Art in the Bay

You’ll all know that Ballydehob is the true centre of art in West Cork. Our posts about the Ballydehob Arts Museum (BAM) set out the history of the community from the 1950s onwards. Artists settled in the environs – some camping out in the hills, and many of them remain connected with the area to this day. Local residents were at first amused – or bemused – by this ‘invasion’, but it soon became an accepted part of the character of the village.

Right at this moment, an innovative installation is in place on the water in Ballydehob, just above the 12 arch viaduct and by the road bridge that comes into the town from the east. This is where the two rivers meet, the Bawnknockane and Rathraune, giving the town its name: Béal Átha an Dá Chab, which literally means Mouth of the Two River Fords.

In summary, this art installation by Muireann Levis offers you a close experience of the water accompanied by a sensory soundtrack which is projected into the bay through a series of loudspeakers. The name of the project is Inbhear, which translates simply as Estuary. The way you experience the water is by climbing on board one of the ‘pedalo’ boats that were a common scene on the water here in Ballydehob back in the late 20th century. I remember seeing them on the estuary when I visited West Cork in that time, but they have not been in active use since then, so we were delighted to be among the first to experience their revival, a couple of days ago.

The pedalos have been kept safe and required only a little maintenance before coming back into service. Wouldn’t it be great to think that they might be brought out again on occasion? They are colourful and brimming with character. Have a look at these further examples from the historical archives of ‘pedal powered boats’; the first dates from 1930 in Stockholm, and the second is in Michigan, dated 1963.

Interestingly, the pedalos which we are seeing today were actually assembled in Ballydehob. They were made as part of a government employment scheme, and some were destined to be used in Barley Cove, with a small ‘fleet’ being set up in Ballydehob Bay. The latter deteriorated, but the Barley Cove boats have been stored well, and were recovered for this installation. So it’s a remote deja vu for these craft.

The meeting of the Bawnknockane and Rathraune rivers (above) creates an inner tidal pool – between the three-arched road bridge and the old railway viaduct, and this is where the installation has been set up.

. . . Working with field, hydro-phonic and electromagnetic recordings of the rivers and their many tributaries, Muireann invites us in to a relearning of her childhood environment, creating a piece that draws us closer to the everyday presence of water and elevates its endless subtleties . . . Inbhear, the Irish for “estuary”, finds meaning in its Old Irish roots where it translates to “a carrying in”. It offers a focal point for the carrying in and meeting of old and new identities, both social and environmental . . .

Inbhear event publicity

Finola shot these two videos while we were out on the water experiencing the event, and the soundtracks give an impression of what we could hear while we were afloat:

It may be too late for you to book this event: it’s only happening for a few days. Let’s hope that there’s a demand for a re-run in the near future: it’s such a celebration of so many aspects of Ballydehob, not least as a centre of pedalo boat production back in the day: who knew?

It’s very apt that I should be writing the post on this weekend, as we have just celebrated another Ballydehob event: the annual Cruinniú Bád (boat gathering) which happens at the quay around the highest tide of the summer:

With many thanks to Muireann Levis for inspiring the installation, and to Cormac Levis and William Swanton for information on the history of Ballydehob’s pedalo boats. We should also acknowledge the tireless endeavours of Eleanor Regan and the late Kevin Heaps who operated the pedalos getting on for forty years ago. William told me that Ballydehob Community Council has long been petitioning for the ‘Slob’ below the historic quay to be dredged to allow more boats to use that quay through the year. The sight of boats, small or large, on the water as visitors enter the village from the west would undoubtedly encourage enhanced footfall to the shops and hostelries of this remarkable community

Rock Art and Red Socks

(Mizen Magic 26: Balteen)

What do red socks have to do with rock art?  Well, nothing really, but they turned out to be surprisingly useful this week.

It’s been ages since we talked about rock art, hasn’t it? Thinking about that, I decided to do some tidying up in our blog and I have created a special page for Rock Art, and another one for Mizen Magic, since this post also fits into the Mizen Magic series. 

Robert and I set off to hunt down rock art we haven’t yet seen on the Mizen. The National Monuments site contains two records for Cupmarked Stones in the townland of Balteen, and both proved easy to find. (If you can’t remember what a Cupmarked Stone is, take a look at this post before reading on.) The first is along the road that leads from Barley Cove to the North Side. That’s my butt marking the location of the rock, above.

It’s built into the bank and we might not have been as quick to spot it as we were unless somebody else had already found it and cleared away some of the overgrowth – I suspect Rock Art Kerry, AKA Aoibheann Lambe had been there before us, perhaps a couple of years ago. We usually remember to bring a soft brush with us for a gentle cleaning of the rock surface (lots of moss on this one) but we had forgotten this time. The red socks came to the rescue.

This is a lovely example of a cupmarked stone – although it’s possible there is more on it than cupmarks only. The central cupmark appears to have some carving around it that helps to mark it out and elevate it – not a complete circle but an arc that may end in an expanded finial. We have sent the photos off to UCC for a 3D rendering and this may clarify this aspect of the carving. Here’s a short video – see what you think about that arc.

Meanwhile, since it’s hard to make out what’s in the surface of a grey rock on a grey day, clever Robert has made a scaled drawing of it. We know that cupmarked stones like this can date anywhere from the Neolithic (about 5,000 years ago) up to the Bronze Age (ended about 2,500 years ago), and that the cupmarks were probably made by picking or bashing them out with a stone cobble, but we don’t know why they were done, or what meaning the cupmark itself may carry.

We also don’t know if this one is in its original position, but it’s likely that it is not. It is currently incorporated into the bank at the side of the road, leading us to suspect that it was found in the vicinity and built into the wall to give it a place where it would be visible to all passers-by.

The second one (above) was a surprise! First of all, it’s enormous! It looks like it may have been a capstone for a large structure, or perhaps a boulder burial. However, it’s difficult to determine if there is anything underneath and it may well be a glacial erratic that simply ended up here. This one is in the same townland but it’s on private property, so we are not pinpointing it on a map, at the request of the owners – but they are happy to give permission to see the stone and they welcomed us to take photos and tell them a little about rock art in general. There are nine cupmarks, from large to small and some appear to be arranged in a rough semi-circle – something we have observed on other cupmarked stones.

I am trying something a little new with this post – doing short videos to see if this helps to convey more than a photograph might. I’d be interested in your feedback on this. Note: You may have to play the videos on YouTube – sorry if this aspect isn’t working right for everyone!

Just when you think you have seen all the Mizen has to offer, it reveals yet more of its secrets!

BAM Open! A New + Unique Exhibition!

BAM – the Ballydehob Arts Museum – is open through the summer. Make sure you don’t miss the impressive exhibition that’s on at the moment. It shows the work of West Cork art creators Ian and Lynn Wright (shown above with Eleanor Flegg). They were part of the ‘invasion’ of artists who came to the Ballydehob area from the 1960s onwards, and who are now featured in what is perhaps Ireland’s smallest art gallery, situated in Bank House, the headquarters of the Ballydehob Community Council.

You will find out all about the Museum here and here. Curator Brian Lalor (who featured in last week’s post) and Director Robert Harris (that’s me!) have put together a new exhibition this summer, following two years of absence due to Covid.

The ad above (from the early 1980s, I think) shows how Ian and Lynn’s work was being marketed at that time. They called themselves Cors it’s Ceramics, and they definitely projected a cheeky identity, making one-off ceramics – basins, bidets, loos and bathroom accessories: unique, appealing and often erotic. Their work was popular, and their production processes couldn’t keep up with demand! Today, the Wrights are producing more measured ceramics: Lynn produces beautiful large bowls, while Ian uses human body moulds to make impressive torso casts. Examples of all their working styles can be seen in the present Museum exhibition.

The Museum display is stunning. It brings together – probably for the first time ever – an eclectic extravaganza of the Wright’s output over half a century: examples of work small and large. There are no complete bathroom settings here: those that survive are still installed in the domestic settings for which they were commissioned. But we are fortunate that we have had access to the Wrights’ own collection of their work, which they have freely lent to the Museum. We do, of course, also have photographic records of other examples.

The Exhibition was formally opened earlier this year by Eleanor Flegg, and it can now be viewed for free whenever the Ballydehob Tourism Office is open. Through the summer this is usually from Monday to Saturday – 11am to 1pm, and from 2pm to 5pm. However, please check before visiting, as the office is staffed only by volunteers, and we can’t guarantee those hours at all times. It’s best to ring this number to confirm that it will be open: 028 25922.

A lot of effort has gone into making this exhibition. It’s on for the rest of this season, so please don’t miss it. It is the aim of the Ballydehob Arts Museum to celebrate the very special projects that have been carried out over decades to give the village its reputation as an artistic centre of excellence. Nowhere else can you find the full flavour of what has made this community so special.

This photo (above) appeared in the Mail on Sunday newspaper in 1983. Lynn and Ian are on the left and right respectively. The occasion is a ‘body casting party’ in the Wright’s garden.

Thirty-Six Views of Mount Gabriel

Mount Gabriel is, I believe, a rarely regarded topographical prominence on the Mizen. Yet it is impossible to ignore: the summit can be seen from most parts of this western peninsula. And, for those visitors who do notice it – and make the effort to scale its heights, it presents the most spectacular of views over rugged landscapes to the oceans beyond.

Brian Lalor has chosen to make this peak the centrepiece of his new exhibition, which opened in Schull’s Blue House Gallery at the weekend: Thirty-Six Views of Mount Gabriel. You have to see it. The works are for sale, so it will be impossible, probably, to assemble them as one entity ever again. (Unless, perhaps, in a hundred years time – if there is still an intellectual world in existence – Brian’s genius will be fully recognised and appreciated, and an astute curator will raid collections from all over the world in order to put this canon back together as a centenary project).

The works themselves draw attention to some of Brian’s many artistic talents: conté crayon drawings, exquisite watercolour sketches and linocut prints. They make an impressive whole on the walls of Schull’s eccentric gallery, which is a jumble of smallish rooms, a staircase and landing, with a minimalist shop-window frontage. Circumnavigating the spaces is a revealing and stimulating experience.

Returning to the subject matter of the work, Brian – General Editor of Gill & Macmillan’s mammoth 2003 volume The Encyclopaedia of Ireland – and considered a prime authority on Ireland’s art heritage and its place in world culture, is familiar with artists’ legacies from many other domains. He grew up in a household which contained significant pieces of Japanese art and was au fait from a young age with the concept of ukiyo-e – the floating world. His early awareness of the arts of Japan provided the source of inspiration for this exhibition: Katsushika Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, woodblock prints which date from the early 1830s. Here are Fine Wind, Clear Morning (upper) and Inume Pass (lower) from the series:

Fuji is one of Japan’s Holy Mountains. Brian’s juxtaposition is brilliant: our Mount Gabriel has to be a holy place. It is named after an Archangel, who is said to have descended to the mountain top to view the unsurpassed beauty of West Cork’s landscapes, the reputation of which had reached to Heaven even back in those days. In so doing he left behind his footprint, which is still to be seen on the summit.

The Archangel was not the only biblical character to visit Gabriel: Satan himself touched down, but stumbled on a large rock. In a fit of temper he picked up the rock and threw it far off into the sea beyond. This caused such a hazard to shipping that we have had to erect a lighthouse on it. Here is Finola’s photographic view of The Fastnet, taken at sunset. For me, it has a suitably print-like quality . . .

Legends attached to Gabriel include many that attribute Irish heroes to activities on the summit. Finn MacCool, for example, is also credited with throwing large rocks from the mountain, including this fine boulder burial at Rathruane:

Brian’s observation and humour are not missing from this exhibition. He has included a cabinet of ‘artefacts’ distilled from his own explorations on the mountain. These make reference to the ancient history of the site and its connection with copper extraction in the Bronze Age and in medieval times, and also the twentieth century manifestations of air traffic control technology (known as ‘Gabriel’s Balls’) . . .

I am particularly taken with Brian’s linocut series – a limited edition of only ten of each print. They provide the ‘fine detail’ in the overall assemblage, and work so well together on the back wall of the largest room.

The detail print, above, shows Brian’s representation of archaeological finds connected with ancient copper mining which have been found during excavations on the mountain.

As ‘Guest Curator’ of this exhibition I was delighted to introduce it to an eager audience on the opening night in Schull (above). The show only runs until the 3rd of August, so please rush over in order not to miss it. It is (for me) the highlight of West Cork’s summer offerings!

Blue House Gallery, Schull

The gallery also has on show some work by other West Cork artists, well worth exploration, so don’t miss them when you go. I can’t resist finishing with one of them: this work (below) by Keith Payne – Sego Canyon. Keith has always been fascinated by ‘Rock Art’ in all parts of the world, and painted this based on his visit to a collection of petroglyphs on a cliff-face in Utah. It’s very apt, I think, to see this work in the context of the Brian Lalor exhibition. Below it is our own photograph of 5,000 year old Rock Art at Derreenaclough, West Cork – discovered only a few years ago. I am personally of the opinion that the siting of this rock in full view of ‘sacred’ Mount Gabriel is purely intentional!

A fully illustrated catalogue is available to purchase in the gallery

Some useful links:

Last Rounds: St John’s Eve in Stouke

“People would be walking from Ballydehob”, our friend told us, “to do the rounds at Stouke Graveyard on St John’s Eve. Everyone in the village would come” 

He remembered it well as a boy (he’s now retirement age) – the whole family walking to the graveyard, a festive atmosphere with friend greeting friend, after the day’s work was done. He described how the rounds were done. The focus was the chest tomb in the centre of the graveyard. You would do a decade of the rosary as you walked around, stopping four times. You would leave coins or a small offering, and pray for some special intention. He didn’t remember the Bishop’s Head being part of it, although other accounts state it was. The Bishop’s Head is the name given the bullaun stone (below), based on a legend about a beheaded bishop.

I’ve written about Stouke before (here and here – take a look for the background to this post) – it’s a tiny graveyard full of fascinating history. Looking back at those posts from 2016 also provides a good comparison of the condition of some of the objects in the graveyard between then and now. It is obvious that the small statues, for example, are not being renewed.

The chest tomb, located in the centre and highest point of the graveyard, marks the last resting place of Fr John Barry, and both he and his brother James, also a priest, are memorialised here. They were tremendously compassionate and capable men who worked tirelessly for their parishioners during the Famine. I have read James’ depositions to the Poor Law Commission. He was articulate and devastating in his criticism of the landlord system – full of righteous anger of the truest sort.

The memory of these two brothers lived on locally and over time took on an almost saintly aura. The fact that Fr John is buried here and that the original name of the graveyard is Kilaspick Oen, or Church of Bishop John, may have led to the practice of visiting here on St John’s Eve, June 23rd, as described to me by our friend.

This year I decided to see if the tradition lived on, so I walked up to the graveyard on St John’s Eve (Thursday). I arrived at 7PM and sat in glorious solitude for a long time until I was convinced that nobody was coming. Just as I was about to give up, a car arrived and then another. Tim Cronin and Joan O’Donovan, supported by her son Michael John, had come to do the rounds, as Joan had indeed come for her whole life. 

Joan had brought flowers and coins and distributed them among us. She led the prayers as we said the rosary, stopping four times, once at each side of the tomb. We also left flowers and coins at the Bishop’s Head. 

The chat was mighty afterwards. I told them what I knew about Fr James and John, and Joan and Tim told me about how busy a place this was in the old days. Joan says she will keep coming as long as she is able – she suffers from a bad back and sciatica and needs two sticks to walk, especially on the uneven ground in the graveyard. She had known a lot of the families buried here and we talked about the many islanders whose final resting place is this lovely, lonely spot.

As I walked home, I wondered how much longer anyone would come to continue this tradition. It seemed sad that it had been lost so profoundly that only Joan and Tim now come, where once it had been such an important event for the whole village. We are not that country any more, and in many ways that’s a very good thing, but I can’t help mourning the loss of the old ways too.

Mizen Magic 25: Gortduv Loop (Fastnet Trails)

Ready for a longer walk? If yes – this one is 13.5km and has strenuous stretches. If not, don’t worry – there are lots of possibilities for doing parts of the walk, or for going with friends and leaving a car at strategic spots. We didn’t do it all at once, in case you get to thinking we are super-fit hikers. (The sad truth is we can’t be too far from a coffee shop.) As with all the Fastnet walks, keep dogs on leads – we did encounter both cattle and sheep on this walk, right on the road. There is a short stretch of ‘green road’ and although it’s well maintained, it might be muddy after rains, so good shoes are essential.

This loop takes you from Goleen on the south side of the Mizen right across the peninsula to the fabulously scenic north side. It skirts along the edges of the valley that runs between Knocknamaddree (Hill of the Dogs) to the west, and Knockaphuca (Hill of the Pooka, or Mischievous Spirit) to the east, rising to a maximum altitude of 180m (or about 600 feet). Most of the altitude is gained in the first half of the walk – so a packed lunch and water will be both welcome and needed if you’re doing the whole walk.

Set out from the Goleen Community Centre and the first part of the walk is shared with the Lissagriffin Loop – see our recent post on that walk. As you ascend, the views are immense – back to Goleen and across to Knockaphuca and Mount Gabriel beyond it.

You’ll have to dig into your reserves of energy (or maybe have some chocolate) as you continue the climb. You are in true mountainy heathland now – look out for orchids in the spring and early summer, or Cuckooflower (below) in damp ditches.

Watch out also for cattle on the road – we were startled by a line of plodding cattle coming towards us, and even more startled when we realised that one was a mighty fine bull. Fortunately, they turned into a field before we reached that spot, but there was no human around and the gates were open, so we can only assume we were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time as it is very unusual (although not unknown) to see cattle wandering like this.

Coming over the top of the hill you have the whole of Dunmanus Bay in front of you and you can see clear up to the head of the bay, across to the Sheep’s Head, and to the Mountains of the Beara behind that. Have a nice sit down on some convenient boulder here – you deserve it – and just absorb that breathtaking sweep of land and sea.

And talking of sea – you’re heading down now towards it, past picturesque stone farm buildings and beautifully renovated cottages until you arrive at Dooneen Coos (the Cove of the Little Fort). Along the way we ran into a shepherd moving his sheep up into higher ground, with the aid of the marvellously well-trained dogs that attend to their business but also like a good pat.

Dooneen Coos is a good spot for lunch – or even a swim if you’re that way inclined. it’s close to the peninsula we wrote about in our post Mizen Magic 23: Lackavaun and The Meallán so you can always take a side trip there if you wish. This might also be a good spot to leave a car if you’re not doing the whole loop on this occasion.

But if you’re carrying on, you’re now heading towards Dunkelly and the storied inlet known as Canty’s Cove. Read all about it here. Here, because we have been to Canty’s Cove lots, we took the short cut – marked in orange on the map. The compensation is that this stretch contains the remains of old ruined cabins and clacháns (hamlets) along the road, as well as a beautiful pond which, at the time of our visit was full of flowering Bogbean. 

From Dunkelly the road turns back along the slopes of Knockaphuca  and along the way there’s a  bit of a surprise – an old store that once supplied necessities for the population of this area but which has not been viable for many years. No doubt local people have all kinds of memories and stories about this one. I was taken by the keys, still hanging above the door!

By now we were on the stretch of road that this loop shares with the Knockaphuca Walk and that’s a walk you HAVE to do, if you haven’t already. Possibly the jewel in the Fastnet Trails crown. Crossing the main Schull-Goleen road we head down to Ballydivlin. 

We’re at the sea again now, back on the south side of the peninsula, looking across to Castlepoint (and Leamcon Castle) and out to the Fastnet Rock with its iconic lighthouse

It’s been a long haul but SO worth it – wouldn’t you agree?

The Fastnet Trails website is coming soon. We will update this post with that link once it’s finalised and active.