Gliding Through Velvet, Fireworks All Around

It was a magical experience – kayaking at night on Castlehaven Inlet!

Wait – what? At night? Yes – of course kayaking in West Cork is wonderful at any time but at night it takes on a special aura, helped out by the silky darkness and the silence. I went with Atlantic Sea Kayaking, the company run by the genial Jim Kennedy. I’d been with him once before, on Lough Hyne – that was way back in 2014 and was one of the highlights of my year. I wrote about that incredible trip in Starlight Bliss. This trip was equally as amazing.

We gathered at 7 at Reen Pier in Castlehaven Inlet. This is a very professional outfit – we were all shapes and sizes but soon everyone was kitted out in waterproof trousers and jackets. Then it was time for a quick lesson on how to hold the paddle and what not to do, reassurance on how stable and safe the kayaks are, and before we knew it there we were gently floating in the gathering gloaming.

Lucky me got to sit in the front of Declan Power’s kayak. He was one of our two guides and has years of experience doing this, but it doesn’t seemed to have dimmed his enjoyment and wonder. If I hadn’t already been excited, I would have been infected by his own contagious enthusiasm. It was still fairly light so we paddled down to Castletownshend, getting used to the paddles and the kayaks and our eyes adjusting to the fading light. Rosie, the other guide, brought up the rear and made sure were were all accounted for.

Declan knows his history and as we rafted up alongside Castletownsend Castle he told us about the area and about the families that had moved here after Cromwell. It’s a very special village, with interesting architecture, famous families, and, crowning glory, Harry Clarke windows in St Barrahane’s Church of Ireland. That’s his St Barrahane, below.

By now it was getting properly dark. Declan and Rosie turned on their helmet lights and we headed back up the inlet. We steered towards the far bank, where overhanging trees blocked out any residual light from the sky. First, Declan encouraged us all to be still and just listen – to the silence. The rooks, noisily cawing earlier, had settled down into their rookery for the evening and there wasn’t a sound. We felt enveloped in peace.

Since I didn’t bring my camera on board I have to rely on photographs of bioluminescence by others. This image is by Joleen Cronin, used with gratitude, from a BBC piece on Bioluminescence near Crosshaven.

Declan broke the silence by asking us to trail our hands in the water and there was a collective intake of breath. Everywhere our hands dipped and splashed sparkles began to skip across the water. It was the bioluminescence that this area is known for! Like fireflies, marine organisms such as plankton emit light when disturbed. The sea is teeming with tiny fish, bacteria, algae, worms, crustaceans. . . all with the chemicals necessary for bioluminescence. And they seem to love West Cork!

This incredible image is by Vincent Hyland of Derrynane, well-known champion of the natural world (Permission to use requested)

So there we were, gliding through the velvet black waters, surrounded by fireworks. There wasn’t much chat – everyone was lost in their own experience of dipping and gently splashing and watching as flashing droplets raced away from our hulls and paddles. 

Declan – thank you for this once-in-a-lifetime experience!

I’ve lived back in West Cork now for almost ten years and we’ve done so much in that time. And yet there are still experiences to be had that leave you in joyful wonderment and asking the Old Gods – how did I get to be living this life?

Another of Vincent Hyland’s incredible captures

Coomhola Country Revisited

Lines 1

Here’s a post I published in June last year – only 15 months ago. Many of you will remember it. I’m repeating it in order to remind you of the beauty of this particularly remote corner of West Cork and Kerry. We travelled this byway again last week, and were surprised to notice how ‘raw’ the landscape seemed in places. This is partly because a new roadway has been made down through the valley to serve local property. But also I was struck by the number of power lines which go through the area.

These lines were part of a programme to improve and extend the Eirgrid of Ireland – the remit of the ESB.

The distribution system delivers electricity from the transmission system to 2.3 million customers in Ireland, operating at 110kV in the Dublin area, and at 38kV, 20kV, 10kV and low voltage (LV) nationwide. In serving Ireland’s large rural population, the network length per capita is four times the European average and overhead lines outnumber underground cables 6 : 1 . . .

ESB Networks IE

Statistics are remarkable: 2.1 million wooden poles and 150,000 km of overhead line have been used to date, along with 22,000 km of underground supply cable. Due to the Rural Electrification Scheme led by ESB, by the 1960s 80% of rural households had electricity in their homes. Now, most households are connected to the grid, and works are in progress to upgrade the system across the country. In the image below the very first pole is being erected in 1944, while under that is a photo of a PR event ten years later (both are from the ESB Archives).

Emotions are mixed as we travel through this wild country and see how power lines can affect the rural areas, while obviously also providing essential services. We were surprised that so many lines – and poles – were required to get the supply over these particular hills. A correspondent has given us the full details (thank you Justin Cremin).

. . . The bigger line on the left is a 38kv line, it goes to Kikgarvan 38kv station and originates at Ballylickey 110kv station. This supplies all of the Beara peninsula with the Kilgarvan line as an alternative “just in case”. It was built in the 1950’s at a guess and would have primarily blasted by gelignite and the poles stood manually.The line on the right is called the Hydro line. It runs over the hill to Slaheny to a small hydro and originated in Bantry 38kv where it picks up another 3 small hydro stations along the way. This Borlin leg was stood in the very early 00’s/ very late 90’s . . .

We came across further grid improvement works currently in progress on a recent trip to the environs of Dunmanus Castle:

So here – to remind you – is the Coomhola and Borlin landscape as we discovered it, and recorded it, in our post of 2020:

As the Coomhola River tumbles from Borlin to the sea, gathering tributaries, it forms many pools amongst the riffles and glides. These pools, in summer, provide leafy shelters for salmon and trout. To anyone who has fished or walked the river, each pool has its own character, and each its own name . . .

[From Hidden Gold, History and Folklore of the Coomhola and Borlin Valleys Julia Kemp: Coomhola Borlin Community Development Association 1998]

On the header is the spectacular view from Borlin, looking down the great glen where the Coomhola River finds its way through a country formed by glaciers in the Midlandian period, about 10,000 years ago. The rugged Shehy mountain range (Cnoic na Seithe in Irish, meaning Hills of the Animal Hides) with its peaks of Knockboy, Caoinkeen and Kinkeen provides some of the most dramatic scenery in West Cork, its scarred outcrops clearly showing the downward progress of the ice sheets. The contrast between the barren high land and the lush pastoral meadows laid out below evoke a beauty which is hard to match – anywhere in the world!

The Kilgarvan (Co Kerry) to Ballylickey (Co Cork) road is one of the unsung feats of Irish engineering. Until the middle of the nineteenth century it was no more than a system of ‘nearways’, providing rough, narrow access tracks to remote mountain dwellings and hard-won field systems. A famine improvement project c1846, involving metalling, a tunnel, cuttings and stone retaining walls, transformed it to the ‘through road’ which exists today – although it may seem to us no more than a boreen. It’s there for all to travel on, and will provide a breathtaking experience – but be aware that it could also deliver some hair-raising reversing episodes on the rare occasions when a vehicle is encountered coming the other way. The upper photo shows the road ‘clinging on’ to the face of a mountain outcrop, while the map gives a good idea of the circuitous route that the way takes to keep as far as possible to a level contour on its journey.

This is the country of St Finnbar. If you follow the County border east from the top of the Borlin Glen (off-road) you will very soon come to the site of his sixth century monastic settlement at Gougane Barra. This whole area was loved by the Cork born writer and illustrator Robert Gibbings, whose book Sweet Cork of Thee tells of a seven month sojourn in this mountainous region in 1949, beautifully illustrated by his woodcuts.

Mountain Road by Robert Gibbings, woodcut from Sweet Cork of Thee, published 1951

As we drove along the road beside the Inchigeelagh lakes, we could see moorhens gathering material for their nests among the taselled reeds and swans on islets, piling up dead rushes in readiness for their eggs. A corncrake was calling from a meadow. Celandines and kingcups outshone the gorse.

Mick said to me: ‘My father’s sister lived a mile to the north of us here. She married a man by the name of Scanlan. His mother came from Gougane and ’twas one evening when she was travelling west by the lake – there was no road there then, only a little bit of a track – she looked in the lake and what did she see but fields of corn and sheep and every sort of land and crop and stock. She was an old woman at the time and she knew well enough ’twas a kind of enchantment must be on the lake, so she says to herself, if I can keep an eye on it all and throw a bit of iron at it the spell will be broken. So she kept her eyes fixed on the fields and the cattle and the pigs and the hens, and all the time she was thinking where would she get a bit of iron. And the only bit she could think of was in the heel of her shoe. ‘Twould be worth it to throw in the shoe, says she. But when she went to unrip the lace wasn’t it tangled in a knot, and for the glint of a second she took her eye off the land. When she looked again ’twas all disappeared and the lake was there the same as ever.’

Our road turned south, through a wilderness of rock and bog and lilied pools . . .

[Robert Gibbings Sweet Cork of Thee, J M Dent & Sons 1951]

From the highest rim of Borlin Glen (upper picture), the Comhoola River valley is laid out below. Home to sheep and ravens, the scattered farmsteads emerge from rock and forest and provide a living – as they have for countless generations – to a hardy people.

On the lush valley floor are signs of ancient activity and occupation. A stream flows through a meadow dotted with whitethorn trees (upper), while an old stone clapper bridge has been superseded by the modern boreen taking its way up to the Borlin Valley settlements (centre). Lower – a fascinating stone circle and mass rock site is interrupted by the field fence. Here, too, is a bullaun stone and cupmarked rock (below).

Let us give the last word to Johnny O’Driscoll from Snave, recorded by his grandson Sean O’Driscoll in the 1930s and featured in Julia Kemp’s Hidden Gold:

There is little gold in this area, but there is one place where it is said a crock of gold is buried. It is about a hundred yards from the Glaslough, between Coorycomade and Ardnatrush, about a mile and a half from Coomhola National School.

There is a bush growing at the exact location, and beneath the bush is a large stone which covers the hidden treasure. It belongs to a tiny dwarf, and anybody who visits the place at midnight can see this little creature on the bush above the gold.

People did go on one occasion in search of the gold, but they were unsuccessful. A little bright light is visible about midnight above the bush. I have seen it myself on several occasions . . .

Seaweed and Sealing Wax

Finola has been involved in the Ellen Hutchins Festival since it began in 2015 – the 200th anniversary of the death of Ireland’s first female botanist. This year she was asked to help organise and MC an outdoor event, and has had a very busy time – together with her collaborators – leading up to this. On the day – last Friday – I went along to see the culmination of their hard work, and I thought I would share the experience with you.

The weather forecast for that day was atrocious! Heavy rain and thunderstorms were predicted for the duration, and we set out for Ballylickey with some trepidation. However, as is often the case in West Cork, the weather forecasters were confounded. Nevertheless, the Festival team had prepared for all eventualities and we arrived in time to contribute to the setting up of a shelter made from a silk parachute and a number of wooden poles. The transformation of an empty area of lawn in the gardens of Seaview House Hotel into an impressive performance space in a very short time was quite remarkable – and a visual treat – as the swirling mass of silk was tamed by our team, directed by Seán Maskey.

Watching (and, indeed, participating) in this constructional triumph, I was taken back to the days when I lived in Cornwall and followed the escapades of two theatre groups there: Kneehigh Theatre and Footsbarn. Both started out as small troupes of travelling players who took their performance spaces with them and incorporated the action of creating and erecting their transitory auditoria into their shows: all part of the visual entertainment. Both those groups have evolved and travelled far away from their roots, but the evanescent nature of their early shows has stayed with me, to be pleasantly awakened by the happenings at Ballylickey.

To see where Ballylickey fits in to the story of Ellen Hutchins, have a look at Finola’s post from 2015. Ellen was born in 1785 in Ballylickey House and lived much of her short life there. Seaview House – now the Hotel – was built partly in the grounds of the Hutchins family home, so it is a fitting venue for Festival events, as we know that we are following her own footsteps as she became interested in the world of plants and seaweeds which she discovered all around her as she was growing up.

. . . Ellen was a pioneering botanist who specialised in a difficult branch of botany, that of the non-flowering plants or cryptogams. She discovered many plants new to science and made a significant contribution to the understanding of these plants. She was highly respected by her fellow botanists and many named plants after her in recognition of her scientific achievements.In addition to being an outstanding scientist, Ellen was also a talented botanical artist. Botanical drawings serve science in a very important way . . .

That’s Finola (above) introducing the subject of the day: the correspondence that passed between Ellen and Dawson Turner of Yarmouth, Norfolk, who had become a recognised authority on botany in early 19th century Britain, even though this was always a leisure pursuit: professionally he worked for his father, who was head of Gurney and Turner’s Yarmouth Bank and took over his role on his death. Dawson wrote numerous books on plants and got to know the leading botanists of the day, including Ellen. Amazingly, one hundred and twenty letters between her and Dawson survive. Those from Dawson Turner to Ellen are held by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, and those from Ellen to Turner are at Trinity College Cambridge. Friday’s event was a reading of a selection of these letters. On Finola’s right, above, is Karen Minihan, an actor and drama director who lives in Schull: she read the letters from Ellen. Moreover, it was she who selected and organised the extracts – which were the heart of the performance.

Above are the two other performers: on the right is Mark O’Mahony from Cappaghglass – he is a part-time actor, and here he reads the letters from Dawson. On his right is Carrie O’Flynn. She is a historic re-enactor and researcher: she appeared as Ellen, in authentic period dress, and provided really illuminating interpolations between letter-readings, informing us about the act of letter-writing itself in the early 1800s – the ink and quill pens; the postal service; Ellen’s probable appearance and dress (there are no surviving portraits of her) and the difficulties which Ellen would have had to face in pursuing here chosen interests, especially as she was herself quite frail and was for many years the carer of her own mother. Her achievements in the light of all this are truly remarkable, and Carrie succeeded in bringing this out with her contributions. Below she shows us the brass microscope that Ellen used – an essential item of equipment for her work.

As the reading of the letters progressed it became gradually obvious that a deep friendship was developing between the two botanists, and the language reflected this. Particularly telling (and this was drawn out in the selection of the letters) was the way the missives were framed as time went on. From a simple, almost curt formality in the earliest, we begin to read how their shared interests extended beyond the botanical; they exchange newly discovered poetry; Dawson tells Ellen that he has named his newly-born daughter after her; they imagine how they would like to meet each other and walk their favourite landscapes together. Each sends the other packages containing examples of the plants and seaweeds that preoccupy them, and their greetings at the top and tail of every page become increasingly warmer. We, the audience, open our imaginations as to how a happy fulfilment could ever metamorphose – West Cork and Norfolk are as far apart as any two place could be in early 19th century Britain. Poignantly, we learn that they never met: Ellen – always in poor health – died in 1815 at the age of twenty nine. We can only imagine that Dawson, remote in Norfolk, was desolate.

Important to our day – apart from the presenters and actors – were Madeline Hutchins (above – showing us some of Ellen’s drawings of seaweed), great great grand-niece and a co-founder of the Festival; and – behind the scenes but essential – the team, including Clare Heardman, co-founder of the Festival and a Conservation Ranger at the National Parks and Wildlife Service. Here’s Clare in action setting everything up – and running the Festival shop:

We had a further treat in store for us after the show: we were taken on a guided tour of some of the environments which Ellen would have known and explored during her life at Ballylickey. This felt really special, and brought us close, again, to the extraordinary young woman whose short but productive life we now celebrate here in West Cork.

Please note that Ballylickey House today is private property, and visitors should not seek access. There is plenty of the natural environment that Ellen would have been familiar with around Ballylickey and on the shores of Bantry Bay – well worth an exploration. And this link to the Ellen Hutchins Audio Trail is invaluable, especially to anyone who was not able to be at Friday’s event.

Particular thanks, of course, to all who participated – and attended – the event. It was a great success! Thank you to the weather Gods. And many thanks to Seaview House Hotel for providing the venue

Our Roaringwater Moths

A joint post by Robert (words) and Finola (images)

This weekend our eyes have been opened! A hitherto hidden layer of the natural world in West Cork has been lifted for us by a friendly neighbour who offered to lend us a moth trap for a couple of nights. If the idea of a ‘moth trap’ seems unkind, let me immediately say that the intention isn’t to harm any aspect of Nature . It’s a ‘moth trap’ because it attracts moths during the night to an environment which is benign to the insects, and they hang around so that we can examine them – and get really excited about their beauty – in the morning. They then disperse back to their natural environments and – as long as you are careful – no injury ensues.

Header and upper picture (above) – one of our first finds was an Elephant Hawk-moth – bizarre and beautiful! Lower picture (above) – Ferdia showing us the Elephant Hawk-moth at the first ‘reveal’

Our friend – Ferdia – is a professional who works for the National Parks and Wildlife Service and – perhaps strangely – his special expertise is in the lives of bats. So why has he introduced us to moths? Well – the principal food source for bats is moths, so he has to be knowledgable about those as well. The other ‘enemy’ of moths is the Robin. So our cheerful little red-breasted companion who comes to greet me every morning when I take out the seeds has suddenly become a garden monster indiscriminately guzzling some of the most beautiful small creatures I have ever encountered! But I have to tell myself that it’s all about the natural order of things. 

So let’s have a look at the ‘moth trap’. It’s basically a light source mounted on a funnel which sits over a box. The light is ultra-violet: this is what the moths like. In the box are some old cardboard egg cartons – also attractive to the insects. So – in the darkness – they fly towards the light and flutter down into the box, where they seem very happy to settle in all the crevices of the cartons, cheek by jowl with other moths of all varieties, and wait patiently to be discovered. They are nocturnal creatures so it’s not surprising that they seem a bit sleepy when daylight comes but they don’t appear to object to showing off for us, and will even quite readily explore our hands and clothes – and they definitely pose for the camera! All these photos are taken by Finola, mainly using her macro setting with the Leica lens. 

Revealing what’s in the box – the moths like to settle down in the crevices of the egg boxes and don’t seem to be unduly perturbed when we take them out to have a peek. Note that there’s a stray black beetle in the picture above

It’s hard to describe the excitement we both felt when our friends Ferdia and Anna came up that first morning for the ‘reveal’. To begin with, they pointed out to us that not all moths end up in the box. They are attracted by the light but many settle in the vicinity rather than going into the funnel. So the trap had been put against a sheltered stone wall of our house and our astonishment grew as we realised how many moths there were within a radius of about a metre around the trap, occupying many nooks and crannies of the stonework. But their ability to camouflage themselves by choosing places where they perfectly blended into the background was stunning: at first they seemed completely invisible. Take that, Mr Robin!

Upper – Ferdia is about to open the trap: he never harms the moths, the plastic containers are used to temporarily hold them for identification before they are released. Lower – moths settling in the garden – how many can you see in the picture? We think there are nine

If you thought moths were brown and boring, think again. Of course many are brown – ish. But many more are not, and even the very brown ones are so beautifully marked that they deserve as much study as the ‘brash’ ones, which immediately catch the attention. But ‘brash’ is not a good word. Perhaps we should say ‘showy’, or ‘flamboyant’ – have a look at the examples. My eye was caught by the Garden Tiger, which one can only say is just resplendent.

Buff Ermine

Burnished Brass (these are all real moth names)

Six examples of good moth camouflage (from upper) – Green Pug and a close-up of the same one –Dark ArchesDark SpectacleMottled BeautyTrue Lover’s Knot (can you see it?)
Four studies of the incredible Garden Tiger Moth. This one certainly does not seem to seek camouflage: perhaps its markings frighten off the predators?

Every moth has a name! When you consider that there are nearly 1500 different ones in Ireland, that’s amazing. Mostly they are simply descriptive, but that makes sense. Feast your eyes on the ones we found. I think you will understand our excitement and wonder at this new world which has suddenly landed on our own doorstep. Ferdia educated us to the environment here in regard to moths. We are on the coast and we face out towards France: it’s a migration route! Believe it or not, some moths migrate great distances over the sea; not just from France, but from Africa too. How can they survive such journeys? They appear so delicate and evanescent.

From upper – Clouded Border Common WaveEmerald. Above – mixed moths: Elephant Hawk-moth and Garden Tiger

One of our first discoveries as the magic box was opened was the Elephant Hawk-moth. Admire the colour, and the size, but also look closely at the texture. Moths are mainly covered in ‘scales’ but these can appear like feathers; and see where the scales are wearing away on one example, revealing the anatomy of the creature underneath. Yes, moths are fragile and short-lived, but remember they are just one part of a cycle that involves mating, egg-laying, the caterpillar larvae; becoming a chrysalis and then hatching into another beautiful creature.

I was surprised to learn that moths appear at all times of the year – even in the middle of winter. Their cycles coincide – as you would expect – with those of their plant-based food sources. So the insects we have seen over the last two days are effectively ‘midsummer moths’ and if we put out a light-box in a month or so we are likely to see completely different species.

Another spectacular species that must live around us – hitherto unnoticed – is the Poplar Hawk-moth: Hildegard is modelling it in the upper picture, while I am showing it off in the lower one: it’s amazing that we have never seen this wonderful creature until today!

So how are we doing – in West Cork – in terms of looking after our moth populations? Well, as with much of the natural world, things are declining due to unfriendly farming methods and general habitat deterioration. That’s a constant message to all. Many of us are becoming more aware and are being active in establishing our own micro universes – such as Finola’s wildflower meadow here at Nead an Iolair. 

In our habitat – that’s a Spectacle Moth hiding in the grass but showing off its spectacles (upper); centre is a Pebble Prominent in the foreground with a Spectacle behind; while (lower) is one of my own favourites, the subtle Scalloped Oak Moth

Moths choose to lay their eggs on plants that will provide nourishment, and those plants are known as larval food plants. Some of the moths are quite adaptable and may use a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers. For example, the Poplar Hawk-moth, the Clouded Border, the Scalloped Oak feed on Aspen and Willows. Others prefer flowers and herbacious ‘weeds’: the Elephant Hawk-moth loves Willowherbs and Bedstraw (lots of those in West Cork); the Garden Tiger likes Nettles and Dock (our wildflower patch!); the Dot Moth goes for all those weeds that are the bane of gardeners, such as Nettles, Bindweed, Groundsel and White Clover while the Small Fan-footed Wave selects Dandelion and Plantain. The Sharp-angled Carpet is highly specialised to Stitchwort and Chickweed.

From upper – Rosy Rustic with Lesser Yellow UnderwingDot MothSmall Fan-footed WaveSingle Dotted WaveSharp-angled Carpet ((purely a descriptive name – it won’t eat your carpets!)

The good news is that here in West Cork we still have flourishing habitats to offer moths – our fields, hedgebanks and heaths provide what they need – that is, the native plants to which native moth species are adapted.  As everywhere, we cannot take this for granted as all our native habitats and plants are under pressure. Yet another reason for letting at least part of your garden go wild.

From upper – Lesser Yellow UnderwingLarge Yellow Underwing – a Pug: there are very many different Pugs!

Hopefully this little article will open some eyes – as our own eyes have been opened (widely) by the realisation that there are far more worlds within our own world that we can be aware of – and should care for. If nothing else, it’s just the sheer excitement of discovering all the incredible creatures that we share our world with . . .

. . . Moths are often characterised – inaccurately – as being dull and, in the mind of many, they are undesirable and troublesome insects. This is also a mistaken view as just a few species are real pests in that they consume food crops, stored food products or objects that people depend on or value. The vast majority live their lives unseen by most people. However, when moths are seen in daylight the appearance of many species can be a revelation showing intricate patterning and colours that is at least the equal of the Irish butterflies. Most moths are undoubtedly secretive and their colours and patterns usually give them daytime camouflage . . .

Ireland Red List No 9 – Macro-moths (Lepidoptera)
National Parks and Wildlife Service 2016

The Magpie

One of the joys of the moth trap was finding that it didn’t just attract moths. Look at what we also found: a wonderfully fierce-looking (but in fact docile) wasp and – best of all – a Sexton Beetle. These splendid creatures lay their eggs in the rotting corpses of animals: human Sextons look after graveyards and were in the past gravediggers as well!

With very many thanks to Ferdia and Anna for giving us these bewitching experiences.

As a footnote to those who might be concerned at the harm that moths can cause in the house – to clothes, carpets etc – I must add that, of the 1,500 species we have in Ireland, no more than half a dozen are harmful in this way. Putting out a light-box moth trap will not bring destruction upon you! Instead your days will be illuminated and dazzled by your new discoveries.

Gardens at Kilquade

Wicklow is the Garden County of Ireland. Whenever we visit, we are impressed by the exuberance of the verdant landscapes and woodlands, and outstanding gardens abound. Do you remember our exploration of the Kilruddery Estate a few weeks ago? Here’s another venue well worth a visit: Kilquade Arboretum, formerly the ‘National Garden Exhibition Centre’. The modest 5.2 acre site is billed as the perfect escape from the stresses of everyday life – and rightly so. Not only can you wander through a collection of inspirational gardens, formal and informal, which were designed by a number of highly experienced horticulturists, but also you can eat and drink in superb outdoor dining settings: everything is well maintained and efficient. And – if you are a gardener yourself – there is a great shop to supply your every need!

As you can see, you never know what might await you as you traverse the grounds, moving from one creative vision to another. At the height of this Irish summer – which is unmatched, so far, in its brilliant weather – you are guaranteed shady nooks and surprises, and plenty of places to rest and contemplate. You will happily spend half a day or more at Kilquade, and come away satisfied in body and mind! Here’s an enigmatic sculpture by Fiona Coffey:

Water is used refreshingly within the gardens – at times you have the feeling of wandering beside a mountain stream; at others you can just find a spot for contemplation by a cool pool.

You can be methodical in your walks through each of the garden areas or you can, like us, wander haphazardly, not taking any particular straight line. If you do this, you are sure to miss something – but that’s good reason for a return visit. We are keen to come back when the autumn is setting in: the colours will be a treat. But we will return before then anyway: the excellent coffee and snacks are calling!

I haven’t mentioned the profuse planting that veers between formal and – as you can see – naturally wild. Finola is particularly pleased to see the latter: she firmly believes that wildflowers have a big part to play, nowadays, in any established garden: have a look at our post on West Cork’s Bantry House Gardens, here. Allowing nature to contribute to established planting schemes will ensure that good habitats evolve to support our pollinators and a balanced eco-system.

One of the things that struck us on our visit to Kilquade was how easy it is to get away from the crowds! We saw others walking through the gardens but we often had each little designed space to ourselves. Possibly the unbelievable (for Ireland) weather (temperatures approaching 30 degrees) meant that many visitors were sweating it out on the beaches. We were calm and cool, and felt safely tucked away from ‘the madding crowd’. All in all, the experience was exceptional.

Wandering the Boreens

One of our goals in writing Roaringwater Journal is to say – Look what we have here! And one of the things we have in abundance in West Cork is a flourishing wildflower population. There is nothing so good for the soul as wandering our boreens and enjoying our amazing floral heritage. This little movie will show you what I mean, although it’s only a tiny selection of the richness. 

Like Lying in the Grass, all the flowers are native, and all photographed within the last two or three weeks in West Cork – that is, late June and early July, 2021. Both posts are a testament to our biodiversity – always under threat. The music is the same, too – Turas go Tír na nÓg by the incomparable Michaeál O’Suilleabháin from his album, Templum, available here.

Here’s the list of all the flowers in the video:

Foxglove – title slide +2

Ragged Robin X2

Sheep’s-bit (the blue one) X3

Oxeye Daisy and Common Vetch

Cat’s-ear, Oxeye Daisy, Bedstraw

Mostly Cat’s-ear

Dog-rose X3

Field-rose X2

Blackberry X2

Tutsan (a type of St John’s-wort) X3

Tufted Vetch (blue) and Meadow Vetchling (yellow)

Tufted Vetch X2

Honeysuckle X2

Hedge Woundwort X2

Purple Loosestrife X2

Foxglove and Meadowsweet

Meadowsweet X2

Wild Strawberry (consumed after photograph taken)

Upright Hedge-parsley X2

Hedge Bindweed (white)

Field Bindweed (pink and white)

Chamomile X2

Common Centaury X2

Oxeye Daisy

Ringlet Butterfly

Bell Heather X2

Spear Thistle and Fuchsia (Fuchsia is not native) X2