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Seaweed Crook

An Strapa Mór, Tullig

The “Strapa Mór” is a difficult cliff path S.W. of Kilkee,Co. Clare which was used for centuries to transport seaweed from the beach to nearby farms, where it was used as a fertilizer. The repair and maintenance of this pathway was of great importance to the livelihood of the local people. 

The Bay of Tullig is divided by a spit into a small southern division called the Tullig Goleen and a much larger northern section called the Thrushlieve Goleen. The divided spit projects from the face of the cliff, the southern face of which is traversed by a steeply climbing path which affords the only access to the beach from the Thrushlieve townland.

This pathway is the Strapa Mór, although many local people apply this term to the actual spit.

The latter varies in height along its length, but is nowhere climbable without special equipment, and a considerable overhang compounds the difficulty. Access to the Thrushlieve beach is thus possible only at low water, by walking out the Tullig beach, skirting the spit and crossing in front of it. 

At a time when seaweed was the only available bulk fertilizer, the maintenance of the Strapa Mór pathway was of prime importance to Thrushlieve farmers, one of whom, the late Patrick Crotty, wrote:

“Like the turf bog in Thrushlieve that was owned jointly by the tenants, the strand at the front was also divided. Each family had their own section for cutting seaweed only. I remember my own father showing me our section of strand. The seaweed had to be carried a long way after being cut in the Thrushlieve Goleen. It was carried on their backs, tied with rope and the clothes of the people carrying it were always wet as there was a lot of seawater in it. It used to be carried a couple of hundred yards to the top of the Strapa Mór and thrown down on to the Tullig Goleen.  Then it was tied again in barths and carried across the Tullig Goleen and up the side of the cliff for a couple of hundred feet to level ground where it would be loaded on to a horse and car.  It would be then taken to the tillage bog in Thrushlieve where it was used to manure the spuds”. Each individual seaweed backpacks was called a dromach.

Two variations on this modus operandi were noted. In the first, when the seaweed had been dropped on to the Tullig Goleen, it was loaded into panniers borne by donkeys up the Strapa Mór to the top of the Thrushlieve cliff, obviating the long haul around by Tullig village. The second system was an individual effort by a Thrushlieve farmer named Quinlan, who always insisted on the Irish version Cuinnlán, and, because he used a white gelding, was euphoniously called Cuinnlán Bán Gearrán. He used a long pole, projecting, cantilever fashion, over the cliff edge and carefully weighted and secured on the land side. The free end carried a pulley, over which a rope was passed to the beach below, where an aide loaded the dromach of seaweed and gave the signal for hoisting by the Gearrán Bán.

The importance of the Strapa Mór can be gauged by the obvious efforts to shore up the path.  Supporting lengths of wall and buttresses were built into the cliff face, in places to a height of twelve feet. However they were not secured against cliff erosion.  Large sections have fallen and, because of the shaley nature of the rock here, the process is accelerating. Add to this the fact that many of the stones were removed for building and it can readily be understood why wayfarers misconstrue the remaining vestiges of the wall as remnants of a bridge over the creek. The buttressing of the Strapa Mór was aided by a British Government grant to fishermen who, at one time, had 23 currachs in the Goleen.

Because the seaweed culture died about eighty years ago, a further Patrick Crotty quoted is instructive;
“Since people had only two cows there was very little farmyard manure to manure the potatoes, also they had to buy hay for the cows, so in order to fertilise the land my father used to cut seaweed. Sometimes when it all had been cut on the strand they had to wait until low tide and the rocks were stranded along the side of the cliff. Two men would go out on a boat, one man held the oars at the bow and when the boat was close to the rocks the man at the stern would use a long tool which was called a sea-knife in order to cut the seaweed. He went down on his knees in the stern of the boat then twisted his left hand on the seaweed and cut the seaweed off the rocks with his right hand and threw it into the canoe. When the canoe was full the two of them would row the boat back to the strand. Here there was a sloping rock by the (Tullig) Goleen called Gill. The man at the stern would throw the seaweed onto the rock and put it above high water mark.   From there other members of the family would carry it up to the top of the cliff in bundles tied with rope. On April 30th, 1900 my father was in a canoe with Martin Lynch his neighbour, they were going out to catch seaweed. My grandfather and another relative, Daniel McInerney were in another boat beside them. Their boat was overturned and they were both drowned. After that my father gave up fishing.”

This recalls a previous tragedy in 1884. Dennis Liddane, coming late to the Goleen, found he had missed his usual two partners. Instead, he chose two youngsters to crew his canoe, his brother-in-law John Gorman, and a near neighbour called Greaney. All three were drowned.Unusually, the bodies were not recovered.                  

This was in the heyday of fishing in Tullig. Another enterprise, towards the end of the 19th Century, was the quarrying of the brown stone blocks from the Tullig cliffs. They were then loaded on a raft on the shore, and, when floated by the tide, were towed to their destination in Ross Bay, where they form an eye-catching retaining wall on the raised shore. As they left Tullig Bay, rowers would have been careful to negotiate the “Custom Gap” between the three rocks at the entrance.

This is an interesting and bracing walk, taking in the three ring-barrows and the promontory fort of Dundoillroe. Going westward, a deep diving pool, the Giall, is succeeded by Poll na n-Ime (butter), Poll na Ghabha, Poll na Muice, Poll an Chadáis (cotton – the cargo of a ship said to have foundered here) and a striking sea-stack called de Loughrey’s Rock or de Loughrey’s Island. The story is that de Loughrey was cutting sea-weed, oblivious of the coming tide, until his retreat to the shore was cut off and he was forced to climb up on the sea-stack and try to hold his position. His friends stayed on the nearby shore, shouting encouragement and getting a reply, “I will have a story for ye in the morning.” Alas, he slipped away during the night.  The rutted and partly obliterated roadway returns to the western end of Tullig village, furnishing an entrancing prospect of the Peninsula suspended between the two lighthouses, Kilcrehane and Loop Head, with the Kerry mountains towering over Rehy Hill and, on the next ridge, the inviting village of Cross with its friendly hostelries. 

Paddy Nolan
The Other Clare vol.22 (1998)

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