A Day Trip To Clonakilty, West Cork

A few weeks ago my sister and I were spending a long weekend at our parents’. It had been a very long while since my sister had been to Clonakilty, a quaint town in West Cork. We travelled there one very wet Saturday morning just after breakfast, at about 9 am. We had no agenda, just the idea to soak it up! As I’ve previously mentioned in another post my husband and I lived in Courtmacsherry for a number of years, a ten-minute drive from ‘Clon’ – as it is known to locals – so I acted as her personal guide for the day!

In less than two hours we arrived, found a parking space in the local Catholic Church yard. He rain has subsided. We went to the Olive Branch first; a health food shop established in 2004 and a remarkable place for healthy foodies. It also offers a great range of skin care products. The staff is only too delighted to be of service. Check out their website: https://theolivebranch.ie/.

From there we had decided to stroll though the main street, but, as we move to the door a deluge has started. So we wait… and wait… We make a dash for the car which isn’t too far; but far enough when there’s a downpour! We grab two umbrellas from the car and I decide to exchange my canvas footwear – yes I agree a rather impractical move this morning – for ankle rain boots, ah! much better, my feet are grateful for the dry comfort.

Return to the main street, people are dashing in and out of shops. Despite the rain the locals appear to be positively pleasant. By now we are feeling peckish and are enticed into the Arís Café and Wine Bar. The place is bustling with an energetic atmosphere – plenty of locals with a dash of visitors. A young waiter accompanies us to our table upstairs. We sit by the window with view on Asna square. It’s 11h30 so we opt for coffee and scones; we pile on the better and jam mmm! We delight in soaking up the atmosphere that reveals itself as friendly. They have an appealing selection of mouth-watering cakes and pastries as well as an inviting lunch menu. We both encourage you to stop by for a bite – you won’t regret it. Check out the website: https://www.ariscafe.com/.

With our stomachs satisfied we head out into the damp street. Despite the heavy showers is a vibrant feel to the town. We explore the main street; stopping and starting as we go. The Clonakilty Bookstore is a lovely place to while away a small half hour – but don’t forget to buy a book! It shelves some unusual and interesting books about West Cork and Ireland in general. There are two other book shops but we didn’t have the time to pop in there.

There are oodles of restaurants and cafes; craft shops and boutiques dotted about the town. As we are stuck for time we thought a picnic – in the car – was the best option; I wanted to bring my sister to Inchydoney Beach. We went to Lettercollum to get food-to-go with a healthy twist. They have an organic garden in Timoleague – a village located between Clonaklity and Coutmacsherry. We both decide on the roasted vegetable feta savoury tart. There is a small seating area that caters for 3/4 people, already taken! But I’d recommend you trying the food; it’s scrumptious. Visit their website: http://www.lettercollum.ie/. The place is packed so we set off to Inchydoney Beach. It’s about a ten-minute drive from the town.

We find a parking spot overlooking the beach. We indulge on our savoury tarts, ‘oohing and aahing’! The mist is rolling in over the bay from the Atlantic but that does not deter people from taking a walk, surfing or indeed swimming – without any wetsuit in tow!

It’s two o’clock; time to head home to Castletownbere. My sister is enthralled by ‘Clon’. The place is friendly, dynamic and has an altogether positive vibe. There is much more to be discovered so please do check out: https://www.clonakilty.ie/ for more information.

Storm Lorenzo has gate-crashed…

Starring as a hurricane in the Caribbean, Storm Lorenzo has arrived on Irish coasts even though he was not invited! Following the same trajectory as Storm Ophelia two years ago, he has swept its way across the north Atlantic hitting the Azores on Wednesday. Moving slowly north east, it had been downgraded to an extra-tropical storm upon arrival to Ireland’s shores early this morning.

Winds picked up during Wednesday night; status orange warning has been issued for the western and south-western counties. Our emergency services are on stand-by. The country braces itself for yet another storm. The last number of years has observed an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather conditions worldwide. Ireland has not escaped…

As I settle myself cosily, I watch the waves surge upon the rocks and the shoreline below. The frothy splashes remind me of a cappuccino; it’s time for coffee. I switch on the espresso machine… mmm the smell of coffee brewing pulls me away from the window. Coffee in hand I settle down to writing.

There are, no doubt, many of you who have experienced tough weather conditions. However, here in Ireland we have never been used to extreme conditions; summers never too hot, winters never too cold. Yes, plenty of rain and mist in winter, but, generally we’ve been accustomed to a predominantly mild, stable climate. Due to global climate change the Atlantic is warming up; such hurricanes that previously headed into the Caribbean and eastern coastlines of the United States are now finding their way to the east of the Atlantic towards Europe. This change in trajectory is said to become a more common occurrence.

The last few years, perhaps even seven or eight, there has been a change. Of course, we’ve had the odd storm but they were far from being frequent. My husband has spent the past few Festive Seasons in France with his immediate family and I have spent it with mine. Each time, prior to going away, winds and rain would intensify “will the flight be delayed?” or “will the flight actually take-off?” I’d leave my husband at the airport, somewhat reluctantly, and head-off on my two-hour drive to my parents’. The winds were so strong that they would shake the car and rain so heavy that I’d have to use the windscreen wipers at the fastest speed position. I could feel the car being moved by the wind. It was always a sigh of relief to arrive at my destination; and once I heard from my husband, well, I could relax!

It’s supposed to get worse tonight; I do hope we don’t have a power outage! Last storm there were parts of the country, including where we live, without electricity for over a week due to fallen trees. À suivre…

Sorry I’m late with this post; wanted to post it last Thursday evening! Something unexpected came up and had to go… hope you enjoy reading it even if a little late! Thanks. P.S. The north-western part of the country was the most affected; they experienced gale-force winds and a lot of rain and many places got flooded. At least yesterday and today are dry with sunny spells.

Sherkin Island: The Ancestral Home of the O’Driscoll Clan

Sherkin Island – Inis Ascain in Irish – just a ten minute ferry journey from the charming coastal village of Baltimore. Sherkin Island is where my father and his siblings grew up. Although my grandparents came from the mainland they moved to the island in to rear their family. Unfortunately I don’t get to visit Sherkin as often as I would like to but when I do it’s a day-long cultural and historical trip.

When my husband and I were living in Courtmacsherry, a quaint seaside village just ten minutes from Clonakilty, West Cork, we set off early one Saturday morning to Sherkin Island. The drive there is delightful; feeling the warmth of the morning sun through the windscreen is heavenly. Less than an hour later we arrive in Baltimore. With ample parking in the village we have no problem parking the car. As we stroll over to the pier the excitement is mounting, I shall be my spouse’s personal tour guide for the day; it’s his first time visiting the island, the ancestral home of the O’Driscoll clan. Backpack full of goodies in case we, or should I say I get hungry! And especially water, I’m never without a bottle of water in my bag!

The ferry is quickly filled, engine roaring, the course is steered across Roaring Water Bay… Ten minutes of seaspray on my face, I can feel the taste of the salt. There’s a sense of being ‘homeward bound’, a return to the source so to speak.

We arrive at the slipway, we disembark, the ruins of the Franciscan Friary , the ‘Abbey’ as it is known locally, is on the left as we commence our journey around the island. The Friary was established in 1460 by Fineen O’Driscoll, chieftain of the area at the time. There is a lot of history surrounding the O’Driscoll Clan and Dunalong Castle – Dún na Long – which is located on the east side of the island, overlooking the entrance to Baltimore Harbour. If you’d like more information I’d encourage you to visit https://sherkinisland.ie/.  

The Franciscan Friary, know as ‘The Abbey’

For those of you who prefer to travel by ‘taxi’ there’s usually a local with a tractor and trailer, which on a wet day is very welcoming indeed, direct transport to the Jolly Roger traditional Irish pub and restaurant, forget about the scenic route! We are indeed very fortunate with the weather; the sun gleams upon us. The day is off to a great start.

The island is home to many artists, from painters and photographers to writers and craft makers working with a myriad of materials such as silk and wood. Their work can be purchased at the Island Crafts Shop that is situated on Baltimore pier. Sherkin Island offers an interesting and unique experience through its BA in Visual Art programme (BAVA) http://bavasherkin.com/. It is a four-year honours degree course proposing a dynamic and creative education in an exceptional location; an opportunity – and what an opportunity – that combines studio practice workshops on the island with a range of online distance education technologies. The principal aim of the programme is to provide students with an advanced knowledge of the nature, role and potential of contemporary art. This BA programme is jointly developed with TU Dublin; for more information please click on the link hereafter: http://www.dit.ie/studyatdit/undergraduate/programmescourses/allcourses/visualartsherkinislanddt589.html

We happen upon Silver Strand on the north-west side of the island, splendid views of Cape Clear Island – Oileán Chléire in Irish – and the Atlantic Ocean; a perfect place for a swim followed by a picnic. This is a spectacular ‘playground’ for the islanders; it was the playground of my father’s and his siblings and what a playground! I close my eyes; I can hear their shrieks of laughter.

The ‘Playground’ of my father’s and his siblings

After a morning of walking, taking in the theatrical views, we head back to the east coast for a well-deserved bite to eat and a drink at the Jolly Roger. We have a couple of hours to spend peacefully before returning to the mainland. We have worked up an appetite! We sit facing the village and harbour of Baltimore; splendid views… come see for yourself.

We observe the arrival of the ferry and so we make our way towards the pier. It is early evening and we bid farewell to my ancestral home. What a day; we’ll return soon…

Map of Sherkin Island

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.

Episode 1 The Beginnings

As you know I’m from West Cork and have lived in France for over a decade during the 1990s. I return to France whenever I can – once or twice a year at least… I have decided to share with you my experiences of French life and my passion for my adopted country. While I am not living there at the moment, I have familial and friendship ties there nevertheless. And of course, my husband being French, I remain immersed in its language and culture despite my living back in Ireland.

Comme vous le saviez je suis d’origine de West Cork (Ireland) et j’ai vécue en France pendant une dizaine d’années durant les années 90. Je retourne en France à chaque occasion présentée – une à deux fois par an au moins… J’ai décidé de partager avec vous mes expériences de la vie “à la françaiseet ma passion pour mon pays adoptif. Bien que je n’y habite plus pour le moment, je continue d’y garder des liens familiaux et amicaux. Et bien entendu, mon mari étant français, je continue d’être immerger dans la langue et la culture française malgré notre retour en Irlande.

My passion for France came about at the age of twelve when a delegation from the Breton town in the Morbihan arrived in West Cork seeking a twin town. Simultaneously, a group from that same town on a walking holiday in South Kerry / West Cork paid a visit to my native town and as we say ‘the rest is history’. Spontaneously my parents became involved; and my mother became a committee member. And so for the next twenty years exchanges took place every year – one year we host and the following year we are guests. My parents, my siblings and I welcomed families and/or individuals into our home. These cultural holidays ignited a keen interest in Breton culture but also in the French language and wider French way of life. Friendships were established, some of whom remain today. As a result of these friendships I gained my ‘ticket’ to Paris. I raised anchor and set sail to encounter new horizons in the early 1990s. It was in Paris where I immersed myself into the French language and culture as a jeune fille au pair. A suivre…

Ireland’s Misty Shores

What is it that gives us the urge to travel? I’ve never actually dwelled on the question. Being Irish there is almost a taken-for-granted attitude that everyone will, one day, leave this island for pastures new be it long-term or short-term.  We tend to delight in constant mobility. The notion of ‘itchy feet’ comes to mind.  

It’s our genetic make-up that seems to ‘encourage’ us to embrace life beyond our shores. I don’t think we’re the type of individuals who think that faraway hills look greener – that would be difficult given that Ireland is ‘The Emerald Isle’! – But rather, we’re inquisitive about life elsewhere.  

Our damp climate can be one of the reasons why many Irish people decide to move away, usually to warmer places; embracing the outdoor lifestyle. Yet, despite some of the inconveniences that push us abroad, there are those of us who return.

While I appreciate the sun and living in warm climates, I would miss the ‘ole Irish mist’, the stormy seas washing up on our shores.

A few years ago, my husband and I paid a visit to a friend in Nice; it was early December. The weather was so warm that I spent the majority of the time in shorts and short sleeves. I went swimming almost every day. It was delightful. Coffee at a beach-side terrace, picnics on the beach, spending time à flâner – strolling – through the streets of Vieux-Nice… The warmth of the sun on my face, no lack of vitamin D here!

I marvelled at the outdoor lifestyle; I could see myself immersing into life in the south of France.  That particular winter in Ireland, well, in Cork anyway, it had rained for 80 consecutive days.  I can hear some of you exclaiming: “What! Is that possible?” Indeed it is!

About a week after our return to Cork, I was strolling along the beach one morning – as I often do –when sea mist began to envelope me. Despite it being winter the day was mild – it’s not unusual to have mild winters in Ireland, especially on the south coast. I stood motionless, taking it all in, and the feeling was one of gratification. I thought “this is why I would miss Ireland”. Indeed, I love the sunshine and warmth but I also appreciate the sea mist that brings a certain sense of ‘otherworldliness’ to a place.

For those of you living in ‘mostly-hot-and-sunny climes’ do come visit Ireland; maybe you too can appreciate the mild mist falling around you – creating a feeling of enchantment. These mist-filled days are so propitious to having a bowl of homemade soup accompanied by brown soda bread – homemade of course – beside a blazing open fire in one of the many traditional Irish pubs. It’s an ideal time to chat with locals and listen to traditional Irish music. Come explore this ‘Island of Saints and Scholars’; from Dublin, its capital, to Cork, the People’s Republic also known as the Rebel County, stopping off at Ireland’s Ancient East, not forgetting to meander through West Cork and all the pathways of discovery as you journey on the Wild Atlantic Way, taking in the scenery of the west and north of Ireland– there is something for everyone. And if you enjoy walking then don’t forget to pack your hiking boots to experience the myriad of breath-taking trails.

Experience our Celtic heritage, our identity steeped in local folklore. Irish people tend to be rooted to their culture, however, have an innate sense of travel ‘in the blood’. You’d find an Irish person in every part of the world. We tend to adapt easily, yet, we bring with us the expression of who we are through our cultural heritage, be it music, sport, or language.

During your Irish adventure you are sure to hear a number of locals discuss the weather conditions; we are recognised for our inherent attachment to the meteorological forecast. Expressions such as, ‘soft day, thank God’ usually heard on a mild but dampish day! Come visit and be part of the experience; explore the dramatic maritime landscapes of our seaboards.

Celtic Cousins

While I am quite at home anywhere in coastal France, I must admit that Brittany holds a special place in my heart. From early adolescence, my native Castletownbere began twinning with Locmiquelic, a coastal town in the Morbihan, south Brittany. Morbihan (Mor Bihan) means ‘Petite Mer’ – ‘Little Sea’ in Breton. Every other year a delegation from Locmiquelic would visit our native West Cork fishing port. For over twenty years our family greeted between two to four guests for one week. When it was our turn to set sail for Brittany, the people of Locmiquelic would play host to their Irish guests. It was then that I felt a strong connection with France and especially with Brittany. There was an air of familiarity – Celtic Cousins so to speak. Since then, I’ve always felt comfortable in this north-westerly part of the Hexagone – a moniker the French give to their country.

In the summer of 2014 I immersed myself in the fishing port of Le Guilvinec, Finistère (south Brittany) for the purpose of my research. It was my first time visiting this coastal community and I must say that there is ‘something’ about coastal Brittany that makes me feel right at home. What strikes me is the winding coast road that meanders from the auction hall to the beach. It is delightful for any swimmer to have such a splendid beach just at the edge of the town. I frequently walked the coast road; there is something so enthralling about the sea. Whether calm or calamitous, the sea has the ability to ‘draw’ you in to its world. I admire the houses that stand tall along this road with their spectacular views. It’s my favourite part of the town. The sound of the sea is so soothing.

Going to the boulangerie, most mornings, for the baguette; getting to know local residents though various associations and participating in various events, meeting people in the streets, having the banter… There’s a sort of mutual understanding between people from Celtic regions; a Celtic language, musical traditions, and in a way being rather similar in manner. Our perspectives, our ways of seeing and being in the world as Celts, intertwining traditions and modernity.

Brittany was an independent duchy; however, there were many turbulent years during which the Breton Duchy defended its territory against the Romans, Vikings, English and the French. The Duchy came to an end upon the death of Francis II in 1488. His daughter Anne inherited the Duchy. In addition to ‘keeping the peace’, a lack of political stability and financial resources engendered the marriage between Anne de Bretagne and the King of France, Charles VIII. The Ducal crown became united with the French crown in 1532. Following the French Revolution, and as a result of the various republican forms of French government since 1792, the duchy was replaced by the French system of departments. Of course its history is a lot more complicated but that tale is for another day… 

While centuries have passed, Bretons continue to defend their Celtic roots; never giving up the ‘battle’ – which at first was political especially during the mid-twentieth century but has, in recent decades, become a cultural one. I have observed, during my many trips there, and having lived there for three years in the early 2000s, contemporary Bretons are at ease and confident with their Breton identity – with who they are. Bretons are recognised for their force de caractère – strength of character. A Breton fisher once told me that “Le fait d’être Breton est ancré en nous, c’est régional, je me sens enraciné dans l’héritage Celtique” – “The fact of being Breton is anchored within us, it is regional, I feel rooted to the Celtic heritage”. There is a sense of belonging to a collective. During my fieldwork, I become conscious that Bretons tend to experience a stronger affiliation with people from other Celtic regions, such as Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, Galicia, among others rather than those from other French areas. Identity is complex. Everyone experiences it differently and constructs rather distinct meanings to how sense of identity is to them.

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…

What’s in a Name?

Back to my surname, that brings me to Baltimore, metaphorically, of course. I’d like to mention a book that i’m reading at the moment; it’s by Des Ekin, author of Stolen Village, a book that brings to light that sack of Baltimore, an intriguing story that occurred in 1631.

Back to the task in hand, the book I’m reading at the moment is Ireland’s Pirate Trail, the very name puts a smile on my face as my mom always says that the O’Driscolls were pirates; and, so they were, she is right in saying that but as a youngster it really wasn’t my ideal image of my ancestors!

Exploring our past is a great way to understanding our present, and who we are, and as such why we are…

My grandfather was a fish merchant and traded with France. My dad and his brothers were fishermen as were many of my cousins. Collectively, the family have an innate relationship with the sea and coastal environment. It’s in the blood as we say, we have salt in our veins.

You recall the sense of place I discussed in another post, an attachment that people establish with specific places, well for me, as long as I’m on the coast is what’s the most vital to me. Of course I have a strong connection to West Cork but just being able to see and feel the sea no matter where I find myself…

During my research in both Brittany and West Cork, many of the interviews and conversations held with locals highlight the importance of being in a coastal environment rather than being somewhere specific.

Thanks for joining me!