The Penclawdd Cockles of Wales

Feb 28, 2017 by

In Wales, one of the oldest occupations found along the coastline is cockle gathering, a task which archaeological evidence suggests dates back to at least the Roman era.  

Penclawdd (pronounced Pen-clawth),  a seaside village in Swansea, Wales, on the Gower Penninsula, is renowned for its local cockle industry.  The Welsh clams are collected from the extensive sandy flats in the Burry Estuary and then sold worldwide as the famous “Penclawdd [or Gower] cockles.”

Cockles are small saltwater clams widely used in cooking  throughout the world, but are especially popular in Wales. 

  Here’s an unusual bit of trivia to impress your friends: In England and Wales, Magna Carta grants every citizen the right to collect up to eight pounds of cockles from the foreshore; pickers wishing to collect more than eight pounds are deemed to be engaging in commercial fishing and are required to obtain a permit from the Inshore Fisheries and Conservation Authority.   To see what happens when cockle pickers get greedy, read this BBC story.

Though small and humble, cockles have had more than a mere fifteen minutes of fame.  In a popular song that has become the unofficial anthem for Dublin, Ireland,  a tune also covered by U2,  sweet Molly Malone wheels her barrow through the streets of Dublin, crying, “Cockles and mussels, alive, alive, oh!”    If you feel deeply contented by something, that thing (often a good quality whisky or beer) is said  “to warm the cockles” of your heart, although I’m fairly certain there are no cockle valves in the human heart.   

Even gardeners, such as the famously contrary Mistress Mary,  have a history with cockles, sometimes using the ridged shells as edging and soil conditioners in their gardens.

 

Samples of these famous cockles can be purchased at the stalls in Swansea Market and locally in the village itself.  The Penclawdd cockles are also shipped worldwide for fans of this tasty Welsh seafood. 

Penclawdd cockles for sale.

Penclawdd cockles for sale. Image by Scott Dexter

Laverbread made with Penclawdd cockles from Gower.

Laverbread made with Penclawdd cockles from Gower. Image by Smylers.

If you travel to Wales and ask for a full Welsh breakfast, you are likely to get cockles fried in bacon fat alongside your eggs and laverbread cakesCockle pie is a traditional Welsh dish and quite tasty–click HERE for a recipe to try.  

From the mid 19th century up until the 1970s in Wales, the cockles were gathered by women using hand-rakes and riddles (coarse sieves) with the help of donkey carts, often braving very hard conditions.

Some women set up stalls at local markets, while other women sold their harvest door to door. Cockles, boiled and removed from their shells (cocs rhython), were usually carried in a wooden pail, balanced on the vendor’s head, while the untreated variety (cocs cregyn) were carried in a large basket on the arm.

Now they are harvested mostly by men, still by hand, but using tractors or Land Rovers instead of little donkeys. The original small, family-owned factories in Penclawdd have been demolished and cockles are now processed in two large, modern factories in the nearby village of Crofty; the product is largely exported to continental Europe.

Sources:  For more history about the cockle women of Wales, try this wonderful blog post that has many vintage pictures of Welsh women gathering the cockle  harvest.

More stories about harvesting cockles are HERE and HERE, and more info about Penclawdd is available on Wikipedia  and on the Gower website.

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Relationship Advice From Ireland’s Wilde Man

Feb 15, 2014 by

“Never love anyone who treats you like you’re ordinary.”   Oscar Wilde

 

Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, playwright and poet, was born in Dublin, Ireland in 1854.  Despite the wide popularity of his plays such as The Importance of Being Earnest (1895) and his witticisms, Wilde was vilified by the Victorian press and critics for his flamboyant dress and behavior,  particularly for his homosexual liaisons, which ultimately caused him to be imprisoned  for two years for “gross indecency”.    After his release in 1897, Wilde left for France, where he died alone and impoverished at the age of 46.  He is buried in Paris.

 

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This romantic painting is known as The Meeting on the Turret Stairs, by Sir Frederic William Burton (1816-1900), an Irish painter born in County Clare and a contemporary of Oscar Wilde.   In 2012, The Meeting on the Turret Stairs was voted by the Irish public as Ireland’s favorite painting, from among ten works shortlisted by critics.

 

Here are some more memorable pieces of advice and quotes from Oscar Wilde:

  • “The very essence of romance is uncertainty.”
  • “Every saint has a past, and every sinner has a future.”
  • “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
  • “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” from Lady Windermere’s Fan
  • “Yet each man kills the thing he loves
    By each let this be heard
    Some do it with a bitter look
    Some with a flattering word
    The coward does it with a kiss
    The brave man with a sword” from The Ballad of Reading Gaol
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One Tough Irish Woman

Jan 15, 2014 by

Above all else, deep in my soul, I’m a tough Irishwoman.

Maureen O’Hara, born August 17, 1920 in Dublin, Ireland

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The Divine Miss M, Maureen O’Hara–you can take the woman out of Ireland, but you can’t take the Irish out of the woman.

 

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Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde

Oct 16, 2013 by

Irish Writer and Poet Oscar Wilde http://tinyurl.com/myt33ax

Irish Writer and Poet Oscar Wilde
http://tinyurl.com/myt33ax

Happy Birthday to one of my favorite writers, Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, born on this day in 1854, in Dublin, Ireland.

Wilde was the the second of three children born to Sir William Wilde and Jane Francesca Wilde, two years behind William (“Willie”). Jane Wilde, under the pseudonym “Speranza” (the Italian word for ‘Hope’), wrote poetry for the revolutionary Young Irelanders in 1848 and was a lifelong Irish nationalist. William Wilde was Ireland’s leading oto-ophthalmologic (ear and eye) surgeon and was knighted in 1864 for his services as medical adviser and assistant commissioner to the censuses of Ireland. He also wrote books about Irish archaeology and peasant folklore and was a renowned philanthropist to Dublin’s poorer citizens.

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May 11, 2013 by

Moore street, Dublin, Easter 1916

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Mar 28, 2013 by

The Valkyries go weaving/ with drawn swords, Hild and Hjorthrimul,/ Sanngrid and Svipul. Spears will shatter/ shields will splinter, Swords will gnaw/ like wolves through armor. “Darraðarljóð “, a skaldic poem in Old Norse found in c hapter 156 of Njáls Saga. The song consists of 11 stanzas, and within it twelve valkyries weave and choose who is to be slain at the Battle of Clontarf (fought outside Dublin in 1014 CE).

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Mar 16, 2013 by

smashstuff:

Kids outside ‘The Irish House’ 1962. O’Meara’s public house AKA The Irish House, was a beautiful pub which sat on the corner of Winetavern Street and Wood Quay until demolished to make way for the Dublin County Council building. 

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