The Irish are natural storytellers, and often their tales are best told through song. Such is the ballad of Dan O’Hara.
For refusing to pay increased rent (due to increasing the windows size in his cottage), Dan and his family were evicted and forced to emigrate to New York. Dan’s wife and three of his 7 children died on the journey. Penniless, Dan’s remaining children were put into state care and Dan ended his days selling matchsticks on the streets of New York.
But from the ashes of such heartbreak, amazing things can rise. For without that story to make your visit more personal, the Connemara Heritage & History Centre would be less, well, touching, I guess is the right word.
Visiting the Connemara History and Heritage Centre
Our hostess Carmel at Ocean Villa in Clifden recommended we visit the Connemara History and Heritage Centre. While we had passed it on our way into Clifden, I hadn’t given much thought to visiting. However, I always listen to the recommendations of my hosts, so we added the heritage centre to our itinerary.
When you arrive at the heritage centre, enter the large farmhouse B&B to purchase your tour tickets. Until the tour departs, you can explore ancient Ireland through the recreations of a crannóg, stone oratory, dolmon tombs, ring fort and a clochaun at the front of the property. Each area is well labeled, with just enough historic fact to make the visit both fun and interesting.
Dan O’Hara’s Cottage in Connemara
As the tour begins to gather at the large, enclosed trailers you’ll likely meet Martin who, with his wife Nora, own the history centre and hill farm on which it sits. Our tour was led by Martin who is a natural storyteller. As the tractor began its ascent of the hill behind the farmhouse, Martin shared the history of the area and pointed out places of interest, like the nearby area of the 12 Bens mountain range where the famed Connemara Marble is mined.
As we neared the top of the hill, Martin shared a tale in a way only the Irish can- in song. His deep, pleasing voice filled the trailer as everyone hushed to catch each word. At the top of the hill, the views over Connemara are incredible; you can see peat bogs (now protected), and across them, the Atlantic Ocean. The 12 Bens rise in the distance, in shades of green reminiscent of the marble that is mined there. After exploring a bit- and maybe meeting one of the Connemara ponies that roams the hills, you re-enter the trailer for your ride to Dan O’Hara’s cottage.
Just outside the tidy stone wall is a small area of peat. You are shown how the peat was cut by hand and the extensive drying process- made more time consuming by Ireland’s frequently wet weather. Peat for personal use is still cut and dried in this way- which will make those sweet smelling peat fires a bit more impressive as you continue your Ireland vacation.
Entering the yard of the small cottage you will likely be met by chickens and the friendly farm dog, Spot, which attracted my girls immediately. They remained outside as everyone else entered the small farmhouse. Here you realize it wasn’t so long ago that many of the Irish lived in such a house- though many not so fine as this one. Dan O’Hara was a “prosperous” tenant farmer at the time and his house had luxuries- like glass windows. As you hear the tale of life in mid-1800′s Ireland and the famine, you can almost imagine Dan and his family nearby, urging you to remember them as you drink a toast with the once illegal poitín (or poteen) pulled from its hidden cubby near the fireplace.
Ireland History and Artifacts
After returning to the farmhouse, be sure to enter and peruse the history and artifacts room; there are really some incredible items there. And sit for the short video which shares more of the history of the area. These two rooms will nicely wrap up your visit.
On your way out make a quick stop in the gift shop- if only to grab a wee bottle of poitín to take home to toast Dan O’Hara as you share photos with friends.
Note: You can save on admission with the Heritage Island Discount Pass.
© 2013, Jody Halsted. All rights reserved.