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Ireland’s Mary Celeste: Cill Eoin “Ghost Estate”, Kenmare

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I came across this small ghost estate on a recent trip to Kenmare.  The estate, Cill Eoin, is near the ruin of an old church on the Kenmare-Kilgarvan Road.  As ‘ghost estates’ go this is an extraordinary place.

The most striking aspect of Cill Eoin is the feeling I got that it had been abandoned suddenly.  The scaffolding inside some of the partially finished houses is still in place.  There is equipment lying around as if it had been used earlier that same day that I visited.  Some of the houses are in such good condition that you expect to see someone come in and check on progress.  Cill Eoin is the Mary Celeste of building sites.

Other signs tell a different story, of course.   Weeds have taken over the paths between the various houses.  The nails that lay in piles here and there are badly rusted.  And there is such an amount of bird song, as if the birds know the real story about this place: no one had been around here for a long, long time.

Just standing there and looking around, I understood better than I ever had before how the future has been stolen from us all and our children.

Barcelona’s El Fossar de la Pedrera

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El Fossar de la Pedrera

I first read about El Fossar de la Pedrera (“the Quarry grave”) in Michael Eaude’s excellent guide to Barcelona. Writng in 2008, Eaude points out that there is no mention of “the Quarry grave” in any of the standard guides to Barcelona, and then goes on to describe his encounter with Barcelona’s Tourist Office who proclaimed no knowledge of the “the Quarry grave”.  It was exactly the same for me when I went looking September last (2010).  Like Eaude I was directed to El Fossar de la Moreres, which is a monument related to the siege of Barcelona in in 1714!  Despite repeated efforts to explain to the guide at the tourist office about El Fossar de la Pedrera and its connection to the Spanish Civil War, I had no luck.   However El Fossar de la Pedrera is marked clearly on many of the good maps of the Barcelona area.  I used Michelin’s current Barcelona map and made my way there on foot.  It is a long walk admittedly but I got there.  For more information see my post Getting to El Fossar de la Pedrera.

El Fossar de la Pedrera was the location for Franco’s bloody revenge against those who had stood against him in the Civil War and afterwards.  It was a place of execution and is now the site of a mass grave exclusively connected to the Spanish Civil War.  As a place of execution it was chosen for a number of reasons.  Firstly because of what it was – the quarry was the ‘common’ or paupers’ grave in Barcelona and for this reason it provided the executioners with an easy and reliable method for the disposing of the bodies of their victims.  On execution the dead fell down into cut away section far below and were left there to be buried in unmarked common graves.  Something like 4000 people died, and are buried, at El Fossar de la Pedrera – resistance fighters of all hues, from anarchists to republicans; residents of Barcelona who had stood up to Franco and fascism; prisoners of war from the Civil War itself.  Indeed many who just showed defiance and resistance to the dictatorship ended up here.  The second reason why the ‘Quarry grave’ was chosen was due to its remote location – being on the south side of Barcelona’s Montjuic Cemetery (or Cementiri del Sud-oest in Catalan).  Lastly, the execution site was within easy reach of Montjuic Castle where many were held before their execution.

El Fossar de la Pedrera

Today El Fossar de la Pedrera is maintained as a memorial to those who fought Franco.  Entry is via the main cemetery, but the ‘Quarry grave’ itself is in its own remote corner pinned between cliffs – separated from the main cemetery.

The entrance is marked by steps and rows of tall, square columns.  On closer examination one can see the names of the thousands who were executed here, chiseled into the stonework.  After you pass through these stark columns one can see the scene of execution clearly ahead.  At the very back, the cliff is high above the base of the quarry floor.  The executed were shot up there and their bodies fell downwards.  Even now it is not difficult to see why this place was chosen – it is remote and quiet and detached from the bustle of Barcelona.

It is a very sad place, of course.  When one dwells for any length of time on those who breathed their last here, one cannot escape the sadness that defeat in the Civil War heralded.  For many individuals, this place was a lonely, ugly end to years of struggle and vision.

At the same time the “Quarry grave’ today is quite welcoming.  It has to be kept in mind that this is one of the few memorials in Spain to the Left and republican cause.  It is beautifully arranged and maintained.  The floor of the quarry was evened out and landscaped; there are trees and shrubs and the grass is green (unusual in Spain) and well maintained.  Different aspects of the Civil War are marked here by different memorials.  Given that this is Catalonia there is a special place reserved for Luis Companys, who was buried here until his family reclaimed his body.  There are memorials to the guerillas who fought Franco; there is also a memorial to the Holocaust victims; there are numerous others too.

At the very back, at the base of the cliff, are a series of randomly placed individuals plaques.  Like miniature tombstones these bear testimony to the grave site of the fallen.  Some have the names of individuals written on them, while others are from memorial committees set up to remember the various contingents who went to Spain in 1936 to help with the fight against Franco and international fascism.

 

El Fossar de la Pedrera

Getting To Barcelona’s El Fossar de la Pedrera

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El Fossar de la Pedrera is one of the major memorials to those who fought fascism in Spain.  Specifically dedicated to the repression and reprisals carried out by Franco in the Barcelona region, it is nonetheless symbolic of the broader struggle against the dictatorship and the Right which culminated in the Civil War from 1936-39.  One of the most important aspects of the memorial it that it also remembers those who died at Franco’s hands after the Civil War had ended.  Franco’s revenge – as is more widely appreciated now – was thorough and merciless and El Fossar de la Pedrera bears witness to this. El Fossar de la Pedrera

Despite its importance, El Fossar de la Pedrera can be difficult to find.  It is located to the south of Barcelona’s centre, in a remote corner of Montjuic Cemetery.  Although the Barcelona Tourist Office didn’t deny its existence when I asked for their help, they did seem, generally, disinterested in my quest.  This is quite extraordinary given the memorial’s quality and its importance in the light of all that has since transpired.  In any other country El Fossar de la Pedrera would be given its due prominence.  Not so in Spain or Catalonia today.

A good map of the greater Barcelona area is essential if you want to find and visit El Fossar de la Pedrera.  This is because even around and near the memorial there are few signs indicating where the memorial is or that it even exists. In fact the opposite is the case: the further away you are the more signs there are; close at hand they vanish! In any case I used the current Michelin map and the memorial is clearly marked on it, on the south side of Montjuic Park.

Walking

From the Montjuic Castle, it is a 45 minute walk at least.  There is some interesting places along the way – views of the Olympic Village and of Montjuic Cemetery from the north side.  Directions are as follows.  Make you way from the Castle down onto Carrer del Foc.  Foc is a main road and it can be busy.  Walking towards the direction of the Olympic Village (away from the city centre) keep on this road regardless.  You pass the Olympic Village on your right and the road winds and generally goes down hill; on your left you pass views of Montjuic Cemetery (or Cemenetiri del Sud Oust) – Barcelona’s largest and most enigmatic cemetery.   You arive at a main junction – a roundabout – and keep to the immediate left on Foc (still going in the direction away from the centre of town.)  After about 30 minutes (from setting out) you pass a sport’s complex and pool on your left side.  You are now leaving the Montjuic park area and returning to a generally built up area.  At the  junction with Carrer dels Ferrorcarrils Catalans, you take a left and head generally down in the direct of the port area; there are light industry businesses on your right side.  The promontory hill on which the cemetery is located comes into view on your left once more and you are passing just at the side of it.  You come a junction where there is a small narrow supply road going uphill.  Although this leads to El Fossar de la Pedrera, this gate is normally locked, it seems.  Carry on further.  A short distance on, you come to another small junction. A narrow road splits off Carrer dels Ferrorcarrils Catalans.  This is Carrer de la Mare de Deu de Port and it travels along the side of the imposing wall of the cemetery and parallel to Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans. There is an open green space between the two roads.  Walk down to the main gate of the cemetery which is now in view; you can’t miss it as it is the only way in around this area.  Once you enter the gate, take an immediate sharp left.  You will see a sign along this road: Itinari Combatin.  Follow the directions of this sign – along the narrow road which climbs very gradually.  There are graves and other memorials on both sides.  You finally reach a very sharp turn and this is where the entrance is to El Fossar de la Pedrera.

Walking and bus

There is a free bus map to Barcelona.  The service is excellent and not too expensive.  Plenty of buses go in the direction Montjuic and Zona Franca which is where you want.  Bus No 9 which you can get at Pl Catalunya will take you all the ways to Passeig de la Zona Franca.  You can get off either at the last stop or just before the end where it crosses Carrer del Foc.  When you find the junction between Carrer del Foc and Passeig de la Zona Franca, take a right (as if heading for Montjuic).  You will now come to Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans – see above – and you can make your way from here to the memorial site following the instructions above.  For the return journey: when you leave the cemetery make you way up Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans to where it joins Carrer del Foc. At this junction take a left and go along to Passeig de la Zona Franca.  You can take the No 9 here once more into the centre.

Taxi

If you can manage it, a taxi all the way to the cemetery entrance on Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans is also a great way to save yourself time.  It is important to specify to the driver exactly what entrance into Montjuic Cemetery you need.  In this case the best method is to say what road is nearest and that is  Carrer del Ferrorcarrils Catalans.  Once you get inside the gate, follow the directions once more as above.

Related Articles

  • For more on Barcelona and the Civil War see here.

Lonely Planet’s Cork and Cowen’s Head Taking Off

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Off With His Head ...

One good cut (in time saves nine ...)!

The biggest gimmick of last week must have been Lonely Planet’s inclusion of Cork in its ten best destinations for 2010. Oh come off it like, as we say around here. What sort of a langerated idea is this?  Or to put it another way, ‘Do you think like we came down in the last shower?’

Marketing by Lonely Planet, I think.  Not that the ‘tourish (sic) industry’ didn’t dine out on it for a few days and clap themselves on the back.  It was just what they needed: ‘Oh come here, really do, so we can RIP you off big big time.’

But anyway, none of this is to take away from the fact that we are special down here in Cork. Everyone knows that.  Any by way of an example, here is what I have to offer up –  take a gawk.  Isn’t that something?  I took the photo on the huge ‘Get Up, Stand Up’ march against the cuts that passed through ‘pana’ on Friday afternoon last. Now  that WAS something to see.  And pride of place for me goes to this great placard which got to the nub of the matter.  Surely like.

One good cut!  Now that’s the spirit of the Rebel County…

Orwell on the Aragon Front

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huesca cnt

Anarchism In Huesca: CNT Poster May Day 09

George Orwell fought on the Aragon Front in the Spanish Civil War around Alcubierre and later near Huesca.   One of the front line positions he fought at has been preserved and reconstructed and is well worth a visit.

I drove south out of Huesca on the N330.  About 15 kms out there is a signpost turning for Alcubierre.   Heading east along this road it is narrow and flat.  The land on either side is under cultivation but it seems otherwise to be an arid and dry area.  There are low hills further east, to the north and south, Los Monegros.

Alcubierre is a small town.   Orwell in not very complementary to then village where he spent some days before being sent to a position at the front, to the west.  He was there in the dead of winter but it was early summer when I visited.  It is hard now to imagine what it must have been like but Orwell makes a point of telling us how cold and muddy it was there during his stay.

His period in and around Alcubierre is notable for a number of reasons though.  Firstly it was in Alcubierre that he received his first weapon for use in the war against fascism.  He said though: ‘I got a shock of dismay when I saw the thing they gave me.’  It turned  out to be a gun more than 40 years old – a German Mauser from 1896!  Indeed the reality of ‘civil war within the civil war’ that was, at this time, beginning to gain momentum on the Republican side was brought home to him starkly by this key incident.  He described the gun as follows: ‘It was rusty, the bolt was stiff, the wooden barrel-guard was split; once glance down the muzzle showed that it was corroded and past praying for’.

Alcubierre reminded me of a small market town in Ireland though it a lot dryer and hotter of course.  But there was as they say a good country smell in the air. In front of the town hall, there was a kids’ playground area.  The town hall itself was under renovation.  A small cafe was open but overall it seemed like a sleepy place.  But then I was there in and around siesta time.  There were no signs anywhere around – that I could see anyway – for La Ruta Orwell.  There were no signs anywhere around – that I could see anyway – for La Ruta Orwell.  Like so much in Spain today to do with the Civil War, there is uncertainty about what place the Civil War should occupy.  And of coure there is uncertainty – and in many cases, deep unease – about how to deal with the many scars that are there to see still to this day

Taking the road south out of Alcubierre, you veer to the west.  There is a lot of desiccated vegetation and a white-grey ground which looks generally poor and unproductive.  The road itself is good – it goes to Lecinena and then on into Zaragoza.  As it climbs into the Monegros there are good views back toward Alcubierre and Monazon.

About 12 kms out on this road there is a small sign – quite easily missed – on the left hand size of the road: La Ruta Orwell.  The sign leads onto a narrow unsealed road.  Take it slowly.  It goes uphill and winds for a bout 1.5 km.  Then you come to a fork in the road. There should be a sign for which direction to take at this point but it was missing when I was there.  Take the left hand fork in the road.  This veers around sharply in a horseshoe and goes to hill top just about visible from back where the fork in the road was.   The restored site is just at the top there.

La Ruta Orwell

Spanish Civil War: Trench position where Orwell fought

It is an impressive re-construction.  There are explanatory panels giving good background on the Alcubierre Front and on Orwell’s own observations.  It is possible to see clearly from the vantage point of this restored frontline position what Orwell meant when he said ‘Now that I had seen the front I was profound disgusted’.  The fascist positions were on the far off hills and the soldiers manning those position could barely be seen.  The cold and boredom occupied Orwell’s day.  There are occasional brushes with the enemy but there is a sense of no real movement.  In another important observation made at this stage by Orwell, he explains how different the army is that he is now a member of is from a ‘traditional army’ – he spent some time in the British Army of course.  He said ‘.., There was no military rank in the ordinary sense; not titles, no badges, no heel-clicking and saluting.  They had attempted to produce within the militias a sort of temporary working of the classless society.’

A good deal of information is provided at the site.  It is impressive and the general overview provided is good.   One can see clearly the lie of the land – the difficulty in the terrain.

Overall is it well worth a visit.  Armed with a copy of Homage To Catalonia you get a good feel for what it must’ve been like.  You cannot escape though the sense of betrayal that Orwell unveils in HTC.  Militias were fighting for a new society armed with outdated weapons.  Yet not so far away, behind the front lines, the police and Guardia Civil were being armed with the latest weaponry for the eventual purpose of suppressing the revolution.

See also Ruta Orwell Monegros

Written by kfdoyle

October 12, 2009 at 10:26 am

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