*This has been on Ciao, where I am tallulahbang. I've changed at least 10 words, though, so it'll be like a whole new read.*
~*~"If it was raining soup, the Irish would go out with forks"~*~
- Brendan Behan -
If you're at all well-versed in your Irish history, you'll know that at one point a few years back (the exact date escapes me just at present, but I'll Wikipedia it before the end of the review) the Irish had a bit of a famine, from which the population has never really recovered. With breathtaking originality, the Irish have taken to calling this 'The Great Famine'. Could this population disaster have been averted if they'd had Smash? Well, yes. But there's no telling the Irish anything, especially where processed mashed potato is concerned.
Most of the country learnt lessons from this: they grew some crops other than potatoes, they shunted the British landlords off to a small and unfriendly corner of the island, and they bought in a truckload of Smash. Then they moved on to bigger and better things (well, you know how it is. You can concentrate on commemorating a famine OR getting a talking turkey entered for Eurovision, but not both).
Donegal, though, is comfortably the maddest of all the counties (although with commendable competition from Kerry and Roscommon), and here they've chosen to celebrate the famine with what is, I believe, the greatest museum in the world. Ever.
~*~"As I walked back to the car, I chatted with an Englishman, who confirmed that, indeed, sheep are dropping into the oceans around Ireland at a regular rate."~*~
- Margeret Lynn McLean -
To get to the Famine Village you'll need to be in the Inishowen area. It's worth the trek north even if you're in the west of the county, as we have the best beaches, feral sheep, the most northerly point in Ireland, the wreck site of La Trinidad Valencera, the highest sand dunes in Europe and roads designed to have the average driver frantically praying to a God unknown for salvation (this, by the way, rather than true faith, is the reason that Ireland is a largely Catholic country).
The Isle of Doagh (pronounced 'doke' rather than 'dough'. My, but Irish is a tricky language) is where you're headed for. With Carndonagh (a town where they actually encourage you to bring dogs into the bank, as the bank manager, by his own admission, gets 'bored with looking at all the money. And, well, dogs are fun, aren't they? The way they run after tennis balls is gas.') as your starting point, take the road for Malin. At the roundabout just outside Carndonagh take the 1st exit and then follow the signs for Ballyliffin. After about 10-15 minutes, you'll see a little brown sign pointing to a road on the right that you think says 'Doagh Famine Museum', but is so overgrown with branches that you totally can't tell for definite until you're past it. At this point you'll probably be thinking that you'll have to drive the couple of miles on into Ballyliffin town to get turned, but you won't. Just reverse up the wrong side of the road until you can make the turning. Stick your hazard lights on: in the eyes of God and the Gardai that makes everything ok.
NB. If you're visiting Donegal, you really need to be able to drive, or have your own chauffeur. The county doesn't have any public transport, as the populace is too sparsely distributed to warrant it. The Famine Museum is easily walkable from Ballyliffin in under an hour, but the roads don't have pavements and are therefore really dangerous for walkers (especially when you factor in that Matthew 'Pedestrian Slayer' Broderick has chosen to live in Donegal). If you do opt for Shanks's mare, wear a high-visibility vest over your clothes and walk facing oncoming traffic.
Once you've made the turn follow the signs for the Famine Village for another 10 minutes or so. This road is steep in places, narrow, precarious, potholed to buggery and absolutely without warning signs. Don't even dream of taking it at less than 40mph, though, for if you do the locals will think you're coming visiting and will welcome you with tea, cake and multitudinous ginger children. Besides, after all I've just told you, you're bound to be gagging to get there.
Once you've found it (which you will, easily. There's feck all else there, apart from some free range cattle and a couple of beaches) park in the car park across from the thatched cottages, and saunter over.
~*~"Being Irish, he had an abiding sense of tragedy, which sustained him through temporary periods of joy."~*~
- W.B. Yeats -
What can you expect from the Famine Village Museum?
Well, a total lack of Smash, that's for damn sure. Also, the museum will teach you the following important points:
- Every well known phrase in the world comes from Ireland
- There are few good things in the world that didn't originate in Ireland
- Irish people are, all things considered, awfully like Jesus
Once in the first thatched cottage, you will be welcomed by a madly over-friendly woman who will want to know where you've travelled from, if you've been to Donegal before, whether you agree that it's God's own county (for the love of God, agree), and whether she is related to you ('Are you Bridie's youngest? Sinead's? Now, you're awful like my cousin Caroline around the eyes, but of course she's been dead these last 5 years.') You'll pay Euro7 (about a fiver, roughly) and believe me when I tell you, it'd be cheap at 3 times the price.
The Mrs Doyle of the Famine Village world will then usher you through to the courtyard, offer you tea, and encourage you to have a look round the little gift shop before the tour begins. Now, I'm a total sucker for rubbish gift shops anyway, but by Christ, this one surpassed even my wildest expectations. It's a veritable symphony of pointlessness.
Once enough people have gathered, the tour will begin. When I was there in August that took about 10 minutes. You may have a longer wait if it's not peak season. The opportunity to people-watch will more than make up for it, though, as I saw a father and 2 boys all dressed in matching tracksuits, loads of elderly people in wheelchairs (who, criminally, in my opinion, passed up the chance to have a race) and a hyperactive ginger child who repeatedly ran into a wall and fell over (Darwinism).
~*~"This is one race of people for whom psychoanalysis is of no use whatsoever."~*~
- Sigmund Freud (speaking about the Irish) -
To be honest, the tour is kind of secondary to what you're really going for: the displays (I wish Dooyoo let reviewers upload photos, because, believe me, these are the worst models you'll ever see. They look like they were made by a blind, mental child.) Despite this, the man who gives the tour is knowledgeable, and a reasonably good public speaker. He was born and raised in the cottages that make up the Famine Village and obviously knows the local area and history very well.
The initial part of the tour deals with life and death on the Inishowen peninsula, and it is here that you will learn that every saying in the world comes from Ireland. A few examples:
Dead ringer - Irish.
Saved by the bell - Irish
Snuffed it - Irish
(as an aside, some advice for life: just accept from the get go that everything in the world, and particularly all the good things, are Irish. It'll make life easier)
At this stage you'll be seated on benches in what looks like a schoolroom, facing a life-sized display of an Irish wake, complete with phenomenally unrealistic models. I highly recommend having a camera with a zoom lens for this bit, because these are memories you're going to want to treasure forever.
This bit is genuinely quite interesting, and elucidated some points I was a bit unsure of. As an example, the tour guide explained that the whole nation starved despite being surrounded by waters teeming with fish because of heavy reliance on a single crop, and a catastrophic storm of a few years earlier which had destroyed 90% of the island's boats and made the Irish wary about going to sea.
~*~"Irish Alzheimer's: you forget everything except the grudges."~*~
- Judy Collins -
The next part of the tour deals with how the Irish buried their dead (by using coffins with hinged bases so they were reusable. That's the kind of enterprising spirit that won us Eurovision three years in a row), and the aftermath of the famine. I was impressed with this part, as it would be the easy thing, historically, to blame English landlords for the slow recovery rate of the people and the land, and an awful lot of Irish narrative claims the English took advantage of the Irish in this period and used them as slave labour in return for food. Tour guide man was at pains to explain that the English employed the Irish to build roads and walls to engender a sense of worth; to feed their tenants at the same time every day would have eventually resulted in the English landlords effectively farming people. Don't get me wrong: I'm not labouring under the delusion that the English landlords were all about the spirit of kinship, rather that the people of Inishowen were not badly treated, and that it's refreshing to have a version of history that strives for truth.
While describing the after-effects of the famine, tour guide man cross-referenced historical famines, as well as more recent ones in Africa and India. This information was pertinent and current, so it would seem that every effort is made to make the tour information useful and accurate.
~*~"When I told the people of Northern Ireland that I was an atheist, a woman in the audience stood up and said, 'Yes, but is it the God of the Catholics or the God of the Protestants in whom you don't believe?"~*~
- Quentin Crisp-
The next bit is about religion, and the lengths the Irish will go to in order to get a bit of praying in. At this point tour guide man departed, and a ginger teenager took over. This boy was well versed in his Irish history, certainty that the Irish are the originators of everything and ability to answer random questions. However, he had the unfortunate oratorical habit of closing his eyes and swaying his head slightly as he reeled off information, making him look an awful lot like a pale, ginger Stevie Wonder.
To be honest, I zoned out slightly here, as I was just enchanted by the displays. When I returned to the fold he'd moved on to the 20th century and how priests (and later Republicans) were hidden. There's a model of a safe house, which you can go through, room by room, and try to work out where the concealed doorways are. The effect is kind of ruined by the fact that the locations of all the doorways are so blindingly obvious that they couldn't be easier to find if they were marked with a large sign that said 'This Is A Door'.
Once out of there and you'll find that the guided part of the tour is over. You're free to stay as long as you want, though, and there are lots of rooms dedicated to various periods and genres of Irish history. Noticeable efforts have been made to be even-handed, so there is an Orange Lodge room and an Irish Traveller display as well as a Mass Rock display. Printed information as well as accurate and recent statistics are printed and displayed everywhere.
To finish up you head back the way you came (giving you another opportunity to be bowled over by the spectacularly rubbish mannequins) and walk down to your starting point. On the way you can go into any of the smaller thatched cottages, which I found pretty interesting. There's a little room dedicated to artefacts, with no real thought given to order or suitability (which is all part of the charm). Worryingly, though, I found the same model of radio, typewriter and television that we had in our house when I was a child. At 30, I am too bloody young to have facets of my life included in museums.
Right before the end is the house that the original tour guide grew up in, where an entire family were raised in a two room cottage. Lastly, you'll be offered more tea and a biscuit as well as the opportunity to part with cash for tat. Just before you manage to escape out the door, the Mrs Doyle on reception will impress upon you that this place turns into Ireland's Lapland come November, and that you'll need to book a couple of months in advance if you're even thinking of bringing your little'un.
From famine to Santa. Only in Ireland.
Even if you linger over the exhibits the whole experience won't take more than a couple of hours. Not so short that you feel ripped-off, not so long that you feel bored.
~*~"It was a bold man who ate the first oyster."~*~
- Jonathan Swift -
*Eating and drinking*
Beyond the tireless exhortations to have a cup of tea, there are no facilities for refreshments. If you go in the morning I'd recommend bringing a picnic and eating it on Doagh strand, which is accessible from the car park (although it's a steep and rocky path, so care is needed). The beach is impeccably clean, has lots of soft sand and is sheltered enough for swimming if you're brave or insane.
If the weather is rubbish (which it will be. It's Ireland, after all) it's a short drive to Ballyliffin where there's a reasonable selection of eateries.
~*~"Ireland is a peculiar society in the sense that it was a nineteenth century society up to about 1970 and then it almost bypassed the twentieth century."~*~
- John McGahern -
Hmm. Depends on how gung-ho you are, I 'spose. I can't remember seeing any disabled toilets. There is a path that leads round the various displays, but it is uneven and steep in places. That said, there were quite a few elderly people in wheelchairs when I was there, although they did have people to push them round. There was one old lady of 100 in a wheelchair who they thoughtfully positioned right beside the display of the coffin, presumably so she could get decorating ideas.
~*~"Other people have a nationality. The Irish and the Jews have a psychosis."~*~
- Brendan Behan -
Told you I'd Wikipedia it. The Irish famine: 1845 - 1852
In common with a great many people, I have always found it to be fascinating to discover exactly what shaped my family, and my community, into what they have become today. I am lucky enough to live within a few minutes walk of a local heritage museum (Summerlee Heritage Park) which details the rise and decline of heavy industry in West Central Scotland - the modern shaping of my particular community. The town where I live is made up of large numbers of immigrant Irish, and has been so since the mid 1800's - around the time of the Great Famine. Although Summerlee can tell me a lot about how our community has developed since the mass immigration, it does little to give any idea of what happened beforehand. So for me, in steps Doagh Island to give the Irish angle on my heritage. And fascinating it is too! I first discovered Doagh Island quite by chance a couple of years ago. I had gone for a drive around the Inishowen Peninsula in northeast Donegal. I was in Buncrana and had wanted to call into Moville to see some friends, but having time to kill I decided to drive round the long way along the coast road. Going around the top of the Peninsula I noticed a rather strange mannequin in a field - it was pointing up a small side road. The sign around its neck said 'Doagh Island Visitor Centre' - I was suitably intrigued. Doagh Island is situated, as I said, up near the top of the Inishowen Peninsula, a rugged and beautiful part of Ireland. The beach and sand dunes alone are well worth going to see even if you aren't interested in the museum, but if you are up there anyway you would be crazy not to pop in! These days it is sign-posted from all around Inishowen, just follow the signs and you won't go wrong. On entering the 'village' the first thing that strikes me is the friendliness of the staff. Y'know, it's one of those places where people actually have time to chat and take an interest in their
visitors. On the three occasions I have visited I have been greeted by a different member of staff, each as friendly and chatty as the others. It usually takes about five minutes before they remember they are there to take your entrance fee! Oh, the entrance fee, I can't really remember exactly how much it was but I think IR£3.50 - which at the current exchange rates is less than £3 sterling. Considering that the venture has not received any funding from outside sources I think the entrance fee is very reasonable indeed. Going back to that funding thing then. The visitor centre is a family run affair, run by a family who have actually lived there for many generations. The family dwellings are still standing and form part of the village - the main house being lived in until as recently as the late 1970's (which is hard to believe when you actually see it!). Some other buildings have been recreated to make up a small street of dwellings, each housing different displays. All of this was privately funded by the family, for which they deserve great credit. The entrance fee includes a guided tour which takes about ten or fifteen minutes, your guide being one of the family members who actually done most of the recreation work! He certainly knows his stuff (arghh, I can't remember his name now!!) and is delighted to answer any questions you may have. The first port of call is that family dwelling that I mentioned. I use the word dwelling rather than house or home deliberately since it is a rather uncomfortable looking place which incorporated an area for the livestock to sleep (having the added benefit of giving body heat from the animals!). In the dwelling there are examples of the living conditions, including beds, stoves and suchlike. Also, each few days the staff collect fresh seaweed and plants which are displayed along with explanations of what they are and what they were used for. It is fascinating to see all of the different u
ses for natural resources such as seaweed, which can be used for medicinal purposes amongst other things. One of the other buildings houses a recreation of an Irish 'wake'. The guide tells the history and reasoning behind the wake and it is really worth hearing! Apparently when the family and friends gathered around the deceased they would place a small saucer containing snuff on the chest of the 'corpse'. This wasn't just a self-indulgent thing though. Lead poisoning was commonplace, particularly due to the use of lead in making the illegal poteen stills. Lead poisoning can slow the heartbeat until it is undetectable and effectively make the person appear to be dead. During the wake the mourners would sing and talk and generally make as much noise as possible, they sometimes even hired professional mourners to wail at the feet of the 'deceased'. This was all done in an attempt to 'wake' the afflicted person from what was hoped was a case of lead poisoning or similar. The saucer of snuff would be watched carefully for any movement which would indicate that the person had returned to life. I found it rather interesting to discover that the word 'wake' was actually literal, as were the origins of the phrase 'snuffed it'! Another building is a sort of mini-museum, which houses all sorts of tools and household items from days gone by. Here you can see old sewing machines, gas lamps, storage jars and generally everything that was needed for day-to-day living. The building next door houses a display of facts and figures about famine and poverty in the word today - a really nice touch since Ireland is now a comparatively rich country, but at least some of the people haven't forgotten the hard times. Moving out of the village, past the cave of the local fairy Fergus McArt, you then pass through a roofed area which houses reconstruction's of burials, farming and an interesting piece about
the work schemes which were introduced during the famine. Rather than simply provide subsistence for the common people the authorities actually made them work for it. The work could involve breaking and shifting rocks from one place to another and back again, or building 'roads to nowhere'. The idea was that people would actually feel a sense of worth if they were doing something, and this is still in evidence in the poorest countries today. On leaving the roofed display area you then enter a field which contains assorted models of the buildings and areas in which people existed. There are examples of a hovel (more or less just a hole roofed with some scraps of wood), a scalpeen (created from the ruins of an eviction), an eviction scene, a mass rock and even the house belonging to the landlord. Most of these have been built as miniature models and are very well constructed indeed. The guide tells the story behind each display with great enthusiasm, almost as though he is extremely proud of such a distressing heritage. Perhaps he simply realises just how lucky we are today - I certainly did! At the bottom of the field there is also a small farm area which houses geese, chickens and goats. Oh, and beside the farm area is a kids playground, nothing spectacular mind, but another nice touch. Which brings me onto the last thing I should mention - tea and biccies! After the tour you can either wander around by yourself for a while or head straight back into the wee village for a cuppa, a biscuit and a wee slice of soda bread. That is included in the price too, although they seem to be economising a bit now - the first time I went I got sandwiches too! Oops, nearly forgot! I've never been during the summer season, only in May and September. Apparently though, there are live musicians and dancers during the peak months of June/July/August. Also, at Christmas there is a grotto and Christmas show where Santa actually comes down a real ch
imney! How cool is that? Umm, do I have any tips? Yeah, take a coat if you go off-season - it can be freezing! In fact, take a coat anyway, it's a rather exposed place. Cameras and video cameras are allowed, indeed encouraged. Apart from the Christmas period the visitor centre does occasionally shut down during quiet periods to allow new displays to be built, roofs to be re-thatched etc. If you find it is closed do give them a 'phone (numbers below) and they will be delighted to open up for you. Err, and when you have finished seeing the visitor centre don't rush off! Just across the road, at the other side of the car park, is the most beautiful stretch of unspoilt beach. Perhaps you could take the walk a few hundred yards up the road to the dunes and see if you can find evidence of the entire village that is reputed to have been covered when the dunes were formed, a modern Pompeii. As I said, don't rush off, the surrounding area is a great place to chill out for a while. I'm going to leave you with an extremely pungent quote from the promotional leaflet. "Ireland today is among some of the richest economies in the world. Today, famine is rife in Sudan, Biafra and Ethiopia. We can see by television the problems that exist, yet do we bother to do anything about it? These places are our Irelands - we are their landlords". Hmm. So, that's it, that's Doagh Island. Do go if you get a chance, it really is a very interesting place. I've been three times now - and I'll be going back the next time I'm in the area. I'll maybe see you there then! _______________________ Doagh Island Inishowen Co. Donegal Tel: 00-353-77-76493 Mobile: 086-8464749 _______________________