Long time friends of the decanter may recall in the past ol’ Robbo going on from time to time about his fondness for the three volumes of short stories by E.O. Somerville and Martin Ross, Some Experiences of an Irish R.M. (1899), Further Experiences of an Irish R.M. (1908) and In Mr. Knox’s Country (1915), now known collectively as The Irish R.M. They tell the story of Major Sinclair Yeats, ex-British Army, who takes up a position as a Resident Magistrate in the wilds of Southwestern Ireland around the turn of the 20th Century and finds himself dealing with the idiosyncrasies of the locals. Much hilarity ensues. Indeed, Somerville and Ross, members of the Anglo-Irish gentry themselves, delighted in noting the contrasts between their class and the native culture, often with much sympathy towards the latter.
I’ve read these stories dozens of times and never get tired of them. In preparation for tackling the gloom and doom of Solzhenitsyn, I thought I would run through them again just by way of cleaning my palate. This time around, though, thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I find myself not only enjoying the stories but also doing a bit of what one might call geographical detective work, too, trying to figure out specifically where some of them might have taken place.
Well, okay, I’ve simply been messing around with Google Earth. But I think I’ve figured out a thing or two.
For instance, I’m almost positive that the principle town in the stories, called Skebawn, is actually a place called Skibbereen, the farthest southwest town of any size in County Cork. (I’m not the first to draw this conclusion, by the way.)
Major Yeats and his family live in Shreelane, a country house which we know is within bicycling distance of Skebawn. We also know that the shimmer of the sea can be seen behind the hills when one stands on the roof of Shreelane. We further know that one can hear the Fastnet gun away to the southwest warning off shipping during foggy weather. So I’m pretty sure it’s somewhere to the south of Skebawn, perhaps in the Curravally district. (There is a Curranhilty district which plays a part in some of the stories which may be a play on this name, by the bye.) Another clue is that it is within walking distance of what is called Corran Lake in the stories and what I think is really Lough Hyne. Not only is said lough connected with the sea like Corran Lake, it also holds a small island (two, in fact) that would account for said lake’s Holy Island in the story of that name.
Speaking of the story “Holy Island”, it tells of a shipwreck on what is called Yokahn Point and of the anarchy that breaks out as the result of barrels of rum being washed ashore on Tralalough Strand. I believe these places are modeled on the real-life Gokane Point and Tragumna Strand. They’re both immediately to the east of Lough Hyne and within carriage-driving distance of where Shreelane would stand.
Speaking of Shreelane, there actually is a Shreelane district to the east-northeast of Skibbereen, from which I’m sure Somerville and Ross borrowed the name for the house, but which is too far away from the sea to fit with the narrative description. On the other hand, it might be the location of Temple Braney House, seat of the horrible McRory family. I say this because there is a series of small, interconnected lakes associated with Temple Braney in one of the stories and this district sports just such an aquatic feature, the Shreelane Lakes.
I haven’t placed other important points so far. Tory Lodge, home of Mr. Florence McCarthy “Flurry” Knox, is said to be an hour or two’s walk over teh hills from Shreelane and the sea is visible from its terrace. Aussolas Castle, home of Flurry’s grandmother Mrs. Knox, is some little distance away, but it’s unclear which direction. Castle Knox, home of Flurry’s distant cousins the Sir Valentine Knoxes, is near enough to Aussolas that a fox can be chased from one to the other in a morning’s hunt. I also can’t place Drumcurran, a secondary town in the Curranhilty country in which some scenes are played.
Later, if I’m able to get a reliable map in my head, I may strike out further afield and try to track down the secluded lair of Lord and Lady Derryclare, the chicken-farm of Meg Longmuir and Dr. Cathy Fraser and the Lug-Na-Coppal copper-mines formerly presided over by the late Mr. Harrington.
Anyhoo, I know that Somerville and Ross were just liberally borrowing rayther than trying to give accurate if disguised portrayals. Still, it’s lots of fun to try and figure out what they were thinking when they put together the geographical boundaries of Major Yeats’ stage.