Archive for Mai, 2014

Stephenstown House & The Fall of the Great Irish Estates

In Allgemein by Francesca / 28. Mai 2014 / 0 Comments

by Steve Downes

Stephenstown House in mid county Louth today stands as a majestic shell of what was once one of Ireland’s many fine 18th century mansions. It is emblematic of the slow decline of these structures which in Ireland simultaneously (and sometimes contradictorily) represented the Anglo-Irish landed gentry, British oppression, employment and opportunity for the lower classes and social focal points for the creation of village/rural communities. Stephenstown House was all of these things, depending on where you viewed it from in history and society, more importantly it, and other great estates like it, formed an indelible part of our shared cultural experience in Ireland.

The politics of Independence has long been blamed for the decline and, in many cases, the destruction of the great Irish Estate House. However despite the cataclysm of the War of Independence and the Civil War in the 1920’s many of the landed estates of Ireland, with their splendid Georgian piles of brick and stone struggled on for decades, some continuing to be in family ownership into the 1980’s and 1990’s.

It was largely Acts of the consecutive Irish Governments that caused the abandonment of many of Ireland’s big houses. Immediately after Independence much of the vast farmland that supported the creation of these houses was divided up among tenant farmers. Death duties and other hefty taxes forced families to sell the remaining estates, including the houses, and dozens of notable Anglo-Irish family names disappeared across the channel and settled permanently on their British domains.
One of the most barbaric attacks on Irish Heritage by government was the so-called ‘Roof Tax’ which, from the late 1950’s, led farmers to remove the roofs off many historic building on their land to avoid paying such taxes. This Act alone caused the destruction of thousands of historic sites in Ireland.

Stephenstown House was built in 1785 by Matthew Fortescue for his new bride Marian McClintock; it is set in expansive gardens, with a mill, ponds, coach and farm buildings. It had a medieval Motte and a small 15th century castle (also called Stephenstown) which was the original Anglo-Norman structure on the site to control trade along the nearby Glyde river (these were both used as garden features).
The Great House itself is a square Georgian building of two storeys over a basement five bays long and five bays deep. It was extended in 1820 by the addition of two wings of one storey over a basement. One of these wings was demolished later in the 19th century. Sometime in the earlier part of the 19th century the windows were given Tudor-Revival hood mouldings but later the house was refaced with cement and the hood mouldings replaced by Classical pediments and entablatures.
Stephenstown House remained in the Fortescue family until recently. During its lifetime as a working estate it saw the Golden Age of Irish Georgian society, with its grand balls and rich excesses; it would survive the upheaval of the Land Wars, the Home Rule Movement, the First World War and the chaos that accompanied Ireland’s struggle for Independence.
After the death of Mrs Pyke-Fortescue in 1966, Stephenstown was inherited by her nephew Major Digby Hamilton who sold it in 1974. It was let fall into ruin in the 1980’s, when the roof collapsed.

Even as a ruin Stephenstown is an impressive reminder of one of Ireland’s greatest architectural Ages. Its windowless façade still dominates the local landscape and its influence over the nearby village of Knockbridge (rebuilt to serve the needs of the Great House) is still echoed today in local folklore and place names.
Through the 1970’s and 80’s Stephenstown was stripped of anything valuable, sometimes illegally. As its classical interior disintegrated, explorers into the House found that it comprised not of one household but actually two. Concealed beneath the rich wood veneer of high society was the basement and backstairs’ world of Stephentown’s many servants, who lived and worked for decades behind the scenes.

Something could still be salvaged of these forgotten great Irish Houses, their history is not separated from Irish history, they are an endemic part of a collective Irish Culture and it is my hope that their preservation in one form or another will see them passed onto the next generation of history lovers.

Steve Downes, M.A.,
Co-founder Hidden History Ireland

Picture : Ian Russell, Hidden History Ireland. Front of house with 1880s photo overlay.

Pro Wein 2014 – International Trade Fair in Düsseldorf

In Allgemein by Francesca / 21. Mai 2014 / 0 Comments

by Manuela Thoma

„Pro Wein“ is one of the leading international trade fairs for wines and spirits and takes place every year in March since 1994 – just in time to taste the new vintages – in Düsseldorf.
According to leading journals “Pro Wein” is considered as the most important international wine fair. It is aimed specifically at a professional audience from gastronomy and traiding. It gives winemakers from around the world the opportunity to present themselves and their wines to the international visitors. In addition, retailers have the opportunity to taste the quality of new vintages and get the chance to compare wine on a large scale.
In the year of its 20th anniversary, the “Pro Wein” took place from 23. to 25. of March 2014. It offered 4830 exhibitors from 47 countries and approximately 48,000 visitors in 7 halls space to present and inform themselves, and transformed the entire city of Düsseldorf in the „international capital “ for wines and spirits.
In addition to individual booths, the central “tasting zone” offered both a supporting program with a variety of awards and honors, and numerous high-profile wine seminars and events around wine and spirits. Especially the “ Champagne Lounge“ with over 60 types of champagne enjoyed great popularity among the visitors.
The German vintage of 2013, which due to the weather and crop conditions is regarded as difficult, convinced with a variety of fresh, fruity, light and tangy white wines.
Of particular importance was the host country Japan this year, which in numerous booths and events could present and convey the diversity of its local specialty “Sake”. At the same time, Japan also presented itself as one of the many newcomers in the international wine business (among others: Israel, Georgia, England and Lebanon) with two young wineries who presented their white wine from the traditional Koshu grapes for the first time in Düsseldorf.
Sustainability and ecological viticulture are obvious measures to produce strong character wines today. International organic organizations and well-known organic winegrowers presented their convincing results at the “Pro Wine” and showed that organic is also all the rage.
Next year’s “Pro Wein” wine will take place from 15 to 17 of March 2015 in Düsseldorf.

About Manuela Thoma : As an employee of the prestigious Tübingen specialty shop for wine, fine food and spirits „Vinum Tübingen“ our wine consultant worked at the “Pro Wein” at the booth of the well known trader „Weinmarkt Mattheis”, and had the opportunity to learn about the new vintages and trends.


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News From Nowhere

In Allgemein by Francesca / 14. Mai 2014 / 0 Comments

by Clifford Slapper

Beauty, which is what is meant by art, using the word in its widest sense, is, I contend, no mere accident to human life, which people can take or leave as they choose, but a positive necessity of life.
William Morris, The Beauty Of Life, 1880

William Morris, 1834-1896, was a visionary socialist in nineteenth century England, as well as an artist, poet and textile designer who was associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and the English Arts And Crafts Movement. Many will have enjoyed his exquisite designs for wallpaper or furniture, or have taken pleasure from his poetry and medievalism. For him, however, it was impossible to consider true art separately from the social context in which it was being created.

In 1884 he founded the Socialist League which stood for a global democratic revolution in which private or state ownership of productive resources would be replaced with a new commonwealth of humanity. On the basis of common ownership and democratic control of the social production of wealth, he argued, we could finally rid society of its brutal contradictions, conflicts and poverty. With that liberation of people and of work itself from monetary constraints, the division between art and everyday life might be dissolved, as usefulness, beauty and harmony could then all blossom together within human productivity.

Morris’ legacy is enormous in several areas and to explore that is a grand and rewarding project in itself. For now, however, those interested might start with some of the reading below and perhaps a visit to London’s Kelmscott House by the river at Hammersmith, where he lived from 1878 and which is now the home of the William Morris Society.

We can study his politics as a doorway to understanding his fascinating and compelling ideas about art. Likewise one may start by exploring his writings about art as a clue to the birth of his revolutionary commitment to social transformation. Either path of study will pay dividends to the reader, as his was a truly unified and balanced perception, in which art was seen as an intrinsic part of the human endeavour, and would only ever be half developed whilst society remained fraught with alienation and exploitation.

Of course, there are those modern critics who will choose to respect that “art” which is born from misery and decadence, or nurtured in the mire of brutal parasitic exploitation, but Morris’s view does not need to trip over quibbles of definition. The whole point about the world view which he vigorously and tirelessly expounded throughout his incredibly productive life, is that his is a positive-minded manifesto celebrating the transformative power which our species might have, once artificial and anachronistic social constraints are removed.

Showing balance at every level, he thus combined social activism for a global revolution to end capitalism in every form (a project which remains hitherto essentially untried even more than a century later) with a personal crusade to be artistic, productive and positive in the influence he left on the world he inherited:

With the arrogance of youth, I determined to do no less than to transform the world with Beauty. If I have succeeded in some small way, if only in one small corner of the world, amongst the men and women I love, then I shall count myself blessed, and blessed, and blessed, and the work goes on.
William Morris, The Well At The World’s End: Volume I, 1896


Works by or on William Morris, suggested as further reading:

  1. News From Nowhere, William Morris, 1890
  2. Thompson, E. P., William Morris: Romantic to Revolutionary. London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1955. An essential study by a social historian which places Morris in his rightful position as a founder of the socialist/communist movement in Britain.
  3. William Morris and News from Nowhere: A Vision for Our Time, Edit. Stephen Coleman, Paddy O’Sullivan, 1991 (with a précis of the text of News From Nowhere by Clifford Slapper).
  4. Art And Socialism, William Morris, 1884.
  5. Signs Of Change: How We Live And How We Might Live, William Morris, 1888.
  6. For further information about William Morris and about Kelmscott House, Hammersmith, London, where he spent his later years, please go to

Clifford Slapper is a London-based musician and socialist, currently working on a biography of pianist Mike Garson.

Local Legends: Mermaids, a Kraken’s Tooth, and a Block of Lead

In Allgemein by Anke Tietz / 7. Mai 2014 / 0 Comments

In the town of Blaubeuren, about 10 miles west of Ulm, in Southern Germany, there is the Blautopf, the Blue Pot. It is the source of the river Blau (Blue), and the water is indeed radiantly blue, because of the way the light reacts with the limestone elements distributed in the water. Underneath the Blue Pot the water has created a huge cave system, the entrance as deep as 69ft. It has attracted many divers, but after several fatal accidents nowadays a special permission is required for diving in the Blue Pot.
The Pot’s blue water and it’s seemingly bottomless depth have inspired local legends and fairy tales. Legend has it that the Blue Pot’s depth can not be measured, for every time a leaden sounding line was lowered into the water, it was stolen by a water nix. A Suabian tongue twister refers to the myth: Near Blaubeuren lies a block of lead. A block of lead lies near Blaubeuren. And a rock nearby is called Klötzle Blei, Block of Lead.
The Romantic author Eduard Mörike incorporated the Blue Pot and the myths associated with it into his novella Das Stuttgarter Hutzelmännlein (The Shriveled Gnome from Stuttgart) in the form of the narration The Beautiful Lau. The Beautiful Lau is a mermaid who, because of her melancholic disposition, can only have stillborn children. Her husband, king of the Black Sea, sends her to the Blue Pot, where she is doomed to live until she has laughed five times. Only then, according to a prophecy, she would be able have healthy children. The Beautiful Lau makes friends with Frau Betha, the landlady of an inn nearby. The good-natured and wise Betha finally helps the mermaid to laugh five times, sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly. In one instance Betha dresses the Lau up as a servant woman and introduces her to her spinning circle with the local women. While spinning, the women share funny stories, among them the story of Doctor Veylland and his servant Kurt. The Doctor and the Count of Wurttemberg had once tried to measure the depth of the Red Sea. When they lowered a leaden sounding line, a kraken bit into the lead and lost two of its teeth. The Count kept one tooth, the other remained in the lead that was in the possession of the Doctor. When he died, he told his servant Kurt to sink it into the Blue Pot – because of the kraken tooth, it had the powers to turn people invisible, and the Doctor wanted to make it disappear. Instead, Kurt used the lead to measure the depth of the Blue Pot. It happened that at the same moment (and of course, the spinning women would not know this but only the Lau herself) the Lau was given a pedicure by one of her maids on the Pot’s ground. The mermaids saw the lead coming down, and exchanged it with an onion someone had thrown into the water the day before, a chain of pearls, and golden scissors. Servant Kurt pulled up his rope expecting to see the lead, but instead saw the Lau’s gifts, and in order to add to his confusion, the Lau’s maid swam up to the surface and waved her long white hands through the air. Kurt fell into a week-long shock during which he kept repeating the tongue twister Near Blaubeuren lies a block of lead. A block of lead lies near Blaubeuren. Now all the women try to get out the rhyme without twisting their tongue, and finally it is the Lau’s turn, and she joins the women in laughing.
Was Mörike the inventor of tongue twister, or had it already existed when he wrote the story of the Beautiful Lau? Had it already been linked with the myth of a mermaid living in the Blue Pot, or was that his reinterpretation? The narration of the Beautiful Lau actually begins with an episode of how the mermaid once had captured and tried to drown a boy who mocked her. The boy could escape through the cave system, not without stealing a heavy bag from the Lau’s underwater chambers. When he had finally made his way back to the sunlight, he opens the bag, hoping to find a lump of gold. Instead it is only a piece of lead, which the disappointed boy throws away. When the conversation among the spinning women turns to the confused servant Kurt and his repeated mumbling of Near Blaubeuren lies a block of lead, Betha remarks: ‚Who would thought there was some sense in this saying, or even a prophecy’. The narrator emphasizes that when Kurt keeps on repeating the tongue twister it was not his, Kurt’s, invention, but that the rhyme had already existed for a long time. The old rhyme’s meaning is explained by the episode of the boy throwing the block of lead away, since he is not aware of the magical powers inherent in the kraken’s tooth. There it lies, the block of lead, near Blaubeuren, until it is found, a hundred years later, by a shoemaker, as it’s told in another narration imbedded in Mörike’s novella.
Today, there’s a little block of lead attached to rock called Block of Lead, as a reminder of the story. And next to the Blue Pot, the sculpture of a mermaid evokes the legend of the Beautiful Lau. And looking into the deep, blue waters of the Pot, thinking of the divers who drowned trying to explore the cave system beneath, it suddenly seems not incredible that there could be some mermaids living in the depth, laughing about the humans.

Webcam of the Blue Pot:


by Anke Tietz