21 June 2018

Saint George’s Monastery
and its ruined olive mills
find new life in Crete

The 12 arches of the old olive oil factory at Saint George’s Monastery, near Vamos (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

On the last day of this year’s holiday in Crete, I took a trip in the countryside and the mountainous, olive-producing area west of Georgioupoli yesterday [20 June 2018], and visited the Monastery of Saint George in Karydi.

The monastery, about 2 km south-east of the village of Vamos, is best-known as an architectural monument because of its former olive oil factory with its 12 arches and the remains of four olive mills.

Before the foundation of the monastery, the area was a settlement and fiefdom controlled by a Venetian nobleman, whose house is still preserved.

Writing in 1577, the Venetian man of letters, Francesco Barozzi (1537-1694), who was born in Iraklion, mentions a church dedicated to Saint George at the current location of the monastery.

Given the heavy thunderstorms and rain in Crete throughout this week, I was amused to learn that Barozzi was charged in 1587 with apostasy, heresy, of engaging in the occult, and of causing a torrential rainstorm in Crete. He was found guilty, he was forced to donate silver crosses at the cost of 100 ducats and received a suspended prison sentence.

The Monastery of Aghios Georgios in Karydi was founded around 1600 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The Monastery of Aghios Georgios in Karydi was founded here around 1600, when there was a settlement in this place. The monastery took its name from this settlement in area abundant with walnut trees.

When the Turks captured Crete later in the 17th century, they realised the strategic location of the monastery on a road linking Sfakia and Vamos. There were about 10 Greek Orthodox families here, and the Turks forced them to either convert to Islam or to abandon their village. Four families changed their faith and asked the Turks to turn the Church of Saint George in the village into a mosque.

In the early 18th century, the taxes imposed on the priest were so oppressive that he felt he was being forced to leave the village. Eventually, with the help of the Monastery of Aghia Triada at Tzagarolon, near Chania, he found a way to pay his taxes, and in 1720 the monastery was given in thanks to Aghia Triada Monastery.

In the courtyard at the Monastery of Aghios Georgios (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Since then, Saint George and the lands attached to it have been a dependency of the Monastery of Aghia Triada. The Turks conceded more freedom to the Christians of Crete in 1821. They began olive cultivation in 1829, which helped the monastery to grow and provided work for many people.

The monks bought the properties of the Muslim residents in the locality, and gradually the monastery became an important place of work. The monastery’s property and estates expanded rapidly, as many people left bequests and legacies or donated their land to the monastery, including even some Turks.

The scale of olive oil production at the monastery was so great, that an impressive olive oil factory with four mills was built here in 1863. The size of the factory and the existence of four oil mills is evidence of the enormous quantities of olive oil once produced here.

The Monastery of Aghios Georgios is surrounded by olive groves (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

At one time, the monastery owned 3,600 olive trees, as well as numerous animals and vines. It produced up to 25,000 kg of olive oil, which was a unique example of oil production on a grand scale anywhere in Crete.

The old olive oil factory with its 12 arches has become a picture postcard image of the monastery. The 12 arches, said by some to represent the 12 apostles, once supported a roof that has collapsed. The remains of the four mills can still be seen inside the factory ruins, but only their bases survive, and the millstones have been removed.

Meanwhile, several monks moved from Aghia Triada to Karydi, and rebuilt the church its present form in 1850-1880. A reliquary in the church is said to hold a small part of a bone of Saint George.

A reliquary in the monastery church holds what is said to be a small part of a bone of Saint George (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The last monk left the monastery of Aghios Georgios in 1900, and five years later, in 1905, part of the monastery land is ceded to local farmers and the monastery became forlorn and deserted.

The rest of the monastery lands were granted in 1922 to Greek veterans of the Balkan wars and the Asia Minor campaign. The monastery and many of the surrounding olive groves were destroyed around 1923.

The monastery was left abandoned for many years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

For many years, the monastery was left abandoned. However, the Greek Ministry of Culture began working with Bishop Irenaeus Galanakis in 1986 on a plan to restore the monastery.

Almost a century after the last monks left Aghios Georgios, one lone monk, Father Dorotheos, moved back into the monastery in 1996. He continues to live here, and with the support of local people he is continuing the restoration of the monastery and the church, and welcoming visitors.

● The monastery of Saint George in Karydi is open from 7:30 to 14:00 and 16:30 to 20:00 each day. Entrance charge €2.

Inside the church in the monastery (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

McGinty’s bar is the
latest Irish addition to
life in a resort in Crete

Paddy McGinty’s Irish Bar stands at an eye-catching junction on the way in and out of Georgioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I said last weekend that Irish pubs are not my scene. But during my holiday in Crete I was quite taken by Paddy McGinty’s Irish Bar in Georgioupoli, and its interesting story.

McGinty’s opened earlier this month [June 2018] and it is impossible not to notice the place. It is in an enviable location on a junction that everyone passes as they enter or leave Georgioupoli.

The bar is run by David Hartley from Skipton in Yorkshire and Clare Walshe from Kilrush, Co Clare. Dave lived in Co Clare for ten years, working in the Vandeleur Gardens in Kilrush and with Fergal Hennessy, a vet in Kilkee. Clare worked at the Doonbeg Golf Course before it was taken over by Donald Trump.

Dave Hartley and Clare Walshe opened McGinty’s in Georgioupoli earlier this month (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The couple met while they were both working in bars and playing music in Co Clare. There Dave was an enthusiastic ruby player and he is also the author of a number of children’s books.

But why did they decide to move to Crete?

Dave has been coming to Crete regularly, and his historical novel, Prince of Lilies (2013), set in Knossos, is the result of if his regular visits to Crete for 15 years.

When he enjoyed a Saint Patrick’s Day celebration in Crete, he asked himself ‘Wouldn’t it be good to have Paddy’s Day every day?’

They identified the ideal premises in Georgioupoli. It was vacant for a long time, but he realised its potential and its eye-catching location.

McGinty’s opened earlier this month in Gergioupoli (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The place had been a Chinese clothes shop for years ‘and everywhere was covered in wall-to-wall pink formica.’ But he went ahead and signed the lease.

McGinty’s is named, of course, after ‘Paddy McGinty’s Goat’ in Val Doonican’s song. Dave has a well-stocked repertoire of Irish ballads and folksongs, and he jokes they could have named the place Rafferty’s after ‘Rafferty’s Motor Car’ or Delaney’s after ‘Delaney’s Donkey.’

But ‘McGinty’s’ also recalls his own enthusiasm for the bodhran, and makes a connection with the Kri Kri, the feral goat found throughout this Greek island.

The goat theme is continued throughout the bar, with goats appearing in wooden carvings at the bar and as bookends on the bookshelves.

Joe Fjær, a Norwegian hotelier from Trondheim who runs the Mythologia Hotel in Georgioupoli, offered to help source the antique furniture and fittings and became a business partner. But Dave was anxious that his bar should be an authentic Irish pub, and not a twee, themed bar like those found in many resorts.

The furniture in McGinty’s was sourced mainly by Joe Fjær, a Norwegian hotelier (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Dave took Joe to Ireland for a week, especially to Doolin and Doonbeg in Co Clare. Together, they visited every bar and pub they could find on the west coast – including Comerford’s of Doonbeg – so that Dave could show Joe what a real, authentic Irish pub is like.

It took 20 days to get the bar ready – interrupted by a helping a friend to move to Spain – so that the bar was open within 30 days of signing the contract for the premises.

There is live music in the bar every night, with Dave and Clare singing and playing the guitar and the bodhran. The place is stocked with Guinness, Kilkenny and Magner’s, there is a yellow-and-blue banner from Clare’s home country, Co Clare, and the furniture could be straight out of an Irish farmhouse a generation ago.

From bier to beer … a former funeral bier is now part of the furniture in McGinty’s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Although, he points out that much of the furniture is actually Greek, including a new use found for what had once been a funeral bier but is now among the tables in the outside area.

Its place is not unsuitable, as Dave had worked for years in England as an undertaker. In a way, he knows how to make the connection between funerals and furniture.

There are pokey corners. There are eccentric pieces from a by-gone age, such as old radios and record players and old crockery. And, of course, there is a framed poster of Val Doonican. In one cosy corner, bookshelves are stacked to the ceiling with English-language books found in a house clearance in Crete, but have the look of a collection that could have been accumulated in any family over the generations.

The bookshelves in a cosy corner came from a house clearance (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

I pointed out that there were few Irish tourists in Georgiopouli and that the hotels cater mainly for German and Scandinavians. But Dave says Germans and Scandinavians love the Irish theme and his Irish music: ‘They go barmy for it.’

But 30 per cent of his customers every night are Irish, and Ryanair’s direct flights from Dublin to Chana could change the figures for Irish tourists in the area.

There are 3,000 ex-pats living on the peninsula behind Georgioupoli, and they are beginning to form part of his ready stream of visitors. He plans to stay open throughout the winter, when only other two bars remain open in Georgioupoli, the Cotton Club on the seafront and Tito’s on the town’s main square.

They have only been open since earlier this month. But Dave and Clare are already talking about plans to put in an open fire and to explore the potential of offering Irish food. The empty space downstairs might even become a microbrewery. The future is looking like an interesting prospect for McGinty’s.

McGinty’s has been transformed from an abandoned formica covered shop into an Irish pub (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)