Posts Tagged With: scholar led tours in Ireland

Straw Boys, and Why Take a Small Group Tour?

R1- 9AHaving led small group tours for nearly 18 years, I think it is important to point out the value of traveling this way. When I first began traveling in Mexico, then Europe, what was so powerful was meeting local people, engaging in conversation (though my Spanish left a lot to be desired!), and feeling as if I had a glimpse into that person’s life, art JOM 1st scan 013and family. As my research and travel increased in Ireland, I sought out local guides who showed me places I never would have known about, and heard stories, folklore and mythology that brought those places so alive.

On a trip to Oaxaca in Mexico, we were staying in a small village and heard music, big brass instruments, coming down the road. Soon we realized this was a funeral procession, and we were invited to join it and proceed to the cemetery. Under a full moon rising from behind the mountains, a magical evening unfolded as we listened to the band, heard the priest incant blessings, and took sips of the local drink, “mescal”, that was passed to all. We were treated as honored guests and it made an indelible impression upon every one of us.

Another example, on one of our cultural tours to Ireland, my friend and one of our guides, Joe McGowan,  organized an evening with the “Straw Boys”. Dating back for decades, the tradition of the Straw boys is rich. Basically a group would create costumes disguising themselves, just of straw, and go from door to door asking for “refreshment”, or 101_0103-001raising mischief one way or another. This evolved into a group today, near Sligo, who still reenact the tradition which now includes women. We were so fortunate to be invited to a costume creating session, learning how to weave the straw into skirts and headpieces. After a light supper, I thought the evening would end, but no! The room was swept up, chairs and tables pushed back, a fiddle or two came out, and soon there was singing, dancing and great fun!




Often with our tours, these special events and encounters happen because we are a small group, we are approachable and a common bond of humanity is there. Having shared so many special times in cultural travel , it is my hope to share such things with our clients.

101_0108 (2) Real people, real adventures, and real experiences make our tours unique! Please join us if this is the kind of travel experience you are looking for!

Categories: Fiber art tours, Ireland, Santa Fe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Southwestern Art and Universal Symbolism

There is no better way to delve into the minds of people who lived long ago than through their art, symbols and stories represSanta fe 2013 172ented visually. We can learn so much about a group of people by absorbing and studying what they created. Rock carvings and paintings, ancient pottery, and design motifs still seen in weaving all speak to techniques handed down from parent to child. What is so interesting to me is that so many of these motifs are seen in cultures around the world, as if there are symbols and designs that all people are drawn to making. We are so fortunate that some cultures have honored artistic traditions, so in a way, we are looking baSanta fe 2013 258ck in time when we see contemporary art. Notice the same wave pattern in these examples of pottery from the Andrea Fisher Gallery in Santa Fe. While on our Fiber Art tour and workshop in April, we will be spending some quality time at the gallery, seeing older and newer pottery from many pueblos and discussing the intricate patterns, decoration and symbolism. At the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture we’ll hear a guided talk about the even older art and explore the symbolism and motifs used in the past–fascinating! I am looking forward to seeing how being immersed in this beautiful art can be applied to our own creative pursuits in the workshop. I have always been interested in universal symbols- the spiral, square, circle, equidistant cross and triangle, and came across a book by Angeles Arrien called Signs of Life. The book explains the use of these symbols cross culturally and shows artwork that uses them. We’ll be discussing this in the workshop and hopefully, be inspired to explore the meaning of the symbols in our own work. I have done a series of felted pieces exploring this, as in this example: DSCF4633You’ll see several of the universal symbols represented- I wanted to see how they might affect my mind and composition as I worked, and found it very enlightening. I look forward to the Santa Fe workshop and tour, and sharing the richness of the art there with you!

Categories: All posts, Fiber art tours, Ireland, Santa Fe | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I have visited and taken groups of people to Newgrange often, and have never lost my awe for this ancient place. the mysteries still remain about the purpose-for example- it is completely overbuilt, and much, much larger than it needs to be for the inner structure it holds. Why? The rock carvings are stunning, but also mysterious. Volumes have been written about them, trying to decipher this language we can no longer read. This article via Irish Archaeology gives us a glimpse of this magical place through the ages. Enjoy!

Images of Newgrange through the ages

Newgrange photoThe Neolithic  passage tomb at Newgrange is the most visited archaeological site in Ireland. Over 5000 years old it pre-dates the first phase of Stonehenge by 1000 years and the Egyptian pyramids by 400 years. It is a truly massive structure measuring 76 m in diameter by 12 m in height and it contains over 200,000 tonnes of earth and stone in its fabric. Indeed, it’s glistening façade of quartz is one of the country’s most memorable vistas.  However, as the images below attest, Newgrange has not always looked so pristine.

Newgrange Edward Lhywd

1699: This image shows Edward Lhywd’s survey of Newgrange (after Stout & Stout 2008, p. 98, fig. 66). It is the first known plan of the tomb and it was drawn shortly after the entrance into the mound was rediscovered in 1699. Up until that date the entrance had actually been sealed and it was only uncovered again when the local landowner, Charles Campbell,  began quarrying the mound for stones.

Newgrange tumulus1775: A view of  Newgrange from c. 1775 by the noted antiquarian artist Gabriel Beranger. It shows a large mound of earth and stone that is nearly devoid of trees. Although a number of the standing stones which surround the mound are illustrated, the tomb entrance is not visible (it is shown in a separate drawing).


Newgrange 18th century1790: This engraving of Newgrange was included in Edward Ledwich’s Antiquities of Ireland, which was published in 1790 (after Stout & Stout 2008, p. 97, fig. 65). The mound is once again shown largely treeless and in this image the passage entrance can be clearly seen. A large triangular stone, which formerly stood directly in front of the entrance is also illustrated.


Old photograph Newgrange

1892: A photo of Newgrange taken by George Coffey in 1892 (source). Unlike the earlier, 18th century depictions the mound  is now covered in a thick scrub of trees and bushes.

Old photo newgrange

Late 19th century: This atmospheric shot of the passage tomb entrance shows a man emerging from its dark  interior. It  was taken by R. J. Welch sometime in the late 19th century and it shows an overgrown and partially disturbed mound. Although the roofbox, through which the winter solstice sun rays should pass, is completely blocked, its decorated stone lintel can still be partially discerned c. 1 m above the entrance passageway.

Newgrange entrance

1910: A child standing at the tomb entrance, circa 1910 (source). The area around the doorway has been cleaned up considerably since Welch’s photo and an iron gate now controls access to the passageway. The soil around the beautifully decorated entrance kerbstone has also been dug out and cleared, although the roofbox remains blocked. The photo is from the National Library of Ireland’s Tempest collection.


1950s: This photo illustrates the mounds appearance in the 1950’s prior to the start of archaeological excavations at the site in the 1960s (source).

Newgrange tomb

1950s: A close up of the entrance into Newgrange prior to the 1960s excavations and the subsequent restoration work (photo OPW).

newgrange excavation

1967-67: These two image show the archaeological excavation underway at Newgrange (source). This extensive work was carried out between 1962 and 1967 under the expert direction of  Professor M. J. O’Kelly. It revealed a wealth of information about the monuments origins and history. However, by its very nature is saw much of the mound material removed and this had to be reinstated after the archaeological excavation was completed.

Newgrange passage

1967-74: Works on repairing the mound and its surrounds began in earnest in 1967 and were not fully completed until 1974. This image shows the  passageway being reconstructed and reinforced. Professor O’Kelly (second from the right) is pointing towards the roofbox (after Stout & Stout 2008, p. 47, fig. 30) .

Newgrange quartz

1967-74: Probably the greatest change seen during these restoration works was the addition of 3 m high quartz wall to the front of the tomb. This addition to the monument was based on M. J. O’Kelly’s interpretation of the excavation results. He had discovered a thick layer of quartz stones spreading out in front of the tomb kerbstones for a distance of approximately 7 m, which he believed  represented the remains of a collapsed wall.  Thus on his advice a quartz facade was added to the tomb. However, as the quartz wall was deemed too unstable to support the weight of the cairn on its own, a 4 m high, reinforced steel and concrete wall had to be erected behind it. The quartz stones were then embedded into the concrete.

Not surprisingly this striking quartz wall caused much debate at the time and the arguments about its authenticity still rage on.

Further reading

Stout G. & Stout M. 2008. Newgrange. Cork University Press. Cork.

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