Posted by: Peadar Ban | January 8, 2009

Because It’s There

Now, if you drive a little bit past the red truck just turning onto the bridge in the photo at the top of the page, go on the the next intersection and turn left, you’ll be on your way up a hill, and out the road to Croagh Patrick.  It is only a short ride, even on a busy day, and a beautiful one, as you drive along the shore of Clew Bay down the road to the village of Murrisk.  It’s an odd name, Murrisk, and I’ve wondered what it means.  I know just enough Irish to lose an argument about anything; but the thought of losing an argument has never really been an impediment to an Irishman’s offering an opinion…or a scholar’s for that matter.  Not that I’m a scholar, by any means.  Nor have I ever played one on TV.

In Irish the word big is “mor” and the word fish is “iasc”.  If you put them together you get, “mor iasc”, or big fish.  That’s as good as it may be except that the adjective usually comes after the word it modifies in Irish.  So it would be correct to say “iasc mor” and not put it the other way round.  I’ve lost my own argument, but I like the explanation.  Pretend that I never told you what’s correct and believe that Murrisk means “Big Fish”.  The way words are pronounced over there another word, “muir”, meaning sea, works as well.  Alas.

Anyway, the village is at the foot of Croagh Patrick, the mountain from whose top St. Patrick ordered all the snakes out of Ireland.  No one is around who may say if there were any snakes in Ireland at the time he issued his order, but, nevertheless.  It is typically Irish to make a grand, and sometimes futile, gesture.  It was a grand gesture of Patrick’s atop another height on Easter morning that started Ireland’s swift conversion to Christianity.  I have never climbed Patrick’s mountain, though thousands, possible millions over the hundreds of years since the Saint did so, have climbed it.  Lord, if you ask an Irishman, the number could be billions.  I’ve been to its base twice  with intentions of climbing, but weather prevented me.  The wisdom is to do it on clear days, always a crap shoot in Ireland.  I’ve included a picture of the way it looked the last time I was there.

Now, turn in the other direction and look towards the calm waters of Clew Bay.  You’d be looking out over what once was Murrisk Abbey, founded by Pope Callistus III, I think, sometime in the early 15th Century.  It was gone in a hundred years or so, give or take.  Either Henry’s boys or the nice men that Cromwell brought with him on his tour of Ireland did for the monks and their monastery.  There’s a park there now where the monks used to live and work and pray.  In the park is an arresting statue of a sailing ship.  It’s thin, pinched, almost two dimensional.  The wooden planks of the ship, rendered in metal, look scabbed and bony, bare.  They stand out like ribs on a starving man.

From across the street, at the foot of the mountain Patrick climbed so long ago to banish evil and evil’s works from the place, one looks at the skeleton of the ship sailing west and one’s eye is drawn to what appear to be rags of sails blowing about the poor thing.  Who would put something like that in the water, who would sail in it, who would expect anything of it except loss of life?  Well, get closer and see.  It’s not sails but ghosts blowing in the wind, skeletal figures, the frozen memory of the thousands who took a chance on dying at sea rather than face the certainty of starving for sure all over Ireland during the Famine.

It is well known that the starving Irish, who could not own the land they were starving on, were producing the grain and cattle their English landlords sent over to Mother England all during that time; enough to keep them all well fed and healthy.  Grass was the last meal of thousands of them.  If only Marie Antionette had been around.

The first time I saw the ship I looked around at the mountain after a while and thought, “Not all of them, not all of them left and stayed away when you banished them.  A lot of them came back.”

Because it’s there the mountain should be climbed.

Not a good day for climbing

Not a good day for climbing

Because it’s there, the ruined monastery, now a green field with a gaunt ship’s statue on it should be prayed at.

Famine Memorial, Murrisk, Ireland


  1. Fascinating!

  2. Great Britian,in her infinate wisdom and compassion ,thats why she’s called “great”
    Is there anyone out there who calls Ireland Great.
    Great Britian ,allowed the Irish as you put it “to starve” as a way to encourage them to move on to greener pastures
    The Irish apparently unable to figure out for themselves that the unsustainable increase in their population cause by their inability to exercise even a modicum of controll over their baser insticts,was rapidly degrading the environment and would lead eventually to a environmental castrophy.The British having more self controll and foresight saw the inevitable consequences that would occurr if the Irish were to continue to be left to their own devices.
    Thus their seeming indifference in reality led to a greater good ; the Irish Diaspora which scattered the Irish to the U.S.A ,Australia ,Canada etc where they prospered and thrived and where their numbers increased.far beyond what would have been possible in their own little island
    Thus did the foresight and I dare say conservative compassion of the British gently pushing the Irish out of their comfort zone contribute to the great florishing of their tribe

  3. Thank you, Gabriel. Can you tell me what you find fascinating, specifically? I have the opinion that everything I write is that way, but, like my opinion about Murrisk, I could be wrong.

    Hello, Bogdon. There is a great big building in the center of Warsaw. Some call its style Socialist (or Stalinist) Gothic. Anyway it is, last time I saw it, the biggest building in the whole city. It was a gift from the Russians to their Little Brothers, the Poles. Across the Vistula, on the western bank…in the section called, I think, Pravda, there is a monument the Poles themselves erected. It commemorates the same kind of event in Poland as World War II was winding down; the destruction of the city by the retreating Germans while the Soviet Army with a few rag tag divisions of incompetent Polish soldiers waited for them to finish the job.

    Any intelligent Pole will know that their “Big Brothers” were doing them a favor…the Germans, too?…making the place ready for the glories of the Soviet Occupation. Looking at the Polish monument..a soldier looking across the river…it appears that he is waving, hailing the ghosts flying about the Famine. Memorial a thousand or so miles away.

    You have a keen mind, Bogdon, to be able to pierce the surface and arrive at the true meaning of events such as this.

    Similar compassions drove the Soviets Russians that enlightened the English.


  4. I, too, missed the chance to walk to the summit of Croagh Patrick. We (my wife, two daughters, 13 and 16, and I) went there some 10 years ago after a night in Ballina at a castle converted to a
    hotel/inn. It was low season, so we had the place to ourselves. The owners even gave the girls a separate room, and they spent hours making “scarecrows”, using some of their clothes and filling them with other clothes and pillows, and then placing their creations outside our door on borrowed chairs, knocking on the door to our room and running away, laughing.

    A couple of workmen took the kids up on the roof the next morning, so they could get the “best view”.

    Anyway, we went down to Westport the next morning, stopped by Matt Molloy’s place (he was on tour; but his manager was very nice), and went on to the mountain.

    It was a beautiful day until we made it about a third of the way up. Then, as often happens (I am told), the weather closed in. Fog enveloped the area, and our visibility was down to no more than 50 feet. In addition, the rocks and boulders that were part of the trail became very wet and slippery. We tried to carry on, but after a couple of “slips”, we decided that there was no point in going on. Even if we made it to the top, we would not be able to see anything and we would have a treacherous descent.

    We stayed on in Westport for awhile. We found the people there to be very friendly–more so than in some other towns we visited. They told us the fog often lifts later in the afternoon, and I was hoping there would be enough daylight left to try again; but the conditions persisted and we eventually moved on to Kylemore Abbey and Clifden. Before leaving, I even picked up a watercolor of Croagh Patrick by a local artist. It is still in our living room. A haunting place (Croagh Patrick, not our living room–it’s just disheveled). In retrospect, I wish we had stayed on.

  5. A Cara Phadraig,

    Thank you for the nice story. I’m thinking the girls were probably protecting you from being stolen by the fairies. Good thing, too. You now may go back and complete the climb some sunny day instead of being confined to live under the same mountain lending your voice to the occasional mournful wail of the Si, or indulging in the midnight theft of cattle and pigs, and naughty children.



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