For several summers prior to the First World War John Ireland holidayed on Jersey. In particular he recalled swimming in the sea on the east coast, at Fauvic. Jersey’s east coast as seen in July 2017, with its eerie lunar landscape at low tide, looks much as it might have done 100 years earlier.
Aside from the obvious attractions of its climate, landscape and historic dolmens, there are other reasons why John Ireland might have been drawn to Jersey. It is an island full of the sorts of customs and legends that fascinated him. One distinctive tradition is the Jersey perquage, a sanctuary path leading from the island’s churches to the sea. As long as a person seeking sanctuary remained either in the church or on one of these roads, then they enjoyed the protection of the ecclesiastical authorities. Few traces of these ancient and unique paths remain, however, as land was gradually sold and incorporated into private property. However, the tiny chapel at St Brelade’s Bay still has its perquage, the shortest on the island, given that the chapel is virtually on the beach.
One of the Jersey dolmens known to Ireland was the Pouquelaye de Faldouet, an imposing passage grave standing above the Royal Bay of Grouville that inspired a poem from Victor Hugo. The word ‘pouquelaye’ has a number of different meanings, one originating from Normandy and meaning ‘pocket’. Another meaning is ‘coupled stones’, and a further Jersey suggests that the word derives from the combination of ‘Puck’ and ‘lech’, meaning ‘Puck’s stone’. There is a further small menhir north of St Helier that, too, bears the name ‘pouqelaye’, lending this name to the road that leads to the island’s capital. Together, these pouqelayes are also known as ‘fairy stones’, believed to have been moved through the air by magic. Other of Jersey’s ancient stones have fairy connections. La Pierre de la Fételle is also known as La Roche à la Fée – both names translated as ‘fairy stone’.
In the 17th century there were still many pouquelayes dotted across the island, described thus by the Lieutenant-Bailiff Jean Poingdestre in his 1682 Discourse of the Island of Jersey:
‘The most ancient are what wee call Poquelayes, which consist for the most part of foure huge stones, whereof three planted on end Triangle-wise and the fourth flatter then ye rest and soe large as being layd on ye top of them three to beare on them all…I take them to have been sett up for Altars upon hills and open places and many times neare the Sea…’.
Source: Sonia Hillsdon (1987). Jersey: Witches, Ghosts & Traditions: Norwich, Jarrold Publications.
For a number of years before 1914 Ireland visited Jersey every summer, each time staying for several weeks. These are some images of Jersey as Ireland would have known it.
Some of the earliest reviews of Ireland’s music are the most perceptive, lucid and expressive. In 1918 one such piece of writing focused on The Forgotten Rite, written after an extended visit to Jersey. This listener commented on its ‘condensation’ of form, feeling and subject-matter, before moving on to the composer’s use of pentatonicism to give his music an appropriately ‘remote and exotic’ nuance.
The final paragraph of this passage identifies a number of Debussyan features of The Forgotten Rite: the ‘great delicacy of the orchestration, the soft, dreamy horn melodies, the little diminutions on the flute, the soft blur of the harp arpeggios, strewn like leafy garlands over the long-drawn string melodies’, all part of Ireland’s soundworld at this particular moment in time, and influenced by the French aspects of Jersey.
Source: ‘John Ireland’s Orchestral Piece The Forgotten Rite‘, Monthly Musical Record, 48, 2 April 1918, p. 74.