Boulders, Books, Boats and Bogs

I bet you can’t wait for more of me banging on about August in West Cork – so let’s get to it! Our week has involved all of the above, and I resisted the urge to add the word Bryophytes to the title. You’re welcome.

The boulders? Shorthand for Boulder Burials, just one of the ancient monuments we visited this week with Konstanza and Christiana, two of the artists in residence with the Crespo Foundation. They are both from Greece and collaborate on documentary and sound-based projects, and Konstanza is also an archaeologist. It was great fun to introduce them to some of our favourite sites on the Mizen, from rock art to wedge tombs, standing stone and boulder burials. 

And then it was time for the Rare Book Fair, the brainchild of Holgar (below) and Nicola, who run, respectively, Inanna Rare Books and the Antiquity Bookshop and Plant-based Cafe. This is the inaugural fair and it took place out at the luscious Inish Beg Estate. 

We love Inish Beg – nothing beats a good wander in the gardens and woods there – but even though we’ve been there several times, we were unprepared for the sheer magic of just getting to the book fair from the car park, all part of the experience.

Of course we couldn’t come away without a few books, but the best part was just chatting to the booksellers – a passionate and knowledgeable group – and sitting outside sipping a cold drink and leafing through our purchases with other like-minded folk. Bliss!

This book fair has the potential to become a very enjoyable permanent part of the West Cork Festival scene and I hope it does. On to Ballydehob and the annual Boat Gathering, or Cruinniú na mBád. Here’s my account of it in 2017 and in 2019 I had the wonderful experience of travelling in one of the boats with my friend Jack. 

This is just a fantastic community event. The whole village gathers on the quay, there’s music and burgers and the crack is mighty. But it’s the sight of the boats, in full sail, coming up the bay on the rising tide, that is the big draw and takes us back to the days when this was a common sight. 

And talking of boats and Ballydehob, we also took part in Inbhear, a sensory experience featuring the pedalos which used to be a common sight in Ballydehob Bay many years ago. Check out Robert’s post for his account of this – it was lovely.

That leaves us with bogs . . . and the first of these was to attend, in the attractive surrounding of Glebe Gardens in Baltimore, a local production of By the Bog of Cats (above), a play by Marina Carr, loosely based on the Greek tragedy of Medea. This is a powerful, multi-layered and haunting story of betrayal, abandonment, longing and revenge. It debuted in the Abbey Theatre in 1998 and has had many international productions (think Broadway and West End) since then. The Director, Terri Leiber, elicited outstanding performances from her cast, and the standing ovation at the end of the evening was well-deserved.

And the second bog? That was today, and although not the first event of the Ellen Hutchins Festival, it was the one that kicked it off for Robert, me and my sister, Aoibhinn, visiting from Dublin. Led by eminent botanist Rory Hodd, and provided with hand lenses, we tramped over the high land above Bantry, on a quest to understand more about heathland and boggy environments.

Rory is an acknowledged expert in this area, and it’s a real privilege to be on a walk with him. He knows everything, but manages to make it all accessible to the layperson. He explained how mosses, bryophytes, lichens, heathers and other plants interact to form the complex ecosystem that make up heathland and bogs.

I now know that ‘sedges have edges’ is not a reliable rule of thumb, and that the Purple Moor-grass that almost defines the winter bog landscape in West Cork (called Fionnán, or blond grass) actually decreases bio-diversity, and that one handful of plants can contain several different species of mosses (including invasive ones from New Zealand!) and liverworts!

And all of this in the most glorious landscape, with a view down all three peninsulas, the Mizen, Sheep’s Head, and the Beara, with a prehistoric wedge tomb at one of the high points (along with Ireland’s most unsympathetically located electricity pole) just to add some non-botanical interest.

The Ellen Hutchins Festival continues all week, and you can still get tickets to many events. The one I play a part in, as MC, is on Friday. It’s called Seaweed and Sealing Wax 2, and it charts the correspondence between Ellen and Dawson Turner, continuing from Part 1 last year. It’s free but you have to register. Hope to see you there – come and say hello.

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