Thomas Heazle Parke

Thomas Heazle ParkeThomas Heazle Parke (1857-1893) was the first Irishman to cross Africa. He did so in the company of the great explorer Henry Morton Stanley and was with him when they discovered the source of the Nile, in a mountain range in Uganda known as The Mountains of the Moon. Parke was born in Co. Roscommon and brought up in Carrick-on-Shannon, Co. Leitrim. He studied at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin and was appointed to a post in Ballybay, Co. Monaghan. In 1881 he joined the British army as a surgeon and served in Khartoum in 1885. He then became an explorer but it was as a boy in Co. Leitrim that he may have first experienced this calling. He was a keen rambler and had already explored the various sources of the Shannon, the best known of which are Lough Allen in Co. Leitrim and the Shannon Pot in Co. Cavan. There are many other sources which took Parke’s interest as well (streams, springs and mini pots) that he diligently followed and mapped as a young man. Through this process Parke came to see the Shannon as a metaphor for the strength of a nation itself once each small rivet was joined together into one unstoppable channel. It is likely that this skill he developed as a young boy was invaluable to aiding Stanley in his search for the Nile source. Today a statue of him is outside the National History Museum in Dublin and a plaque has been erected in the town of Carrick-on-Shannon. (Stephen Rennicks)

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Leitrim Relish

DSCN0467A few years ago now in the Organic Farmers Market in Carrick-on-Shannon (every Thursday 9 till 2pm) a one time stall holder brought some homemade unlabelled relish that turned out to have a bit of an extra kick to it. The woman who sold a jar of it to a friend of mine told her it was the first time she had used this recipe and that it had turned out rather more spicy than she had expected. My friend ate some a few days later on plain crackers and found that while it was very spicy it also somehow led to a long and very pleasant period of expanded consciousness. The jar lasted less than a week as it was eagerly tried by the rest of her housemates and anyone else who happened to call in. Save to say there were a number of new customers at the farmers market the following week but the woman never came back and no one has been able to find out who she was. (Stephen Rennicks)

Kiltyclogher Wednesday

jandekIn 2009 the legendary and (formerly) reclusive outsider musician Jandek brought a small band to Northern Ireland for a four date tour. At the last show in Derry he told the crowd he was going sight-seeing for a week but would be playing a solo show in the border town of Kiltyclogher, Co. Leitrim the following Wednesday. He didn’t name a venue but as it’s such a small town I guess he thought he wouldn’t be hard to find. Reportedly a few people went and found him drinking in the bar of the Glenview Inn. He jandek23spoke with them for awhile and about 10pm sat down and sang an hour long set of songs accompanied by acoustic guitar. Jandek has a fondness for Ireland, he played in the Douglas Hyde Gallery in Trinity College, Dublin in 2008 (which I was at) and the covers of two of his albums have pictures of places in Ireland it is thought he took while visiting here years ago (Cork and Dublin). I’ve always had a feeling he has Irish connections and maybe this one off show strengthens that case, he may even have family still living in Co. Leitrim? (Stephen Rennicks)

Invented Tourism

gaelicleague500“Given its scenic attractions and proximity to Great Britain, Ireland’s position as a tourism Mecca might seem inevitable. Yet tourism in Ireland, as anywhere else in the eighteenth century, had to be invented. Mountains and lakes had to be reconfigured in the public imagination as tourist sites. Through the descriptive accounts of travel writers the sites had to be identified and defined in ways that made them attractive and meaningful to potential visitors. Landlords often opened and organized the sites for visitors. However, the actual activities on the ground – what the tourists viewed and experienced – evolved out of the interaction between the visitors and the veritable army of peasant guides, jarvies, vendors, porters, and beggars who greeted and served them. These contacts combined with British stereotypes regarding the Irish to create distinctly ‘Irish’ tourist experiences.”
Creating Irish Tourism: The First Century (1750-1850)
William H. A. Williams

This practice of invented tourism/history was still in vogue circa 1910 when the Gaelic League produced a series of postcards of how it imagined the Irish people had dressed in days gone by. The photographer of the series was Irish-American and Leitrim native artist and photographer Anna Frances Levine who took them over 2 days in a makeshift studio in Manorhamilton. (Stephen Rennicks)

Corporate Dance

caveA German artist called Michael Esmer (1936 – 2002) did a team building talk for a large multi-national company I cannot identify by name in south county Leitrim in 1998. This led directly, out of the 30 staff that was present to the immediate resignation of 12, the complete mental breakdown of two others and the dismissal of the person who made the booking. A female acquaintance of mine who worked there at the time who told me about it said they were one of the people who had walked out and really had to struggle to get their grip back on reality themselves after it and for a long time had coped with alcohol. Many others present too began drinking heavily afterwards.
Picture 087Esmer was mainly a photographer of abstract images and had reasonable success with this at the time but he also had an interest and deep understanding of the occult. He is said to have supported himself very well by doing private commissions for large corporate clients, mostly designing sigils (magical symbols) and incorporating them into new company logos. It’s hard to know how many of these he did and how successful they proved to be for the businesses concerned but a few years before he died he began doing lectures for many of these same clients on the subject of what he called Corporate Dance. The woman I spoke to remembered his talk challenged everyone’s belief systems and began by talking about how ancient peoples had somehow created reality in a dance, very like a dream and we, while still independent beings, were still taking part in this dance whether we liked it or not, our very existent was now dependent on it. The dance can be and is changed by people who understand this. He spoke about Hitler and the Nuremberg rallies and showed slowed down footage of children playing in a park to illustrate how a certain child could begin to affect the rhythms of all the others. There was one part of the talk however which had shocked the group the most and she refused to reveal this to me, saying, “If you want to stay happy, don’t ever find out.” Corporate Dance as a concept appears to have been designed to make people literally dance into certain shops and joyously make certain financial commitments by subtle manipulation. This person told me that they now thought that the talk was never meant for the ears of ordinary level staff and that was why the person who had organized it had been sacked and that Esmer had probably presumed he was speaking only with the top managers. I found one image of his art but couldn’t find out much more about Esmer himself, who today is something of an enigma, but he appears to have died aged 66 in his native Germany. (Stephen Rennicks)

National Astronomy Centre

observatory_external_constructionAs Co. Leitrim has the lowest level of light pollution of any county a site just outside Drumshanbo was designated in 1999 to be the National Astronomy Centre. It ran into planning problems from the start and this was only resolved when they hit on the novel idea of making it look like a ruined tower, of which there are many in the region. Construction began in 2001 only for the proposed budget to soar and a change in political will of the time brought the project to an end. For years the stone tower itself was left empty on the site (all the fittings were removed), becoming quite the landmark, but the government kept possession of it and when decentralization of State departments was announced the site was quickly earmarked for the Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine which is there today. I could only find this one image of the observatory being built. Perhaps one day this project could still happen in the county? Until then the closest thing to experience the beauty of space from the most unspoiled part of the country can be found in the neighboring county of Roscommon at the privately owned Kingsland Observatory outside Boyle. (Stephen Rennicks)

The Lost Chord

lostchordThe mythical lost chord is said to have originated with the Tuatha DeDannan and could even still be alive in the traditional music scene in Co. Leitrim where they landed so long ago. This rumour has long brought traditional musicians to live in the county and learn the old tunes, always hoping to discover it or make some connection to someone who may lead them towards it. One old story from the 1800’s has a scrap of paper found in the lining of a very old fiddle case containing it deciphered and hand notated. This is said to have brought the musician some short lived local fame but he refused to reveal it, even turning his back on the audience as he played so they could not see the pattern his fingers made. He died from alcohol poisoning after one drunken week long session and the paper could not be located in his belongings (if it ever truly existed). In 1877 the legend of the chord inspired a ballad whose words were written by Adelaide Proctor and its music by Arthur Sullivan. In recent years even members from such Irish rock groups as Whipping Boy, Rollerskate Skinny, Mike TV, Headgear, Bambi and Memory Cells have dedicated themselves to this search and moved to the county while existing on meagre and dwindling royalties from past glories. (Stephen Rennicks)