Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Mark Twain Project and the Autobiography of Mark Twain

The Autobiography of Mark Twain, Volume 2  was published in October 2013 in print and digital form.  Twain dictated much of his autobiography during the later years of his life.  He insisted that the lengthy work not be published until 100 years after his death. The first volume of this complete authoritative autobiographical series was published accordingly in 2010.

The second book in a three volume set picks up where his dictation left in April 1906 and continues until February 1907.  The writing reflects a stream of consciousness writing style and often wanders off in various directions at once.  Many of the entries begin with reference to contemporary events, newspaper articles, or letters, which Twain then expands on, rants about, or analysis.  The work includes many personal reflections, political views, and discussions of his contemporaries.  These often scathing comments highlight Twain's reasoning for a long publication ban.  He spares no feelings when discussing those he dislikes.

Twain's writing is often self centered and vain but you can't help but being drawn into his world.  The pages are infused with his famous humor and wit.  Twain is also very open about the fact that he is selective about what is being dictated and that he is presenting himself in a good light. The Autobiography is not at all what I expected as it is more personal recollections of events or people that are often disconnected from each other.  There is no overarching 'great man' narrative or grand story propelling the work.  But, the nontraditional format does allow Twain's personality to come forth and reveals previously unpublished insights into the life of Twain.

Samuel Langhorne Clemens, Seattle Tacoma, 1895
To call Mark Twain a prolific writer might be an understatement.  Born in 1835 as Samuel Langhorne Clemens, the man published over 30 books and over 300 articles in his lifetime.  He also penned a massive amount of material that was unpublished at the time of his death. 

Some of this unpublished material was later published under a series of editors selected by Twain or his daughter Clara.  And the bulk of it was eventually donated to the University of California in 1949.  Since this time a series of editors at Berkley have worked diligently to edit and publish parts of the Twain papers.  In 1980 Robert H. Hirst took over as editor of the project and expanded the scope of the project to be as comprehensive as possible, aiming to collect everything Mark Twain wrote.

In 2001, the Project began incorporating digital components into its work. This movement allowed for the digital markup and encoding of Twain's writings, the digital publication of his works, continuous updating of publications.  One of the best features of this movement online is the ability to compare transcriptions of texts (eg. original manuscript vs. typescript) and the hyperlinking of references and emendations.

I enjoyed the print edition of the Autiobiography but I did find myself frequently wishing the notes were more accessible.  The 733 page volume contains roughly 450 pages of the autobiography with the rest being notes and index.  The notes provide a lot of insight and context to the news clippings and people referenced by Twain.  However, flipping back and forth between the main text and the line notations can be disruptive while reading.  The digital version's feature which hyperlinks notations and places the explanatory notes next to the main text is much less cumbersome. 

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Social Justice in the Archives

The 2013 Fall/Winter issue of The American Archivist opens with two articles focusing on social justice within the archival profession.  The first "A Critique of Social Justice as an Archival Imperative: What Is It We're Doing That's All That Important" by Mark A. Greene.  This piece challenges the idea that "to be an ethical archivists, one must pursue 'social justice' in all phases of archival practice" (p. 303) Green maintains that the archivists role is primarily to serve it's patrons and that "It isn't the job of the archivist to lead the social justice crusade.  But it is his or her job to pursue, acquire, and make available the records that will, among other things, allow social justice crusaders to show that injustice has occurred" (p. 328).

The second article, "Archivists and Social Responsibility: A Response to Mark Greene", is a rebuttal by Randall C. Jimerson.  This piece focuses on Green's criticisms of Jimerson's previous work and clarifies Jimerson's stance on social action, politicizing the archival profession and societal roles.

Both articles are well worth reading and provide an interesting look into the social implications of archival practice.  Greene and Jimerson both highlight the importance of archives to public and private institutions and the impact archives can have on society and the historical record. 

I work in an archive that has a long history of social justice advocacy or at the very least is entangled in a social justice issue.  The legacy of residential schools is something that is still being addressed and struggled with in Canada.  During the implementation of the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement (IRSSA) the archives I work in were used frequently by Survivors to legitimate their claims and challenge legal decisions. 

The very nature of the records in an archives which focuses on Residential Schools is challenging.  Most records and photographs relating to residential schools were created and kept by school staff or government agencies.  But it is the former students who are pictured, written about and who find importance in these records today.  This particular archive is governed by a Survivor based organization and a large portion of resources are dedicated to serving survivors and their descendents.

But, archives staff have also worked closely with religious organizations and groups who were involved in the operation of residential schools.  These working relationships and partnerships have resulted in the many of donations that Survivors have subsequently found so invaluable.  It is only through maintaining a balanced cross-cultural approach that the development of collections and programming in the archives has been so successful.

Archives have the potential to deeply impact peoples lives and archivists play a crucial role in how the historical record is preserved and accessed.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Artifact Meanings and Contextualization

In the museum world, objects are generally described with reference to their designers, or purchasers, or donors...But the whole history of an objects intersects with many other people, who employ many other skills and attach many other meanings.1
The above quotation from Richard Rabinowitz's article highlights the traditional way that museums tend to display and think about artifacts.  Artifacts are often included in exhibitions with labels about where they were created, who they belonged to, and who donated them.  This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Provenance allows for the context of an object to come to the forefront and helps tell a specific part of history.  However, Rabinowitz's statement also rightly points out that artifacts don't exist in a vacuum.  

Objects are frequently handle by people other than their owners.  For example, the average car comes into contact with an uncountable number of people throughout its existence -- the assembly line workers, transporters, the staff at the dealership, mechanics, cleaners, insurance appraisers, junk yard staff, etc. 

In Rabinowitz's case the inspiration to look beyond the original owners of an object was generated by a lack of artifacts representing the experience of salves in New York.  The possessions of people at the margins have tended to be less likely to end up in museum collections.  The Slavery in New York exhibition included numerous heirloom objects from upper class families accompanied by the text "everything is touched by slavery."  The point being that household items were polished, cleaned, and maintained by slaves.  Using well known eighteenth century items and re-framing them with contextual research about slavery allows the items to be part of the exhibit in a meaningful way.

In my mind, the whole idea is brilliant.  It allows the hands of those who touched the artifact but aren't normally associated with it to be exposed.  The example also highlights the importance of curatorial planning, research, and interpretation.  Without interpretation artifacts are just old objects. Interpretation is needed for contextualization, the creation of narratives, and to engage visitors.

1 Richard Rabinowitz, "Eavesdropping at the Well: Interpretive Media in the Slavery in New York Exhibition," The Public Historian, Vol. 35, No. 3.  

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Children to Children Art Installation Opening

Part of the Project of Heart Commemorating the Children of Future Generations Initiative the Ontario based commemoration project "Children to Children" will open at the 180 Projects Gallery in Sault Ste Marie on December 7th at 7pm. 

Project of Heart is a hands on artistic and history project aiming to commemorate the children who died while at residential school, teach the general public about residential schools, and promote social action.  Project of Heart has resulted in thousands of school children learning about residential schools, speaking with and learning from survivors of residential schools, and creating commemorative titles.

These commemorative titles have become the basis for commemoration projects across the country.  For example, in Vancouver a Tsleil-Waututh racing canoe was unveiled that was made from over 9000 Project of Heart tiles decorated by students from over 250 schools in British Columbia.  

The "Children to Children" opening will feature an installation piece created by Shingwauk Residential School Survivor and Elder Shirley Horn, inter-generational survivor Shelly Fletcher, artist Zenith-Lillie Eakett and Dayna Rainville. The installation will use thousands of titles create by students from across Ontario, in commemoration of the legacy of residential schools.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Fiction Writing and Public History Practice

After writing a lot in October about history related topics I'm changing things up this month.  I love writing about history but I've also had an itch to spent more time on my fiction writing.  Along with a few members of the local writers group I'm part of, I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) this November. 

Joining the NaNoWriMo bandwagon has helped me dedicate time to a fiction story that has been permeating for awhile.  The experience so far -- it's only day 12 of 30-- has reinforced the importance of consistency and building in time for writing.  I struggled when participating in #AcWriMo last year, failing to make as much progress as I had hoped. 

This year I made the decision to write every day and try to write the suggested 1,667 words a day.  Some days I make that goal, other days I don't.  But I've been trying, which is important.  I like structure and the tangible goals and milestones of NaNoWriMo work for me.  I also like the NaNoWriMo philosophy: words on a page, even if they end up being edited out later, are better than no words on a page. 

The writing I've been doing as part of NaNoWriMo has also encouraged me to take a look at the writing I do every day.  Exhibit text, website content, archival description, etc. all require attention to detail and use a specific styles of writing.  A lot of the written content I produce is consumed by researchers and the general public.  Clarity and simplicity is important. 

Writing and editorial skills are transferable and useful in most public history jobs. Setting goals, meeting deadlines and time management are all part of NaNoWriMo and are all skills public historians use regularly.  So, even though NaNoWriMo has resulted in me  taking a break from writing about history the act of writing on a daily basis has reinforced a lot of things which I use regularly as a Researcher/Curator. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Journey Women: An Art Exhibit of Aboriginal Women's Healing Experiences

The Shingwauk Residential Schools Centre is currently hosting an exhibit of artwork created by women from  Minwaashin Lodge-Aboriginal Women's Support Centre. The exhibit features ‘body-map’ images created by seven women in a three day arts based workshop on the healing experiences of Aboriginal Women.

This workshop was part of a collaborative research initiative between Minwaashin Lodge and Concordia University. The workshop was facilitated by art therapist Lucy Lu and  Felice Yuen, Assistant Professor in the Department of Applied Human Sciences of Concordia University.  The goal of the project was to gain an understanding of the conditions that contribute or challenge Aboriginal women in their process of healing from violence or the impacts of violence. 

The exhibit is open from now until the end of November and additional details about the exhibit and related events can be seen here.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Architecture and Preservation at Open House Dublin

Tyrone House
My last day in Ireland was spent in Dublin. By happenstance Open House Dublin (OHD) was occurring that day and I was able to check out some local built heritage sites.  Open House Dublin is very similar to Doors Open days which allow people to tour buildings which are often closed to the general public and learn about the history of these sites. 

Open House Dublin is free and is sponsored by the Irish Architecture Foundation (IAF).  The 2013  OHD event featured 100 buildings and many of the sites featured tours by an architect or someone very familiar with the building's architecture.  The IAF is a non-profit organization aimed at promoting the value of architecture to the general public.  Open House tours which explain the significance of local built heritage is a great way
to interest people in architecture and local heritage.

One of the sites I visited as part of OHD was the Tyrone House which is currently home to the
In Tyrone House Courtyard
Department of Education and Skills.  The building was the first stand alone stone house in Dublin.  A number of the original stonework, plaster ceilings, marble fireplaces, and mahogany woodwork is still in the structure.  The tour guide did an excellent job of contextualizing the building and speaking to the numerous modifications that had occurred in the building since it's construction in the mid 1700s.

The Tyrone House site also a number of interesting modern art features and additional buildings that were not included in the tour.  The Department of Education and Skills built a replica of the Tyrone building on the site -- possibly to create a symmetrical appearance of the grounds -- this newer building was not included in the tour but the guide to speak to the aims of the Department to maintain the heritage of the site.

Charlemont House
I also visited the former Charlemont House.  This building dates from 1775 and is currently home to the Dublin City Gallery which is a museum for modern art.  The Charlemont House is limestone faced building  set back from the street.  The main floor of the House has been renovated extensively to accommodate a gallery space.  The upstairs portions of the building apparently retain some of the original fireplaces and detailing however because of a storage issue that area wasn't accessible during my visit.  The tour at this site was fairly brief and not nearly as detailed as the one at Tyrone House.

Overall my experience during the Open House Dublin event was a positive one.  The guides were friendly and knowledgeable about their respective sites and it was an interesting opportunity to explore parts of Dublin that aren't tourist destinations and that aren't always open to the public. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Quick Look At Northern Ireland

The bulk of the time I was in Ireland was spent in the Republic of Ireland.  I did a day trip to Northern Ireland as part of an organized group.  It was a really long day but it was nice to be able to see a couple of sites in Northern Ireland. The tour included a visit to the Carrick-a-Rede island rope bridge, the Giant's Causeway, and short stop in downtown Belfast.

The Carrick-A-Rede rope bridge wasn't anything spectacular.  However, the views of the coastal region at the site and on the drive to the site were nice.  The rope bridge itself crosses a 20 meter gap, and is located in the spot that was traditionally used by salmon fishermen to cross to the island.  The original rope bridge used by the fisherman was much more rustic with only a single hand rail.  The bridge used today is fairly sturdy and wide.  The island and the pathway to the rope bridge have great views of the ocean and on a clear day you can see a portion of Scotland.

The Giant's Causeway is a UNESCO world heritage site made up of unique basalt rock formations which were created during an ancient volcanic eruption. There are a number of folk stories and legends surrounding the site and how it was formed.  One of the more well known stories suggests that the causeway is the remains of a bridge that a giant named Finn McCool built to cross from Ireland to Scotland.   The intersection of folk lore, natural heritage, and scientific explanations is interesting on this site, however very little signage is located near the actual site.

There is a formal visitors centre on site, however if you walk around the centre you can access the
causeway without paying a fee.  This resulting in missing out on some of the interpretative aspects but if you're on a budget or a time limit it might be the way to go. 

The Giant's Causeway is an extremely popular natural heritage site.  There are also very few restrictions on where visitors can explore.  There are a couple of different walking paths which approach the site and a number of shoots which climb up the surrounding rocks and hills.  Visitors are able to sit on the rock formations, climb up the honeycomb looking rock clusters, and walk freely along the rocky shore. 

Given how busy the site is and how unrestricted access is to the site I wonder about the long term impacts of turning the Giant's Causeway into a tourism destination.  The human element inevitably has some impact on the condition and maintenance of the site.  The Giant's Causeway is a beautiful piece of natural heritage tucked on the coast of Northern Ireland.  I could have easily spent a multiple hours walking around and exploring the site and the surrounding area.

Old Buildings and Equipment at the Kilbeggan Distillery

Water wheel
The most direct drive from Galway to Dublin takes you along a major motorway, which is pretty devoid of scenery.  But there are a number of small towns along the way if you decide you want to explore.  I ended up stopping at the Kilbeggan Distillery.  The Distillery offers both guided tours and self guided walking tours of the site.  I did a self guided tour and they provide you with an excellent guide that walks you through various well labelled buildings.

The Distillery located on the Kilbeggan river opened in 1757
Copper Pot Still
production on the site continued until 1957 when economic reasons forced the closure of the distillery.  Twenty five years after the closure the local community took over the site and turned it into a museum. The year 2007 marked the 250th anniversary since the establishment of the first Kilbeggan Distillery, in the same year whiskey production resumed on the site. By 2010 the site was working as a fully operational distillery once again. 

I loved the fact that this site combines a museum, historical buildings, and old distillery equipment with a modern day operation.  The site features a functioning water wheel and steam engine.  The old pot stills, fermentation vats, and processing rooms are also still on the site.  The interior of the structure is primarily wooden and the whole inside of the building had a creaky feel that reminded me of a barn.  Considering the fact that portions of the space were used for storage of grains I suppose the barn feeling makes sense.

Working portion of distillery
The self guided tour concludes with a visit to portions of the working distillery.  It was interesting to be able to compare the old equipment with the modern machinery currently being used -- the equipment looks very similar but is often made out of slightly different materials.  As part of the tour you also receive a complementary glass of whiskey and a small whiskey glass to take home. The variety of heritage features on this site, combined with the fact that the site wasn't very busy made the Kilbeggan Distillery an enjoyable experience.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Exploring Galway on Foot

The city of Galway is very walkable.  It is a compact city with lots of walking paths and pedestrian only area.  A few of the places I explored on foot included the Eglington Canal, the Spanish Arch, and the Salthill promenade.  

The canal is bordered by paths which take you through residential areas, parks, and eventually down to the quay.  The quay includes a large outdoor sports area, walking paths right on the coast, and lots of green space.  The quay area is actually a re-greened space that was previously used as a garbage dump, so it was interesting to see the area's new life and to find so much open space inside the city.

The Spanish Arch is located just outside of the Galway City Museum and is on the left bank of the
Corrib river.  The Arch was built in 1584 and is a portion of the city walls which once enclosed Galway.

Similar to the Spanish Arch, Eyre Square is home to the Browne Door.  Which is the original door from the Browne family homestead in Galway.  The door has been relocated to the Square from Abbeygate street.  Both the Arch and the door have a disembodied feel to them, they are portions of much larger structures and give a brief glimpse into Galway's past.

The Salthill promenade runs alongside Galway Bay and is a well maintained walking route.  It was
pouring rain for portions of my walk along the promenade, but the view of the bay and seeing parts of Galway that are less tourist and student centric was well worth a bit of rain. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Local History and Artwork at the Galway City Museum

It rained a lot while I was in Galway.  The rain seemed to come in bursts, it would rain for ten minutes and then it would be sunny, twenty minutes later it would rain for another ten minutes.  In my mind a rainy day is a perfect day for a trip to a museum.  The Galway City Museum located near the River Corrib by the Spanish Arch was a great way to spend a couple of hours.  Admission is free and the Museum is well worth a visit. 

The permanent galleries focus on the history of Galway, with the main floor's exhibitions focusing on prehistoric Galway and medieval history.   The mixture of explanatory text, historical photographs, and archeological artifacts was well done in this area.  This space concisely explains the geographical formation of the area and the early settlers.

In the large atrium of the museum is a Galway Hooker that was made for the museum by Pat Ó Cualáin and Micheál MacDonncha from An Cheathrú Rua.  The boat is named Máirtín Oliver in honour of the last King of the Claddagh village.  The boat is an amazing piece of craftsmanship and the placement of it makes it impossible to miss during any visit to the museum. 

During my visit there was a couple of temporary exhibitions that I particularly enjoyed.  The Derrick Hawker: An Islands' Retrospective exhibition was a great example of a city museum incorporating local artists into the space.  The exhibition focused on the paintings and sketches done by Hawker with an emphasis on his work showcasing the Connemara region and the Ballynakill Lake in Gorumna. 

The Hawker exhibition was complimented by an exhibition of ceramics and glass works on loan from the University of Limerick.  The exhibit contained works from around the world and the vast majority of them were practical ceramics such as vases or bowls.  The catalogue of the collection which was the basis of this exhibit can be seen here.

Other than the exhibitions I really enjoyed the physical space of the museum.  A number of the walls of the museum are glass which allows for great views of the city from the gallery spaces.  It was also interesting to see that most exhibition text was in both English and Gaelic.  I would be interested to know how many of the exhibition visitors read the Gaelic text over the English.

During my visit there was also a curatorial meeting doing on in one of the exhibition spaces that was under renovation.  The public historian and exhibition in installer in me couldn't help but listen in briefly.  It was neat to see staff actually collaborating in the exhibition space and actively considering how the space would work with the flow of the museum overall.

Monday, October 28, 2013

The Cliffs of Moher and the Burren Region

The Cliffs of Moher located in County Clare are one of the most popular natural landscapes in Ireland with more than a million visitors visiting each year.  The cliffs are 8km long along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and are 214m at their highest points.  The rock formation that makes up the cliffs is almost 320 million years old.  The coastal location makes the area highly susceptible to erosion and there are numerous signs warning visitors to stay inside marked paths away from unstable edges. 

The visitor centre on the site explains the historical geography of the area, explore native wildlife, and
talks about the human history on the site.  There are a couple of educational videos included in the exhibit that are worth watching for the historical images and seaside vantages of the cliffs.  The Centre itself is an interesting structure, as it is an eco-structure that is built into a hillside.  It reminded me of a large hobbit house. 

Despite being late in the season the Cliffs were still one of the busiest sites we visited during our trip. It was also extremely windy and a bit on a chilly side.  However, it was also a clear day so you could see a number of the surrounding bays and islands.  The views of the rocky shore are wonderful however it is worth taking a longer walk on one of the walking paths to get away from the masses of people.  There is also an free audio-tour app that visitors can download (there is free wifi at the main visitors centre) that describes the landscape. 
Burren in the distance.

Following my visit to the Cliffs of Moher we drove through the Burren region to reach Galway.  The change in landscape was remarkable in this region.  The vibrant greens that had been almost everywhere were replaced by vast areas of limestone rock that is devoid of soil coverage. This area is one of the largest karst landscapes in Europe.  The views on this portion of the drive were unusual and memorable in their distinctive appearance.

Photographs by Andrew Mackay

“Hurry Hard!” Community Connections to Curling in Canada

Approximately 653,000 Canadian's are curlers and many more have connections to the sport.  My most recent post looks at the history of curling in Canada, the community driven nature of curling, and curling's impact on Canadian identity.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Natrual Landscape of the Conor Pass

The Conor Pass is the highest mountain pass in Ireland and is located on the North side of the Dingle Peninsula.  The drive through the Conor Pass was breathtaking, beautiful views and very narrow twisty roads on the side of a mountain. The Mountain Pass runs through the Brandon Mountains which is the second highest peak in Ireland at 3127 ft.

There is a great lookout point at the top of the pass which allows you to overlook Dingle, the valley and lakes below, and Brandon Bay.  There are some educational panels at the lookout the explain the geographical historical of the area and talk about how ice ages and natural changes to the area shaped the landscape.

I was lucky to visit the pass on a clear day, as a few locals indicated that if the weather is foggy it is nearly impossible to see anything from the lookout or on the road.  After reaching the top of the Pass the road becomes much more rustic.  The road is for two way traffic however the width of the road can only accommodate one car at a time -- so if you meet another car one of you needs to back up along the twisty to a spot that has a wide shoulder.  The driving experience was a tad hair raising but the views of the area were well worth it.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Seaside Heritage on the Dingle Peninsula

Dunbeg Fort
The Dingle Peninsula was one of my favourite areas of Ireland.  The sea side town was homey and the surrounding country size was awe inspiring.  The Slea Head drive in particular offered some great views of the the coastline, natural heritage, and a handful of built heritage sites. 

The Dunbeg Fort was the first place we stopped on the Slea Head route. The Fort overlooks Dingle Bay and is located on a rock promontory that has eroded substantially over the years.  The view alone is well worth the admission price to the Fort.  The Fort structure is dry stacked rock and only a small portion of the original Fort still exists, portions of it were lost to erosion. The date of the Fort is contested with some dating the structure from the Iron Age, 500 BC, or 800 AD. 
View at Dunbeg

The Dunbeg site also includes a small visitors centre.  The Centre features an audio-visual presentation room where there is a ten minute video describing the history of the area, the archeological studies that have been done at Dunbeg, and the type of building material used in the Fort.

A short distance away from the Dunbeg Fort there are a grouping of clocháns, also known as beehive huts.  There is little signage around the huts but visitors are given a brief information handout when they arrive that dates the site around 1000 AD.  The rounded roofs of the huts reminded me of igloo construction, particular when viewed from inside.  The few clocháns on the site are all relatively small in height and size but were neat to explore.  The site is located on the side of a hill and the view provides a different vantage point of the area. 

Beehive Hut
Following the Dunbeg Fort and beehive huts the road continues towards the Blasket Island and nearby beach.  The Blasket Island is only 2 km away from shore, but in the 1950s the Irish government had the island evacuated and the 170 residents were relocated to the mainland.  The reasoning being that the island was deemed unsafe for habitation.  The Blascaoid Centre located on the main Dingle Peninsula is dedicated to the heritage of the island and its inhabitants. 

The Slea Head drive was a great mixture of country side, rugged coast line, and heritage sites.  You could easily spend an entire afternoon or day enjoying the sites along the route and in my mind the drive was fare more enjoyable than the more well known Ring of Kerry. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Ring Forts and Castles in a Farmer's Field

The Ring of Kerry was one of the low points of the trip for me.  Yes, the landscape was beautiful but it was a lot of driving and there were definitively other natural heritage sites that I thought more impressive.  However, part way through the Ring of Kerry I visited the Ballycarbery Castle and Ring Fort located near Cahersiveen.  Both of these sites were located in farmers' fields and were amazing ruins to explore.

Ballycarbery Castle is thought to have been built in 1560s by the MacCarthy family. Portions of the castle have fallen down, walls are missing, many of the staircases drop off in the middle of nowhere, and the much of the stone is covered by vines.  The Castle is located right by the sea and for the more adventurous it is possible to climb up to the second story and explore some of the small rooms.  This was probably one of the most rustic sites I visited and because of the out of the way location there were no other visitors while my partner and I were exploring the site.  There are some small directional signs pointing the way to the Castle, however the actual site doesn't have any signage.  It would have been nice to be able to learn more about the history of the site and the building. 

A short distance from the castle is the Cahergal Ring Fort. Like the name suggests the Fort is circular in nature and the interior of the Fort looks like a tiered amphitheater. The rock that makes up the Fort is all dry stacked without any visible adhesive and given the age of the structure it is only natural that in some spots the rocks have started to come loose.  During my visit, one section of the Fort was blocked off because of preservation efforts to the structure. It is possible to climb up the circular fort to the top of 'Ring' and view the surrounding countryside -- lots of sheep and some cows. Similar to the Ballycarbery Castle there was no signage at the Ring Fort and the site was unstaffed. 

The town of Cahersiveen was fairly unremarkable but a five minute drive off the main road towards the beach was well worth it.  The Castle and Ring Fort and great examples of the excessive number of heritage sites, old castles, and stunning views in Ireland.  The sites are in such an abundance that many can be found in the middle of nowhere, with little signage and fanfare.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Midleton Distillery: Built Heritage and Whiskey

I went on a number of great guided tours during my visit to Ireland but the award for most cheery tour guide definitely goes to the Jameson Experience at the Midleton Distillery in County Cork.  The enthusiasm and friendliness of the guide reminded me a lot of Mary Poppins.  It was clear the guide was reading from a set script, but she also took time to interact with everyone in the group and answer individual questions. 

The Midleton Distillery tour takes visitors through the old distillery buildings, some of which date from the late 1700s.  The tour focuses on the history of the Jameson family, brand, and the whiskey making process.  Featured on the tour are mills, water wheel, maltings, stillhouse, warehouses and kilns.  The distillery which is featured on the tour is no longer actively used and the newer Midleton Distillery can only be seen at a distance from the tour route.  The old brick buildings included in the tour were interesting and a variety of the old equipment such as steam engine and pot-still were still located in their original locations.

Prior to this tour I knew very little about the whiskey distillation process and the history of legislation
Whiskey at different stages of maturation. 
around whiskey.  Apparently, in Ireland whiskey needs to be matured for a minimum of three years to be called whiskey -- if it is sold prior to the three year mark it can't use the title whiskey and can only be sold as a 'spirit'.  This requirement was introduced following a number of upstarts which attempted to sell products which were not 'pure' whiskey and hadn't been matured for as long.  The tour clearly explained all the steps involved in making whiskey from the growing of the raw ingredients to the bottling process.

At the conclusion of the tour a handful of members from the tour group participated in a tasting test. The tasting compared American, Scottish and Irish whiskey and explained the differences in the production process of each country.  I found the Jameson tour less focused on the Jameson family/corporate history than the Guinness experience.  Granted, the very nature of the tour means that it was closely connected to the history of the Jameson product but overall the experience didn't feel as though the brand was being forced upon you. 

Photographs by Andrew MacKay