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A Connemara Fractal

Currywongan, Connemara. Ian Pollard

This an annotated version of a piece recently published in matzine number five

A Connemara Fractal is a poetic and photographic documentation of a recent trip to Connemara. The title is connected to the writing of mathematician, visual artist and cartographer Tim Robinson. Specifically, the poem references Robinson’s similarly titled essay in which he examines the western coastline of Ireland from a perspective framed by a knowledge of fractal geometry. Exploring the self-similar nature of a coastline, one may realise that its length is in essence infinite, as measurements made with progressively smaller rulers would result in proportionally larger results.

The poem also considers the often bleak history of a beautiful, unique place on the western seaboard of Europe; where ancient walls made by unknown men protect grazing sheep from a vertiginous demise. This is the real Ireland; seen not as the romantic, pastoral sentence of the peasant’s noble struggle on a land they did not own, but as a place with a social history ravaged by the forces of  isolation, colonial avarice and the vicious and endemic disregard of Ireland’s institutions for the plight of the individual.

Road, Connemara. Ian Pollard

Yet Connemara will forever remain a remarkable physical and social landscape. Before the “rather dangerous experiment” of the Industrial School at Letterfrack the Quaker couple James and Mary Ellis built a community there in 1848. While most of the social fabric of Connemara decayed in famine, along with the primary available food source, Letterfrack developed for some time and successfully supported its inhabitants. Built on the egalitarian values of the Quaker couple, the village served their large farm on which labourers who, at 8pence a day, received two pence more in pay than those employed in working neighbouring lands, much to the chagrin of their Anglo-Irish landlords.

Near to the village of Letterfrack, the cottage in which I stayed at Corr Uí Mhongáin (Currywongan) neighbours the concrete remnants of mast-bases for Guglielmo Marconi’s early radio-telegraph system, in which long-wave radio signals were transmitted and received across the Atlantic Ocean to North America. There is something profoundly moving in the idea that such an isolated, wild land, in the beginning of the twentieth century, played host to some of the first pulses of the communications revolution that today brings us the tools to affect social mobility and the accountability of institutions, and to grant us access to the myriad networks of the global community.

‘A Connemara Fractal’ , Ian Pollard. Click on the image for a  larger version.

Filed under: History, Photography, Poetry

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