structures are similar in construction, so seeing (on the woodland walk) the efforts made by Restoration-ists, to train trees in the same manner as the early Irish, for construction of these structures, was fascinating for me. To quote the pamphlet given to us by the site, "Every effort was made to keep secondary working on felled timber to a minimum so trees were selected for the purpose required and, if necessary, pruned to achieve desired result many years before being felled for use". Many trees here are being trained into particular shapes, like a plough, and the hazels which are coppiced and pollarded (seven years after being cut) to use for wattles in the roofing.

The Crannog island itself were constructed by placing layers of stone, tree trunks, brushwood and even old dug-out canoes on the lake bed, and these were secured by wooden pilings, and the platform was covered by a layer of sand or dirt (or  both).  A defensive timber fence often encompassed the property, and herein, houses of mud thatched with hazel wattles were erected. The approach for the home was a causeway, a bridge or by boat.
Above, peat fire. Smells really nice.
Above, example of a Viking settlement, in early Christian Ireland. Very similar to the Irish housing, but structures were made of stone, not mud, and thatched, not with wattles.
The Fullacht Fiadh was my husband's favourite site. He called it, "the Irish shuwa pit". This manner of cooking, originating in the Early bronze age, was a tough, constructed of timber and pilled with water, that was heated by stones from the camp fire tossed into the water. A joint of venison (deer meat) was spiced, wrapped in straw, and then tossed into the boiling water. When the meat was cooked and the water cooled, people ate, and the stones were usually tossed into a mound along later with bones, and this is how these sites are identified by archeologists.

After this area there was also a dolmen (which has only photos of me standing with so no posting) and a version of a Viking escape route/refrigerator/store (which only has photos of my husband crawling through it).
According to a 9th century manuscript, Brendan and his crew, were the first men to cross the Atlantic (to Newfoundland, Canada), using a boat made of oak-tanned hides sewn together and stretched over a flexible ash frame. This made the boat surprisingly resilient to the crushing ice (that downed Titanic) more than a wooden boat would have been, as two crew members- one inside, one hanging over the side of the boat into freezing water- could sew leather patches over damaged areas in the hull when pierced by sharp ice.

This boat, is, of course, a replica, however, in 1976 (see youtube video below) Tim Severin built this baby on the manuscript's description, and, stopping in the Aran Islands, in Donegal, the Hebrides, and in the Faroes, over-wintering in Iceland, proved that it was possible to cross the Atlantic and make it to North America. Pretty awesome. That's what I love about archeology and history.
Although the forest itself is quite warm, it was still nice to go visit the visitor's cottage and have a bowl of soup. Also, I am still regretting I didn't buy the kids the wooden swords in the gift shop.

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