Tuesday, 19 September 2017

A Taste of West Cork

 One of my sons-in-law, who is Irish, suggested we join them on holiday in West Cork for a few days last week.  So we did, and found ourselves in a powerful and beautiful landscape. 

I visited West Cork once when I was a teenager, but had not wanted to return,  because it seemed to me then a sad place for all its loveliness, and somehow haunted by ghosts.    In the Great Irish famines of the 1840s, this was the area where more people died of starvation than anywhere else in Ireland.  

This time, though, it felt quite different. West Cork is now popular with the kind of tourists who appreciate art, music and good food. The  tourist development, (such as it is), is pleasant and low key, but there's money about, and luxuries in the shops. Best of all, the feeling of being abandoned at the end of the world has vanished. It is not that the victims have been forgotten; in fact, the heritage centre in the town of Skibbereen offers a deeply moving description of those terrible times, and brings into focus the people who lived through the nightmare.  Here's one corner of that exhibition, featuring a famous folk song first sung by the West Cork refugees in the 1840s.    


The museum had a recording of an old fellow singing the song, but here's Don Stiffe's version, which I like (below), and you may also know Sinead O'Connor's.  The words are never quite the same each time I've heard it; I think they're making it gradually less angry than the original.



So the prosperity and tourism have cheered West Cork up, but haven't blighted the landscape, which is still astoundingly beautiful.  The weather can easily change every few minutes, creating a kaleidoscopic succession of colour and lighting effects over intricate scenes of water, hills, cliffs, fields and flowers. 

 So here are a few pictures I took in the corner of West Cork that starts on the tiny Sherkin Island, about ten minutes from the village of Baltimore.  

 The type of rock you see everywhere is called Devonian Old Red Sandstone, although it doesn't look very red to me. It creates this craggy landscape, great for rock pools and crabbing, where I could have spent hours as a child.  


Sherkin Island's biggest white-sand beach, Trá Bán, is dotted with coloured stones and yellow shells, which glow out of the sand like little suns.  


Here's another view of Trá Bán over some rocks - the water is almost tropically blue.  The only footprints on the sand, apart from ours,  were made by birds.   


The path down to the beach is fringed with the red fuschia bushes which are very characteristic of the area. 


This wild coast was always at the mercy of pirates and smugglers.  Sherkin Island's abbey was burned in 1537 by bad men from Waterford, although, to be honest,  O'Driscoll clan who used to rule the place didn't seem all that much better, from what I could make out.


There are a couple of simple pubs on the island. In the older one, this fireplace with Victorian lady tiles is hidden away in a back room. I am sure someone was in love with those ladies to get them brought all the way over from England, even though they look slightly neglected here. 



The ferry sets out from the mainland - a ten minute run. Can you see a faint rainbow to the right?



By the time it arrives, the weather's already changed, the fog's dispersing and the ferry's lit by sun.


It is a ten minute ride back to Baltimore, whose most conspicuous feature is the Beacon, built around 1800 as part of an early warning system surrounding the Irish coast.  It's supposedly known as "Lot's Wife" because it looks like a pillar of salt, but everyone I met called it "The Beacon."  You reach it by climbing a very steep hillside or scrambling up via streams and goat paths.   


On our first visit, the sun came out, the sea was deep blue and the wild flowers glowed red and yellow. 



We returned late the following afternoon when everything seemed to be silver and gold.



Another day, we took a stroll round Loch Hyne.  It's something of a celebrity loch among geographers, for it's a tidal salt-water lake fed by a narrow channel from the sea - so narrow, indeed, that it takes just four hours for the tide to force its way in, but eight hours to go out.  The result is that it contains all kinds of unusual creatures.  The road is public but we met only three cars in a couple of hours, and in places, the wild fuschia bushes were three metres high.


The section of road nearest the loch is heavily wooded - you see the water shining silver on the left.


All was peaceful as the clouds gathered, dropped rain for three minutes, then dispersed.    


Spotted this mischievous warning on a small jetty.  


We ended up wishing we'd spent more time in West Cork, so I hope we'll get back next year.


As it happened we arrived just too late for the annual food festival.  I took a look at the brochure and thought it looked fascinating - here's the link

And this is a plate of the salad I got at the Friday country market in Skibbereen, which takes place next to the Aldi car park. It has been there for years, I was told (much longer than Aldi) and is complete with the two ladies totting up all the purchases in longhand at a table in the corner. I wished I'd taken an extra bag on the plane to Ireland, to fit in all the beautiful produce I wanted to buy.




76 comments:

  1. I've always thought I would love Ireland and now I know that I was right. Thank you for these beautiful pictures, from the sea which looks like the Caribbean to the salad which looks absolutely right-out-of-the-garden.

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    1. I think it probably was right out of the garden. One of those old ladies had probably picked it about 3 hours previously! I havent shown the fab cakes, pies, etc. which I was so sad not to buy, but I wouldn't have eaten all of them in the rest of our visit, and had no space to take them home as I'd only brought hand luggage!

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  2. What stunning photographs of so beautiful an area.

    I wonder if the Skibbereen Eagle is still keeping its eye on the Czar...or his equivalent...

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    1. It would be nice, but I didn't get to pick up the local paper.... however, the power of a lone independent voice shouldn't be underestimated in world affairs...

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  3. Beautiful...it would be so easy to become lost in one's thoughts...willingly, lost in thought...to not be disturbed by another while absorbing and appreciation the ambience of the area.

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    1. I see why many artists go there, it's very conducive to creative thought.

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  4. Beautiful photographs. The gold and silver looks like a stunning painting.

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    1. It was breathtaking, really. I always feel that photos don't quite do such scenes justice unless they are life sized! And then there is the sound of the water, and the feel of the wind...

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  5. Replies
    1. Sure is, that's an understatement I'd say!

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  6. A beautiful part of the world. Thank you for the introduction.

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    1. Thanks. I hope you get there one day.

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  7. What beautiful rugged landscapes you found Jenny. I wish we had seen more on our rushed trip to Ireland last year, as we only saw the East coast. The fuchsias are amazing: I have never seen them in the wild. The famine of the 1940s still resonates through Irish history, doesn't it. The song and the statue you show tell of the tragedy, in the same way as other famine sculptures I saw in Dublin do. The Irish ballads are still sung and handed down, including in Australia to which many Irish fled.

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    1. I believe there are more people of Irish descent outside Ireland than there are in the country. They were very badly treated, often, I am sorry to say, by the English. But the place has really changed in recent years, and I for one am glad that the old sense of sadness seemed to have gone, and with it a lot of the clinging to sad history.

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  8. What a beautiful place! You always have the best adventures.

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    1. Thank you, e. I am glad my pictures conveyed something of what it looks like.

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  9. Thankyou for that post. My father's family is London Irish, with links to Cork and County Clare...I must go and see for myself!

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  10. *sighs* - I just love Ireland, and especially Cork and Kerry. I think everyone should go, just once in their lives, and see just how beautiful it is.

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    1. Yes, it really is something very special, must admit I had forgotten till I revisited.

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  11. Music while I blog... a lovely reminder of the Emerald Isle. My first husband was 'Oirish' and some of his friends came from Cork - sadly I never went there.

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    1. I havent been to Cork city for ages, but I think it was quite heavily developed during the Celtic Tiger boom. The photos look nice. I do plan to return and next time go to East Co Cork where some of my own relatives came from.

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  12. Beautiful photos. My Mother's family came from Ireland in the 1840's. We visited Ireland in the late 1990's.

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    1. I expect your mother's family were among those who fled the famine and I am glad that so many made it, because those left behind suffered so much.

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  13. Wild fuschias!? They look stunning - similar in effect to the rosehips now appearing in hedgerows all around me. The coastline there looks gorgeous, and the salad looks so colourful; I want to go and grab some edible flowers for my salads now!

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    1. Yes, loads of the wild fuschias, and some white ones too but fewer. I think it's the warm water of the gulf stream affecting the climate enough for them to grow.

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  14. Oh Jenny, now I have to add West Cork and Ireland to my bucket list. All that beautiful scenery and fabulous views. I'm glad you shared the song. It's so very sad and so very beautiful. I love his interpretation. What a powerful spot to visit. I can see why you want to return. I know I would.

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    1. I am glad you liked the song, and yes, it's well worth a visit, Jeanie! I think you'd love it.

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  15. Listening to him sing the mournful song added such atmosphere to the picture trip. With the weather and light and the sea changing so rapidly it seems to be a place of mystery. Lovely. :)

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    1. Yes, it was really quite magical. There are some wonderful folk singers in Ireland. I'm glad you liked it, Rita!

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  16. I love the video. The song is a perfect accompaniment to your wonderful photos. My favorite one is the rowboat at the edge of the water.
    And yes - I did see the faint rainbow in the ferry photo.

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    1. thanks, Jon. It's beautifully sung, isn't it? Glad people saw the rainbow, I didn't at first till T pointed it out when we were on the boat!

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  17. Such a beautiful place, as i always imagined Ireland would be!

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  18. I loved my brief visit to Ireland and now want to return as I have many more areas to explore. I have found the Irish warm and welcoming and I do believe we all have a bit of Irish in us somehow.

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    1. I think there are more people of Irish descent living outside Ireland than there are actually in Ireland itself. I certainly have quite a bit of Irish in me, at least a quarter. I've been looking at my family tree.
      Glad you liked the photos! :)

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  19. Forgot to add, beautiful photos!

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  20. Another great tour.
    The light by the sea, especially like one found on the far south coast of Ireland, is always changing.
    This makes for great photos and yours are excellent.
    There was an old man from Cork who lived below me in London for years, I never understood a word he said!
    What a great place to visit.

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    1. I was really in raptures about the light, and I don't often think about it, I mean it's sunny, cloudy, etc. But this light seemed to have a personality of its own, if that doesn't sound like a weird thing to say :)

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  21. Hello Jenny, thank you for the beautiful photos from County Cork. I'm glad to know life has improved there since those sad old days. They interested me quite a bit because the paternal side of my husband's family is said to have come from Cork. I do know they went to Ontario Canada in the mid-1800s then some of them crossed south into Michigan USA to work in the timber industry around 1875. So many tales could be told, if only they had been passed down through the generations. Lots of history has been lost. They came from a beautiful place though.

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    1. I am sure that your ancestors were among the lucky ones, however hard the life was. I like to think of so many of them making that difficult trip, escaping the horrors of the famine and ending up with more land than they could ever have dreamed of and the chance of a better life.

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  22. Never felt a particular desire to visit Ireland, but it looks achingly beautiful, Jenny, and my kind of place - so full of stories and wonderful light. A great post - thank you!

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    1. I think it might have just as many stories as England but often in a sadder vein.

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  23. I like the roadsign. Some wag with a felt tip round here has turned the sheep on a sheep in the road sign into a rhino.

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    1. They must be quite talented, I am not sure I could draw a rhino even if I wasn't trying to alter a road sign ...

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  24. Beautiful photos of a beautiful landscape!

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  25. That shot of the yellow shell on the beach is amazing. There is no doubt of the beacon being a functional design, but it sure looks strange to me.

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    1. Me too, Jerry. I do need to look it up and see why it is that shape. I'm glad you liked the shell, it was wonderful to see it shining up out of the sand.

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  26. Hello, Jenny.
    Thank you for sharing those photos of Ireland with a sad history.
    Ireland is one of the places I would love to visit. My favorite photo is definitely the 18th. The rickety boat and the reflection of the clouds on the silent water. It is really Ireland, I think.
    Have a nice day.

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    1. I'm glad you like it, Tomoko! To me it feels peaceful and slow, but I like to think, also that just a few minutes later the sun came out and the boat looked suddenly quite inviting, as if offering to take me on a nice journey! :) I loved the changeability of the weather.

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  27. Beautiful and I would love to visit
    I must look up the Beacon. What an unusual shape for 1800 and how does it work and what is it warning us about?

    cheers, parsnip

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    1. I think it is defensive, and I was puzzled about the shape too. It's very distinctive, that's for sure. I need to look it up or ask someone!

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  28. Cork is very beautiful - but so is the rest of Ireland! I've only been to Cork once - on a car trip round the Irish coast - but the scenery was spectacular. I think wild fuschia bushes are common all over Ireland. There are masses in Northern Ireland.

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    1. I think the fuschias and montbretia grow wild because of the gulf stream. It's similar vegetation in Cornwall and also in some parts of Scotland. I would love to go to Donegal someday.

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  29. Yes I saw the faint rainbow, pretty! That road sign is great too, as are all your beautiful photos, so many to comment on each one. Your country and the other places you visit are always so rich in history and you share much that is new and interesting to me! Thank you!

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  30. Ah thank you. It’s nineteen years since we were there. We had a cottage in Skibbereen which we used as base to travel around. We loved it and pictures from there crop up on my blog occasionally. You are so right about the landscape and I wish I’d had a better camera back then.

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    1. Oh, lucky to have a cottage in Skib! I was thinking how nice it would be to go there now and again without being tied down having to book accommodation.

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    2. Ah no, we didn’t own the cottage, we rented it for the week. Sorry for the misunderstanding. We’d had a ‘taste of Ireland’ holiday the previous year and decided that we’d like a base for the week next time.

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  31. And one more connection Jenny, in 1842, The Choctaw Nation raised $170. and sent it to Ireland during the famine. They were so moved by the terrible time they endured on the Trail of Tears, they wanted to help the Irish. Somewhere in Ireland, there is a beautiful feather monument to honor the Choctaw's for their help.

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    1. Ah! I saw the donation from the Choctaw Nation listed! It was most interesting to see who did contribute. It is sad but true that many people reacted the same way then to the famine as they do now when they hear of disasters on the other side of the world. They take the line that "you never know what is really going on" or "it might be an exaggeration" and close their minds to it. That made me glad that those who did take it seriously were remembered and commemorated.

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  32. Dear Jenny - “The weather can easily change every few minutes, creating a kaleidoscopic succession of colour and lighting effects over intricate scenes of water, hills, cliffs, fields and flowers.” I like such a weather change that causes multitude of different colors, shades, and intonations with each passing moment. I really like the atmosphere of West Cork. I’m attracted to the untouched, beautiful landscape. I scrolled down while listening to the music which sounds not only sad and melancholic but also beautiful and (emotionally) powerful. I checked the lyrics and now I understand the famine was originally caused by blight and the succeeding devastation brought by the blight.

    Thank you for the comment on my latest post. The insect is a real one, Cerambycidae, or Longhorn Beetle. As its English name shows, the long horn is outstanding characteristics. I met him on the edge of the wooddeck in my garden.

    Have happy autumn ahead.

    Yoko

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    1. I'm glad that you played the music as you read the piece, Yoko. I hoped people would treat it as a sound track while reading the text of the blog. Watching the changing weather was somehow like feeling emotion.

      So - a longhorn beetle. The more I see of insects, the stranger they look to me!

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  33. How sweet of your son in law to invite you for joining his holidays in such lashing and stunning place!!!


    I am fascinated by the history of this beautiful island you shared dear Jenny!

    Thank you so much for this serene and delightful virtual visit.
    Magnificent pics!!!

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    1. We're lucky to be invited, and glad you enjoyed the post

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  34. Oh my! I've been reading your blog and following your many wonder adventures for quite some time. I think this blog post makes me want to book a flight more than any you've done. Something about all that wild beautiful scenery.

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  35. Hi Jenny, well I was really impressed at such a beautiful place. Have just finished reading through the 2017 Food festival brochure (thank you for the link)... I couldn't stop, it was chock-full of all sorts of activities each day. I liked how so many of them were free too ;D)
    Your photos are gorgeous and, yes, reading the above comment and your reply, I too think it would be fabulous to have a cottage there.
    Cheers and thank you for such a lovely post - if we had the means, that would definitely be on our travel list!

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    1. Yes, you are a bit far away :) I thought the food festival was amazing too. Must be so hard to think up such a huge variety of events to suit everyone.

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  36. Gorgeous pictures! :-) I was very close to going to Ireland with my family two years ago (Donegal).

    Have a nice weekend.

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    1. Hope you make it. Even though I lived in Northern Ireland, and Donegal was the favoured holiday spot of so many there, I never made it.

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  37. I was meant to be there on my honeymoon but The Fates intervened and we went to The Lake District. My Father loved Ireland but I have still never been.

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    1. I hope you get there, Graham. It might be interesting for you to experience another bit of the Celtic fringe. Oddly enough, I found that being in Ireland made me remember being in Mull and Raasay, (particularly Mull, though) and I thought I really should revisit the Scottish isles where I haven't been for years. Perhaps I'll wait till Spring though.

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  38. Oh my word I had no idea it is so beautiful, and love the changing weather and light. I can understand why you want to back again!

    That sign made me grin. At first I thought the pub had no roof!

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    1. I don't think the pub would have been that welcoming if it had looked like the ruined abbey but they always say it's the company that makes a place :D

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