July 29, 2009
I’ve moved on from Connemara – to Hollywood:
In Hollywood I long to be, no, not the place across the sea,
But in County Wicklow, Ireland’s lovely garden,
Where no pretenders will you find, but decent people warm and kind,
And flocks of friendly sheep into the bargain.
This is from the song Changing your Demeanour, sung by Kevin Conneff of the
Chieftains (among others).
I am staying on the western foothills of the Wicklow Mountains. (Well, we
call them mountains – the highest is nearly a thousand meters!) This is
sheep country; the song is accurate at least on that point.
Connections with the rest of Europe? The first stage of the Tour de France
passed over the Wicklow Mountains and down through Hollywood in 1998.
At the highest point on the road, at the Wicklow Gap, there are two lakes
one above the other which, with help of German technology, act as a
gigantic store for eletricity. During off-peak hours electricity is used
to pump water to the upper lake. At times of high demand, the water falls
to the lower lake, driving hydro-electric turbines to produce electricity.
As a result we need less generating capacity to meet periods of peak demand.
The place where this happens is called Turlough Hill but I am not sure why.
There is a perfectly good Irish name for the place, anglicised (more or
less) as Knocknahanigan. Maybe that is unpronouncable in German? The real
explanation may be that the name was taken from the Irish “turlach” meaning
a kind of lake that floods and empties periodically.
The folklore is that the place was named after one of the Irish (or even
German) engineers working on the project. However, the 1968 law authorising
the project refers only to Turlough Hill. If Turlough did get his name
attached to the hill, he certainly got in early.
At the northern end of the mountains, at Glencree, is the German Cemetery.
Here are buried the remains of German airmen who fell in the Second World
War. There were other airmen, German and British, who survived and since
Ireland was neutral they were all interned – technically speaking – for the
duration of the war. Most or all of the British internees managed to
escape to Northern Ireland, an option not available to their German
counterparts. On the other hand a fair number of the German internees,
including some of the captured spies, got to like Ireland so much that they
stayed on after the war. (There were no uncaptured German spies, by the
In the centre of the Wicklow Mountains is Glendalough, one of the most
famous of the early Christian Irish monastic foundations, and still a very
impressive site. It was from places like this that Irish monks ventured
across the continent to rescue Europe from the Dark Ages. (I learned this
As I mentioned above, Ireland was neutral during the Second World War. In
terms of the situation at the time this was probably understandable but is
less easy to defend in retrospect. Briefly, many felt that they could not
fight alongside a country against which they had fought for independence
less than twenty years earlier, and which, in the eyes of many, continued
to “occupy” part of the island of Ireland.
One result of that experience is that the principle of Irish neutrality has
become ingrained, even under changed circumstances and for different
reasons, and the Lisbon Treaty is seen (wrongly) by some people as a threat
to that principle. I will not get into the complicated question of what
we mean by Irish neutrality or the arguments for or against neutrality in
modern times. At any rate, the Irish army will not be deployed overseas without the
explicit approval of the Oireachtas (legislature).The Lisbon Treaty will
not change that.