Achill Archaeology Field School

Presentation created for high school World History students based on my field school experience at the Achill Archaeology Field School


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Killarney: The Gap of Dunloe and Deserted Farmhouses

Killarney was the perfect place to begin my walking tour adventure. We left Bunratty Castle and headed into the lush, green land of County Kerry.

(c) Sheila R. Lamb

We visited the Killarney Lakes (and nearby waterfalls) before heading off to the mountains, to the Gap of Dunloe set within the Macgillycuddy Reeks.

If you pass through the Gap this way, you most likely will stop at Kate Kearney’s Cottage.  Kate was known to sell “…poitín, ‘Kate Kearney’s Mountain Dew’, which was “very fierce and wild…” Which was also, of course, illegal in the mid-1800’s. This poitín isn’t for sale anymore. You’ll have to settle for a pint or a shot of the Jameson.

(c) Sheila R. Lamb

Hiking through the Gap of Dunloe was breathtaking. Purple and green mountains were topped with mist, sliding down the hillside. It’s a rugged country, with narrow winding roads. Driving is nearly impossible, so plan to hike, bike, or take a pony cart through the mountains.

(c) Sheila R. Lamb

From Kate’s, we walked to a deserted farmhouse. There are quite a few of these throughout the Irish countryside, usually abandon during the Famine. These were my favorite places to explore.  

These homes had been abandon, but they weren’t completely empty. There were stories to be told. Perhaps a wisp of the past lingered within, waiting for someone to listen.

Tanners and Quarrymen: The Irish Immigrants of Westchester County

“Caught between long periods of unemployment, the natural ruggedness of the work, and the economic and social inequities of the time, the communities that sprang up around the quarries, particularly Waverly…became slums infested with crime and corruption…there was probably no place in the country that contained so many thieves as Waverly…” (Torres, 56).

Go great-great grandpa. This is the neighborhood where my family settled upon arriving in America from Ireland. Three generations of my family lived around these marble quarries, in the neighborhood of Waverly, in the town of Eastchester, New York. In the Westchester county of the late 1800’s, most of the Irish immigrants worked in the quarries. By the turn of the century, the demographics changed and the neighborhood filled with mostly Italian immigrants. It’s debatable whether Torres’s description is accurate.

There is a Waverly Street in Tuckahoe, a line of well-maintained suburban houses. There is also Waverly Square, a collection of shops in the Tuckahoe/Eastchester area. I wonder if my ancestors could have imagined their  now a well-to-do neighborhood in one of the wealthiest counties in the country.

Hugh Lamb would have attended school here. It closed in 1884.

John Lamb, an immigrant from Ireland – possibly county Westmeath – and his son, Hugh Lamb were tanners, specifically glove makers. It seems that they made the gloves for the quarrymen. I’m still researching this role in quarry neighborhoods. Since Masterton (one of the quarry owners) employed blacksmiths at various site to take care of the work horses, oxen and mules, I’m guessing that he would have had craftsmen to make work gloves for the men lifting and blasting marble.

James Joy, another Irish ancestor, was a stonecutter. Stonecutters were step up above the laboring quarryman, requiring skill and expertise to design a ton of marble into an evenly cut pillar. The quarryman was responsible for lifting the marble intact, and the stonecutter cut and dressed the marble.

I have to wonder if my folks were part of the “crime and corruption” crowd, as Torres describes. I can only imagine they stories they could tell about early life in Westchester or the conditions for Irish immigrants, leaving their homeland due to famine. So that is my task, my goal as a writer: to take the outline of history and then imagine their stories.

Source: Torres, Louis. Tuckahoe Marble: The Rise and Fall of an Industry.Purple Mountain Press, 1976.

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