Nestled in Castlehaven Inlet lies a long narrow street running steeply down to the water, broken half way down by a curious jampot containing two huge sycamore trees, to be negotiated carefully by drivers. This is the charming West Cork village of Castletownshend.
Castletownshend will be forever associated with Edith Somerville, whose family built, and still occupy, Drishane House at the top of the village. She and her cousin, Violet Martin, wrote a series of enormously popular stories and novels under the pen names Somerville and Ross. The best known stories centre on the character of the hapless Englishman, Major Sinclair Yates, who fetches up in West Cork as a Resident Magistrate. His adventures, courtship, neighbours, and local fox hunts are recounted in a series of wonderfully funny stories that, despite what some see as jarring Big House condescension, have stood the test of time to become classics of Anglo-Irish literature – and an entertaining TV series. Drishane House is open to the public. The gardens are enchanting and the house and outbuildings are much as they were in Edith Somerville’s time.
A bastion of well-to-do protestant families, Castletownshend boasts several fine houses, including the Castle itself, right on the water, and continuously occupied by the Townshends since the 17th Century. Behind the Castle, on a commanding knoll, stands the Church of St. Barrahane. Founded originally in the 12th century, the current building is almost 200 years old. A visit, up the 56 stone steps, is a must, to view the extraordinary Harry Clarke stained glass windows and to pay homage at the graves of Somerville and Ross.
You must not leave Casletownshend without stopping at one of the most famous of all West Cork hostelries – Mary Ann’s pub. Winner of multiple awards, it is equally renowned for its excellent menu emphasizing locally sourced seafood and its traditional character.
Finally, after staggering from Mary Ann’s in the late afternoon after a huge lunch and a glass or two, you can undo all the damage to your arteries by climbing up to the Iron Age stone fort at Knockdrum, above the village, where you can drink in the spectacular coastal views.
Tell us, Dear Readers – have you read The Irish RM or other Somerville and Ross stories? Do you chuckle with remembered nostalgia, or shudder at turn-of-the-century Anglo attitudes? Did you see the TV series and what were your favourite moments?