Sunday, 10 May 2015

My Last Week in Ireland

GED Rock Art by Glowing Edges Designs - The Neon Glow Series

After the Dublin Stone Show, although I had managed to get to see Newgrange and Connemara, most of my time was office bound – with many late evenings – finishing site reports and tying up loose ends, but I also took the time to pursue one of the artistic ideas that I had been developing back in Treeton.

Basalt from Mt. Etna 
Having worked with some existing photomicrographs to prepare some of the display panels, and working just down the corridor from the GSI technicians, I was curious to know what the basalt from Mt. Etna - that I had taken away along with a ceramicised table – looked like under the microscope.

As always, everyone was happy to help each other and, in a couple of days, I had rock thin sections to look at. With the only petrological microscope being in the office of one of the field geologists, who work in a corridor on the top floor, I got to know a few other more serious  colleagues – who I had never met in the cafe, at Ryans Beggars Bush or during my day to day work.

Whilst looking at a volcanic rock, full of pyroxene phenocrysts, I thought that I would make the most of this unique opportunity and take a look at the GSI’s collection of rock thin sections.

I will never know if it was the fault of the equipment, the developer of the film, my scanner, or just my own eyes, but not a single image from 250, taken using Fuji Velvia film, satisfies my eye as a photographer.

Something was out of focus but, by the time that I had discovered this, it was too late to try and rectify it because I was now back in England. Working on these images since, although not my best set of Glowing Edges Designs, the Neon Glow Series will always remind me of Ireland.

Connemara Marble by Glowing Edges Designs

The best thing that I learned from living in Ireland is not that this country has very interesting rocky landscapes, but that they know how to talk to each other in a good open and honest way. After a few weeks of being reserved, like a typical Englishman, I learned how to talk to anyone and everyone – standing at the bus stop or at the back of a pub – and it changed me as a person.

The Du Noyer Photographic Competition

Unlike my experience of working for the Civil Service in England, where the hierarchy is impenetrable, I learned that you simply had to get up, work hard, communicate well and socialise – to become a good part of the team that works at the Geological Survey of Ireland

Sand Ripples at Ardmore Bay
My contract was now at an end and, after attending 3 legendary parties and winning a prize in the Du Noyer photographic competition during my last week, I had to go back to Rotherham.

My last view of Ireland on a fast ferry from Dun Laoghaire to Holyhead

Not long after returning hope, I received this in the post - it's nice to know that all of my hard work was genuinely appreciated...

A work reference

Friday, 8 May 2015

Co. Galway - Connemara Marble

A large block of Connemara Marble

On one of the many Friday nights spent at Ryans Beggars Bush public house, one of the directors of the Geological Survey of Ireland and his wife, who lived in Galway, both said that I must visit Connemara before I left Ireland.

Streamstown Quarry
Between coming back from Monaghan and going back to Rotherham, there were only 9 days and so, without delay, I headed off to Streamstown Quarry.

By now, I thought that I had got used to planning my journeys in Ireland but, this time, I got it completely wrong. As the crow flies, the distance to the city of Galway is 195 km, but the drive seemed endless and, by the time that I arrived in Galway, I knew that I would have to change my late afternoon appointment to the next morning.

Stopping very briefly at the Connemara Marble Showroom, to introduce myself to the owners of the Streamstown Quarry, I headed off again to Clifden, where I would spend the night.

A general view of the landscape at Streamstown Quarry
Once I had left the city of Galway, I encountered a bleak landscape. Here the Galway Granite is relatively low lying and strewn with small lakes – another legacy of the erosional power of the ice that once covered Ireland.

With the afternoon light starting to fade, and with the darkest clouds that I had ever seen rolling in from the Atlantic Ocean, the Twelve Bens loomed into view. Forming part of the Connemara National Park, this was one of the most dramatic sights that I have seen. 

Once a supplier of large quantities of beautiful green Connemara Marble for interior decoration, Streamstown Quarry now only produces relatively small amounts of stone to make jewellery and other gifts. Although, the rain had kept away the previous evening, the clouds had descended on the hills and, whether it was trudging through boggy peat to map the quarry boundaries or trying to peer down into the quarry, I had a very damp experience.

Blocks of Connemara Marble at Recess Quarry

Many of the access ways to the working quarry face looked a little bit rickety to me and it was very obvious that this place had seen much better days; however, some fine products are still made from the stone produced here and it fully deserves its status as a County Geological Site.

A Worry Stone

With my work finished, I took a very quick tour of part of the Connemara National Park, stopped briefly to photograph some raw blocks of Connemara Marble from the Recess Quarry, whose colours differ quite considerably from those seen at Streamstown Quarry, and headed back to Galway, where some fine examples of Connemara Marble can be seen in the cathedral floor.

Connemara Marble from Recess and Streamstown and Cork Red Marble

Taking time to visit the Connemara Marble Showroom again, I bought a couple of presents to take home and was presented with a small gift - a worry stone -  before the long drive back to Dublin.

Co. Armagh and Co. Monaghan

The Boyne Valley in the Ice Age

Driving from Newgrange to Newry, to pick up the latest edition of ES2k magazine from a colleague at the Northern Ireland branch of the British Geological Survey, our meeting in the very large car park of an out of town shopping centre was quite memorable.

With a mobile phone, to give directions – and sticking our hands high into the air – we finally found each other and, as always in Ireland, this brief encounter was full of good humour.

During my previous visit to Northern Ireland, I had been very conscious about crossing the border and, laughing to myself now, I could imagine what the security cameras might of thought of this meeting during the time of the troubles” - if they had seen such an exchange of heavy boxes from van to van.

With this transaction between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland successfully negotiated, I headed off to Monaghan - crossing this border again. I had set off from Dublin in one of the small Renault Kangoo vans, having been assured that it was capable of carrying the load that I was about to collect.

Driving up and around some remarkable drumlins, on roads that were not always in the very best condition, I am very sure that the back axle was given a comprehensive mechanical test.

Caves and Limestone Scenery in Northern Ireland
Having safely delivered my cargo, I returned to Dublin by the quickest route. I have since reflected on the way that an interest in the geology of the island of Ireland has no political boundaries and there is much collaboration between the south and north - which has resulted in very many good publications and other initiatives that are aimed at the Geotourist.

When Finnian O’Connor – the student intern who shared my office – asked me to photograph some of the very many Geotourism booklets and leaflets held in the basement of the GSI, to include in his final report to the head of the Heritage and Planning section, I was more than happy to help. 

A selection of Geotourism leaflets held at the GSI

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Co. Meath - Newgrange

Volcanic breccia at Newgrange

Now that the Dublin Stone Show had been successfully completed and I had finished the reports on the County Geological Sites that I had surveyed, I was at a bit of a loss what to do next. When asked if I could collect the latest edition of ES2k, I jumped at the chance.

Building stones
Knowing that the 275 km round trip, from Dublin to Co. Armagh and Co. Monaghan and back, would take most of the day and that there wouldn’t be enough time to carry out field survey work, I made the most of the opportunity to relax - and went to see Newgrange

Older than Stonehenge and the Egyptian pyramids, its restoration – after many centuries of neglect and recycling of the stones that were originally used in its construction – proved very controversial amongst archaeologists and antiquarians.

From the viewpoint of a geologist, I found it fascinating - another case for the Geological Detective.

In Co. Meath, along with every other place that I visited in Ireland, the power of the vast ice sheets that once covered the British Islands is clearly demonstrated by its spectacular mountain landscapes – but around the River Boyne, the recent geology gently fades into history.
A view of Newgrange
Using my Heritage Ireland membership card, I enjoyed the traditional tourist experience of entering its interior and appreciating its great significance but, with a limited amount of time on my hands to get to Newry, I had to skip the visitor centre and move on.

I did have enough time, however, to have a very quick look at the principal building stones and the remnants of the circle of standing stones that once surrounded this monument.

The underlying bedrock in the area is Carboniferous limestone, with Carboniferous sandstone and Silurian rocks, but the large cobbles that can be seen in its front - and are perceived to faithfully reproduce the original source – have been brought in from river terraces and the coast.

The entrance to Newgrange

The highly decorated foundation stones are mainly Silurian greywacke sandstone from the Clogher Head Formation, and the deeply weathered condition of the stones themselves indicate that they are large glacial erratics, which have been found on the ground and not quarried.

Rock Art

Looking very quickly at the standing stones, the purple rocks are obviously volcanic and their origin could only be the Mourne Mountains - of Tertiary age; there are also other large rough blocks of greywacke sandstone and Carboniferous limestone, amongst other kinds of rocks...

A few views of standing stones at Newgrange