08 February 2018
The architecture of Askeaton is a mixture of the mediaeval and the modern, from the Tower of the Knights Templar in the churchyard at Saint Mary’s, the castle and banqueting hall built by the Desmond FitzGeralds, and the late mediaeval friary of the Franciscans on the banks of the River Deel, to the Georgian and Victorian shopfronts on the two squares, Main Street and Church Street, to modern housing estates like Deel Manor, modern factories and the Leisure Centre with its state-of-art facilities.
But in my walks around Askeaton, I only have to turn a corner and find myself walking along a country lane, by the banks of the river, by old quay-front grain stories, abandoned mills and creameries, or finding sites of architectural and archaeological interest that tell the story of this once prosperous town that once bustled with trade and traffic on the Shannon Estuary.
Twice this week, I walked along Abbey View, on the raised escarpment above the Leisure Centre and the west bank of the River Deel, and I found myself wondering about the lost legacy of an industrial past.
An abandoned detached three-bay, three-storey, building on the east side of Abbey View is almost 200 years old. It was built around 1820 and has a two-bay single-storey extension on the north side.
The walls are of rubble limestone and the extension has roughcast rendered walls. The square-headed window openings having brick voussoirs, and the remains of a timber battened door are set within a square-headed opening with brick voussoirs. The extension has square-headed openings with corrugated-iron doors.
The main part of the building has a pitched slate roof with a brick eaves course, and the extension has a hipped corrugated-iron roof to extension.
This building is interesting for its brick dressings and early slate roof. The outbuilding presents a strong façade to the streetscape and makes a positive contribution to the architectural heritage of Askeaton.
But the building is no longer in use. It is crumbling, the roof is collapsing, the windows are open to the elements, and the doors are bolted and locked.
Beside it, a row of four or five single-storey cottages show signs of their colourful past in the peeling paintwork. The roofs are collapsing, the doors are locked, and it must be a long time since any families lived in them.
But here or there, where the wooden battening had fallen away, I could catch a glimpse of broken glass panes in a window, and a torn lace curtain fluttering in the breeze that was invading the house.
Perhaps, in the past, someone stood at this window, looking at workers making their way to the now-abandoned factory, or waiting for a father, a brother, a son, to return home at the end of the working day.
But the windows are shut up, the doors are locked, the keys have been thrown away, the families have moved away, and there is nobody in Abbey View to tell the stories of an industrial past or to share those memories.
There is a snap of bitter cold weather across the country, with snow in many places and low temperatures that have dropped below zero at night time.
But weather like this also has its beauties and its benefits. Some nights this week, the sky has been clear with few clouds. Over the past year I have rediscovered the joys of living in area where low light pollution opens up a night sky full of stars, and again I am reminding myself of the pleasures that could come from learning the names of the stars and the constellations.
Despite the cold weather and occasional rain, during my walks through Askeaton this week, by the banks of the River Deel and out into the countryside, I have realised that Spring has already arrived. I am still wrapping up warmly against the biting cold and the occasional rain showers, but the flowers are beginning to burst through the soil, and daffodils are bursting through on the roadsides.
Irish people traditionally date Spring from Saint Brigid’s Day, which fell a week ago [1 February].
This tradition has been handed on in Ireland to everyone who learned at school how the blind Gaelic poet and bard from Galway, Antoine Ó Raifteirí (1784-1835), wrote in his poem Cill Aodáin:
Anois teacht an Earraigh
beidh an lá dúl chun shíneadh,
Is tar eis na féil Bríde
ardóigh mé mo sheol.
Go Coillte Mach rachad
ní stopfaidh me choíche
Go seasfaidh mé síos
i lár Chondae Mhaigh Eo.
Now with the springtime
the days will grow longer
and after Saint Brigid’s day
my sail I’ll let go.
I put my mind to it,
and I never will linger
’til I find myself back
in mid County Mayo.
Once February begins in Ireland, people enjoy saying things like, ‘There’s a grand stretch in the evenings.’
But, despite the poetry, despite the longer evenings, and despite the daffodils, it is still cold on these daily country walks in Askeaton, and occasionally rainy. Has Spring truly arrived?
Conor Farrell, who studied physics with astronomy at Dublin City University, works with Astronomy Ireland. He wrote for the Journal some years ago:
‘If you’re a meteorologist, Spring begins on 1 March. If you’re an astronomer, it’s 1 February (or a week-ish later if you’re particularly pedantic). I’m an astronomer, so I have no doubt that spring has well and truly sprung and the lambs are frolicking in the fields as we speak. Ahem.’
So, if I am going to be particularly pedantic astronomically, although I still have to learn the names of those stars and constellations, then a week after 1 February and Saint Brigid’s Day, Spring has arrived in Askeaton.