Tuesday, November 3, 2015



The flights to Shetland included a stop in Dublin, so it was decided to spend a few days exploring the southeast areas of the island on a route through the counties of Wicklow, Wexford, Kerry, Kilkenny, and Kildare. The preference for discovery rather than any re-enactment of a detailed preordained schedule, as though on a prescribed bus tour, meant that this trip would be based on the diagram that looped from Dublin down the east coast to Cork and back up the centre through Kilkenny, or something like this. It was envisaged as a schematic notion only to be filled in on a minute by minute basis. Here one is reminded of Alvar Alto who, in response to a question about what grid he used to generate his buildings, replied: "One millimetre by one millimetre." Indeed, it is only by attending to the little things that the big things can make real sense. So it is with journeying too. Grand plans tend to dominate just too much with their carefully framed agendas and expectations that define essential, large-scaled limits and exclude smaller, out-of-the-way things, making them appear insignificant, mere lesser asides. These tours concentrate on what the promotional materials call the 'top visitor attractions,' like Waterford Crystal: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/faking-provenance-misuse-of-meaning.htmlAnything outside of this category is ignored, demeaned.

The car was collected at the airport and Dublin was encircled as we drove the long peripheral arc towards the southern coast, aiming for Wexford, stopping wherever, whenever in the villages, the countryside, the beaches, the lanes, the Wicklows - the lyrics of Christy Moore come to mind: why not Glendalough? We'll see. The Dublin ring road was just like every other freeway in the world - busy with vehicles hurrying anywhere, everywhere, always urgently, with the complexity of lanes and exits all described in the standard international manner using codes, colours and graphics that we all know. This is the sadness of large places that declare nothing local but names on huge signs using universal identities, symbols and graphics demarcating everywhere and nowhere.

Old walls on the R763, Wicklow - Glanmore?

Wicklow Hills


The Wicklows were different forests somewhere, but still beautiful. There was a quiet here in the hills flooded with a shading light filtering through the haze of trunks, all tall and parallel, defining depth vertically with multi-coloured banded bark. Further on, the Wexford High Street walk was friendly, almost familiar and quaint. The waterside town streets were similar to those of Lerwick, another typical harbour town. Lerwick developed from an ad hoc summer trading location that formalized into a strip of huts that developed into more permanent buildings. This settlement grew further up the slope to create a parallel street that became its high street, Commercial Street, connected to the harbour with tiny lanes. Wexford looked similar. These places might appear to have had an ad hoc, uncontrolled growth, but they did have one rule: all huts had to be at right angles to the waterfront in order to maximise numbers and limit any dominance. This simple rule shows how good planning need not be over-complicated. The most important matter is to formulate rules that work simply but effectively: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2012/08/town-planning-concerns.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/faking-provenance-misuse-of-meaning.html The benefit of this end-on rule for Lerwick is still obvious today. We need more creativity in rule making. Perhaps planners need to do a course in lateral thinking instead of trying to write documents to accommodate anything that might be negotiated and avoid defining particular outcomes. The suggested rule that says that all pollutants must be disposed of upstream of the source, sets the example of how ordinary, simple rules can have significant impacts and outcomes.


Memories of Magritte

Rene Magritte Study  Jacklin Janna

Drawing of Georgette, 1924  Rene Magritte


Things were soon to change. At Glendalough we felt like we were on the bus trip we were trying to avoid as we joined the crowds milling aimlessly around the visitor centre with nothing to do, as though they had completed their task, with others yet to start their tour wandering as sheep might over the cold rushing stream, to stream into the historic monastic site. Signs everywhere were reminding visitors not to leave any valuables in the car as thieves operated in this place. The statement was not a 'might be' or 'may be' proposition: the thieves were here now, operating. The news left a terrible feeling. Thieves and tourists seem to go together, sharing a common, rude undesirability; one seems to encourage the other. In a way both are thieves, with tourists stealing the easy things to glean from a place, only to move on to another to do the same yet again, and again, and again. It is another reason to avoid the cliché re-enactment of the crowds concerned only about their self-important desires that will never be requited: see - http://springbrooklocale.blogspot.com.au/2012/06/who-or-what-is-tourist.html It was interesting to observe that this was the first time in Ireland that we had seen such 'in your face' repeated, blunt warnings. These were so certain, demanding and threatening that they layered this historic site with a latent hysteria. Why? Could it be the design of the car park that encouraged this activity?

Glendalough Visitor Centre
Visitor Centres rarely have the spirit, character and integrity of the places they promote

Glendalough car parking area (Google Earth) - Visitor Centre on left

The vehicles had all been arrayed as lines forming a maze of interlocking arcs in dense planting that sprawled out deep into the adjacent forest areas. It seemed that the concept wanted to pretend that the cars were not there, that the forest prevailed. Did this cosy, bushy arrangement create areas of easy pickings for thieves? Did design participate in this robbery, facilitate it? Maybe the whole car park should be demolished and turned into the standard open patch of ugly glaring cars that can easily be supervised? Perhaps the creation of a green car park goes counter to every rule on security? This circumstance reminds one of the 1970s that realised the importance of being able to supervise public spaces, even subtly, incidentally? Why do ideas fall out of favour rather than being encompassed in the new? So we moved the car away from the idyllic, distant shady grove we had selected to a more exposed, perhaps illegal 'disabled' location. It was surprising how many cars were here; the place was full, limiting our options for alternative locations.

We skirted around the visitor centre, and walked over the bridges into St. Kevin's monastic site with its chapel, cathedral ruin, tower, priest's house, graveyard, old trees, and tiny robins prancing in the dappled sunlight. The stones stood strong but silent, keeping their stories concealed. The gravestones were romantically, tragically leaning, broken, angled, neglected, creating the appropriate poetic identity loved by the English Victorian romantics. Gray's elegy came to mind. It seemed that some stories in these stones might not be that old. There were new graves; and the buildings that were more complete seemed to have been restored, maybe rebuilt. The tall tower was the landmark. It was hard to get a sense of habitation here, especially with the crowds spreading across the site, climbing over walls, stomping randomly over graves, and posing by the ruins to capture their images in photographs for their immediate gratifying admiration and future boasting. The place felt false like a film set, but there was something here: a quiet power that was being tested by the egocentric loudness of self-interested students and distracted tourists. One wondered why they had come. Was it that they had to; that they were part of the group that was visiting with no one individual, just the mythic group wanting to be there as scheduled? Theirs was a significant distraction that made any quiet monkish reflection on place and life impossible, even in this marvellous landscape retreat. St. Kevin would have been furious, but he would no doubt have forgiven those who knew not what they were doing.

Cathedral ruin



Cathedral entrance

Returning to the visitor centre over the bridges, past the uniformed soldier with his ancient antique gun ready to pose with any tourist for a price for that 'been here; it's ME!' shot, like the 'head-in-the-stocks' photo at the village square, and the 'fat-lady-at-the-beach' image with your own head. But what had any soldier to do here? Was this not a monastery with religious solitude and rigour? Somewhat reluctantly it was decided to enter the visitor centre: we were here so why not? There was the usual counter and charge, but the thief mentality seemed to reign supreme: everyone seemed to be doubted. The entrance was blocked by a thick rope that had to be unhooked by the security supervisor to allow access once his casual chatty conversation with the other staff had been completed, or could be put on pause.

Model of site in visitor centre

The place was empty; little wonder that the staff were so nonchalantly dismissive of others' time. The exhibits had the usual texts and drawings, models and photographs, tableaux. The photos were most interesting as they revealed the state of affairs some years ago, as well as showing the restoration work in progress. Then the movie was restarted just for two; a bus-load had just moved on to the hotel nearby, perhaps for afternoon tea. Why did the visitor centre not have a coffee shop - too much work for the staff to be bothered? The film was cryptically interesting, covering the broader historic sense of this place with its links to Clonmacnoise and other holy sites. We had visited Clonmacnoise a couple of years ago so the link made sense to us.


The movie finished, so we were off again to seek out a B&B just south of Wexford: it was that time of day when thoughts of the evening came to mind. The sign's told us that we had travelled 35 miles from Dublin on our first day, such is the joy of an unscheduled journey. The search for accommodation took us along the coast that was littered with 'dongas' or transportable, cabin accommodation, those scrappy boxes for temporary accommodation sometimes referred to without any irony as 'chalets,' all arranged as Roman camps on precise, stolid grids. It reminded us of the old English holiday camps that organised entertainment for the masses accommodated in acres of identical boxes. It seemed that some distraction might be necessary in this remote, tourist developed coastal strip, such was its boredom - the same 'dongas' were everywhere. The ocean looked grey and tamed; the beach offered nothing but repeated warnings of landslides, for visitors to keep away: 'DANGER KEEP CLEAR' – and it looked so inviting too. There was no welcome anywhere. There were very few other things around to enjoy. Our B&B hosts told us where to eat that night: in the hotel in Courtown, a few miles back up the coast and to the right. Gosh, nothing else?

Courtown, Ireland

It was dusk when we arrived at a scatty, run-down seaside resort with the main hotel boarded up and the rest of the place looking very neglected. The visitors' entertainment was a mini-golf course and a small roundabout opposite the recommended hotel. This seaside place looked like a remnant from another era long past: 'I do like to be beside the sea side' song came to mind. It could have been a 1960 seaside resort in Queensland – tatty, sad, wondering why the rest of the world has moved on, and where clinging to past, lost glories with a deaf and disabled nostalgia made the resort look like a film set, the 'last resort.' The bar had three people in it, locals chatting about football and other locals not there. We were the only folk eating. The host was chatty and gave excellent service with local homely meals of fish with the regular frozen or packaged additives of chips, carrots, potato salad, etc. The discussion with the host centred on an object displayed on the wall. No one knew what it was. It seemed to us to be the same design as the weeder tools used in Australia - prongs with rear rocking rest - so the owner said that he would accept his explanation. Maybe he was just being polite?

St. John the Evangelist, Ardamine, Ireland

Elegant 'Arts & Crafts' detailing of the gate latch

Taller twin windows on the sunny south c.f. - 

There was one astonishing bright spot in this sad, droll, parochially shabby location, a little isolated wonder in all of this crass mess beside the treacherous beaches. On our searchings, our roamings for a bed that night - yes late, 'in the gloaming' - we passed a small, lonely church on a high hill by the sea. The first glimpse of it reminded one of John Horbury Hunt's work, such were the unusual quirky features of this structure and its different, precise detailing. It was a simple gable form, like that of Hunt's smaller churches, with a diminutive, assertively bold gabled side entry porch. The building was random rubble stone with brick and dressed stone detailing. The roof was a timber structure. The rafter ends were exposed over the walls in true Hunt style that is more familiar as an 'Arts and Crafts' detail, as seen on the Webb Red House and the church at Burravoe in Yell, Shetland. The tower on the west took the unusual form of a buttress that grew into a bell tower. It reminded one of Hunt's Armidale church, St. Peter's, its side entrance that had a flying buttress form over the doorway on the northern elevation. Here, the northern wall had large brick arches flush with the random rubble stonework arcing above the windows. These arches had a fretwork, pointed brick detail similar to the St. Peter's entrance porch. The south wall was different. There seemed to be no logic in this variation: there were no arches here. Were the arches in the north wall simply expressive decoration? They were impressive. The apse was semi-circular, like that at Gostwyck and Armidale – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/hunts-grafton-cathedral-master-class-in.html - and Burravoe in Shetland.

St. John the Evangelist, Ardamine, Ireland
The entry is on the sunny, more sheltered south side that has larger window openings

Chapel at Gostwyck (attributed to Hunt/ Hunt's influence): see -
Here the entrance is on the sunny northern side (southern hemisphere)

West end of St. John the Evangelist

Random rubble stone, dressed stone and brickwork detailing

North wall of St. John the Evangelist with arches around the smaller openings on the shaded side of the church exposed to the harsh northern gales

The church had a strength, a precise deliberateness and stark difference that made one almost certain that Horbury Hunt must have known of this place: or was it that the era held references that each architect shared? It seems irrational to see a' Hunt' in Ireland, but one has to remember Hunt did not work in a vacuum. He had a standing order for books that were sent out to Australia in boxes from his London bookshop. Hunt had the best architectural library in Australia at the time. Just what happened to these books on his death as a penniless pauper or before, is unknown; but Australians are not intellectuals or committed to principles - “She'll be right mate!” They have no great love for books, or study, or academia - “wankers in an ivory tower.” They profess the 'can do' crudity that claims some benefit in being able to overcome proper process, knowledge and skill, and get things done as a handyman might, even if it has to be fixed with wire or promoted by special ministerial approvals that bypass, overrule all rights to challenge by objection. They are brutes using force to reign rather than listening to any subtle professional understanding and resolution. The core point is that the ordinary man will always do and know better than any trained professional.

Hunt's Grafton Cathedral: see -
As in St. John's, the buttress is extended to become the bell tower

Hunt's St. Peter's, Armidale

Detail of St. Peter's tower

St. John the Evangelist, Ardamine

St. Peter's northern 'flying buttress' entrance

Southern approach to St. Peter's

St. John the Evangelist, Ardamine

St. Colman's church at Burravoe, Yell, Shetland

St. Colman's is the same size and scale as St. John's but lacks the subtlety and sophistication externally.
Shetland is typically dismissive of general appearances that often conceal rich interiors, much like the local folk.

The northern entrance of St. Peter's

St. John the Evangelist, Ardamine

St. Peter's from the northeast

St. Peter's interior

St. John the Evangelist, Ardamine
The structure of the entry has strong links to Pre-Norman Irish churches

 Pre-Norman St. Flannan's Oratory, Balllina

The next morning we returned to the seaside church for photographs. It was too dim, too late on the previous evening for any photography. The more one looked, the more one could see the hand and mind of Hunt – St. Peter's; the church at Gostwyck; Murrurundi; etc. - his schools too. It was strange as Hunt never worked in Ireland. What is this that creates such significant links over time and place? Is it style or a richer seeking and questioning than we are prepared to engage in today, with our efforts to each create a new and unique identity, ME and mine? Was the approach of other times more modest and wholesome? Does this more gentle humility give a wholeness to a continuum, an integrity in buildings that can still be admired: buildings that can still inspire rather than aspire to be seen as different - buildings that can be loved? Will today's buildings do likewise or will they be mocked as follies? What will become of our egotistical dramatics? – see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/03/approximate-architectural-theories.html Is there any substance in these structures that might remain to be an inspiration for others in one hundred years' time? Is there anything we must do? Does anyone care any more? Hunt was a determined, driven soul. His was a singular commitment to architecture. His was a vision of quality, good work that considered every brick, every detail. He was known to have pushed the brickie aside in order to show him how to lay bricks properly, in order to achieve his vision.

Stepped course at the east end of the cathedral

Hunt's Grafton cathedral

Vent detail, St. John's

His commitment to detail and morals stretched into many areas. He designed his own clothing with special pockets for scales and pens, and a hat that could hold paper, so that he could literally prepare a sketch at the drop of a hat. He was known to write to clients of other architects to report on the shoddy work he had seen, much to the chagrin of his colleagues. He played an important role in the RAIA and the RSPCA. He once raced into a butchers shop, grabbed a knife and then slit the throat of a horse that was suffering under a brutality of its owner. There are many stories, but all tell of a man with a love for his work and with a vision that he was prepared to fight for. Little wonder that he died a pauper, for Australia is intolerant of whistle-blowers and idealists. One never 'dobs' in a 'mate.' One never wastes money on visions of quality; cheap is best. The local 'bloke' knows better than any professional; it's just common sense. Sadly this is still Australia today. Is there anyone today with anything like Hunt's energy; his love and care: his commitment? It seems that today's efforts go into the promotion of an identity and image, appearances – mere superficialities: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/faking-provenance-misuse-of-meaning.html and http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/architectural-language-problem-of-hype.html

West wall buttress/tower, St. John the Evangelist

Hunt's Grafton Cathedral - north wall buttress

Hunt was not alone in this word. It was this same rigour that was evident in this little church on the coast in Ireland, some forty miles south of Dublin. It was a delight to see. Perhaps its qualities were exaggerated by the poverty of the holiday (holy days? - from Old English hāligdæg) camps riddled with random transportable buildings arrayed on a bland grid, looking the antithesis of a place for a relaxed, enjoyable time. One recalled prison architecture, military camps, concentration camps, not the delights of aimless, recreational pleasures. Ironically, the delights were all in the church that carried warnings to vandals, signs to keep folk out rather than calling them in lovingly, as 'forgiving' Christians boast: but this is our fractured culture and its attitudes today. The church was locked. It would have been good to be able to see inside, but one already knew what it would be like: stone walls, tiled floors, dark trussed timber-framed roof with stained, diagonal boarding above the exposed framing, matched by the wooden detailing of the apse and the seats. It would be an interior coloured with light from stained glass windows. Hunt knew how to do these things well. His interiors were just as rigorous as the exteriors. I wonder if this little church might have as special a piece as the Murrurundi church has? - a wonderful tiled sanctuary wall that was shipped out from London for the small rural community to enjoy in their worship. It must have stunned the worshippers then as it still does today. Nothing was too much effort for Hunt who used native birds in his Frederickton school leadlights in order to educate the children, matching the best medieval mode of operation. Who cares today?

Plan of the concentration camp at Dachau

St. Paul's, Murrurundi

Interior of St. Paul's showing tiled sanctuary wall

We drove off down the coast, meandering our way along twisting lanes and through tiny villages, to the home of crystal: Waterford. Will we get there today? Does it matter? We had discovered a 'Hunt,' that was enough for any trip: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/10/faking-provenance-misuse-of-meaning.html for more on the journey and that 'corker' of a place, Cork. On the way we detoured to Cobh hoping for a small, quiet village to enjoy for the evening break, but crashed into industrial remnants and shipping infrastructure. It did not look like a happy place. It turned out to be the precursor of the larger city, the third most populous in Ireland, Cork – named after corcach meaning 'marsh.' That seemed to sum things up. We ended up in Blarney.

The barn south of Wexford

One remembers the little things. On the way to Waterford we passed this marvellous barn, unmarked, un-noticed, never appearing in any tourist brochure. It had a form of doorway opening that was more likely to be seen with other dramatically-styled French chateau forms; but why here? Gems like this make the random journeying worthwhile. The place was memorable, not only for its door. Right next to this beautiful barn were animals - were they pigs? One could not stay long enough to find out. They gave off an astonishing stench, so stinking that it permeated deep into the brain and stayed there for hours, to be recalled as the stunning, staining experience that it was. It would have knocked one out insensible if one had/ could have stayed. One was unable to retreat quickly enough to avoid its lasting impression. Was the door a tourist trap to strike all those tempted to stop for a photograph with this foul odour? Gosh! It is still recalled - both the smell and the doorway.

Just down the road we passed the dreaded wind turbines, dozens of them. Their presence only confirmed every prediction: see - http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/02/shetland-wind-farming-quiet-and-distant.html They dominate place with a brutal arrogance that demands the attention of the eye that used to dally over the lie of the land, the distance of the horizon, the gleam of the sky. There was no chance of such reverie here any more. One is tempted to say, as Ned Kelly did: "Such is life." No, life does not have to be like this. We do not have too desecrate our environment with the claim that we are saving it with huge turbines. These will only drive us mad as they repeatedly raise their fingers to the world with a rude and careless arrogance, claiming some sense of superiority and righteousness with their faux green credentials.

'Consider the lilies'?

We need to ponder more on deeper questions: What is man that thou art mindful of him? (Psalm 8:4 KJV),# rather than engage in egocentric promotions and schizophrenic science. The little church in Ireland shows what might be possible when we consider other things, like the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, they spin not. (Luke 8:27 KJV). These propositions need to be taken out of what is today seen as their burdened, biblical context to be revealed for what they really are, in order to highlight the realities and subtleties of the poetic experience that they refer to, rather than only be a part of what some see as the nagging, irrational belief in self-righteous, Christian conversion. Times have indeed changed. Sadly, this remote little church seems to attract more vandals than worshippers. Did the thieves travel down from Glendalough? Have the 'dongas' changed people? Can environments change the way that we think and feel?  If the simple matter of changing something's name can change how we think of it, why not? - see: http://voussoirs.blogspot.com.au/2015/11/architectural-language-problem-of-hype.html

Psalm 8:3 prefaces the question, 'What is man . . ?' with the experiential context: 
'When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars . .'  Psalm 8:3 KJV. The circumstance echoes the request made in Luke 8:27 - 'Consider the lilies how they grow:' Both excerpts ask one to 'consider' nature and the world we live in. Frank Lloyd Wright quotes Luke 8:27 in his early writings, commenting on this piece by describing it as 'the words of an architect of ancient times called carpenter who gave up architecture to work upon its source.'

Consider the walking iris flower, Neomarica northiana, how it opens:

This sequence might be 'interesting,' but what does one do with this information? Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright would have used it for decorative purposes. We need to learn how to decorate; but first we must understand what decoration is.

It is interesting to observe that, almost inexplicably, Ireland has a history of building rubble walls in defined layers. Just why the effort is made to construct these precise courses is unknown, as it does entail much more work than continuing with the stacking of the random rubble. The brickwork courses and arches that have been built into random rubble stonework walls of the church only continue this technique by incorporating other materials, brick and dressed stone, instead of starting a new layer of stone rubble.

For a general survey on the church of St. John the Evangelist at Ardamine see:

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.