A West Cork village is named after an athletic achievement that happened 400 years ago: this must be an unusual appellation… The next stop after Skibbereen on the N71 road going east to Cork is Leap. Locally, this settlement is always called ‘Lepp’ – perhaps in defiance of the English epithet, and in defiance of the English forces who, after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, pursued the Irish chieftains – no doubt intending to make examples of them on the gallows.
Strange things are happening in the village of Leap… These hitchikers are trying to get out of town!
In the west, an O’Donovan (we don’t know which one) was being chased by an English contingent and reached the 12m wide gorge over the Mullaghnagowan River that flows out into Glandore Bay. It was a point of no return, and O’Donovan took the risk and urged his horse on… He (and his horse) made it, and we may assume the pursuers didn’t, as O’Donovan escaped and his feat became a legend, and the village of Leap has made sure that it won’t be forgotten.
O’Donovan leaped into the wild lands of West Carbery and, the story goes, from that day onwards the phrase …beyond Leap, beyond the law… entered into the local parlance. We live beyond Leap, so I suppose we are also beyond the law!
Leap’s busy main street (top); the gorge where the famous ‘leap’ took place (left) and a visitor from the bay holding up the pub sign
Leap is a good stopping point if you are travelling the Wild Atlantic Way. We called in there on Saturday and filled up with a hearty breakfast in Ger O’Sullivan’s Wild Atlantic Diner. There are a number of other equally good hostelries to cater for all tastes, as well as a large furniture shop (O’Donovan’s), a petrol station, a builders’ merchant and a fascinating ‘collectibles and curios’ store. It’s a lively place and hopefully benefits commercially from the considerable traffic on the main road, although that aspect might also be seen as a downside to those who live within its environs.
Dining out in Leap…
We chose our day in Leap to coincide with a Scarecrow Festival: a competition to see who can produce the wittiest or spookiest scarecrows – bearing in mind it’s Hallowe’en next weekend. The people of the village have completely embraced the idea, with something over 80 imaginative (and hilarious) entries set up in all available locations: along with us there were many families out on Saturday enjoying the entertainment.
As with anywhere in West Cork – and, indeed, in Ireland – there is plenty more history relating to Leap. Dean Swift spent some time in the area in the early 18th century, and I found much information relating to Myross Wood House, a large residence close to the water which was built by the Rev Arthur Herbert in the mid 1700s. In 1826 this house passed to the Townshends, the first of whom was John Sealy Townshend, a Trinity educated lawyer and Master of Chancery. I was intrigued to find that John had suffered from consumption as a child and had been cured by an aunt who dosed him with slugs taken in sugar and honey…
The Myross Wood Estate remained with the Townshends until 1946, when there was no male heir. It was bought by the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart and has been used as a retreat and study centre for priests. The community is still at Myross.
The Tiger is a permanent fixture at Ger’s Wild Atlantic Diner (top) – the white Cat may not be… Worth considering getting married in the village (above)?
Ger O’Sullivan has created a dizzying viewing platform over the gorge where the O’Donovan leaped into legend. Keep an eye – perhaps at Hallowe’en his ghost will make an appearance!