Fásach Innealra = Machine Wilderness in Gaelic.
Notes from Default a yearly voyage following a fold in the map of Europe. This year the fold led us on a straight line through Ireland.
Initially I had archaeology in mind as my focus during Default in Ireland, having read about the research into rich ceremonial practices in Western European bog lands I was keen to find some way of doing roadside archaeology. The reality of the Irish countryside however, already became apparent on Tory Island, the magnificent little island the team prepared their trip on. At the Atlantic side of the island huge and spectacular cliffs fall hundreds of meters down to the waves crashing into them below. In this idyllic location some cliffs seemed to be used by the local inhabitants as trash-dumps.
This wasn’t a local phenomenon. Wherever we went there was a liberal distribution of trash scattered around almost cheerfully. This somehow made the idea of archaeology less appealing. You want to dig for something and whatever you discover is more attractive if its old. The older the better, really. In Ireland you don’t have to dig, there is stuff to be found everywhere, but most of it isn’t old at all, it’s from Mac Donalds or Tesco’s. So it doesn’t feel like your doing archaeology strutting along a roadside, you’re just picking up trash. It could have been interesting to just collect all of it. The sheer volume of disused artefacts available could have made that an interesting challenge. But soon something else gained my interest, already on the first day of cycling we encountered vast areas of turf.
A machine landscape:
The culmination of this was in the Clonfert area. We arrived there late in the afternoon in the second week of cycling and somehow the landscape just seemed to stop. The team was faced by what looked like a brown sea that stretched all the way to the horizon. A dry brown sea and in the middle of it, far away, stood a large factory building. Temporary train-lines ran along various tracks over the flat surface. Large machines were standing where the workers had left them that afternoon. This was an immense machine landscape of industrial turf mining. Somehow Ireland had a turf power plant! Sings warned of the machines crossing the road like moose in Scandinavia.
It just so happens that I had been preparing, before leaving, for Machine Wilderness and somehow this was it; a machine eroded landscape. We joined one last worker in his shipping-container / office. The man explained that the turf was almost depleted. Soon they would reach the bottom of the layer that must have been many meters deep long ago. On the wall was a small poster. It was guide on how to deal with archaeological remains embedded it the turf. One picture had a shoe on it, another showed what looked like wooden walls of an ancient little house. So some archaeology after all.
St Brendan’s tree:
In the middle of it stood an ancient Cathedral a testimony to the long economic significance of the turf resources here. The 14th century building looked massive and pagan. We spent some time there until we found a notice saying ‘stay-out, dangerous trees’. This called for investigation. We encountered there a scene I had never witnessed before, there was a big imposing tree there full of pictures, baby-clothing, Christian paraphernalia, underwear, candles in a big jumble of offerings. It looked African, or Indonesian, but somehow this was an Irish pagan cult site. So it was all there at Clonfert, the Industrial age, the Dark ages, and pre historic ages, all at the surface.
I made some sketches of machines that collect trash in the landscape and hang them in a tree: St Brendan’s machines. The journey through Ireland had a huge impact on my thinking about Machine Wilderness, a country where spirituality is still very closely tied to nature, but where the bogs are no longer sacred offering sites, but have also become synonymous with trash dumps. That is a dark ecology.