The Regatta: A Cultural and Social Encounter

While I prefer exploring places off-season for their authenticity, summer can have its benefits as it reveals the connection locals establish with visitors. Coastal towns in summer are vibrant. There is always some kind of festival going on; the connection with the sea is significant to developing and enhancing these places and key to attracting tourists.

Regatta… a word that evokes the coast, the sea, sailing boats… In Castletownbere, West Cork, the ‘Regatta’ takes place annually, on the first Monday of August – a Bank Holiday in Ireland. Let me take you on a trip down memory lane… It’s not sure when this event first emerged but many retired locals tell me that it is reminiscent of their childhood. I found newspaper articles referring to the ‘Regatta’ dating back to 1912.

A few people to whom I spoke recall a time when there were gig races only prior to the event becoming part of the wider Festival of the Sea. A lot of fishermen used to be involved; my dad recalls there being a specific fishermen’s gig.  

Back to today’s event… there are both senior and junior, ladies and men’s gig races taking place over the course of the day. At intervals there are pillow fights, swimming races, greasy pole among other fun events. The festival not only attracts tourists but also a large number of the Castletownbere diaspora. The Regatta reveals a sense of ‘togetherness’. Fundamentally, this festival is about these people and for these people − permanent residents and visiting members of the Castletownbere diaspora − as a celebration of their maritime culture. People’s attachment to their heritage is revealed through their regular return visits to their native place.

It is a time and a place for all locals to meet and transmit the local heritage to future generations. As many people do not meet with one another outside of this festival due to professional and personal commitments in addition to geographical circumstances it is through the act of socialising during this festival that heritage and identity of the fishing community in Castletownbere is maintained. The festival is important to fishing culture as an agent that strengthens the ties between an increasingly dispersed ‘community’. It is interesting to observe these events take place. As crowds watch the ‘unfolding’ of different events some gasp in awe at the tenacity of certain competitors. The sheer resolve of the contestants offer a ‘theatrical performance’ to the spectators.

People invest emotionally in these events. Events like these reveal a collective sense of attachment to the pier as a place for social gatherings. When the last gig race is patiently awaited you can sense the excitement mounting. The atmosphere is electric, almost emotional, especially when Castletownbere teams are involved in the final effort to cross the line. So why not come visit us and experience for yourself the Regatta, a day-long celebration of maritime culture which is part and parcel of the wider Festival of the Sea.

Atlantic Irish Mist

For me, a place can never be neutral; landscapes, seascapes, cityscapes…we are shaped by whatever ‘-scape’ surrounds and envelopes us. We come to mirror our environment so to speak.  Have you ever thought about ‘place’ in a profound and philosophical sense?

A rugged terrain appears to characterise its people as tough and hardy; never fearful of getting their hands dirty or their feet muddy.

Coastal in habitants tend to never take for granted the mysterious element that is the sea – calm or chaotic – it will always take its quota of lives.

Lament of a rugged landscape or calamitous sea can be read on the faces and bodies of those working the land or heading out into the vast ocean.

Have you ever felt the scent of the sea waft under your nostrils when you’re journeying through the coast? I’d like to hear about your experiences. ‘Tasting’ a place, literally and metaphorically, is about using our senses to imbue ourselves with the sense of place.

The coast and the sea are important to me. As I sit, I watch the grey clouds travel across ‘an already grey sky’, from the south-west, bringing with them rain from the Atlantic. As they sweep across the sky, Atlantic mist is forming, creating a curtain or rather a blind that closes down on the sea, and thus, shutting out the horizon.

The coast is busy with cargo ships ‘ebbing and flowing’ as the pilot boat transports the local maritime pilots to and from awaiting vessels, each containing specific freight. It’s amusing to guess the size of the boat, from where it came and its onward journey once it leaves the Port of Cork.

The curtain continues to sweep across the bay. I never tire of this view or any sea view for that matter. It is ever-changing; no two days are the same. The curtain draws back, the blind swings up; the clouds are a much lighter shade, yet still no sun in sight, but I don’t mind. That is the beauty of coastal Ireland.

By the way, if you get a chance to view an Irish TV programme called Creedon’s Atlas of Ireland, it is really worth watch. The presenter, John Creedon, explores the true meaning behind some of Ireland’s most unusual and famous place names; each episode is a journey of discovery as John surveys and strides across the island of Ireland for lost meanings in everyday place names. It’s a 3-part series on Sundays at 18h30 for one hour on RTÉ One. You can view it online: http://www.rte.ie/player. Check out my review…

A Breath of Fresh Air…

I enjoy an early-morning walk; before breakfast, especially during the summer time. I actually don’t do it very often as I usually go for my daily walk at around 11 am but relish this early-morning activity.

When both my sister and I are spending a few days at our parents’ we always delight in our early morning activity, usually around 7h30 am. We fill a backpack with our bottles of water, a banana each and sometimes our Mom’s homemade spelt scones with our Dad’s homemade blackberry and apple jam. Delicious!

Always delighted to accompany us is my sister’s German Shepherd. Our usual walk is to the local strand which takes about 20 minutes. Then, we sit on a bench and have our ‘pre-breakfast’ and Darcy has his bowl of water. Depending on the weather we sit enjoying our time; mornings are always so tranquil. There is a certain peace about the place. We sit, watching and listening to the ebb and flow of the tide. Sometimes there are courageous swimmers and fishers out checking their pots. We wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.

Arriving ‘home’ we sit down to second breakfast and a good strong cup of ‘real’ coffee. There is something innately therapeutic about the sea, especially the ebb and flow of the tides that mirror, so to speak, the comings and goings of everyday life. It’s good to appreciate and be aware of the small and simple things in life that fill our minds with memories, shared between two sisters.

Next time you find yourself on the coast, find a bench or anything that presents itself in the guise of a seat, and feel your ‘being’ in nature. Be part of the maritime landscape. Breathe in the briny sea air. Perhaps bring a yoga mat or even go for a swim; just 15 minutes of activity, as regular as possible, to increase your flexibility, strength, improve your health, relieve stress and possibly change your life. Once you start it becomes second nature…

Let’s ‘clean-up’ our act!

It’s great to know that Irish fishers are involved in cleaning-up our seas and oceans. Goodness knows fishers get bad press; and of course, people tend to put all fishers in the one basket. Or as an Irish fisherman once said to me “they’re being tarred with the same brush”.  Many of Ireland’s fishers are involved in the ‘Fishing for litter’ scheme; collecting plastic and other waste from the sea without any incentive but just wanting a better marine environment. I am proud, we all should be, that Irish fishers are involved in such a scheme that can only benefit all of us.

We must realise that we are all more or less guilty of polluting our seas whether directly or indirectly. Just think about all those micro-plastics found in your everyday products. Think about it next time you use your favourite cleansing lotion, or when you brush your teeth. We all have choices to make and we all have the power to choose what is best for us and our planet. Make the planet a better place to be and, especially, think about ‘cleaning-up our act’ for future generations; it is really worthwhile.

We do not require any extraordinary means. Suffice to make positive changes on a personal level.  Next time you’re taking a stroll along the beach pick-up a piece of litter and bin it. Making positive changes as individuals leads to collective transformations.

Ask yourself what kind of a planet do you wish to bestow on the next generation?