Back From The Edge

We’ve been to Ireland looking for ancestors and got more than we bargained for; hot in pursuit of deceased episcopalian ministers, we ran to earth an Andrew Buck.  He was the first of a long line of ordained members of the established church, not the anti-establishment hero I had hoped for.  Nevertheless, in 1742 he had entered Trinity College, Dublin, as a sizar (subsidized student of exceptional ability but humble means).  He became a doctor of divinity but never seems to have had a parish though we found reference to him as being “of the Hibernian Academy”.  This was not a euphemism for University of Life, it still exists.

The modern man at the, now Royal, Hibernian Academy was on holiday; perhaps he was chasing his own ancestors in Spain so, assuming that my ancestor had died, we made haste to search graveyards.

Alan (long suffering spouse/driver/ambulant thesaurus/spare pair of eyes and rememberer of all things important – well nearly all) was triumphant: finding the shattered remains of the gravestone of my Great (x5) Uncle Jonathan in the ruined churchyard in Clontarf.

Ruins of Grt (x5) Grandpa's church, Clontarf

Ruins of Grt (x5) Grandpa’s church, Clontarf

Crown adorns St John's new church, Clonfarf

Crown adorns St John’s new church, Clonfarf

Finding the graveyard had been the hardest part: the first church, of the right name was of the wrong denomination and in the midst of a funeral for which, on a sunny day on holiday, we were inappropriately dressed; we did not stay for tea.  The second church had its roof off and would not let us in.  Anyway, where the graves should have been there were tennis courts with attractive people playing ball.  This was an inter-regnum; the new LADY vicar was to be installed with the new roof and meanwhile, a sinner told us, our relative would be down the road in the ruined churchyard.  There, to be sure, he was, with his wife, my Auntie Anne.

Great(x5)Uncle Jonathan reminds us of our mortality

Great(x5)Uncle Jonathan reminds us of our mortality

We were just as lucky in Limerick where we hoped to track down Andrew’s humble origins; the lady at the Cathedral (Church of Ireland) is still looking but not before remembering the name Jonathan Buck (probable grandfather of the one Alan found in Clontarf).  She had looked him up for an exhibition about silversmiths in Limerick that had recently finished at the Hunt Museum, just down the road.

The young man at the Hunt was delighted; there had been a book of the exhibition – A Celebration of Limerick Silver; it had not sold well; they had reduced it from E40 to E10; he remembered because he had bought loads to give as impressive Christmas presents but there was one left!

Celebrating Limerick silver with Guinness and sandwiches we discovered (shock/horror) the Dutch connection.

We read that, just maybe, the oldest Buck of them all, one George Bockendoght, a victim of abbreviation in the mid 1600’s, was probably imported from the low countries by the Earl of Orrery.  He came to boost the economy after Oliver Cromwell had just personally expelled, one way or another, the skilled Catholic Irish and the Royalist English — it was a bloody affair and to top it all, and to reassure us that nothing has really changed, they had a currency crisis and needed more coins struck!

There we are!  Not descended from a heroic peasant from the wild and beautiful west coast but a new man, arriving in the wake of genocide to institute quantitative easing.

Wild West Coast

Wild West Coast


Market Day


Dolgellau is a small livestock market, yesterday full of magnificent lambs, nearly mature now, trimmed and tidy, clothed in innocence and looking to their shepherd’s face for clues and sniffing the air, which was relaxed.  These were being sold as store-lambs, to go on to other farms, not for slaughter.  The owners were easy, joking, ready to chat.  Cull ewe sales are a different matter, the sheep are left and the farmers have urgent matters to attend to elsewhere, they don’t hang around to see old ewes sold, those they have lambed and pulled out of bogs in the middle of winter or dug out of snow drifts.

Yesterday at Dolgellau, farmers perched on the pen rails, in the autumn sun, and chewed the cud.  They looked at lambs smaller than their own and bemoaned the future for those farming on the edge, on the high, rugged land that you can see from the market, where the mountain pass rises by Cader Idris.

Old men remember the winter of ’47 or riding from Llanbrinmair  to Aberystwyth over the moors without having to open a gate and the sheep court at Dylife where they sorted out the stray sheep once a year.

Young men know that the openness of the country still prevents them controlling their stock as they would like; one cautious man, mindful of recent late springs decided to lamb later, as they used to, only to find that his neighbour’s tup had already serviced half  his ewes!

Bold marking helps muster sheep in mountainous ground where the hardy beasts jump stone-walls, hence the colourful pens of sheep.


Yesterday there were also people showing their pedigree Improved Welsh Mountain  sheep.  Prior to this I had harboured hopes of one day producing a breeding ram but I realise this is folly.  These creatures have huge curled horns; the first and only year that we used a tup with horns the ram-lambs he produced, although as lively as you like, kept hooking themselves in the fences and one died.  Now we always use a hornless male to father our lambs and although not always hornless the offspring have poor horns,certainly not suitable for hanging on fences and not show-horns!

The sight of a large ram walking to heel, on a lead is incongruous, like some strange dog, one that occasionally has a flash of recall and lowers its head, arches its back and kicks out its back legs, like a bison, before turning its head graciously to the camera.  Breeders are flushed with pride but avoid any undue shows of emotion, this is, after all, a livestock market.


It is a proper manly place, not the sort of establishment where buyers are squeamish about testicles or undocked tails.  In this more rugged terrain, there are enough challenges for young animals without adding to their stress by castrating or introducing infection and anyway, I thought testosterone built up muscle and isn’t that what its all about?

That brings me to lunch, £5 for a massive bowl of casseroled lamb’s liver and bacon with baked vegetables and mashed potatoes, eaten from the bowl with a knife and fork and fit to serve to anyone, anywhere.  And pies and cakes and home-made fruit flans with cream to die for…  But that’s not a problem for the men who still run up these steep hills tending their flocks, who carry sacks of feed,three at a time, and lug fully grown ewes about as if they are tired children and walk rams about on leads.