“Easter” Island!

What better place to spend Easter Day than at the ‘Easter end’ of Long Island? We can see the island – out there in Roaringwater Bay – from our home here at Nead an Iolair. The lighthouse on the end of the island faces us – and winks through the night with the character of 3 quick flashes every 10 seconds. The narrow headland on which it stands bears the name ‘Copper Point’ – and so does the lighthouse.

This aerial view shows Long Island in its context – a part of Roaringwater Bay and its ‘Carbery’s Hundred Islands’. Its neighbours to the east are Castle Island and Horse Island – all in our view – (that’s our view, below).

A closer aerial view of the island, above. It’s accessed by a regular ferry which leaves Colla Pier, a short distance from Schull town. The ferry arrives at Long Island Pier: there it is, on the pier (below).

Our destination on this Easter Sunday was Castaway East – the furthest house on the ‘Easter’ end of the island. We have taken you there before, when we organised a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in July of last year. The hosts there are Tracy and Peter, who served us brilliantly for that occasion, and also for the Wildflower Walks which Finola led last June: the Castaway crew provided a superb picnic for everyone, delivered to us at the island’s western end. This time we decided that we would test Tracy and Peter’s skills by ordering up an Easter Sunday lunch to celebrate a ‘special’ birthday for our good friend, Peter Clarke.

Amanda Clarke, Finola and birthday boy Peter, looking forward to a morning coffee (with delicious Easter treats) after arriving at Castaway East. We had an upstairs room in the Castaway house, with a good view over the island. Before lunch we had an opportunity to explore part of the island we had never been to before, heading down to Copper Point.

Why is it called ‘Copper Point’? Because there was a copper mine close by, one of many such enterprises that were seen in West Cork in the nineteenth century. Explorations on the island were started in the 1840s by the Cornish mining engineer Captain William Thomas: he wrote a Roaringwater Journal post for us a couple of years ago! William sank a trial shaft for 10 fathoms (60 feet) and extended a level south from this shaft for 3 fathoms. No metal bearing lode was found, and the mine was abandoned. Traces of these workings can still be seen not far from the lighthouse. It’s slightly ironic, perhaps, that the name ‘Copper Point’ arrived from somewhere and stuck.

It’s a wild landscape – but very beautiful and imbued with atmosphere. We certainly worked up a good appetite while on our morning walk, and returned to the house with great expectations.

All those expectations were far exceeded when we sat down to our meal. We had a room to ourselves, attractively furnished and comfortable, with a welcome wood-burning stove on the go in one corner. Tracy and Peter have spent considerable time and energy upgrading what was a very run-down cottage, and have used locally available materials with impressive imagination.

Tracy – in charge of the culinary delights – had worked out a menu which was entirely tailored to our various tastes (and dislikes) – and it was brilliant! All the courses were exemplary.

The main was a Sunday roast to make your mouths water… Fillets of pork for the three of us who are not vegetarian, and a miraculous stuffed filo pastry pie for Amanda. The accompanying vegetables were prepared without any meaty elements – so we could all savour them in equal measure.

Peter was delighted with every aspect of his celebratory meal – we all were! The choux bun dessert was unbelievable; not a morsel was left behind. The riches never stopped: for our after-dinner coffee we went outside to the terrace-with-a-view and enjoyed home-made fondants and biscuits.

I think you’ve got the message… Sunday lunch at Castaway East is a very special experience indeed. Combine it with a good walk on a beautiful and atmospheric West Cork island and you will have a day you will always remember. If you want the experience for yourselves give Tracy and Peter a shout: they will be delighted to organise it for you.

Contact Tracy & Peter Collins on +353 872966489 or email simplytracy@icloud.com – They also have a campsite!

Monica Sheridan and Christmas

I always drift back to Monica Sheridan at Christmas. Ireland’s first TV chef, she lives in the memory for those of us who grew up at the dawning of the television age in Ireland. Her Christmas Cake recipe is a classic and because it is nowhere on the internet, I decided, way back in 2013, to put the whole recipe in a blog post. This actually led me down a rabbit hole because the three posts I have written about Monica Sheridan were published so long ago that they no longer display properly, so I have spent the day updating them. Here is the first post I wrote about her – it was called Monica’s Kitchen and was all about her first cook book.

And here is the Christmas Cake post. She described it thus: unorthodox, unhygienic, almost improper – but it does work. She’s right – I have made it and it is delicious.

Another of her books, The Art of Irish Cooking, was written specifically for the American Market. It’s an Americanised version of the 1965 book, My Irish Cook Book, that I brought with me to Canada when I emigrated in 1974. This was the book I used when I was writing about Plum Pudding, although I didn’t use her recipe, just her pyrotechnics. It would be hard to exaggerate how unappetising the cover of the American version is.

Many of the recipes are the same, but there are significant differences between the Irish and American books. Amusingly, the chapter on ‘Drink’ is re-labelled ‘Beverages.’ All the same colloquial come-here-till-I-tell you chat is here and there’s an introduction by Bob Briscoe, the popular Lord Mayor of Dublin, who can’t resist the Irish-American tropes, saying, Our traditional Irish fare proved itself a boundless source of rugged health and stamina. . . it built the muscles that helped to push the great railroads across the American continent, and the Irish intellects that have adorned the world’s literature. For some reason, the American edition required menus, as if the publisher had said – ‘Yes, but what do the Irish actually eat at a meal?’ Here’s the Christmas dinner menu (with a bonus Expense Account menu delivered with her trademark sense of fun).

I have no idea what creamed potatoes are (mashed with cream?) or why she serves celery twice, the second time ‘curled.’ But this American edition is the only one where she gives a recipe for Mince Pies, so I am including her recipe for Mincemeat, in case there are those of you out there who like to make their own. Other recipes I have consulted call for shredded suet, but Monica keeps it fairly simple, although she does assume you have a mincer. It’s not such a standard piece of kitchen equipment as it used to be, so if you’re not sure what it is, here’s a link. I love her comment on the puddings too!

I’ve never made mince pies myself, but if I was to do it, I think I’d go with this one, from Jusrol ready-made pastry.

All our mothers and grandmothers cooked from Monica Sheridan and Maura Laverty‘s cookbooks. Together, these two women dragged Irish cuisine into the 20th century. Oh – yes, there was Theodora FitzGibbon too – well deserving of a future post. That’s my copy of her A Taste of Ireland in the lead photograph. I have several other cookbooks devoted to Irish cooking, from the 60’s to the 90’s. Fillet Sole St Brigid, anyone? Or a nice dish of Sloke?

Posts about Monica Sheridan

Monica’s Kitchen

Monica Sheridan’s Christmas Cake

Monica Sheridan’s My Irish Cook Book

Fabulous Five-Minute Blackberry Jam

This is my go-to recipe for blackberry jam. I’ve made ‘real’ jam – which takes all day and leaves you hot and bothered – and then wondered how to get through a dozen jars of jam and ended up pressing them on friends and neighbours. This is so much easier!

Blackberries are early and abundant this year. They’re everywhere and they’re free for the picking – all the best chefs are out there, adding them to the ‘foraged’ list on their menus. They’re also incredibly good for you! Although some of the claims made for them are probably fanciful, it’s true that they are packed with fibre, Vitamin C, potassium and antioxidants. If you’re picking them with gusto, a few drops of your own blood adds some additional flavour.

Although they can be a pain for gardeners, blackberries are marvellous for pollinators. The flowers contain huge amount of nectar and pollen and it’s one of the plants that can really make a difference for bees. They may become a medicinal crop too – a student from Cork, Simon Meehan, won the Young Scientist of the Year award in 2018 with his discovery of an antibiotic contained in blackberry brambles.

So what about that jam recipe? And can it really take only five minutes? Yes! Collecting the fruit, in my own garden, took me about ten minutes (mainly because I kept eating the berries as I was picking) but the jam itself took less than five minutes to make. I used two cups (about a pint, or 500ml).

The secret is Chia Seeds – those tiny little black seeds that swell up and jellify when you add moisture. They, like the blackberries, are also very good for you, being full of B Vitamins and minerals.

If you’re concerned about the calories in honey, or want to keep it vegan, leave out the honey (it will just be a little more tart) or use maple syrup or a sugar substitute. Scale up in ratio – that is, for two cups, just double everything, etc.

Pick through them well!

Ingredients

1 cup blackberries

1Tbs Warm water

1 Tbs Honey

1 Tbs Chia Seeds

Method

Pick through the blackberries to remove any sticks or bugs. but don’t wash them. Put all ingredients in a blender and blend until mushified (technical term), or use a hand blender, or just mash everything together really well with a fork. Pour it all into a clean jar (or glass, or yogurt pot) and store in the fridge.

Because this isn’t cooked, you have to keep it in the fridge but it will last for a couple of weeks there. You can also freeze it.

Yum!

Fresh From Sea and Land

Would you like some pollock? It was a friendly fisherman on a West Cork pier we happened to stop on. He had just landed with some friends and family and they had caught a lot of fish, mostly pollock. They couldn’t eat them all, Billy said, just help yourself. A little overcome with such generosity, we selected two lovely fish, and asked for his advice on how to cook them.

Just keep it simple, was his advice, with some dry potatoes and cream. Dry, it turned out, was his term for floury potatoes, and we knew just where to get those. Our neighbour, Donal, keeps a fresh vegetable stall nearby. He digs up or cuts the vegetables in the morning, and puts them in a little stall he built himself. You have to get there early if you want the pick of the crop.

Donal’s new potatoes are legendary. I was chatting with a friend who lives nearby recently and we were talking about the best way to lose the Covid weight. It’s all about the carbs, I said – pasta, rice, flour, sugar, potatoes … A look of horror came over her face. “But not Donal’s new potatoes!” We agreed that they couldn’t possibly be anything but healthy and whatever list of Bad Carbs we made, Donal’s New Potatoes could not be on it.

So on the way home from the pier, we dropped by the stall for the potatoes. While I was at it I picked up some carrots, courgettes (Zucchini to this ex-Canadian) and onions. 

I don’t know about you, but I have never actually gutted, cleaned and filleted a fish before. In fact, I have been awestruck by the expertise of the women at the fish stall in the Skibbereen market and their skill with that long, thin-bladed filleting knife. Where to start? YouTube, of course!

So with the computer propped up beside me, and Robert sharpening the knife and encouraging me every step of the messy way, I managed it. I will spare you most of the gory details and include this one that actually looks like I know what I am doing.

Although I probably left good meat behind, at last I had a lovely set of fillets, free of bones. 

After that, it was a question of cutting some vegetable into small pieces – I used carrots, shallots, broccoli, green beans, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, and garlic. 

I piled them all onto a big sheet of buttered tinfoil, along with herbs from my little herb patch, and then laid the fillets on top. 

I poured lots of lemon juice over it all, along with zest, and dotted everything with more butter. Then I wrapped it up, and into the oven it went at 190C for 20 minutes.

The potatoes were simply boiled with some mint from my garden. I chopped more mint to scatter on top once they were cooked.

The results? Delicious!

In West Cork we have access to a lot of very fresh food and we eat well. There are markets in all the towns and villages near us (see this post from a few years ago), and Neighbourfood does a great job of keeping us going all year round. 

But there’s something extra special in a meal like this – straight from the ocean or the ground and onto a plate with very little intervention. 

Mmmmmm…

Mad Hatter’s Tea Party

Haven’t you always wanted to have one?

When the occasion arose for a celebration – the publication of The Gazetteer of Irish Stained Glass – we knew exactly what we wanted. We don’t know yet when we can have a launch of the book in Dublin, but it might be the autumn before it can happen, so Robert and I decided that a little local jollification was in order.

We know what Tracy and Peter could do. They’re the Long Island Wild Camping couple who organised the Wildflower Walk and who will do picnics or catering for you on Long Island. Tracy’s eyes lit up when we were talking about her idea of doing ‘proper’ high teas on the island and my need for a celebration, and the plan was conceived.

Twelve of us were conveyed to the Island by Maurice and Helen of the Long Island Ferry, and Glory Be! – the sun shone all day for us. It’s a short walk along boreens fringed with blooming hedgebanks to the East House, and what a sight awaited us there*!

Tracy had created a Long Island version of a Mad Hatter’s Tea Party! It looked magnificent, quirky, fantastical, sumptuous. Real china – her grandmother’s – lots of glass, a chandelier, old-fashioned cutlery (remember those bone handles?), lanterns, decanters, tiered cake stands – all ranged along a long table covered in vintage tablecloths. The table was set out in a hollow in their amazing garden and it looked like something out of Wonderland.

There were mojito mocktails to start with (yum!) and then it was down to the serious business of eating. Pretty well everything was homemade, including all the scones and buns, or from their garden (cucumbers, strawberries, jam) or locally sourced (smoked salmon).

And just when you thought you couldn’t fit in any more, out came two enormous bowls of trifle accompanied by their own strawberries.

I couldn’t have asked for a better, tastier, more unique or memorable way to celebrate. And here’s the thing – you can do this too! Tracy and Peter can organise this kind of tea party for you, or meet you with a picnic after your day of exploring Long Island, or feed you a cream tea in their garden. Just give them a shout.

A few final photos to convey the fun and fabulousness of it all.

*Thanks to Amanda Clarke and Robert for most of these photographs

Through The Big Gap

It’s October: autumn light is playing on the skies and seas as we set out to cross the Sheep’s Head peninsula on a path which is new to us. The path traverses the backbone of this peninsula – a ridge which is virtually continuous from east to west – and runs from Rooska, a settlement beside Bantry Bay on the Northside, heading south for Coomkeen and then Durrus. Before we take to the hills, however, we need to prepare ourselves with some sublime scenery en-route, a little excursion into vernacular architecture, and an encounter with local expertise.

From upper – a Sheep’s Head pastoral, the view over Glanlough towards distant Beara; a perfect composition in tin and stone; a niche for offerings? Looking to the ridge – and The Big Gap – in the distance; Joe O’Driscoll with his architectural egg-box. Unfortunately the hens are not laying at the moment!

We are heading to the start of our climb and find a busy settlement, historically once a mining centre and now home to a major award winning seafood producer, bravely weathering the Covid storms. It’s worth a look at their colourful website! You might not expect to see such a venture on the wild and remote Sheep’s Head Northside, but it’s a great boost to a fragile local economy. We wish them well in surviving the Covid19 crisis. Parking up at Rooska, we get first sight of the zig-zagging route that will take us over towards Durrus, passing through The Big Gap at the summit of the hill.

Upper – looking north across Bantry Bay from the path; middle – from the south, the path descends through The Big Gap; lower – the path can be seen on the right cutting through the hills: the highest point is 200m above sea level

I tried in vain to find a name for the way we followed. I would like to have called this post The Mass Path, which is given to it on a modern guide, and it does seem probable to us that one purpose of the trackway would have been to take Northside dwellers over to the old Catholic church at Chapel Rock in Durrus, a distance of 7 kilometres (or four and a half miles in older times). There and back would have been a taxing walk for a Sunday morning on an empty stomach (you have to fast from midnight before taking communion)! However, we were told locally that our intended way will lead us through The Big Gap, hence my title.

This view over the Northside area of Rooska, above, shows several features and the beginning of the path over the mountain heading south. Notable is Killoveenoge Church, known as a ‘Chapel of Ease’ and said to have been built in the 1860s specifically for the English and Cornish miners who were working in the nearby silver and lead mines at the time. There are scant remains of these mines now, and the Church of Ireland building was closed in 1988 and converted to a studio.

Looking down on Killoveenoge Church from The Big Gap path, with Bantry Bay beyond

The townland name Killoveenoge translates as Church of the Young Women and the only explanation of this I could find suggests that the site was anciently a priory, sacked by the Vikings in 890AD. It is also said that some ruins of this are visible, but we failed to find them – nor any factual historic records. The Schedule of Monuments notes a circular burial ground in the west of the townland with early grave markers, but nothing more. Clearly folk memory transcends recorded history, and that is one of the attractions of Ireland – to us, at least.

Upper – The Sheep’s Head Way trails have a strict code, which benefits all users; middle – the ruins of a cottage almost lost in the furze. The mining records mention a ‘miner’s cottage’ still being visible: could this be it? Lower – gaining height as the path gets steeper: that’s Whiddy Island in the distance

The wider aerial view shows the full length of the old trackway as it crosses the mountain through The Big Gap. Just past the summit when heading south is another landmark, also holding a folk memory. Lough Na Fuilla translates as ‘Lake of the Blood’:

A reed-filled lake suddenly appears; so many different greens, so far from anywhere and the gentle murmuring of the reeds all combine to make a rather unsettling atmosphere . . . Maybe it’s knowing the name of the lough, Loch Na Fuilla, lough of the blood, that plays tricks on the mind. There is a story attached, of course. One extremely hot summer the cattle came down from the mountain in search of water. The lough was empty. Maddened with disappointment and thirst the cattle went berserk and attacked each other and many were killed.

Walking the Sheep’s Head Way – Amanda and peter Clarke – Wildways Press 2015
Lough Na Fuilla, and a nearby tarn on the east side of the trackway. The autumn colours are sublime

Neither the Lake of the Blood nor the nearby tarn are shown on the early OS maps. The few remaining mining records, however, mention that there was some prospecting activity up on the ridge: could this have relevance? And is this another reason for the existence of this path? We are impressed with the views from The Big Gap both north and south. We temporarily divert on to a stony sheep path to get even higher, and to find the best panoramas. From the ridge we also record the contrasting light and shadow effects from a constantly changing sky.

We pause to wonder whether a large rounded outcrop is the Eagle’s Rest which is mentioned by local historian Willie Dwyer, of Rooska:

The gap going through the mountain there, by Loch na Fuilla, the locals always called it, that’s the old people who are dead and gone now, used to call it “Barna Mhór” which means “The Big Gap”, and on the right-hand side (the north-west corner) before you come to the extreme top of the track, there’s a round bald rock which was known as “the Eagle’s Rest”. I don’t know how long the eagles have been gone out of this part of the country, but it must have been a long time ago. This is a tradition now, it has been passed down as tradition, how true or false it is, I can’t prove to you.

Willie Dwyer, Quoted by TOM WHITTY in ‘A guide to the Sheep’s Head way’ 2003

From The Big Gap it’s downhill all the way! As we walk south it’s the Mizen which is always on the horizon, across the waters of Dunmanus Bay.

As we approach the southern end of the trackway crossing the mountain, we look back up towards Barna Mhór – The Big Gap. It has been a most rewarding adventure for us, and one which we intend to repeat at other times of the year so that we can capture the effects of the changing seasons.