THE SUMMER sun is falling soft on Carbery’s hundred isles,
The summer sun is gleaming still through Gabriel’s rough defiles;
Old Innisherkin’s crumbled fane looks like a moulting bird,
And in a calm and sleepy swell the ocean tide is heard…*
The little red boat that spends most of its days plying the ten minute crossing between the mainland and Sherkin island is occasionally let off its leash to go further afield and explore the Islands of Roaringwater Bay – ‘Carbery’s Hundred Isles’. We signed up for yesterday’s voyage: every day we look down over these waters from our nest up on the hill, and we welcomed the opportunity to explore our view from within it. This event was organised as part of the Taste of West Cork Food Festival, and we had the bonus of enjoying trays of good food and drink as we savoured the scenery.
The late summer sun was certainly ‘falling soft’ as Mystic Waters pulled away from Baltimore. Perhaps it was the last of the summer sun as our view from Nead an Iolair today has gone! There’s not one island to be seen through the driving rain, and the Atlantic storm is sending our weather-vane spinning…
Some of the ‘Hundred Isles’ are little more than perches for gulls and cormorants, but a few are still inhabited – Clear, Sherkin, Hare and Long Island – while ruined evidence remains to show that many more have once supported small farmsteads – The Skeams, The Carthys, Calf Islands and Castle. Horse Island is the residence of one family – with plans to establish a distillery there.
We didn’t land on any of the islands yesterday: we hope to visit some in the future. My first goal is the Middle Calf – a Hare Haven! But we do need to catch up on some Rock Art. There are marked stones on Horse Island while Clear (an Irish speaking community – part of the Gealtacht) supports a Neolithic chambered tomb which once contained a remarkable artefact: a carved stone with spirals, lines and zigzags, much more akin to the decorated boulders of the Boyne Valley Culture than the cups and rings of West Cork and Kerry. The stone (now – sadly – removed to the Cork City Museum) was part of a passage grave sited on the highest point of the island. Like the huge Newgrange monuments, the passage here is aligned on a solstice sunrise. As we look out through the mist today it’s a sobering thought that a sophisticated, scientifically aware society resided on these remote islands over 5,000 years ago.
* This poem was written by Thomas Osbourne Davis (1814 – 1845) and records the Sack of Baltimore of 1631 when Barbary pirates raided the town and took over 100 residents into slavery.