The Long road south

Since we introduced the idea of LetsGoNorth meets LetsGoSouth some years ago, in 2018 we began exploring the concept of LetsGoWest and set up the Hispanic Society of Carrickfergus. We have travelled a lot.. not least on the train from the north of Scotland to London, from there by Eurostar to Paris, where we spent a wonderful few days, then on to Barcelona and Malaga. A veritable treat!

The mix of cultures, food, wine, cities and countryside – the list goes on.

The ethos of LetsGoNorth meets LetsGoSouth was to explore historical and cultural linkages between Spain and Scotland. Now, in 2018 we are looking at Ireland and France through Catholocism and the famous Jeanne d’ Arc in the case of France.

Many Scots fought in the Spanish Civil War, as did many Irishmen. There is a stained glass window in Belfast city hall dedicated to the subject. There is also a plaque in honour of the defenders of Spain just south of the border near Carlingford Loch. The historical connections go back to the 13th Century when Robert the Bruce was killed in the Crusades. See the article on Teba.

The historical religious connections are obvious – Catholicism. The 16th century was the bloodiest era in Irish history, with sailors who had been shipwrecked from the Spanish Armada in Ireland fighting alongside the Irish against the English. There are many dark skinned people in Donegal in Ireland. There is a stanza of a poem by John Betjeman “The small towns of Ireland” – “The barracks are burned where the Redcoats oppressed us, the gaol is broke open, our people are free, Though Cromwell once cursed us, Saint Patrick blessed us, the merciless English have fled o’er the sea.”

Travelling south from Scotland and on to Catholic France, the scenery is forever changing. Equidistant between Calais and San Sebastian is the commune of Monfaucon (the hill of the falcon) deep in rural France, two hours south of Toulouse where Concorde was built and two hours from San Sebastian. In Maubourget there is the Ecole de Jeanne d’Arc and in Tarbes the Institute of Jeanne d’Arc. She was a heroine and fought the English in the Lancastrian phase of the Hundred Years War against Henry V. She was burned at the stake by the English in 1431 at the age of 19.

The area around Monfaucon is often overlooked by tourists. It is a gem. Walking, cycling, food… the famous cauchon pig, the bad tempered black hen, Alamanac. The beauty of the area – the sunflowers face the sun and are left to go black to maximise the oil which is extracted from them. Maize is grown as cattle fodder. The wines of the region are San Mont and Poulach.. must try it one of these days!

Pressing on south into northern Spain through the Pyrenees is a humbling experience. The mighty mountains towering above as you pass through. These must have been the mountains the volunteers came through from Scotland and Ireland to fight in the Spanish Civil War (1936 to 1939). There is a song by the Irish band, the Fureys – “The Green Fields of France” which refers to wars and how mankind never learns from history.

The historical linkages between Scotland, Spain, Ireland and France are, then, legendary. They have in common that they were all at war with England at some stage in history. Were the problems in Ireland caused by Henry VIII and his desire for Ann Boleyn and the division of religion? But no… Jeanne d’Arc and the Crusaders were defending their faith. Food for thought.



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