By Carl O’Flaherty
DISTRICT DIRECTOR: Micheal O’Coileain / EDITOR: Éamonn O’Reilly
There were many haunts and hideouts which were special to us in our youth. We walked, skulked or galloped to our sacred sites and hideouts depending on our humour, the weather or the seasons of the year.
The annual pilgrimage to Burnham was always special. We were following a well-worn path as previous generations of Dingle youth had gone in search of bamboo canes, and unattended apples and pears in Coláiste Idé’s luxurious walled gardens without the requisite permission. A good day’s gallivanting was assured as we ambled and rambled without a thought in our minds, only to be home for supper as the Angelus bell struck six on the town clock.
After passing Milltown Bridge, we took a sharp turn left across the strand past Eoin O’Flaherty’s farm and Sheehy’s Guesthouse. This was a favourite haunt of the heron – better known to us as the Joani Scrogall – as it stood sentry while fishing for its meal. We scampered past Flaherty’s Point, took a shortcut at the Gates of Glory and a rest at the bridge over Bun an tSrutháin!
We were well outside the town limits as we encountered Knocknahow and Cluais. The summer meadows and ditches looked luscious with fox gloves, montbretia, cowslips, cabáiste an madra rua, and Deora Dé growing in abundance.
At last we reached the Broken Bridge, which gave us easy access to Burnham. We hopped on the scattered stones where the arches had fallen and made haste to accomplish our mission before the incoming tide would make our return impossible. Bamboo canes were cut, walls scaled and a store of apples and pears were harvested in jig-time.
We retraced our steps and didn’t stop until we had safely crossed to the Cluais side. We took stock of our booty and gorged ourselves silly with half ripe apples and stone hard pears almost guaranteeing tummy aches and gripe at a later hour. Afterwards, we crossed the strand whacking the remaining apples at each other with glee. We paid little regard to this tranquil backwater in Dingle harbour, its picturesque setting or its historical past.
The bridge had been built during the early eighteenth century to facilitate Lord Ventry and his tenants. Previously this was the site of a hamlet and school in the 1800’s, the latter containing a thatched roof building to educate Catholic children and had seventy scholars in attendance in 1840. The main Dingle to Ventry road traversed the edge of the lagoon and exited at Burnham. However, the residents were relocated, and the road redirected to its present position, including Barry’s forge.
The fate of the bridge across the lagoon was decided by Lady Ventry (Lís na Gaillí), who frowned upon the townspeople and especially the wailing and loud lamentations at funerals while passing by her demesne. She ordered the bridge to be broken during the 1860s so that the funeral route to Ráithín Uí Bhuaigh (Burnham) wouldn’t disrupt her privacy.
“… the carts sorted themselves into line outside the workhouse hospital … the driver shook the reins closely followed by the next of kin … Then came a group of women of the town, draped in thin shawls; “Ochon – ochon – ochon – agus och … on ”. They were the tragic chorus … they kept it up all the ways to Ráithín Uí Bhuaigh, past Milltown Bridge through the pillars of Geata na Gloíre (The Gates of Glory) and up the hill to the little churchyard above Burnham” – Kerry Aroo … Capuchin Annual 1950-1951.
During winter, the lagoon is a hive of activity with migrating birds such as egrets, Brent geese, black-tailed godwits and ever busy turnstones. The lyrical sounds of the red shank and oystercatcher echo across the lagoon, while dragonflies and marsh fritillary abound in summertime. A rare guest, the golden oriole, dropped in for a brief sojourn during last August. Splash! An otter whistles to his mate as he locates a stranded mullet in the lagoon.
The cut stones from the fallen arches have all but disappeared. Progress! Commercialism! Who knows? Who cares? I do. I felt a loss … a mystic spirit had been extracted. May the tourists who pass by in their thousands continue to do so and while they might remain blissfully unaware of this noble jewel in Dingle’s history, this story can inform them of what is no doubt a hidden local gem!
Carl O’Flaherty’s story on The Broken Bridge is yet another example of history and folklore permeating our landscape. Mossy Donegan’s photos bring to life this contemporary story of our past and our memories.