Blacksod Gathering, Connecting people and Place.....In 1905 when J.M Synge visited Erris he described it as follows: “noisy, squalid, lonely and crowded at the same time, and without any appeal to the imagination”. Thankfully in 2013 the year of “The Gathering” Blacksod proved to Mr. Synge that we have come a long way since 1905. The Blacksod gathering held from the 6-9 September 2013 was testament to that. An enjoyable weekend with at least 230 people attending cultural celebrations.
The weekend began with an exciting presentation from Tom McClean, the first person to row single handed across the Atlantic. He arrived in Blacksod in 1969. Musical entertainment was provided by Tony Cawley. On Saturday we enjoyed a guided tour of Blacksod Lighthouse guided by Vincent Sweeney. This was followed by an afternoon in the heritage centre, where visitors enjoyed a heritage trail video created by Gaol Siar and Fluich Films portraying the history of Blacksod and its environs. There was also a talk given John Cuffe who brought us right back to 1960’s.
Mike Bulfin, the sculptor who created Deirbhile’s Twist sculpture on Fálmore Road explained to the people what the sculpture meant. We learned that being a scientists and artist he was fascinated by ancient settlements and he reflected their existence on the landscape but did not imitate them. He chooses the theme of the sun circle but did not copy it directly he reminded us of our Celtic ancestors who roamed those lands before us. We also heard from Mr. Muldooney, the last Sergeant to retire from Blacksod in the 1970’s. We enjoyed tales from lighthouse keepers from around the coast.
On Saturday evening the guests assembled at the Broadhaven Bay hotel where guests enjoyed a Gaol Siar documentary “Beyond the Sea” capturing the details of 26 Lighthouse keepers who have Blacksod connections. Guests also enjoyed a digital photographic display of over 300 black and white photos of those who lived in Blacksod past and present. Gaol Siar intends to publish these photographs in a book to mark the occasion. Publishing would be subject to funding and permission from the owners of the images. There was also a display of images such as fishing excursions, the first helicopter relief, and arrival of Tom McClean, the changing of the Blacksod Bouy, and a land league rally in Binghamstown in 1910. There were extracts from journals and letters written by guests who visited Blacksod in the early 1900’s.
After dinner entertainment was provided by Eddie Maguire a former resident of Blacksod, reciting some of his own poetry which depicted local characters from the past. Eddie gave a wonderful rendition of an old lament called “Leora Deora”. Visitors were also entertained by a group of Drogheda musicians led by Mr. Paddy Murphy one of the band members, married to Agneta Kane, Blacksod.
On Sunday we enjoyed a walk through Blacksod village and heard tales from local people about turf cutting on the hill. We also visited the Druids Temple, the Powder House and Gob a Leacht and enjoyed tea and sandwiches in Teach Una. Musical entertainment was provided by Tony Cawley, Drogheda musicians and PJ Hennigan.
On Monday we enjoyed a boat trip to Inis Gé, accompanied by the Irish Lights photographer John Eagle, who later photographed the trip. John Eagle’s book and post cards, Gerry Butler’s book the “Light Keeper” and a novel by Blacksod native Una Trant, “Flotsom Girl” a fictional account of a girl growing up in Erris in the 1930 & 1940’s are all on sale, through Gaol Siar.
Many people spoke of how enjoyable the entire weekend was. One testimonial from an Irish Lights staff member is “I’ve never been on a weekend where I met so many people, learned and seen so much”. Other Irish Lights staff spoke of how they had no connection to the area as they worked in head office in Dun Laoghaire and dealt with Blacksod on paper only, however after the Blacksod reunion they feel a strong bond with the place and will return for holidays.
Emigrants travelled from Scotland, Manchester, London and the USA as well as people from all over Ireland. The Blacksod people gave wonderful support to the event by submitting stories, photos and contacting family and friends to join us. They helped to conduct tours and talks as well as attending events. George and Peggy Toms donated a copy of a painting by Peggy’s brother, John McNeely. The watercolour of Blacksod was painted in 1985 and maybe seen on the Blacksod brochure as well as on Blacksod key rings.
Gaol Siar would like to thank all those who supported the Blacksod Gathering and all those who wished us well.