Woodlawn House- the most Haunted House in Ireland?

Three schools projects that I am involved in 'swept the boards' at the recent annual Galway County Heritage Awards.

These awards are unique in Ireland and represent an important morale booster to the diverse range of communities and organisations involved in preserving and promoting our rich native traditions. Enthusiasts range from the big tourism business interests such as the 'Dartfield Horse Museum' through to little neighbourhood groups such as a village committee looking after the upkeep of their local graveyard.
The awards were the brainchild of the energetic Marie Mannion, probably the best Heritage Officer in the country. Since their inception four years ago, I have promoted the involvement of primary schools that I manage under the 'Fionn' Science programme. Named after a mythological Celtic hero, 'Fionn' provided the children and teachers with digital media training and technology for the production of yearly science documentaries. Yet I have always encouraged participants to take an interdisciplinary approach to science and allow the inclusion of art, drama, local history, music, public speaking, languages ... So not surpisingly many schools include heritage themes in their films. For instance traditional lobster fishing in Inis Óirr has both a science as well as a heritage element.
We have always done exceptionally well in these County Awards.
2006 (our last year sadly) was no exception:
a) Doorus National School won the top Schools prize for its fascinating film documentary on the Tidal-powered Mills that once were a major source of industrial power in south Galway until destroyed by a tsunami that hit the coast in the 17th century! b) Kiltartan Primary School was runners-up for its movie on the local Gort River. c) The tiny Woodlawn School (population: 12 pupils) won the special 'Merit Award' for its outstanding film on the history of 'Woodlawn House'- one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in Ireland.
The Woodlawn school principal, Maureen Duhan (photo- in centre with family), is the wife of the famous singer-songwriter Johnny Duhan (writer of such classics as the Christy Moore song 'The Voyage'). She is also an excellent innovator and has over the years helped her pupils produce some vintage projects.
The locality is a quiet rural backwater dominated by the old demense and its awe-inspiring mansion now sadly falling into dereliction.
But in its heyday, Woodlawn was a hub of economic actvitity with its aristocratic owners possessing considerable wealth and political power. The estate was home to an army of specialised servants including coopers, blacksmiths, maids, cooks, chefs, gamekeepers, gardeners, stable boys and coachmen. Look at the size of these stables!
The most famous owner, the first Lord Ashtown, was powerful enough to have the new Dublin-Galway railway line diverted to go through his lands. He built a quaint railway station that is still in existence today. In fact his building programme included many other fine buildings of architectural beauty that still stand today including an Anglican Church, a Gamekeeper's Lodge, a family Mausoleum, an Ice House, artisan cottages and above all Woodlawn House itself. In fact over 150 years later, there are few other buildings of note in the area.
The team that produced the independent American film 'The Blair Witch Project' came to Ireland a few years ago to undertake a documentary on the most haunted houses in Ireland. They stayed in many but found Woodlawn House to be the scariest!

Still I don't think that Woodlawn will be a sleepy village for much longer. With the recently announced plans for the re-development of the railways in the West of Ireland and the selection of nearby Athenry as a transport hub, the locality is a prime location to re-emerge as a satellite town of Galway City. Woodlawn House may be recognised as a prime site for a hotel and golf club complex. Hopefully though the area's rural ambience is not destroyed in the process as is too often happening nowadays in Ireland.

Finally, check out my next article on Woodlawn House written as a result of some interesting corrispondence from Lord Ashtown's son

George Bush singing "Sunday Bloody Sunday"!

Thanks to http://onegoodmove.org and Rx @ http://thepartyparty.com/

A really funny and very brilliant video clip of Bush 'singing' the classic U2 song. The word 'Bloody' in the title is quite appropriate for Bush when one considers how many innocent people's blood has been spilled in his so called 'War against Terror'. Actually Bush's war & that of his Israel proxy is a 'War By Terror'.

Trampoline Through The Fence

Kid does a flip off the trampoline and goes through the fence

The Concentration Camp that is Gaza-the truth of the brutality of the Israeli Occupation

I would ask everyone to read the article (below) in today's British 'Independent' by the excellent journalist Patrick Cockburn detailing the reality of the Israeli brutal occupation of Gaza, probably the most populated region in the world
As I said before, Israel has turned Gaza into a giant concentration camp and are deliberately humiliating its inmates and robbing them of all sense of human dignity.

Check out http://news.independent.co.uk/world/middle_east/article1372026.ece

Northern Ireland’s Sperrin Mountains–a hidden Rural Gaelic heartland

I have just spent a few wonderful days living in the midst of the Sperrin Mountains, a region of untold natural beauty and a stronghold of vibrant Gaelic culture.
I was pleasantly surprised to come across such a vast area of largely unspoilt natural beauty in development-driven Ireland. Unlike most of the rural regions of the Irish republic that are sadly being urbanised at an alarming rate, there are here stringent controls on building and road construction, on overgrazing as well as the ample provision of state funds to protect natural heritage.
Our northern brethren & the British government can teach us southerners a thing or two on environment protection and land management.
The Sperrin region consists of a landscape of gently rolling mountains, deep valleys (glens), small streams and boglands where ‘sheep’ is king.

Here farming seems to be thriving: you can see young farmers driving tractors, sheep pens dotting the hillsides and busy market days in towns such as Draperstown. Sizeable government grants are provided to stop sheep grazing mountains at certain times of the year so flora can blossom and provide cover for nesting birds.

Likewise, funds are allocated to encourage the replanting of hedgerows along the roadsides. The results are remarkable: a blanket of purple heather covers the hillsides and there are unbroken lines of hedgerows.This farm building is home to the 'sheep collector', a man whose job is collect stray sheep and return them to their owner. The animals are identified by the colour and shape of the dye on their wool.

The Flaming Red of the Rowan Tree
At this time of year in the Sperrins, one of the great Irish trees of Celtic mythology- the 'Mountain Ash'- gives a beautiful red colour to the autumn days. Also known as the 'Rowan', or 'Caorthann' in Irish, the red berry fruit of this tree only matures in the autumn thereby providing much needed food to wildlife. Its redness and bearer of autumn food made it associated in ancient Celtic times with life giving properties and with fire.

Amazingly for the 21st century, you come across more cyclists, walkers and farm vehicles than cars along the narrow roadways.
A large re-forestation programme is underway. Though primarily commercial and dominated by conifers, nevertheless it is helping to re-introduce the forests that once dominated the landscape. Interestingly, copses of trees woods sprinkle the hillsides planted by farmers to provide shelter for their sheep
The Sperrins are reminiscent of an Ireland that existed 150 years ago.

Mountain Stream

The intricate detail shown in the stone walls of this old farm building is testimony to the superb
craftmanship of the buliders of a bygone era

The area is also steeped in pre-history: it is a treasure trove of stone circles and megalith tombs some dating back 5,000 years.

Catholic Highlands & Protestant Lowlands

But it is its living folk traditions that helps bolster the unique identity that is the Sperrins. Traditional Gaelic music thrives in the pubs and schools; the names of most mountains, rivers, woods and towns are Gaelic in origins and labelled on all road signs. Monuments and posters to IRA volunteers and hunger strikers give visual expression to the strong republicanism that permeates many of the local population, the majority of whom are Catholic. Television news bulletins over the last few decades often spoke of finds of secret weaponry caches in the Sperrins. The inaccessible terrain with its dozens of abandoned farmsteads must have provided safe hide-outs for many an armed republican. Interestingly, locals also speak of other visitors staying incognito in these old buildings, namely British army undercover squads their presence often identified by the butts of their cigarettes left behind.
A Roadside Poster Sign dedicated to the IRA prisoners who died on hunger strike in British jails in their efforts to have the British authorities accord them 'political' rather than 'criminal' status

This strong sense of Irish nationalism is a product of both the history of the Sperrins and of wider Ulster. From the early 17th century onwards, the northern province experienced waves of British Protestant colonists who forced the native Catholic population from their lands. The Irish were either killed outright, forced to flee overseas or transplanted to poorer lands further west. However many escaped to the neighbouring highlands of the sprawling Sperrins where mountains, bogs and forests provided sanctuary from the British settlers and armies. The colonists preferred to concentrate their plantation activities in the rich fertile lands of the lowlands and left much of the difficult inaccessible terrain of the Glens of Antrim and the Sperrins to the natives to try and eke out an existence.An old abandoned farm house. Notice its three-levelled structure which I believe was divided as follows: the larger section was for human habitation, the middle section for storage of grain and somtimes larger animals and the smallest section for poultry or pigs

It was a lean and hungry life in the Sperrins; the dozens of ruined homesteads bear grim testimony to the harshness of their new existence which eventually forced many to emigrate.

‘Raparrees’: Ireland’s ‘Robin Hoods’
But the natives did not accept the loss of their lands lightly. From the forests of the Sperrins, armed raids were launched on the settlers in the lowlands during the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Many of these rebels became famed in song and verse for taking on the British occupiers, robbing wealthy colonists and giving the money to starving and destitute people many of whom were now reduced to the status of tenants on their former lands. These armed horsemen were known as ‘Tories’ but more usually as 'Rapparees' and were looked as by the local populace as the Irish equivalent of the English ‘Robin Hoods’. The term ‘Rapparees’ probably derives from a mix of Irish (ri= king) and French (rapier=sword) words that translates as the ‘King’s Swordsmen,’. For many of these highwaymen were originally Gaelic Catholic gentry who had joined the army of the Catholic British King James 1 in the hope of reclaiming their lost lands.
Probably the most famous Sperrin outlaw was Shane Crossagh who operated in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. According to Jim McCallen in his book ‘Stand & Deliver’, Shane’s real surname was “McMullan’; Crossagh meaning ‘pock-marked’ was a nickname. He took to the hills after he narrowly evaded capture during a secret visit to his family’s former home from whence they had been evicted. There are many tales of his gang’s daring exploits. One relates to a British General Napier who was overheard by Shane boasting in an inn one night that he would have the rebel’s head on a pike within the week. Next morning the general and his cavalry unit were ambushed by Shane’s men at a bridge near the village of Feeny. After the soldiers were forced to surrender, they were stripped, tied up in pairs and marched off led by General Napier dressed up as a women!
Brave Death of a Raparree
But Shane was eventually caught and sentenced to be hanged along with his two sons. However, he was surprisingly offered pardon by an influential planter Henry Carey, whose life he had once saved. But when he was told that his sons were not to be spared, he declined the offer of a pardon. According to a witness- John Low the Presbyterian minister of Banagher- he died with a son either side of him, holding each by the hand after making a speech to an sympathetic crowd thanking them for their support over his years as an outlaw.

The British police barracks in Draperstown now no longer in use

But with the Northern Ireland Peace process now over a decade old, a cultural, social and economic transformation is taking place. The imposing and foreboding Police barracks is closed (see photo), tourism is taking place, housing estates are being built in the towns for new city commuter residents, religious animosities are diluting and young Eastern European workers are starting to populate the shops and factories.The place of Presbyterian worship in the centre of Draperstown. Not as ornate as a Catholic or Anglican church, nevertheless it possesses an innate beauty of its own.