Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Caislean an Fheirtearaigh
During the 1950s and 1960s, my family lived in a house with a formal sitting room, across an entry hall from a formal dining room. The sitting room was something of a repository for certain heirloom items, and a number of family portraits hung upon the walls. In the far corner of the room stood a walnut étagère, with graduated display shelves, largest on the bottom, getting smaller higher – five shelves total. The middle shelf was the most prominent, and upon this shelf were several items of family historical importance: a small flat stone, a chunk of peat with a green silk ribbon tied around it, and a black and white photograph of a stone ruin, taken across a foggy expanse of grass. Ferriter’s Castle.
As a child, that shelf seemed to me to hold the keys to and the evidence of a secret history: the history of my family from a far distant point in time. This history seemed secret, because there were no encyclopedia entries to describe it and no textbooks that mentioned it, yet people who had my last name all knew about it. A family secret. Our family had once held title to large tracts of land, and great offshore islands. Our family had resisted the onslaught of alien invaders, and had produced a great hero, who not only held out against the enemy for longer than the other Irish, but who wrote great poetry, and played the harp with unsurpassed mastery. Pierce Ferriter.
This history, (a history that I gave up trying to explain to anyone outside the family because I could never quite explain why it was not in any book that could easily be found), was central to my sense of family, as I grew up. My father could tell tales of Pierce’s greatness, and of his deeds. As my father was a man who at times seemed embued with his own qualities of greatness, and who seemed to have vast and certain knowledge of all manner of things, I never doubted any portion of any story that he told regarding our family. Underwriting all of this was the picture of the ruin, and the stone, (a Castle fragment), and the peat, (from the sacred ground). Real things, supporting the otherwise ephemeral stories of the distant past.
So all of my life, I have carried the image of that fragmentary ruin in my memory, an icon of familial faith - faith in the reality of the stories that my father recounted, and faith in the kernel of greatness that always seemed nearby, somehow.
Lately, I have been conducting some topical investigations into Ferriter’s Castle. At some point, I’ll try and produce a more or less thorough write-up of what I have learned. My purpose here is not to describe the Castle in terms of it’s likely date of origin, orginal function, likely size, strength, or what it might have been like to live inside it, but simply to state what the image and notion of Castle Ferriter has meant to me, in this life.
I’d also like to thank all of the people who have visited the Castle in the digital age, and who have taken so many wonderful photographs. These images are proving very valuable in my researches, and promise to hold even more value, as I work on a special project for the All Ferriter Family Gathering. I’d also like to give a special nod to my daughter Angela, who during her semester abroad in Ireland in 1998 not only trudged out to Castle Ferriter, but took away a nice sized stone, to replace that much smaller one, so important to my sense of “Ferriterness” as a child.
George Ferriter, USA