Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween from Hangman's Hill

Mist sifts through the trees, hanging there as if caught on the leafless branches like cold deathly fingers. Hairs rise on the back of my neck. The young trees are now too flimsy to support more than a birds nest, but I shudder at the thought of what might have been hanging in the same spot four hundred years ago.

Every night it's the same routine as I pull my bedroom curtains; A look that doesn't want to see, a held breath released in a relieved sigh and an imagination far too vivid for this view because, you see, we look out over the prime real estate of what was once Gallow's Hill.

I'd grown up knowing about this site in Armagh, but a part of me thought that it was just a spooky old wive's tale. It wasn't until the first night we'd moved in and the thought hit me as I looked out the bedroom window - What if I looked up and saw a ghost swinging by the neck from the tree.

"Catch yourself on," I told myself. I never saw any ghosts in Paris and those streets were bathed in the blood of past revolutions. Even where I lived in San Jose could well have seen the untold slaughter of the indigenous people. We live in a world bathed in echoes of the past and I, fortunately, do not have the finely tuned sixth sense to expose me to it.  However, an imagination like mine is a two-edged sword - great for building a world to set a trilogy in, but I'm also liable to scare the bejayus out of myself!

I was curious to see if I could, in fact, find out more about Hangman's or Gallow's Hill, (I've heard it called both) so myself and my Trusty Research Assistant (one rather cute 9-year-old nephew)  set off on a quest to see if we could find the exact spot on a map. The main library sent us to the Irish and Local studies Library - a history lesson in itself for the Trusty Research Assistant, as I told him it used to be the Armagh City Hospital and that I remembered having to go sometimes after school and wait for My Mum (his granny) who was a nurse there. The hallways still smelt of the old wards, I thought, but the library section had that comforting book smell. The Librarian was so helpful when we explained our quest and before too long a curly blond (mine) and a curly red (TRA's) head were bend over a huge table covered in piles of ancient maps of Old Armagh.

It was actually exciting to find the first (of several) maps with a road labelled "Gallows Hill."

"That's it!"
"Oh my God, it actually existed."
We grinned at each other, delighted with ourselves.

Because of copyright issues, we couldn't copy the old maps but we transcribed the position of not one, but two labels onto a google map. The blue line is where the Robert Livingstone map of 1766 (redrawn in 1835) shows Gallows Hill, and the purple line is how it is written on a later map, possibly a more generic area after the site was abandoned as an execution spot.

In the Archbishop's Palace Grounds (now a public park) there is a sign that tells us a little bit more about Gallows Hill.

This is the view from that spot - directly towards the ground at the back of our house. In the background you can see the bell of St Malachy's Church - that is definitely more than 150m north of the sign, so let your gaze rest just beyond the red foliage...and that's where it is...

The research was fascinating - I found the following anecdote  - Apparently, hangings were a big day out for the townspeople. Gruesome, I know, but when you consider the TV viewing we have nowadays, are we really all that different? Murders and mayhem right in the corner of our living room. However, on one occasion in 1721 the hanging spectacle was trumped by another event:-

1721. Primate Lindsey presented to the Vicars Choral a second organ for divine service, and a peal of six fine-toned bells for the Cathedral. On the day of their arrival it is said that an execution took place on Gallows-hill. The appointed hour arrived, and the crowd was in eager expectation for the appearance of the unfortunate victim, when intelligence came that the bells were on the Dublin road within a short distance of the city. In a moment the vast multitude dispersed,leaving the sheriff, posse comitatus and finisher of the law alone to discharge their painful duty. The horses were unyoked from the waggons and Primate Lindscy's merry bells were towed in triumph to their final resting place.

When researching this, I came across a lot of gruesome stories especially of murderers being hanged, but most records were post 1780 when the executions took place outside the Goal on the Mall.

Now thankfully all I have to look out at in the branches of the trees is a murder of crows! Hope it stays that way.

Happy Halloween!

Byddi Lee

Friday, October 20, 2017

The Craic'd Pot - Coffee Culture in Armagh

I had noticed the sign for the Craic'd Pot on my visit home back in March. It brought to my mind the coffee shops I'd seen in California - not the plague of Starbucks or Peets you see on every street corner, but more the "Mom & Pop" type coffee shops nestled into the likes of Palo Alto and Los Gatos - nice places, up-market places, places that made you feel you were on vacation.

As soon as I could after I moved home, I made a beeline for the Craic'd Pot to see what the craic actually was. I was not disappointed.

It had the ambience to match any upmarket Californian or Seattle coffee house, with that added Irish vibe - good craic (obviously) and great scones...


... not to mention the best-tasting coffee in town! Thank God they sell the beans so we can make the brew at home too - you know, for hurricane days, when you can't leave the house!


I loved the thought that had been applied to the decor. Every last detail attended to in such a way as to make me feel that I, their customer, was valued and worth the effort.


I was complimenting the staff on the cups and asking if they had been specially made for the business when a person bringing an armful of empty dishes appeared and confirmed that, yes, they had been specially made. This was my introduction to Scott King the owner.

Amazing staff - Sharon Donnelly and Ryan Little along with owner Scott King

Like myself, Scott, a county Armagh native, had travelled and lived abroad, though I considered his list of places that bit more exotic than mine - places like Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Vienna, Austria and Istanbul, Turkey. He spent 4 years at University in Scotland studying Management with Business Law and then went on to do a PGCE in Liverpool teaching Business Economics and eventually returning home to Armagh. By then he'd taught business for a while so decided it was time to stop teaching it and actually do it.

You could certainly see his expertise in marketing - Branding at its most functional level.

Not only is he a coffee connoisseur, he knows how to spread the love of the bean juice too - he gave us tasters of different varieties of beans made with various filtering techniques. Just fab!

But how did the grub match up?

Remember, this is a coffee shop. It doesn't claim to be a restaurant or a bistro, like other excellent places in Armagh such as 4 Vicars, The Moody Boar, Mulberry or the nearby Rumours. The Craic'd Pot has created its own perfect niche - light bites - both savoury and sweet.

The beverage menu is extensive, but they've kept the food really simple and it works! You can put together your own sandwich from a choice of ingredients - not overly extensive but absolutely in the Goldilocks range of "just right." There’s soup and all kinds of sumptuous tray bakes, cakes and buns to try too. One look at their Facebook page will have your mouth watering.

I had a panini with bacon, cheese and tapenade, with a side of salad ingredients of my choice.

Along with her salad choices, My Sister had the sausage roll - no ordinary sausage roll - this one had apple and herbs in it. And oh my, look at that pastry!

We had a delicious lunch, and a relaxing chat, enjoying the lovely surroundings and the friendly staff. It makes me so proud of Armagh to have such high-quality places for us to enjoy and to which we can welcome visitors to our lovely little city.

Come in and try a warm beverage here. I can guarantee you too will leave your cup like this!

 Byddi Lee

Monday, October 9, 2017

Hello Again Armagh

View of Lake Huron from Manitoulin Island
I remember the first time I moved to Armagh. I'm a genetic Armagh native but I wasn't born there, or even in Ireland - it doesn't mean I'm not Irish... Like my mother often told me - Jesus was born in a stable. It doesn't make him a donkey.

The Church I was baptised in, Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve

I was four years old when my parents moved back to Armagh after having lived in the Wikwemikong Unceded Reserve in Canada for 8 years. (By coincidence 8 years is how long we lived in California. Funny that.)

Armagh's version of the dark hedges - taken while on the Armagh Photo Walk

I vividly remember travelling home from the airport in the car. No seat beats - I'm from that daredevil generation who didn't bother with such safety features. Instead, I car-surfed in the gap between the driver seat and the passenger seat, a foot planted on the floor in each footwell of the backseat. Even with straight legs and ramrod back, my skimming of white curls was nowhere near the ceiling of the car. I did have, however, a birds-eye view of my Uncle's face in the rearview mirror. And he had a great view of me. He'd catch my eye and make faces at me, making me squirm with embarrassment but not enough to make me relinquish my perch - prime real-estate in a car for a kid of four years old. I was more bemused than amused at this strange man (who it unfolded is a very dear uncle, life mentor and family comedian!) but that was merely the beginning of my bewildering introduction to Ireland.

Gatelodge at Armagh Observatory

We stayed with my Granny for the first while in a whitewashed cottage with no inside toilet and a black and white TV. Oh the hardship - the TV, I mean. The toilet, I could somewhat cope with! We had a "slop bucket" under the bed if we "took short" during the night. My Mum and her siblings still laugh about how I said in a booming Canadian accent, "How come people in Ireland sleep in the bathroom." Bathroom was pronounced with a very long "A" - Baaath-room.

To this day, I still dream of living in a whitewashed cottage with roses around the door so the experience couldn't have been all that bad. There were kittens galore and a grumpy corgi called, "Dusty," that lived under the TV stand. He'd growl and snarl at anyone who approached, scrunching up his nose and baring his teeth. Us kids would copy him in making a "Dusty face." We never needed telling to leave him be. Dusty was perfectly capable of maintaining disciple among the hordes of grandchildren that visited Granny. And when I say hordes, I'm not exaggerating. Granny had nine children, and I am the third grandchild - of twenty-nine. And that is just on My Mum's side. My Dads side is a smaller collection, though more spread apart. I am the eldest of five cousins on that side.

St Marks Church, Armagh

There was always something going on at Granny's and my collection of fragmented memories includes getting stung by a wasp for the first time while playing on rusty metal barrels in the "street" which what we called the driveway. Granny's house was two miles out of town!

St Marks, Armagh
I always had a sense of "otherness" - In Wikwemikong, I was the odd child out with my fair skin and bald head amongst all the other children who all seemed to have beautiful straight, blue-black hair.

Even in school in Ireland, I felt that sense of "otherness." I was from Canada and that seemed to interest people but I wanted to be like everyone else. Having a curly bap didn't help matters. My Mum, unable to get a comb thru the frizz kept my hair short. In fact, she was so worried about how dry and frizzy my hair was that she took me to see the doctor. It wasn't until she walked into his office that she realized she was on a fool's errand - the doctor also had a head of frizzy dry curls (though no relation!)
Harvest moon over Market Street, Armagh

We moved out of Granny's into a flat in Market Street, beside my other Granny. My Aunties had a sewing shop in the same street. My cousins lived around the corner and I was thrilled to finally have cousins to play with. All the children back in Canada had large extended families and I had felt that I was missing out.

Over time, the fabric of Irish society wove me into their culture. My accent changed to an Armagh accent, which I still have today. (Thank God! Hey bai, I can only imagine the slagging I'd get if I came back with another North American twang.)

Now I can appreciate the cultural references that tie me to my peers in Armagh. Only recently I was describing having felt a mild earthquake in California - one that a true Californian wouldn't bat an eyelid at.

"You know that feeling as you walked through Lennox's and the floor flexed beneath you? It was like that," I said.

My Armagh friends knew exactly what I meant. Though that's a place and time reference younger people won't get.
The Mall, Armagh

When I was abroad, I was always "that Irish girl."  I didn't mind - it was my identity and I realised there was no escaping it, even after 8 years in California and another year in France. But at home, I have less to explain. People know what I mean when I ask, "What's the craic?" and say, "Thon's a quare feed." (Nothing to with internet.) Even My Husband speaks the lingo. I heard him the other day talking about some "yoke" and he wasn't referencing the yellow part of an egg.

I've travelled manys paths in my life, and am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to do so. Yet, I've never been as excited by a move as this one. And the world is still out there and still full of paths to explore

Bebamikawe Memorial Trail - Wikwemikong Unceded Territory
 Byddi Lee

Monday, October 2, 2017

Goodbye Paris

Point Zero the centre of Paris

We had a beautiful weather for our last-weekend in Paris - it was like the city was saying, "Don't go!" I wanted to photograph everything, remember every tiny detail and store it away for a time I might need it. I'd felt like that leaving my garden in California too, staring at our view, drinking as much of it in as I could but I never had returned to those soaked up memories since, and I'm hoping when I get to Armagh I'll be the same way.

We decided to go to the Picasso Museum

The best part of this museum is the building -  Hôtel Salé (not really a hotel like the  Hôtel de Ville!) 


Of the five floors, only three were open.

It was a bit annoying because they charged the same for the tickets in, but it's actually not that pricey so probably no need to complain. The basement was a dead loss - very little art and mostly boards on the walls with writing about Picasso. Random disjointed factoids - you'd do better on Wikipedia.


Upstairs there was more art on display but a lot of white space. 

An entire wall was black and white photos of Picasso working in his studio; a bit repetitive and not that interesting - a dire lack of painting when the signage keeps reminding what a prolific artist Picasso was! But we enjoyed what we did see.

And the coffee shop was nice.

After the museum, we wandered the streets - with me taking photos of absolutely everything - just in case I might forget even one second of the amazing experience that living in Paris is. 

A Rather Large Collection of Random Paris Photos

Some as a video:

Or if you want to puruse the photos at your own leisure:

Naked Ping-pong player!

Byddi Lee