Dromod to Sligo Great British Railway Journeys


Dromod to Sligo

Michael Portillo crosses the Emerald Isle uncovering Irish identity, forged at a time of political strife. Michael learns how the landscape inspired poet WB Yeats.


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Transcript


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For Victorian Britons, George Bradshaw was a household name.

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At a time when railways were new,

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Bradshaw's guidebook inspired them to take to the tracks.

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I'm using a Bradshaw's Guide

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to understand how trains transformed Britain and Ireland,

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their landscape, industry, society, and leisure time.

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As I follow its routes, 130 years later,

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it helps me to discover these islands today.

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I'm moving northwest across Ireland,

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on a rail journey that began in Wexford.

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Discovering how, in the 19th century, a surge of pride

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in Irish culture accompanied a growth of nationalism.

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On this part of the journey, I hope to unearth a use for the potato,

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reveal Irish on the fiddle,

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and I will arise and then go then, and go to Innisfree.

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I began my journey on the coast at Wexford

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and then travelled up to the capital, Dublin,

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before turning west.

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Crossing this beautiful country, I'm uncovering Irish identity,

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forged in a time of political strife.

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I'll be ending my cultural exploration on the Atlantic coast.

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Today, I begin in the town of Dromod, County Leitrim,

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before travelling north to the county and coastal town of Sligo.

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Along the way, I try my hand at traditional Irish cuisine...

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-How's that looking, Timmy?

-You wouldn't be selling it now.

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You don't think a lot of customers would come and buy mine?

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Yours was very lumpy, you know what I mean?

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..see the landscape that inspired

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one of the 20th century's greatest poets, WB Yeats...

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It gave him the sense of where Celtic man, Irish man,

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had come up, off the landscape, and that drove him to believe that

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Ireland should have an independence.

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..and step in time, Sligo style.

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One, two, three...

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Michael Flatley had better watch out!

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I leave this train at Dromod.

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Bradshaw's says, "Where the railway projects

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"into the counties of Leitrim and Cavan,

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"its character varies, and the surface becomes rugged and uneven."

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I'm looking forward to some spectacular scenery.

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Despite the hunger and poverty of the mid-19th century,

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the railway boom in Ireland was as intense as it was in Great Britain.

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And in the 20th century, the closure of underused lines was as drastic.

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I'm alighting at Dromod,

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a stop on the old Midland Great Western Railway mainline

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from Dublin to Sligo.

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At the time of my guide, it was also the first station

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of the now-defunct Cavan and Leitrim Railway -

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a branch line that connected to Ireland's mining region.

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It's been one man's mission to restore part of the railway,

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Michael Kennedy.

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-Hello, Michael.

-Hello, Mike.

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What was the history of the Cavan and Leitrim railway?

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The Cavan and Leitrim Railway was built in 1887 and lasted until 1959.

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It ran all the way from Dromod, in the south,

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through Mohill, Ballinamore,

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Bawnboy, Ballyconnell and into Belturbet,

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with a branch from Ballinamore all the way to Drumshanbo and out to

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Arigna, where it met the coal mine.

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Coal mines are not very common in Ireland, are they?

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There's only two small coal mines in Ireland.

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One in Castlecomer, in County Kilkenny, and one up in Arigna.

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-Was the track always narrow gauge?

-Always narrow gauge.

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It was light railway.

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Running for almost 50 miles, the Cavan and Leitrim Railway

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opened up the coal and iron districts of Arigna and Lough Allen.

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And passengers made use of the same trains.

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The train left here with one carriage and a load of wagons

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and the steam engine on the front. It went to Mohill, it stopped,

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the engine came off the front, went round the back,

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shunted the wagons from the station that were to go on further

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and shunted the ones off that were to be left at the station.

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And took three hours to go from here to Belturbet, 35 miles.

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So, it wasn't a brilliant experience for the passengers.

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No, it took all day.

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It was obviously a very special railway.

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Yes, and it was all run by the locals,

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who drove the trains and were the crews.

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But the management were Anglo-Irish,

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so by the time the War of Independence came, they didn't get on with each other.

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There was a lot of friction between them.

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Queen Victoria was one of the smaller Stevenson locomotives,

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and the men didn't like driving this engine called Queen Victoria, so they took the name plates off

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and put them underneath a wood stack.

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The management found the name plates and put them back on again,

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so the lads drove the engine out to Drumshanbo, where the line went, took the name plates off

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a second time and put them down a deep well, where they're still supposed to be there to this day,

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and painted the engine green, white and orange and called it the Sinn Fein engine.

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Oh, my goodness.

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The line outlived most Irish narrow-gauge railways,

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running until 1959.

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Being the last steam tramway in Ireland to close.

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And that's a very natty bicycle you've arrived on,

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tell me about that.

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Yeah, well, that's our railway bicycle.

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A very smart machine.

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Now, this is all a nice bit of fun, but they had a serious purpose once?

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Yes, they were inspection cycles.

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There was a seat clipped onto the front,

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and the inspector sat on the seat and two men cycled along the line.

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And he would inspect the track as they went along.

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Well, I don't think there are any trains coming.

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-Shall we give it a go?

-Yes.

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# Daisy, Daisy,

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# Give me your answer, do...

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These bicycles fell out of use in the 1960s,

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as steam gave way to diesel

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and it became simply too dangerous to ride the rails.

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# ..of a bicycle made for two. #

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# Are you right there, Michael, are you right?

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# Do you think we'll get to Ballinamore tonight?

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# Oh, there's passengers for Creagh

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# And more from outside Fenagh

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# Still we might now, Michael, so we might. #

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Excuse me interrupting.

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It sounds like a song about late trains?

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It is, it's a song by the great Irish composer Percy French.

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He was scheduled to appear at a concert in Kilkee in County Clare.

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Unfortunately, when he arrived,

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and due to the poor way the train operated,

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by the time he arrived, all the people had gone home.

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So, he sued the railway company for loss of earnings

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and was awarded ten shillings.

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He composed the song, Are You Right There, Michael, Are You Right?

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immediately after the court case.

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But when it was published, the West Clare Railway Company

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actually sued Percy for libel.

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And the morning of court, Percy arrived late.

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The judge was very, very annoyed, and when he arrived in, he said,

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"You're late, Mr French."

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Percy duly explained, "I travelled by the West Clare Railway."

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So they say, "Case dismissed".

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A good story. And is that song still known in Ireland today?

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-It is indeed.

-It'd be one of the well-known Irish ballads

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that sung the length and breadth of Ireland in every house in Ireland.

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How does it continue?

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# You may talk of Columbus' sailing

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# Across the Atlantical Sea

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# But he never tried to go railing

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# From Ennis as far as Kilkee

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# You run for the train in the morning

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# The excursion train starting at eight

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# You're there when the clock gives the warning

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# And there for an hour you'll wait

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# And as you're waiting in the train

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# You'll hear the guard make this refrain

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# Are you right there, Michael, are you right?

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# Do you think we'll get to Ballinamore tonight?

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# Oh, there's passengers for Creagh

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# And more from outside Fenagh

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# Still we might now, Michael, so we might. #

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Well, I'm all right, after hearing that song.

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-Thank you.

-Thank you very much.

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I'm staying in Dromod,

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a town surrounded by lush, green countryside.

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Talking of the soil around here,

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Bradshaw's says it partly consists of good tillage ground

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and partly of mosses and bog.

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In the boggiest of years, the potato crop would rot in the ground,

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or be affected by blight.

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But in a good year,

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the potato could be mixed with a few modest ingredients

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to make a dish that could stave off starvation.

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I'm intrigued by a dish called boxty, a kind of potato pancake.

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It's associated with the counties around Leitrim

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and originated in the 1800s.

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The family-run Dromod Bakery

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supplies much of north and western Ireland with its boxty.

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I've come to meet the Faughnan family at their home bakery

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in the hope of getting a taste.

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So, I have come here to talk about boxty.

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Well, you've come to the right place, anyway.

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Boxty is made of raw potatoes and flour

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and salt and milk and a drop of water.

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And how did you learn to make it?

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I learned from seeing me mother making it.

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The minute she had it fried in the pan,

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we were like little pups, getting up after her, taking it off the plate.

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Apart from your mother making it,

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do you know what the older origin of it is?

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The older origin would have been back in the famine times

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when the people had nothing to eat, only potatoes.

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That is where boxty, I think, originated from.

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How do you like to eat it?

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You can have it in a number of different ways.

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You can use it as a wrap, like, to put stuff in.

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Use it that way. You can use it as part of a fry,

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so like with bacon and sausages and egg.

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Timmy, maybe enough talking about it, would you like to show me

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-how it's made?

-Sure, Michael. Right.

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-Get up there, your apron is there.

-Thank you.

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Now, Michael, this is the ingredients of the boxty.

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So, just need to grate the potato, presumably very finely?

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Yeah, that's grand. Ah, you've done this before.

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-Now we'll put in the flour, OK?

-Yes.

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-Mix this in fairly gradually, I suppose?

-Yeah, yeah.

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And a drop of water to make it...

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Bind it in.

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And there's the drop of milk.

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A pinch of salt.

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-How's that looking?

-That's good.

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That will come out more lumpy

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or a rougher boxty than we make ourselves,

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because our liquidiser cuts it down very fine, you know.

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That's made the real, traditional way.

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Does this remind you of your mother then?

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Oh, it does remind me, yeah.

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You think she's here now.

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Only difference, she's not here now with a stick

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to keep you away from taking it.

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Now, that's ready for the pan.

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We'll bring it up to the bakery.

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In the tradition of a cottage industry,

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the commercial kitchen is attached to the family home.

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So, there's the hotplate.

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-Yeah.

-So will I just pour it on there, will I?

-Yeah.

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How's that looking, Timmy?

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You wouldn't be selling it now.

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Yours is very lumpy, you know what I mean?

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-You don't think a lot of customers would come and buy mine?

-No, no.

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It might be nice when you're eating it.

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-Timmy, have we got to flip that, have we?

-You have, yeah.

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Just a flick of the wrist.

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Wahey!

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-That is smelling brilliant, Timmy.

-Yeah.

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It just needs a couple of minutes on each side to cook.

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Hello, Angela. Hi, Niall.

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We're back. And that is my effort.

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It's not a bad effort, but you tend to let the flavours come out

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a bit more after a couple of hours, so here's one we made earlier,

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so it might just taste a little bit better. But good effort.

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I feel slightly crestfallen, but...

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So that is what it is meant to look like?

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-Yeah.

-Well, let's have a go at that.

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Wow, that is good.

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So, even though it sadly came out of the famine, it's a very good food,

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-isn't it?

-A very good food, yeah.

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There's a rhyme that goes with boxty.

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There's boxty on the griddle, boxty on the pan

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If you never eat boxty, you'll never be a man.

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Well, I've come of age today.

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Bradshaw's tells me that Sligo is the capital of a county.

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"The River Garavogue runs through the town,

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"carrying off the surplus waters from Lough Gill

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"on a plain among fine hills."

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And certainly the high ground here is more muscular, more rocky,

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and somehow, Ireland's universal green is even more intense here.

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Located between the mountains and the Atlantic Ocean,

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the town of Sligo marks my arrival on the western coast.

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During the great famine of the mid-19th century,

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over 30,000 people emigrated through its port.

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When the railway from Dublin arrived in 1862,

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the town could grow once again.

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Sligo, Bradshaw's says,

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has several public housings dotted about its outskirts,

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the county infirmary, fever hospital, soldiers barracks,

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workhouse and this, the district lunatic asylum.

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For 140 years, it housed up to 1,000 patients,

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pioneered some relatively enlightened new techniques,

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was so solidly built by the Victorians that today,

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it makes a capacious and fine hotel,

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and my asylum for the night.

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It's a new day, and this morning, I'm taking a walk through Sligo,

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a place famed as much for its cultural and literary associations

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as for its beauty.

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Sligo occupied an important place in the heart

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of Ireland's outstanding 20th-century poet, WB Yeats,

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who drew great inspiration from its landscape.

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I'm making my way to the Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery to find out more

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about him from Yeats enthusiast and guide, Damian Brennan.

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Here we are in Carrowmore, and you could believe yourself to be very

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remote, but actually, we are just at the edge of the town of Sligo.

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Yeats had the opportunity to come here when?

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During the early years of his life, he was born in 1865.

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He lives largely in London, but he comes to Sligo

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to his maternal grandparents frequently.

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And roves out into this landscape

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and discovers all of this ancient space.

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So, in his early days, he's inspired by landscape like this -

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who would not be? - and what sort of poetry does he write?

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In the beginning, he's writing ballads,

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but much of it inspired by the whole folklore

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and fairy lore of this landscape.

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For instance, he's inspired by Queen Meave,

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the legendary Queen of Connaught -

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buried on Knocknarea, behind us here -

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and he writes, The wind has bundled up the cloud

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High over Knocknarea

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And thrown the thunder on the stones

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For all that Meave can say.

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Angers that are like noisy clouds

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Have set our hearts abeat

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But we have all bent low and low

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And kissed the quiet feet of Cathleen

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The daughter of Houlihan.

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So, what did this ancient history mean to Yeats?

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It gave him a sense of where Celtic man, Irish man,

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had come up out of the landscape and had lived in the landscape

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for all that length of time.

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And that drove him to believe that Ireland should have an independence

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and should have its own art and drama and poetry and literature.

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Yeats belonged to the Protestant Anglo-Irish minority

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who ruled Ireland, yet he strongly identified with Irish nationalism.

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The call for Irish nationhood and independence

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was subliminal within his poetry, and emerged through his evocation

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of a rich Celtic past.

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Ireland gallops towards independence over a very short number of years

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at the beginning of the 20th century.

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Can you say what kind of role literature and maybe Yeats

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play in that process, in your view?

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Well, he himself asked after 1916,

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"Did that play of mine send some men out to die?"

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He worries about that, because he was part of a romantic group

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who coalesced with the left-wing

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and had the very unlikely but very pivotal 1916 uprising.

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The Easter Rising of 1916 was a six-day armed rebellion

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by Irish Republicans against the British in Dublin.

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The rebels failed to establish an independent Ireland.

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Hundreds were killed in the fighting.

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Much of Dublin was destroyed and ringleaders were executed.

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How does Yeats feel about the 1916 Rising when it happens?

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Well, he's taken by surprise. He doesn't anticipate it.

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He's in London at the time.

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He writes his great poem, Easter 1916,

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and suppresses it for three years,

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because he's not quite sure how it'll work out.

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He refers to the Easter 1916 as, "A terrible beauty is born."

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Yeats' contribution to Irish self-consciousness and independence?

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He's absolutely central.

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He called for it.

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He wrote about it.

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He's the towering figure behind even the military movement, because it's

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his voice and his words that stand the testimony of time.

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When Ireland established its right to self-government in 1921,

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WB Yeats joined the Irish Senate,

0:19:320:19:35

where he argued for artistic freedom

0:19:350:19:37

and against the social conservatism of the Catholic administration.

0:19:370:19:41

Time and again, he returned to this landscape.

0:19:430:19:45

Time for me to go to Innisfree,

0:19:500:19:53

to the lake isle that inspired his most quoted verse.

0:19:530:19:56

Guiding me across Lough Gill, George McGoldrick.

0:20:060:20:09

George.

0:20:160:20:17

-Hello.

-Hello, Michael. You're very welcome.

0:20:170:20:20

Innisfree, what does it mean?

0:20:210:20:23

Inis Fraoigh is the Gaeilge, the Irish.

0:20:230:20:26

It means "heathery island".

0:20:260:20:28

Heathery island. And do you know the poem?

0:20:280:20:31

-I do indeed.

-Would you mind saying it for me today, please?

0:20:310:20:34

I'll give it a go for you, surely.

0:20:340:20:35

I will arise and go now

0:20:360:20:39

And go to Innisfree

0:20:390:20:41

And a small cabin build there

0:20:410:20:44

Of clay and wattles made

0:20:440:20:46

Nine bean rows will I have there

0:20:470:20:50

A hive for the honeybee

0:20:500:20:52

And live alone in the bee-loud glade.

0:20:520:20:56

And I shall have some peace there

0:20:570:21:00

For peace comes dropping slow

0:21:000:21:04

Dropping from the veils of the morning

0:21:040:21:07

To where the crickets sing

0:21:070:21:09

There midnight's all a glimmer

0:21:090:21:12

And noon a purple glow

0:21:120:21:14

And evening full of the linnet's wing.

0:21:140:21:17

I will arise and go now

0:21:180:21:21

For always night and day

0:21:210:21:23

I hear lake water lapping

0:21:230:21:25

With low sound by the shore

0:21:250:21:28

While I stand on the roadway

0:21:280:21:31

Or on the pavements grey

0:21:310:21:33

I hear it in the deep heart's core.

0:21:330:21:37

A poet in distant London, yearning for his beloved island.

0:21:380:21:42

Indeed.

0:21:430:21:44

It's extraordinary to me that, out of this natural beauty,

0:21:470:21:52

an emotion could be born that became an idea,

0:21:520:21:56

the idea of an Ireland, independent of Britain.

0:21:560:22:00

And that was expressed in language, in poetry,

0:22:010:22:06

which inspired men to take up arms,

0:22:060:22:09

to be willing to die, and which led to an independent Ireland.

0:22:090:22:14

Extraordinary, the power of an idea.

0:22:150:22:19

As Yeats said, "A terrible beauty is born."

0:22:190:22:23

Sligo's rich cultural associations extend further.

0:22:320:22:37

World famous Irish fiddler Michael Coleman

0:22:370:22:40

was a Sligo-born musician who exerted a huge influence

0:22:400:22:44

on traditional Irish music.

0:22:440:22:47

A FIDDLE PLAYS A REEL

0:22:470:22:50

I'm visiting the Coleman Heritage Centre

0:22:550:22:58

to meet renowned fiddler Oisin Mac Diarmada

0:22:580:23:00

and traditional Irish dancer, Samantha Harvey.

0:23:000:23:04

Hello. That was delightful.

0:23:120:23:14

Now, I imagine the fiddle must have been part of Irish music

0:23:140:23:17

-for a very long time?

-It certainly was, yeah.

0:23:170:23:19

It came out of 17th-century Italy primarily, the instrument,

0:23:190:23:22

but it very quickly spread over to Ireland because there were so many

0:23:220:23:25

fiddles, violins being made.

0:23:250:23:27

And fortunately, they were not that expensive to purchase.

0:23:270:23:30

Some people could even make their own.

0:23:300:23:31

And so it became very quickly one of the most popular instruments

0:23:310:23:34

on which traditional music was played.

0:23:340:23:35

I'm following a guidebook around Ireland from the late-19th century.

0:23:350:23:38

What was the state of fiddling music by then?

0:23:380:23:41

Fiddle would have been a very strong instrument at that time.

0:23:410:23:45

It would have been played stylistically quite different

0:23:450:23:47

in various parts of Ireland, predominantly because people didn't

0:23:470:23:51

travel very much outside a five to ten mile radius.

0:23:510:23:54

So you had very distinctive voices, styles,

0:23:540:23:57

a little bit like regional dialects of speech.

0:23:570:24:00

This, I believe, is a replica of the cottage of Michael Coleman.

0:24:000:24:03

What part did he play in all this?

0:24:030:24:06

He's very much the god of Irish fiddling.

0:24:060:24:08

He played the most amazing fiddle music,

0:24:080:24:11

that we still learn from and aspire to play like now, 100 years later.

0:24:110:24:15

Born in 1891, Michael Coleman journeyed across the Atlantic

0:24:180:24:23

to America at the age of 23.

0:24:230:24:25

He joined the vaudeville circuit in New York,

0:24:250:24:28

playing to audiences of thousands.

0:24:280:24:30

And was the first Irish fiddler to make recordings of his work.

0:24:300:24:33

What was it that he did that was new or striking?

0:24:370:24:41

He took what were fundamentally simple dance tunes

0:24:410:24:43

and he put a lot of musical detail into that music.

0:24:430:24:46

One of the first tunes he recorded was a tune called Reidy Johnson's,

0:24:460:24:50

it's a reel.

0:24:500:24:51

If you take the structure of a tune like that...

0:24:510:24:54

A JAUNTY REEL

0:24:540:24:55

What Michael did with the tune is he filled in a lot of details

0:25:000:25:04

and ornamentation in those notes and variations.

0:25:040:25:06

THE SAME REEL WITH MORE NOTES

0:25:060:25:09

And on and so forth.

0:25:180:25:19

He's reputed not really to have ever played the tune the same twice.

0:25:190:25:22

His recordings travelled back to Ireland and around the world.

0:25:250:25:29

His fast bowing technique became known as the Sligo style

0:25:290:25:33

and has come to dominate traditional Irish music.

0:25:330:25:36

Sligo must be rather proud of its place in Irish music history?

0:25:380:25:42

It certainly is. This area is often known as Coleman Country,

0:25:420:25:45

and it reflects not only Coleman's genius, but the magical music

0:25:450:25:49

that so many people played in this particular area.

0:25:490:25:52

Well, Michael, I hear you've danced all over the world.

0:25:520:25:56

You could hardly come to Ireland and not do a step.

0:25:560:25:59

I have made a fool of myself all over the world.

0:25:590:26:02

-Will you show me, Samantha?

-I sure will.

0:26:020:26:04

Heel, toe,

0:26:040:26:06

one-two-three,

0:26:060:26:07

and heel-toe-heel,

0:26:070:26:09

one-two-three.

0:26:090:26:10

And heel, toe,

0:26:100:26:12

one-two-three.

0:26:120:26:14

And heel-toe-heel,

0:26:140:26:16

one-two-three. Excellent!

0:26:160:26:17

-And what do I do with my arms?

-You can keep them down by your side.

0:26:170:26:21

They sometimes keep them very stiff, don't they?

0:26:210:26:23

-They sure do!

-Right.

0:26:230:26:25

-Maestro, some music.

-That's it.

0:26:250:26:27

MID-PACED REEL

0:26:270:26:29

Five, six, seven, eight.

0:26:310:26:33

Heel, toe,

0:26:330:26:34

one-two-three.

0:26:340:26:35

Heel-toe-heel, one-two-three.

0:26:350:26:38

Heel, toe...

0:26:380:26:39

Perfect!

0:26:480:26:49

Michael Flatley had better watch out!

0:27:000:27:02

The failure of the potato crop in the 1840s was a cause of the famine

0:27:130:27:17

which gave an enormous boost to Irish nationalism

0:27:170:27:21

and was blamed on Anglo-Irish landowners.

0:27:210:27:24

Ironically, a poet who didn't speak Irish,

0:27:250:27:28

from a middle-class Protestant family, William Butler Yeats,

0:27:280:27:32

gave the Irish nation its voice,

0:27:320:27:35

as surely as the fiddle gave it its music and dance.

0:27:350:27:39

A LIVELY REEL

0:27:390:27:42

Next time...

0:28:000:28:01

Things heat up with an unusual Victorian health treatment...

0:28:010:28:05

Steam is rising all around me.

0:28:060:28:09

..I learn of the terrible tragedy at Clew Bay...

0:28:090:28:12

A lot of the young people got very excited because they'd never seen a steamer before

0:28:120:28:16

and they all went to one side, and unfortunately the boat capsized.

0:28:160:28:20

..and stretch my skills at a woollen mill.

0:28:200:28:22

I'm involved in a delicate industrial process.

0:28:230:28:26

I'm on tenterhooks.

0:28:260:28:28

With his Victorian Bradshaw's guidebook in hand, Michael Portillo crosses the Emerald Isle uncovering Irish identity, forged at a time of political strife. Travelling through the beautiful landscape, Michael learns how it inspired one of the 20th century's greatest poets, WB Yeats.

In Dromod, Michael learns how to make an Irish staple - a potato pancake, known as boxty. At the home of the father of Irish fiddling, Michael attempts to master a traditional Irish dance.


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