An article written by Tom for the Connemara Chronicle (issue 35).
It seems that people always found their way to Knockranny (Cnoc Raithní – Fern Hill). At the end of the 19th century, they came from the surrounding villages to Michael Kyne’s Mill. This was built on the stream, Srutháin na mBreac Donn – the Brown Trout Stream, that separates the townlands of Knockranny and Oldtown (Seanbhaile). In a little field beside the mill the asses and ponies were relieved of their baskets and carts and let loose to graze while their owners waited their turn at the big wheel. The men sat with their backs to the mountain, their gaze following the course of the stream to the distant Lough Corrib. They talked about cattle prices and hurling matches and Charles Steward Parnell and Kitty O’Shea who didn’t have to worry about ripening corn, saving hay or bringing home the turf. They had their own worries. Lord Ashbourne seemed a good man, as did Wyndham who would have them own their own land. Sir Horace Plunkett, founder of the Cooperative Movement seemed to be on their side. The Land Act of 1903 was the third such Act to provide the tenantry with loans to buy out the Landlords. There was optimism.
The Kilkelly Estate, including Knockranny and the tiny satellite hamlet of Cnochbhaile (Stone Village) was sold to the tenants. Twenty five children were born in Knockranny/Clochbhaile between 1902 and 1928. Of those, twenty two belonged to the Kyne families. In the following years there wasn’t any birth and only a handful over the following forty years. Emmigration became a constant haemorrage.
Douglas Previte bought the estate house in Drimcong, with, among other things, the shooting rights in Knockranny/Clochbhaile. Previte took his shooting seriously and the asses with the corn of yesteryear were replaced on the road to Knockranny by regular convoys of traps and gigs, bringing the new owner and his privilaged friends to the mountain where they shot the abundant grouse. The young Peter, son of the formaer bailiff Tim Kyne, spent many a day with his brother Jamsie beating the mountain for them.
Familiarity with Previte’s sidecars and hackneys must surely have added to the love of horses which Peter had in his blood. Tim had a pony and trap in which he drove his wife to Moycullen. Here she caught the train to Galway where she sold butter and eggs.
Nor did all the grouse go to Drimcong! Tim’s wife was confronted on more than one occasion by an enraged Previte who demanded to know who had used the cartridges he had found on his mountain. They had come from Freeneys in High Street in Galway. They hadn’t belonged to himself or any of his friends. He suspected poaching and was not happy about it!
When all the grouse were gone, the shooting parties stopped. But still the strangers came. In 1953 Peter agreed with the Connemara Pony Society to ‘stand’ one of its stallions, thus becoming a stallion custodian and playing a key role in the Society’s breed improvement strategy. Over the next twenty five years he stood some of the best stallions from those halcyon days. He could hardly have started better than with Carna Bobby, the grey sire of grey champions. He will always be associated with Clonkeehan Aratum, that ‘hot’ halfbred with the Arab blood. Breeders and enthusiasts came from all over Ireland and even from England to see the stars of the ascendant Connemara breed.
The traps and gigs were replaced by motor cars. As the reputation of the pony spread abroad, more enthusiasts and breeders came from France, Holland, Germany, the U.S.A. and many other countries. Having seen the resident stallion, the more discerning visitor took time to follow the road to its end at Clochbhaile, to view the herd of Ireland’s indigenous ponies in its natural environment. Led, most likely, by that matriarch, and Peter’s favourite mare, the aptly named Wild Wisdom. The road left Peter’s house on the right as it climbed the steep Bothar na Rasa, leaving An Doirín, a small wood of Alder, Birch and Mountain Ash on the left. On reaching Clochbhaile, the car was abandoned and one walked to the highest point on An Tamhain Uachtar to view the surrounding countryside. One might see a herd of native ponies, wild cattle or feral goats. Or a vast emptiness.
When we were bringing ponies to stud in the late fifties or early sixties, I always felt it was an unfinished journey if we did not continue, on some pretext, as far as Clochbhaile. Its solitude appealed to me. It was Martin Devaney’s home.
Martin was known as Sonny and lived there with his mother at that time. Kate first came from An Spidéal to live in Clochbhaile when she married Nicholas Devaney in 1919. They reared five children – Mary, Sarah, Pat, Martin, and Judy. The Devaney’s did not own this homestead but were herdsmen to the Kynes of Knockranny. Sonny and Peter Tim lived in an unusual mutual dependancy. In return for the house, a plot to grow potatoes and the right to cut turf, Sonny looked after Peter’s cattle as they roamed over hundred of acres of mountain. He kept an eye on them especially when they ventured along the bank of Abhainn na nAird Doiriú as it tumbles now over rocks and boulders and then again as it snakes silently through the bog. Black and Forbidding
Eventhough ponies were not his responsibility, Sonny would often help Peter when he came from Cnoc Raithní to check for mares that were in season or to catch a particular one that was due to go home. From their vantage point on Tamhain Uachtar, they could see west acress Leitir Easca to Tulach na nUan, north to Na hAird Doiriu or east to Cnocán Raithni. Great open spaces, familiar to the pipit, to the ponies, and to Sonny and Peter. Places they visited across huge tracts of bog. They knew this hillscape intimately. Knew it through the seasons, clad in green or purple or brown. Where it was warm and kind. Where it was cold and bitter. Where it was soft and dangerous. Where and when the river might be crossed. Where instincts led and contours suggested. Where the winds persuaded. Where the shelter. Where the bog cotton, the sweeter grass and the firm ground. Hillwise, they loved it all.
And hated it all. Hated its remoteness and loneliness, Hated the constant driving rain. hated the squelching, cloying sod that sapped their spirits. Hated the dampness that invaded their joints and wrecked their lungs. Lords of the mountain and slaves to it.
Clochbhaile. A few thistled, ferny acres surrounded by mountain and bog. Hence ‘a tamhnach’. Hardly fertile. Stunted bushes where goats could safely browse and roam. An incongruous line of struggling spruce as evidence that Nicholas tried. The flattened ridges detail the staple diet. The rock emerging everywhere, showing that every last sod of turf was cut. Drained, scrawed, cut, spread, footed and refooted. Clamped, gathered and reeked. Carted and sold.
How many countless thrusts of the sleán, runs with the wheelbarrow, jogeens with the pony and cart? How many millions of revolutions of the cartwheels bringin load after load at daybreak to city fires? Iron rims on gravel and tar for fifteen miles from Clochbhaile with black turf to Woodquay.
‘Till all the turf was cut away. Then Sonny left and Clochbhaile died.
The mountain and the elements defeated Sonny as they would later do with Peter. His mother was almost blind when she returned to An Spidéal almost forty years after leaving it as a young bride. They returned for company, warmth and comfort. Who would blame them? From that lonely Spartan mountain to that congenial village by the sea. No one has lived on An Tamhain Uachtar since. Surely no-one will again. Unless perhaps a poet or fisherman, beguiled by the stunning patchwork beauty of distant Tulach na nUan, bathed in a setting summer sun.
Clochbhaile. Village of stones. Sonny’s house abandoned. Roofless. Vague outlines of outhouses. a tiny tamhnach atop a bleak and barren hill. A rock-strewn, windswept landscape in that barren place. Once precious in a delicate network of mutually dependent tamhnaigh – Tulach na nUan, Tualch na Luachra, Na Tamhnacha Beaga, Na hAird Doiriú and Doire Thoire.
Outposts. Adrift. On the edge. Close to God. Poteen country. Snipe country. The network weaker now, with a member less.
The mill, the grouse, the ponies. All gone. Sonny and Peter departed. Memories, stories, prayers and blessings. Secret places, paths, boreens, shortcuts, crossings. Forgotten. Wisdom, strength, determination, courage, resilience. Forgotten. Words, tunes, nuances, gracenotes, loves and lives. All forgotten. Now only the raven knows this place.