Cycling the Sheep’s Head

Group at Ahakista

The joy of cycling! The fresh air! The wind in your face! The sun on your back! The sights, the sounds, the smells! Wait – those killer hills! The wobbly legs, the burning lungs! No problem – we have Kalkhoffs!

Is  that enough exclamation marks for any decent blog post? And what on earth is a Kalkhoff?

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Sheeps Head light
Above, a Kalkhoff electric bicycle and below, the Sheep’s Head – the perfect combination

Earlier this year we cycled the length of the Sheep’s Head and back, all of us on electric bicycles, mostly Kalkhoffs. The day was organised by Patrick Murray and Helen Guinan of City View Wheels in Cork, and a masterpiece of organisation it was, featuring stops for coffee, lunch and a pint at the end of the day, followed by a lovely dinner in the Maritime Hotel in Bantry.

stopping for the view

Riding an electric bike has revolutionised cycling for me and for many others. Let’s face it, West Cork is nothing but hills, and huffing and puffing up one of them, pushing a bike, can take the joy out of a day’s adventure. But with some battery-powered help, you can stay on the bike and arrive at your destination still able to breathe.

The Old Creamery at Kilcrohane is a great place for lunch

It’s like having the wind at your back, giving you a gentle push when you need it. It’s still a work-out (you don’t stop peddling) but it just makes the whole venture doable. No, more than doable – pleasurable!

Lighthouse Loop

Sheeps Head LighthouseAbove: This is as far as you can drive or ride on the Sheep’s Head – after this, it’s a goodly walk to the lighthouse (below)

The Sheep’s Head is the perfect destination for a day’s cycling – incredibly scenic, lots of places to stop for refreshment, lots of things to see and do along the way, and relatively flat. Note that word relatively – if you start at Durrus and cycle along the south side to the end of the road and back, you don’t climb over any mountains but you do gain considerable altitude – enough to ensure that you deserve lunch by the time you reach Bernie’s Cupán Tae.

up the last hill

The good news is that it’s mostly downhill all the way back to Durrus.

Leaving Cupán

It  was a congenial bunch and the day was full of chats and laughter. As the ‘locals’ in the group, it was lovely to be able to show off West Cork. We made a detour down to Lake Faranamanagh and told everyone about the Bardic School and the King of Spain’s sons.

sheeps head view

 

Lake Faranamanagh
The Sheep’s Head , Lake Faranamanagh

When you’re cycling with a group you can’t really stop to take photos whenever you want, so the photographs in this post are a mixture. Photos of the day itself were taken either by Patrick (thank you, Patrick!) or by me, while general photographs of the Sheep’s Head come from my own collection and were taken at various times of the year. They will give you a feel for what’s to do and see along the way.

Air India Memorial Site

 

Top: The beautiful and moving Air India Memorial site at Ahakista; bottom: Critters encountered along the way

We were blessed with a lovely day for our bike trip. But then, as you know, the sun always shines in West Cork. And sure, if it doesn’t, you can hole up in a pub and sing, or stay home and cook up some fresh eggs from the happy hens at Faranamanagh.

eggs

If  you love to get out on a bicycle but aren’t the iron-man type, fear not – there is life after lycra!

road into Durrus

And if you just want to explore the Sheep’s Head, bike or no bike, take a look at our post on Walking the Sheep’s Head Way or head on over to Living the Sheep’s Head Way, the website of the Sheep’s Head and Bantry Tourism Co-operative, for lots of information the peninsula and places to stay. Or take a browse through The Sheep’s Head Way for all the walking routes – it’s the website of the voluntary committee that takes responsibility for the way-marked trails.

convoy

rainbow over mizen from Sheep's Head

Summer Markets

Long Island

Our West Cork markets – Skibbereen, Bantry and Schull – are thriving. Each has a distinct character and all of them are fun for wandering, browsing and buying.

Top right: A basket of scotch eggs from West Cork Pies; bottom left: April Danann from Rebel Foods

Skibbereen Market on Saturday mornings has become the iconic foodie market of West Cork. Everyone goes – it’s a social occasion as much as a shopping trip. Yesterday, Darina Allen of Ballymaloe breezed through when I was chatting with Eithne McCarthy, and rumour had it that Saoirse Ronan had been spotted earlier.

Eithne

Everybody loves Eithne McCarthy’s home made cakes, breads, jams and chutneys.

There’s music and coffee and crepes and bean burgers and sausages and cupcakes and scotch eggs and anything else you can happily munch on as you wander.

Many stall are devoted to locally produced and artisan foods. Perhaps the best known is Gubbeen, famous for cheese and smoked meats, but not far behind is West Cork Pies, Brown Envelope Seeds, April Danann’s Rebel Foods (wild, foraged and fermented), and Union Hall Smoked Fish.

Fingal

Top: Fingal Ferguson of Gubbeen; Lower left: Union Hall Smoked Fish; Lower Right; Madeline McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds

But there’s also a whole array of stalls selling chocolates, baked goods, chutneys and pickles, free range eggs and the hens who lay them, vegetables, honey, vinegars, sausages, quiches, berries, olives, seaweeds, and more cheese.

It’s not just food, of course. There are flowers and bedding plants, wooden chairs, magic wands, dolls, jewellery, wool, carved bowls, antiques, books, junk, and yes, knitted tea cosies.

The Schull market is much smaller but has many of the same stalls. Schull is the quintessential tourist town – heaving in the summer – and the market here goes from Easter to October. It’s on Sunday mornings and has a lovely, casual, local vibe, with people dropping down after mass and everyone getting caught up on the latest news.

Schull Crowds

Like Skibbereen, it’s madly busy, so expect to queue and just enjoy the ambience and the music.

Cheese Queue

Bantry, on Friday mornings, is the largest market. Although there are some of the same food stalls, it seems to attract different vendors than the other two. This is the market where people shop for second hand goods, curios and collectibles, tools, carpets, clothing, work boots, trees and shrubs, and Michael Collins posters.

Bantry Market

A visit to West Cork wouldn’t be complete without making a trip to the market. Heck – make it to all three of them!

Vials

Champions for Ireland

wolfhounds

Irish Champions – ancient warriors, wolfhounds and rain at the Tailteann Games 1924

We heard hearty cheers coming across the water on Friday, when Ireland won the Olympic silver medal in the Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls Final. The cheers we heard were not coming from Rio, however (although there were plenty there), but from Lisheen, the tiny West Cork parish that’s just around the corner from us. That’s where Gary and Paul O’Donovan hail from. We think they have declared a public holiday there in honour of the two rowing brothers who, prior to this title, won gold at the European Championships in Brandenburg in Germany this year – the first Ireland rowing crew to become European Champions. This success set me looking at the records of Irish Olympic achievements over the years.

NGI 941

The Liffey Swim by Jack Butler Yeats, painted in 1923. Courtesy National Gallery of Ireland

Independent Ireland was represented at the Olympic Games from 1924 onwards. No Irish athletes won medals in 1924 but Jack Butler Yeats won a silver medal for the above painting and Oliver St John Gogarty won a bronze medal for literature in that year. Did you know that between 1912 and 1948 competitions in the arts were part of the Olympic Games? For a small nation Ireland has made its mark in the games: in Melbourne in 1956 Irish athletes and boxers won 5 medals between them – a gold, a silver and three bronze, and in London in 2012 boxers, athletes and a showjumper won 6 medals – a gold, a silver and four bronze. 1996 was a memorable year when, in Atlanta, Michelle Smith won 3 golds and a bronze for swimming.

An original cover from the 1924 programme for the Tailteann Games, an artist’s perception of the ancient games and (right) two medals struck for the Games

While researching this information I came across Tailteann Games. The word is pronounced ‘tell-tin’. The eleventh century Lebor Gabála Érenn (the Book of the Invasions of Ireland) states that the games were founded by Lugh Lámhfhada, Lugh of the Long Arm – the first High King of Ireland – as a mourning ceremony for the death of his foster-mother Tailtiu. Lugh buried Tailtiu underneath a mound in an area that took her name and was later called Teltown in County Meath, not far from the Hill of Tara. It’s perhaps significant that the games took place around the festival of Lughnasa – at the beginning of August. Accounts vary as to the historical periods in which the games were held: some say as early as 1800 BC, while a more generally accepted dating seems to be from the 6th to the 9th centuries AD: the festival died out after the Norman invasion but was later revived as the Tailten Fair, consisting of contests of strength and skill, horse races, religious celebrations, and a traditional time for couples to contract ‘trial’ marriages. These were allowed under Brehon Laws: couples could meet and live together for a year and a day – at the end of this time either party could end the marriage on the ‘Hills of Separation’.

Presumably these photographs are from the ‘Opening Ceremony’ of the 1924 Tailteann Games held in Croke Park

While the 1924 Olympics were being held in Paris (where Finola’s grandfather was a member of the Irish team) a revival of the Tailteann Games was held in Croke Park, Dublin. This ‘meeting of the Irish race’ or ‘Irish Olympiad’ had been announced by Éamon de Valera in Dáil Éireann in 1921 to celebrate the founding of the Irish Free State, but the event was delayed because of the Anglo-Irish War and the Irish Civil War. Organised by the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA), it was open to all people of Irish birth or ancestry. Participants came from England, Scotland, Wales, Canada, the USA, South Africa and Australia as well as Ireland. 

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Note the media presence at the 1924 Tailteann Games: newsreel cameras mounted on to motor vans  

Tailteann Games were held again in 1928 and 1932. The name survives today as Rás Tailteann, which is an 8 day international cycling race around parts of Ireland. This race has run every year since it was founded in 1953 and has developed into a much sought after event by professional and amateur teams from many parts of the world: it is able to award qualifying points that are required for participation in Olympic Games and World Cycling Championships.

Fireworks_at_the_First_Tailteann_Games_August_15,_1924

No modern games ceremony would be complete without a fireworks display: (top) this unusual photograph shows the fireworks at the 1924 Tailteann Games. (Lower left) a 1958 poster for the Rás Tailteann. (Lower right)  We watched this year’s Rás Tailteann on the road to Ballydehob. (Below) Paul and Gary O’Donovan – West Cork lads in Rio on Friday added a 2016 Olympic Silver to their many achievements (photo afloat.ie)

brothers

‘Will the Hare’ – and the Mizen Olympics!

street market

…In ancient Ireland the festival of the beginning of the harvest was the first day of Autumn, that is to say, it coincided with 1 August in the Julian calendar. This has continued in recent tradition, insofar as Lúnasa or Lammas-Day was still taken to be the first day of Autumn; the gatherings and celebrations connected with it were, however, transferred to a nearby Sunday, in most parts of Ireland to the last Sunday in July, in some places to the first Sunday in August… The old Lúnasa was, in the main, forgotten as applying to the popular festival and a variety of names substituted in various localities, such as Domhnach Chrom Dubh, Domhnach Deireannach (Last Sunday), Garland Sunday, Hill Sunday and others…

making the stack

All the photographs in this post are from the collection of Tomás Ó Muircheartaigh who travelled and photographed the west of Ireland during the 1930s, 40s and 50s and is an invaluable documentary of the times in which he lived. Generally, the locations of the photographs are not noted, and very few are likely to be specific to the Mizen: they do however record life as it would have been lived at that time in all the rural areas

Today we celebrate Lúnasa – the festival of the bringing-in of the harvest. Kevin Danaher (The Year in Ireland, Mercier Press 1972) wrote (above) about what he observed in the middle of the last century, when things were already changing and many of the old customs were, as he notes, ‘in the main forgotten’, although still talked about. What changes do we see in Ireland, a few generations on?

seascape

Northside of the Mizen by Patrick McCarthy and Richard Hawkes was written in 1999 (Mizen Productions) and is a collection of memories and stories still being told then about traditional life in this westerly part of of the country:

…The heat of the summer was eased by the cooling breezes from the Atlantic. It was busy on land and sea, with seine fishing by night and fish curing and farming by day, but there was always time for scoriachting, games and dance, sometimes on Carbery Island or across Dunmanus Bay…

…Once in the year Carbery Island was the location for a dance and in settled weather the Northsiders could shout across and give the signal to the people of Muintir Bháire to meet at Carbery Island. As many as forty-five people in three boats would cross Dunmanus Bay to the White House, and a good crowd of men and women from Bear Island would also come to the dances. They were great hearty people. Ann Daly from Kilcrohane and Agnes O’Donovan of Dunkelly played the melodeon…

I like the idea of the Northsiders shouting across the water to the residents of the Sheep’s Head, two miles away! I wonder if they would be heard nowadays?

horse race

…There were competitions at Dunmanus for swimming, running, jumping and weight lifting, and you could be sure that the Northsiders were well represented in each of the events. ‘Will the Hare’ (William McCarthy of Dunkelly Middle), was good at the long jump and the running races and would often win and bring great honour to the Northside. It was said that ‘Will the Hare’ got his name by catching a hare on the run! It was also said that when you blew the whistle to gather the men for seining, by the time you had finished, ‘Will the Hare’ would be at Canty’s Cove waiting!

boat race

…Wild John Murphy would take the lads to the Crookhaven Regatta which was held on The Assumption (15th August). It was a long pull around the Mizen but a good time was had by all. The Northsiders were great with the oars, but it was hard to beat the Long Island crews in the boat races…

(Danaher): …In very many localities the chief event of the festival was not so much the festive meal as the festive gathering out of doors. This took the form of an excursion to some traditional site, usually on a hill or mountain top, or beside a lake or river, where large numbers of people from the surrounding area congregated, travelling thither on foot, on horseback or in carts and other equipages… Many of the participants came prepared to ‘make a day of it’ bringing food and drink and musical instruments, and spending the afternoon and evening in eating, drinking and dancing…

picnic

…Another welcome feature of the festive meal was fresh fruit. Those who had currants or gooseberries in their gardens, and this was usual even among small-holders in Munster and South Leinster, made sure that some dish of these appeared on the table. Those who lived near heather hills or woods gathered fraucháin (‘fraughans’, whortleberries, blueberries) which they ate for an ‘aftercourse’ mashed with fresh cream and sugar. Similar treatment was given to wild strawberries and wild raspberries by those lucky ones who lived near the woods where these grow… A number of fairs still held or until recently held at this season bear names like ‘Lammas Fair’, ‘Gooseberry Fair’, ‘Bilberry Fair’…

market in town

One interesting custom was the driving of cattle and horses into the water. This is mentioned in the 1680s by Piers in his Description of the County of West-Meath:On the first Sunday in harvest, viz in August, they will be sure to drive their cattle into some pool or river, and therein swim them; this they observe as inviolable as if it were a point of religion, for they think no beast will live the whole year thro’ unless they be thus drenched; I deny not but that swimming of the cattle, and chiefly in this season of the year, is healthful unto them…

at the fair

Foto Mizen!

Hydrangea and Montbretia

Montbretia and Hydrangea (Ava)

Sunday August 7th is The Mizen on a Sunday Project Day. The what? 

Robin

This young robin was curious about our activities in the woods

The organisers of the new Photo Mizen Festival, which launches next year in Schull, have come up with a great fundraising idea. Here it is: a photo book of life on the Mizen Peninsula during the 24-hour period of a single day, Sunday, August 7, 2016.

Stream

This little stream flows into the sea at Derreennatra

Derreenatra Bridge

The stream flows under this picturesque bridge (Ava)

My niece, Ava, and I decided to participate. Ava is almost 12 and she has a great eye and her parents’ camera. She and I rose at dawn this morning and set off to see what we could capture of life around us in Rossbrin.

My nephew Hugo, my sister Aoibhinn, and Marley, were happy to be photographed

Within three hours we had 250 images. Oh dear! We spent several hours deciding on the ones to submit to the Foto Mizen project and of course we had lots left over – we can only submit 5 each. So here is a selection of images that didn’t make the final cut.

Kilbronogue Wedge Tomb

We walked up through the woods to the 3,000 year old wedge tomb at Kilbronogue (Ava)

The wildflowers were everywhere in abundance, some blowing in extravagant crowds and some tiny and hidden.

St John’s Wort, heather and gorse, and blackberry flowers

Ava took lots of photos but was a bit shy of having me take photos of her! Here she is doing her best imitation of a Jawa.

Ava the Jawa

She was a little puzzled when I said our next stop was a graveyard, but got into the spirit of things right away when she found this statue.  She labelled it Creepy Mary, and I have to admit, those eyes are a little weird.

Creepy Mary

A tiny reminder from Stouke Graveyard that The Mizen is still a place where the past is sacred (Ava)

But she loved this little gate with its colourful postbox.

Gate and Post Box

And she took several photographs of the disused postbox at the old Rossbrin National School.

Rossbrin Post Box

It was a lovely way to spend time together, wandering companionably around the incredible Mizen countryside, snapping away at whatever took our fancy.

Rock wall with Montbretia

We didn’t have to go far – this is Ava’s picture of the little boreen outside our house 

Her younger brother, Hugo, got in on the act too, helping us to decide on our final five photos, which we will submit for the Photo Book Project. Turns out he has a great eye too – so next year there’ll be three of us roaming the hills of West Cork in the wee hours.

Fennel

Skibbereen – Ireland’s First Gigabit Town!

Ludgate poster

On Friday, the Ludgate Hub in Skibbereen was officially launched.

Minister and Field

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, and John Field of the Ludgate Board

We’ve been watching the progress of this wonderful initiative since last November when we attended the National Digital Week in Skibbereen. Robert wrote then about Percy Ludgate, the re-discovered computer pioneer, and about the plans for the Ludgate Hub. This week, those plans fell into place and gave Skibbereen the distinction of being Ireland’s first 1Gigabit town.Minister's Speech

The Hub was declared open by Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, in front of a capacity crowd that included representatives from some of the e-commerce giants operating in Ireland, such as Google, Vodaphone, Glen Dimplex, and Siro. The cheering section also included many local faces we recognised, all there to celebrate this initiative: John and Sally McKenna, the Skibbereen Heritage Centre, a couple of bishops, our local political representatives, Dee Forbes (newly appointed director of RTE, who’s on the Board), and Lord David Puttnam, Ireland’s Digital Champion, who never misses an opportunity to support West Cork.Board

Lots of people spoke, everyone enthusiastically, about the boon this building would be to Skibbereen. But to my mind, the speech of the day was the one given by John Field. John is the Director of Field’s Supermarket, a beloved and respected local institution. The Ludgate Building was the former Field’s bakery. Although the grocery business was established about 150 years ago, the Field family has been running it since 1935. They are committed to stocking the best of locally produced food and indeed they have a fantastic collection of artisan and locally grown produce that is second to none.

Old and new technology

Before it was Field’s bakery, the building was a cinema: the projector is a nod to its historic past

John’s words were simple and direct – we already have excellent local business, but we need to attract and retain more entrepreneurs and young families to West Cork. We can’t do that unless we can provide the most up-to-date technology, and nowadays that means the highest possible broadband speeds. The Ludgate Hub provides exactly that  – a 1000MG fibre-optic connection, to be exact. Lightning speed! They provide single and group work spaces, state-of-the-art video conference rooms that can utilise Google Hangouts, and a variety of meeting and presentation facilities.

Ludgate front

You can’t miss the Ludgate Hub! Below: the colourful entrance, with an informal meeting space above it; Grainne Dwyer, the Hub Project Director, and Robert chat in the coffee room

We attended a talk by the photographer John Minihan in the Hub earlier this week, where we had a first-hand demonstration of the kind of digital presentations possible now (enormous screens that you touch to advance!) and we hope to use a hot desk ourselves in the future, as we develop our ability to produce 3D images of rock art. The local Coderdojo club has been welcomed into the Hub – their Facebook page has a great image of the kids working on a Minecraft project in one of the conference rooms.

Clockwise from top left: Oliver Farrell (Chairman & Co-Founder of Vilicom and a Board member) shows us the desk area; John Minihane, photographer, gives a presentation during the Skibbereen Arts Festival; an informal seating area beside the servers; a conference room;

The building itself is inviting and colourful – in the best West Cork tradition. The staff is young and helpful and energetic. If you’ve ever wanted to live in West Cork (and who wouldn’t!), but needed excellent connectivity, wait no more. Come on down, meet the Ludgate folks, and drive by some of those properties you’ve been drooling over on those online property sites.

Bill Brown

At the opening we met Bill Brown. Bill has a security firm with offices in Belfast, Naas and London but manages to live in West Cork using the Ludgate Hub to provide the connectivity he needs to his business

Oh, and sign up for National Digital Week. Yes, they’re doing it again, in November!

Below: Percy Ludgate beams benignly down on visitors to the Hub

Percy

Gigabit town