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A Cluster of Seaweed Book Launch – A Book dedicated “To all who love Béarra”

My science teacher from De La Salle secondary school, Mr. Martin Verling wrote a book about the Beara peninsula (a beautiful part of Ireland along the Wild Atlantic Way) in the Irish language. I never knew how talented he was as a write or indeed an artist. After his death, his wife Emma, continued his work and painstakingly translated the book into English. On Wednesday, 5 April 2023, in Evie’s Hall in Eyeries, Dr. Críostóir Mac Cárthaigh, Director of the Folklore Collection, UCD, launched ‘A Cluster of Seaweed’ by Emma Verling née Ní Mhurchú.

Críostóir supervised, directed, and edited my translation of my late husband, Martin Verling’s book, ‘Mioscais na gCumar.’ The cultural landscape of Atlantic island and coastal communities is of particular interest to Críostóir, and his Ph.D. dealt with the subject of storytelling in fishing communities in Corca Dhuibhne, west Kerry. Over ten years, I had many meetings with him in Cnuasach Bhéaloideas, UCD, and he was always welcoming, kind, courteous, and endlessly generous with his time. Without his constant interest and input, this book would never have been published. Gura fada buan tú, a Chríostóir!

Brian Boss O’Sullivan Bhealaigh chaired the launch. The really appreciative audience included relatives of the seanchaithe, Béarra people, and very many people who have chosen to make Béarra their home.

            A Cluster of Seaweed contains a rich body of stories, seanchas – historical lore – songs, and stories from Béarra, where Irish was widely spoken until recent times. The collection brings together traditions of landlords and land agents, stories of the devastating Great Famine, trade and commerce, legends of the fairy host and otherworld animals, folk cures and popular beliefs, as well as tales of mythological figures, such as the Old Woman of Béarra and the Gaibhleann Gabha, a folk counterpart of the mythological smith, Goibhniú.

A Cluster of Seaweed Book Cover - Emma & Martin Verling

            The book runs to 487 pages and contains the stories of 17 storytellers from Cill Chaitiairn and Dhá Dhrom, (Ardgroom) whose genealogy is traced by Riobard O’Dwyer in 23 pages. The Recording Context section brings us into the homes of these storytellers and introduces us to them and to their families, so while reading the stories, we can imagine ourselves in the storyteller’s kitchen during the recording session. The Recording Context is based on diary entries made by folklore collector, Tadhg Ó Murchú, when he returned from his day’s recording. This is a portion of Tadhg O Murchú’s diary account of a visit to Pádraig Ó Laochdha’s house in Cill Chaitiairn:

The house was beautiful, and really spic and span inside. There was an old woman, an old man and a nice, good-looking young woman inside, and a beautiful infant child. The old man was sitting on the upper end of the seat near the fire. He was a medium-sized man with broad shoulders and a very dark complexion. He had black hair, a blue coat, and a black, wide-brimmed hat. The typical dress of the Béarra men, as we were used to seeing long ago when they came to our locality to buy boats. The old woman was busy around the house, and the young woman was minding the child.” (P.446)

The indices of people and places were collated by Shane McDonald, Waterford. Martin’s map at the back of the book is a guide to the townlands in which the storytellers lived. His notes on the stories run to 40 pages and the book also contains many photos including those of some of the storytellers such as Brídín Ní Mhurchú, Pointe na Reanna, Diarmaid Ó Sé, Fán Shliabh, and Diarmaid Ó hÚrdail, Caobach, Féith, Cill Chaitiairn. In this context, the following line from a poem by Alice Walker rings true:

“The meaning of your lives is still unfolding…”

The cover of the book is based on Martin’s painting of two seals. A Cluster of Seaweed was beautifully designed by Romanian, Iulian Pirpiliu, originally an aeronautical engineer, and printed by Stewart O’Connell of Johnswood Press.

Photos of many of the seanchaithe and of those who played a part in this publication were displayed in the hall – Tadhg Ó Murchú, the folklore collector from Uíbh Ráthach; Dr. Gearóid Ó Crualaioch, UCC, who wrote the foreword for both Mioscais na gCumar and A Cluster of Seaweed; Fachtna Ó Donabháin who organized the unveiling of the plaque in honour of seanchaí, Pádraig Ó Murchú; Riobard O’Dwyer, genealogist; Dr. Riobard Ó hÚrdail, UCC, who is an authority on the dialect of the Irish of Béarra; Jeremiah Murphy, Cathair Caim, who supplied valuable information on seine fishing; Mrs. Kate O’Leary in whose house in Eyeries Tadhg Ó Murchú stayed; Professor Pádraig Ó Fiannachta, Maigh Nuad, who published Mioscais na gCumar and Martin Verling who edited Mioscais na gCumar. 

            Photographer, Seán Moriarty, made an excellent photographic record of the launch, capturing the atmosphere of what was a most enjoyable occasion. Evie’s Hall, built by her father, master carpenter, John Murphy, was a really comfortable and spacious venue. The fact that Irish classes were held in the original hall across the road in the 1940s, provides a real sense of continuity and an inspiration for us to learn, or relearn Irish.  After the launch, a lovely reception was held in Mary O’Shea’s public house.

A Cluster of Seaweed Book Launch - Emma & Martin Verling

Gabhaim buíochas ó chroí le gach duine a thacaigh leis an tSeoladh seo agus le gach éinne a bhí i láthair chun beatha, misneach agus gaois ár sinsear a cheiliúradh.

Emma Verling née Ní Mhurchú

Na hAoraí agus Port Láirge.

A Cluster of Seaweed is on sale in Béarra, in Walsh’s Bookshop, Dungarvan, and in the Book Centre, Waterford.

Click Here to visit the Book Centre listing for the book.

A Cluster of Seaweed Book Launch - Emma & Martin Verling

Guests of my life

You came in the early dawn,

And you came in the night.

Your name was uttered

By the spring flowers

And the showers of rain.

You brought the harp into my life,

And you brought the lamp.

After you had taken your leave,

I found God’s footprints on my floor.

                                                                                        Rabindranath Tagore