Robert’s Favourite Posts

We had an unexpected – and unsolicited – accolade in the Irish Examiner last weekend! Tommy Barker wrote, in an article about Rossbrin (pictured above): “…The wonderful literary and visually rich website, http://www.roaringwaterjournal.com, by Rossbrin residents Robert Harris and Finola Finlay is a treasure, a sort of 21st century Robert Lloyd Praeger, online…” Of course, we went straight to our bookshelves to dip into our copy of Praeger’s The Way That I Went – An Irishman In Ireland, first published in 1937. Here’s an extract:

…At the southern end of this land of great mountain promontories, in West Cork, you find yourself in a little-know and tourist-free region of much charm. You stay on Sherkin Island (Inis Oircín, little pig’s island) or Cape Clear Island, at Schull (Scoil, a school) or far out at Crookhaven: and you walk and boat and fish and lounge and bathe, and enjoy the glorious air and sea; towns and trams and telephones seem like bad dreams, or like fugitive glimpses of an earlier and inferior existence. A meandering railway penetrates to Schull, and roads are as good as you could expect them to be in so lonely a country. All is furzy heath and rocky knolls, little fields and white cottages and illimitable sea, foam-rimmed where it meets the land, its horizon broken only by the fantastic fragment of rock crowned by a tall lighthouse which is the famous Fastnet…

Yes – that’s our West Cork alright (above is a view of the Mizen taken from Mount Gabriel). We hope that, over five years of writing this journal, we have indeed given a good account of this wonderful place which we are privileged to call ‘home’. Certainly, there is nowhere we would rather be. But Roaringwater Journal has not just been about West Cork: we have covered a fair bit of Irish culture and history as well. Last week’s post set out the six most popular articles that we have written in terms of readership numbers; today we are both reviewing our own personal favourites (see Finola’s here) and there is lots to choose from: 466 posts to date! All of them are listed by category in the Navigation pages.

Foremost in my own mind in terms of personal satisfaction is the series I wrote last year: Green & Silver. There have been nine posts in all, starting with my review of a book which I first read in 1963, when I won it as an essay-writing prize at school. The book, Green & Silver, told the story of a journey around the Irish canal system in 1946 (the year I was born), undertaken by an English engineer and writer, L T C ‘Tom’ Rolt and his wife, Angela. When I wrote the review 70 years had passed since the Rolts made that journey. Finola and I conceived the idea of retracing the steps of the Rolts, although not by boat: we drove and walked. It was to be an exercise in tracking the passing of time. We would find the location of every photograph that Angela Rolt had taken in 1946, and take a new one, so that we could compare the changes that had occurred over seven decades. There were many: the canals themselves, which were then near-derelict in places have now been well restored, and the island of Ireland has today an amazing but probably under-appreciated asset: a cross-border system of navigable waterways which connects Waterford, Limerick, Dublin, Belfast and Coleraine.

Canal port: Richmond Harbour, Co Longford. Upper picture taken by Angela Rolt in 1946; lower picture, the same view taken 70 years on

I have always had an obsession with wildlife, and one of my favourite posts summarises what wonderful natural things we have all around us here: The Wild  Side. We have written about the birds – choughs, eagles, sparrowhawks – and the little ones that come to our feeder and keep us entertained.

We will never forget our good friend Ferdia, who arrived on our doorstep on the day we moved into Nead an Iolair, and was a regular visitor (usually daily) over several years. Sadly, foxes don’t live for long in the wild, and he has now passed away. He was a very fine dog-fox and was undoubtedly the head of a large family. We hoped that one of his offspring might have taken his place on our terrace, but I suppose he just could never be replaced.

Of course, the pasture and coastline that surrounds us has fine creatures of the domesticated variety, too! (left and right below).

I have family roots in Cornwall and, during my time living here, I have become aware of many links between that westernmost peninsula of Britain and West Cork. In fact, those links go back into prehistory: in the Bronze Age – three and a half thousand years ago – copper was mined on the slopes of Mount Gabriel – a stone’s throw from where we live – and was mixed with tin from Cornwall to make the all-important ‘supermetal’ of Bronze. Another link which I was so pleased to find was that Cornwall’s Patron Saint – St Piran – was actually born and brought up on Cape Clear – the island we look out to across Roaringwater Bay. Read all about it here.

The little church at Perranzabuloe in Cornwall (now inundated by sand) marks the spot where St Ciarán from Cape Clear landed to start his mission. Because of a difference in the Irish and Cornish languages, he became known as St Piran over there. He lived to the age of 208!

Stirring up those links led to my life being taken over in the summer of this year by organising (together with Ann Davoren and the team at the West Cork Arts Centre) an exhibition of the work of three contemporary Cornish artists which was held in Uillinn, Skibbereen’s amazing new gallery. The exhibition ran with the title of West meets West and heralds future collaborations and visits to Cornwall by West Cork artists. This link opens the series of posts that report on all this.

My time here in West Cork – and in Ireland – has heightened my interest in all things medieval, particularly architecture. Finola has written a highly researched and detailed series on the Irish Romanesque style, and our travels to carry out this research have been enjoyable and instructive. I have taken a liking to High Crosses, most of them probably over a thousand years old. They are always found in the context of fascinating early ecclesiastical sites. If you want to know more, have a look at the posts: so far we have explored Moone (above), Durrow (below), Monasterboice, and Castledermot. There are many more to add to this list – and to keep us busy over the next few years.

That’s quite enough for one post! It would be possible to write several on how we have been inspired by our explorations in search of material. Somehow, though, our hearts always come back to our very own piece of Irish soil: Nead an Iolair (Nest of the Eagles). Here it is, and here are the eagles flying over it! You’ll find more about them here.

The Best of Five

It’s been five years! That’s a long time to have kept up a journal, with original pieces appearing every week – usually two, each of us writing a post. It keeps us busy: 464 posts to date. We thought we should do a review of the posts which have been most popular: viewed by the most people. These are not necessarily the ones we would consider to be our own favourites: we’ll let you know what we feel our ‘finest hour’ has been next week – while you are all preparing the Christmas lunch!

We never quite understood the all-time popularity of Beyond Leap, Beyond the Law, my post which was simply a collection of photos taken at the West Cork village’s 2015 Scarecrow Festival – with a little bit of history about the place added in. It was certainly a wonderful display of the imagination of the people of Leap. Have a look at the post: just one or two photographs don’t do it justice.

Up next is Finola’s piece from 2016 – Outposts of Empire. This was a much more scholarly article, and involved a lot of research. As you must know, we never pass a church or a burial ground without a full investigation: they provide a wealth of local history. Finola became fascinated by the memorials – mainly military – which appear in Protestant churches around the country. This led her down the path of her own ancestors, many of whom served in the Irish regiments of the British forces. She found this wonderful photo from around 1900 of her Brabazon forebears. Her grandmother Marie is in the centre of the back row, while her great grandfather John Edward Brabazon, who had served in India and Afghanistan, wears a military medal. The two younger men are Finola’s great uncles Michael and James, and they are wearing the uniform of the Royal Hibernian Military School.

Finola’s series on ‘how to speak like a West Cork person’ was a winner, the most popular being her fifth episode: How Are You Keeping? Here is a link to all of them. They make amusing reading, but at the same time they give a lot of insights as to how the Irish language has coloured the way English is spoken here. And here is Finola’s great picture from that post: two Skibbereen gentlemen who might well be asking how are you keeping?

Archaeology comes next, with my account of a most eccentric decorated chambered cairn within the Boyne Valley complex: Fourknocks – the Little Giant. I was particularly taken with the adventure of visiting this tomb, from the first moment of having to collect the key from a farm a mile away in order to let ourselves in, to the experience of being inside with the door shut behind us: total darkness at first, but gradually becoming aware of the remarkable 5,000 year-old zigzag carvings on the rock surfaces within.

I’m pleased that the fifth most popular post of all time is also the one I most enjoyed writing: Aweigh in Kerry. This was all about a very unusual piece of architecture which we found while travelling in Kerry – a house shaped like a ship, sitting in the sand dunes on the shoreline of Ballycarnahan townland, facing a most spectacular view across to Derrynane, the home of ‘Ireland’s Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell. I was an architect in a former life, and I would have welcomed a commission such as this. It was built in the early 1950s.

Sixth and last in this little review is a post from Finola (happily, we had three each in this list of the top most popular posts!): Castle Haven. Such an account of a place in magical West Cork – which typically offers everything anyone could want in beautiful landscape, village architecture, archaeology, history, literary heritage, art and the omnipresent Atlantic coastline – is exactly what we aspired to for the foundation stone of Roaringwater Journal when we set out, in 2012 on this happy, continuing journey.

 

Top Ten West Cork Photographs of 2017

Every year we take a look at the Facebook photographs that you’ve liked or viewed or shared the most, and then edit them down to manageable proportions. Here’s our final selection for this year – we decided to stick to West Cork, and we’re starting off with Bantry, with that wonderful statue of Brendan the Navigator blessing us and inviting us into the town.

The photo this year that was most viewed and exclaimed over was our shot of Dunboy Castle (above), just outside Castletownbere. It’s a dramatic sight and an extraordinary story of the dream to build Ireland’s first six star hotel – a dream that came crashing down with the collapse of the Celtic Tiger economy in 2008. Perhaps one day a new team will take it on: meantime it sits forlornly behind barbed wire, a reminder of optimistic times.

We were surprised by the instant appeal of our stained glass St Gobnait. Although a familiar saint her in West Cork, she is not universally known elsewhere. Perhaps it is her association with the bees that resonates with people now that bees everywhere are in danger. The image is of a window in Bantry Catholic church, probably the work of William Dowling.

Kilcoe Castle seems to feature each year as it’s a firm favourite with us in West Cork. We were lucky to capture it at dusk on a hazy evening in March. It has been lovingly and magnificently restored by Jeremy Irons and if you’re curious to see inside, there are some interior images here.

Our friend, and professional wildlife photographer, Sheena Jolley lives in this impossibly romantic old mill just outside of Schull. Her studio occupies the building on the right, while some of the workings of the old mill are still intact and conserved by Sheena. I suspect this photograph was so popular because many of us have a dream to dwell in a piece of living history like this.

Uragh Stone Circle on the Beara Peninsula – I think we can all agree now it’s the stone circle with the best setting in Ireland. But it’s only one of the many feature of Gleninchaquin that makes this remote but accessible valley so richly enjoyable to visit.

Everyone loves driving through the Caha Pass between Glengarriff and Kenmare – the scenery is spectacular and includes several tunnels

This image, of the Barnacleeve Gap above Schull, illustrates well the colours of West Cork in winter, when the bracken turns dark amber and the Purple Moor Grass (not purple at all) earns its Irish name of Fionnán, meaning blonde, while the grasses and mosses keep the lowest growth green.

Another winter view, this time from across Reendonagan Lake, near Ballylickey, to the Sugarloaf Mountain on the Beara Peninsula.

And finally a photograph that manages to capture much of the Mizen Peninsula, taken on Brow Head and looking towards Mount Gabriel in the distance, with the village of Crookhaven and the Rock Island lighthouse on the left. And yes, you’re right – another winter photograph.

December in Rossbrin

In the past year I have returned to Rossbrin again and again in my posts. That’s not surprising, as it’s just a short and always rewarding walk down our Beautiful boreens:

It’s December, and we can expect anything in the way of weather. This is the mildest corner of Ireland: further north and east of us today, spanning Cavan, Donegal and Wicklow, heavy snow is falling and temperatures are forecast to drop to minus 8 degrees C in the coming hours. The last real bit of snow in West Cork came along seven years ago but we weren’t here, then, to see it (image below of Nead an Iolair in 2010 courtesy of our neighbours Dietrich and Hildegard Eckardt with, below it, today’s view of the Cove seen from the house):

Whatever the weather, our cove has something to offer – and every day is guaranteed to bring a mixture. When the sun is out we can bask in it as if it was the middle of summer, but it’s just as likely that there will be a stiff and invigorating breeze to accompany our bracing walks.

Above – reminders of summer pleasures to come as we wind down to the year’s end in Rossbrin: Andre’s catamaran – Danu – which he built himself, rides out the winter storms on a wet mooring in the Cove. The first of those storms – Ophelia – hit us last month, and there is a fair bit of wind damage still to be seen:

Traffic jam in Rossbrin!

Often, I will start out on the downhill walk with my head buzzing from the inexplicable madness of the outside world: British ethnocentricity, North American absurdity and worldwide chaos. Within minutes these concerns are receding, and when I reach the waterside I am overtaken by the immersive experience of natural things all around me and I find the solace of constancy: not much changes here. This little townland of Rossbrin is above and away from that buzzing, reeking world. It is a far saner place.

Since publishing this post we have received a communication from our good neighbour Julian, who lives down on the Cove, including some excellent photographs of the winter of 2010. Here’s one of them – thank you, Julian…

Cove in the snow 2010

Freshly Dug Queens

It’s always the ones that got away that are the best! We saw Freshly Dug Queens in a field of potatoes in Northern Ireland but were unable to stop on the busy road to capture it on film. We are just left with the concept hanging in the air… Worthy of a title, however, for this latest review of signs – amusing, curious and sometimes just plain puzzling – from all around Ireland. Take a look at the picture above: the dramatic Mountains of Mourne form a serene backdrop, but I couldn’t resist the enigmatic message hanging on a pole beside the beach.

It’s always the case that context is everything: where the sign is often provides the clue as to what it means. But it’s almost better not to know the context. This time around, I’m including some which are purely pictorial – and even some shopfronts which, for me, enter the category of Folk Art. There’s plenty more in my own archives – you’ll find some here. Meanwhile, just enjoy them for the visual delights that they are.

You’ll notice that I have a particular liking for the various Guiness signs. That’s because I remember being fascinated by them during my childhood. I think I learned to read through looking at them!

 

Shay Hunston and the People of the Wild Atlantic Way

It’s the people! Shay Hunston is passionate about his subject. Sure, we have wonderful scenery, and every photographer is out capturing it. But time and again, what visitors tell us is that what makes Ireland special for them is the people they meet, their warmth, humour, empathy, poetic language, and the interest they take in others. So I set out to document those people – to show the faces and the personalities you will meet along the Wild Atlantic Way.

The first photograph above is part of that project – it’s Mike Watkins, the friendly face we pass most days as we drop into Budd’s of Ballydehob. He sits outside, drinking tea and greeting everyone. Here’s what he has to say about life: I have sunshine in my heart and I never, ever, ever get upset about anything. I’m happy every single day and everybody else should be the same, and we should all hug each other and talk to each other. This I have learnt from a lifetime of experience.

Tim Healy – Leap. The best advice I ever received in life was when I came to live in Leap in 1983. I knew of a local lad who had a reputation for liking a bit of a ‘Work Out’, he was well able to look after himself. So I said to him, just to wind him up, would you like to have a go, the two of us for 20 pounds. No, he said, I’ll tell you what, don’t be wasting your money, we’ll fight for pleasure.

So far, Shay’s project has been a Wild Atlantic Success, and he hasn’t even moved beyond Cork yet. He’s been going from community to community along the Wild Atlantic Way, photographing whoever volunteers. Once the prints are made, the town or village mounts an exhibition of his strong black and white images, in shop fronts, on the approaches to town, on walls and railings.

Caroline O’Donnell – Ballydehob. My grandmother once told me that as long as I have music and laughter in my life I would never grow old. I think about her every day and try not to grow old. She also said never marry a man you haven’t seen drunk… I’m still thinking about that advice.

We missed the shoot in Ballydehob as we were away, so we participated in Schull. It’s a nervous business, sitting for a portrait, but Shay creates an instantly warm and relaxing environment. He’s good humoured and patient and empathetic and he obviously loves doing this. He was also cool about my photographing him and his process (no pressure like, to be snapping away in the presence of genius!) and doing a blog post.*

Pat Murphy – Castletownbere. I started fishing at 13 years of age in open boats with a crew of three. We fished winter and summer in all kinds of weather. From October to March we fished for scallops, two rowing the boat and the third man looking after the dredge, by God you had muscles from pulling oars for six months…In summer we would fish for lobsters and crabs. To make the pots we would go to the mountains to cut hazel and sally rods. I use to make four pots a day. Besides the fishing we all had a bit of land to grow our own vegetables and potatoes. Come September, those of us who had a pig or a cow would slaughter them, butcher and salt the pieces and put them in a barrel, there they would be left for 6/8 weeks, they would then be hard dried or smoked, we would also salt fish. The best life advice I could give anybody is to be able to negotiate with people, to work together, not against each other.

Shay asks people to write a few words to go with the image. It’s lovely to meander down the street and read what people have said, so I’ve included snippets under each photograph.

Saoirse Canty – Ballydehob. My perfect day would be my friends and I hanging out around Ballydehob. We would do nothing and talk about nothing all day. The reason why that is so perfect to me is because it makes me truly happy and the familiarity of this beautiful town is very comforting. It is one of those things that I could do forever.

You will notice, of course, that this post is (not surprisingly) a little heavy on Ballydehob folk, so as part justification for that, here’s what Shay himself wrote about his experience working in Ballydehob:

Ballydehob is a remarkable place, a multicultural melting pot of creative activity and is home to artists, poets, writers, musicians, sculptors and craftworkers. The local community encourages people to pursue and develop their creative and artistic talents…With the influx of artistic people in the 70’s, Ballydehob became known as the ‘San Francisco of the Mizen’. Ballydehob is an inspiration to all and is a template for how a multicultural community can live in harmony, with sympathy and compassion for each others needs.

But just to show I am not totally biased, here’s Danny Smith, whose day job as a postman in Bantry allows him the space to observe and dream about his next painting. Next time you’re in Kilcrohane, drop into The Old Creamery and see the wonderful results.

Danny Vincent Smith – Bantry. I started painting as long ago as I can remember, this passion for painting started from there. Every hour I would be thinking and looking for some kind of angle for a painting, observing everyday life, watching people’s faces, their expressions, trying to capture movement in the moment, such as an old lady with shopping, old farmers or a fella sitting inside the pub by himself. I try to picture people’s life’s and transfer them to canvas. My environment has a massive influence on my work and I feel like I’m documenting a time and place in rural life from where I live for future generations.

Go visit Shay’s website NOW to see lots more of his people photography, including his project to photograph the people of Dublin’s Temple Bar. Or sign up to follow him on Facebook or on Twitter. The Schull images should be ready in a few weeks – I will let you know.

Callum Donnelly – The Ludgate Hub, Skibbereen. My Perfect Day – A frosty morning, circa 8am, the ground is firm. I wrap up in a coat, scarf, gloves and I bring my springer spaniels for a walk around our local woodland. The air is sharp, and you can take a deep breath, and try to ignore the daily bombardment of emails, messages & calls. To be able to walk in silence, absorb your surroundings is a fantastic way of  balancing your mind in a world where work can often take precedence. Young people feel enormous pressure to succeed, and perform, its good to take some time out in an environment that is a polar opposite to your usual surroundings.

I will leave you with a couple of shots of Shay himself and his session with Robert. If he comes your way, you lucky people of the Wild Atlantic Way, take advantage of this opportunity! And as for everyone else – come and meet us for yourselves.

Shay and Robert

Himself

*Images were downloaded from Shay’s website with his permission. Please always credit the source for any image you download from the internet.