Off The M8 and into Medieval Ireland

Twomileborris Castle

The drive from Cork to Dublin used to take four hours; now it takes two and a half on a speedy motorway. As you drive along, tantalising glimpses are offered of castles, a round tower, those brown signs that point to ancient monuments. If you’re not in a mad hurry, why not do some exploring? This post is about one stretch of the old road, running parallel to the motorway, where you can have a medieval experience, great coffee and cake, and rejoin the motorway when you’ve sated your curiosity. You can take a few hours and do everything on this list on one day, or you can do one or two each time you travel.

Twomileborris Gravslab and Castle

The castle and old graveyard at Twomileborris offer lots of opportunities for exploration. Above, the castle looms over the graveyard, but note the white gravemarker with the head above a stylised fleur de lys – similar to many such markers set into the floor of St Canice’s Cathedral. It’s much earlier than anything around it

I am assuming you are coming from Cork and are dying for a coffee about the time you see that turn-off for Horse and Jockey. The busiest spot in all Ireland, nevertheless we always find a corner on a comfy couch and relax with a coffee and goody before we continue. But don’t go back to the motorway – The Horse and Jockey Hotel is right on the old Cork to Dublin Road, now called the R639, so head north on it and go exploring. I’ll provide directions but a good map will come in handy, as will stout shoes for some of the sites.

Two Mile Borris 1777 gravestone

A 1777 gravestone in the Twomileborris graveyard

First off – Twomileborris. You’ll see the sign just after Littleton and you’ll spot the castle as soon as you approach the village. Park just beyond the castle and take the path to the old graveyard – it affords good views of the castle, which is on private land. Head for the old part of the graveyard and have a good wander – you will find fine examples of gravestone that date back to the 18th century. As you leave, take a good look at the top of the castle and observe all the architectural features I’ve been telling you about in the Tower House posts. For this one, have a quick read of Tower House Tutorial Part 1.

Liathmore churches

The churches at Liathmore. The round feature is a modern wall built around the stump of the round tower

Proceed through the village and you will rejoin the R639. Turn left and less than a kilometre down the road look for the National Monuments brown sign to Liathmore Churches and follow the signs to the site. This a complex site with early and later churches. The first, right beside the track, is one of those early-medieval churches with the projecting antae that Robert wrote about in Molaga of the Bees. It probably dates to the same period as the round tower – unfortunately there’s not much of this left, just a stump that was found during excavations.

Liathmore Early Medieval Church

The Early Medieval church (8th to 11th century) at Liathmore

But as you head over to the later church look around the field at all the bumps and hollows and enclosures – you are looking at what was probably a medieval settlement, long deserted. The second church was built and modified and re-modified over several centuries. It has an intact vaulted chancel – the plaster work is extensive and still bears the marks of the wicker scaffolding that was used to build it. Here and there, inside and outside, carved pieces of stone have been inserted into doors, windows and walls. You can easily miss these so let your eye rest on each section of the building. The Sile na Gig is sideways in the door nearest the round tower.

At some time in the past, pieces of carved stone were inserted into walls and doorways. Here are two examples – the one on the left has a carved creature and the one on the right is a síle-na-gig. Below I have turned the photographs to facilitate viewing of the figures

Back on to the R639 now and continue north, though Urlingford and Johnstown and about a kilometre out of Johnstown take the left turn at the first crossroads. You’ll go across the M8, turn right and another kilometre or two will bring you to Grangefertagh Round Tower. It is clearly visible in the landscape so if you miss it just follow your nose until you get there.

Grangefertagh round tower and church

Grangefertagh site is visible from the M8 – haven’t you always wanted to stop off and find it? Take a look at the church – what’s that modern-looking wall doing on top of it?

Once again, this is a site with multiple periods of occupation. You can’t climb the round tower, as you can in Kildare and Kilkenny but it’s nice to be able to get up close to one. Robert has a post on round towers, High Drama!, so have a quick read on your phone if you don’t already know all about them. Two aspects of this site are especially intriguing. The first is that, at some point in the past, the medieval church was turned into a handball alley! Hard to fathom how this could have happened, but no doubt the handball players who did it had great bad luck and never won a tournament.

Grangefertagh church and handball alley

The interior wall of the church has been rendered and old gravestones have been used to create a flatter wall. Outdoor handball alleys were once common but most are now disused and crumbling

The second is the effigy tomb – these are relatively rare in Ireland this is a nice one, although the figures are weathered and lichen-covered. The tomb commemorates John Macgillapatrick, Brian his son and Honora, Brian’s wife and is dated to about 1537.

Grangefertagh effigy tomb

Right – we’re going to finish with a couple of castles, so turn right now and it will lead you back under the motorway to the R639 where you turn north again. After another kilometre or so you will see an imposing tower house on the right. You can drive up to the farm and observe this more closely. Since it’s on private property you must ask permission to go beyond the farm gate, but you’ll get a very good view from outside.

Glashare Tower House

Glashare Castle

It’s remarkably intact and from your browsing of the Tower House Tutorial Part 1 you will be able to admire the loops – unusual corner loops in this one, as well as cross shaped loops. This castle has render on the outside, but how old the render is, or what material, I have not been able to ascertain.

Glashare Tower House windows and arrow slits and render

An amazing variety of opes – windows and loops

The final stop of this tour is Cullahill Castle – turn right at the small village of Cullahill, which is 4 or 5 km beyond Glashare. This one you can wander around. It was reputedly destroyed by Cromwellian cannon, and so you get a wonderful cross-section view of the interior. Tower House Tutorial, Part 2, will tell you exactly what you are looking at, or have a read of Illustrating the Tower House to see how JG O’Donoghue shows us exactly how the interior of a tower house would have been constructed and used.  You can rejoin the M8 by proceeding to Durrow and following the signs from there.

Cullohill later fireplace

Cullahill Castle – a unique opportunity to look at a cross-section of a tower house

For those of us who travel the M8 regularly it’s great to know that we can take a break along the way and catch up on our history and archaeology at the same time. Let us know if you deviate from the M8 to visit any of these sites, or if you have your own favourites along the motorway. 

Grangefertagh 1741 graveslab

A gravestone from Grangefertagh

Your Favourite Posts of 2016

Horses at Caherdaniel

It’s that time of the year again! The wonders of technology enable us to know which of our posts have received the most views: we can see how many people clicked on each article although we don’t specifically know who you are! This is great for us, because we can get an idea of what you – our readers – like to see and this helps us when considering what to write in the future. Not that we necessarily always respond to the statistics, because sometimes we just think there are things that you need to know about, regardless of their potential popularity or otherwise!

Not in the ‘top ten’ – but through the year Finola has expanded – and passed on to you – her knowledge of the wildflowers that make the hedgerows and verges of West Cork so colourful (bee in fuschia, left), while Robert has used the Olympic year of 2016 to examine the history of some sporting events in Ireland (Tailteann Games 1924, right)

So, during this year, Finola and I have published exactly 100 articles for Roaringwater Journal: that’s almost one each every week. It’s fascinating for us to look back and see where we have been, what turns our interests have taken, and of course to see how well (or otherwise) our writing was received. Statistics are one thing, but it’s your comments that really inform us – so keep them coming…

From Outposts of Empire: memorials in St Barrahane’s Church, Castletownshend (left) and St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin (right)

Top of the board are two posts from Finola: one from the beginning of the year – Outposts of Empire, which researched and reviewed some of the monuments that are to be found in Protestant churches, cathedrals and graveyards in County Cork and Dublin. It’s a rich history of often only distantly remembered soldiers and battles. Why is this such a popular post? Perhaps because 2016 has been the focus for commemorations: the centenary of the Easter rising, and the fact that one hundred years ago many Irishmen were dying in the Great War. That has rather coloured the whole year in Ireland and Finola’s post – which also mentions some of the experiences of her own family – probably touches on many fertile memories.

Skibb men

How are ye keeping?

The next post in popularity dates only from last week: Finola’s latest humorous exploration of how people speak in West Cork – How are you keeping? This has become our top ‘viral hit’ on our Facebook page with thousands of views and 69 shares to date… Finola describes it as her ‘latest instalment of the How to Sound Like You’re From West Cork course’. The fifth of the series so far, it’s hilarious and has clearly captured the imaginations of our local readers.

key

Fourknocks, Boyne Valley: fetch the key and let yourself in…

To balance things out a bit the next two posts in popularity have come from Robert: Aweigh in Kerry – which delighted in the discovery of a boat-shaped house (pictured on the page header – an architectural gem) – and Fourknocks – the Little Giant, an account of a very unusual archaeological site in the Boyne Valley, north of Dublin. We were very taken by this site and its eccentricities: in order to gain access we had to collect the key (from a farm a mile away – and leaving a deposit of 20 euros) and let ourselves into the tomb which has some beautiful rock carvings.

East Window and Apse

Magnificent mosaic work in the Church of the Ascension, Timoleague

Next up is Finola’s Mosaics and Maharajas – an exploration of a wonderful church in Timoleague with walls decorated in mosaic tiling. But there’s also a strange and poignant story which this church reveals to us (read the post)… And – what’s in a name? Well, perhaps the more bizarre – or seductive or beguiling – the title of a post is, the more hits it gets! Finola’s The Murdering Glen (a valley north of Bantry, again, with a story attached) certainly attracted a lot of attention.

On the walk

looking towards west

Upper picture – the murdering Glen; lower picture – Robert’s imagining of the Cape Clear Stone restored to its rightful place on the island…

Robert’s report on the passage tomb on the summit of Cape Clear – and the story of the carved stone that’s now in the Cork Public Museum comes next: Cape Clear – the Stone that Moved, closely followed by Finola’s post on the historic walled town of Youghal in East Cork: Youghal’s Walls. Then we had ‘Auf der Waltz” – The Journeymen, a popular piece about two German apprentice blacksmiths who passed through West Cork this summer as part of their three year travels through Europe gaining experience towards becoming masters of their trade. This was also written by Robert.

on hungry hill

The Journeymen exploring beautiful West Cork: Hungry Hill (photo by Dietrich Eckardt)

Rather than list all the other posts in some sort of ‘order of popularity’, let’s round up with our own favourites. Finola has been enthusiastically researching stained glass windows in churches – wherever we travel. Besides her continuing respect for Harry Clarke – probably Ireland’s finest artist in this medium – she has discovered the identity and work of artists who inherited his mantle when he passed away (far too young) in 1931. The Harry Clarke Studios continued on until 1973 and also produced some stunning work. Have a look at Discovering Richard King to appreciate just one of the artists who followed after Harry. Another of Finola’s great posts on this medium – The Christmas Story, One Window at a Time – appeared only two weeks ago.

HC Studio, Athlone

The spectacular stained glass work of Richard King, a small detail from Sts Peter and Paul’s Catholic Church in Athlone

For myself, the subject that has engaged me most this year is my Travel by Water’ series: seven posts (so far) on the Irish Canals inspired by my review of Green & Silver – a book which I was given as a prize at school in 1963! We retraced the steps of L T C Rolt, the author of the book, and his wife Angela who took some very atmospheric photographs as they travelled around the Irish waterways in 1946 – exactly 70 years ago. To celebrate my own 70th birthday this year we attempted to replicate each of the photographs as closely as possible with present-day views of the same scenes. The venture has turned out to be a real social history of Ireland and the changes that have happened during that interval of time.

ballycowan sunset

Travel by Water – ghostly reflections beside the Grand Canal at Ballycowan

So thank you to all of you – our readers. Without you our work on Roaringwater Journal would have been pointless. With you – and with the value of your comments and discussions – we feel the whole exercise is well worthwhile – so, please, let us know your own personal favourites… We certainly intend to keep the Journal going for a few years yet! Don’t forget, there is a full index in the Navigation Page – here. And, I’m sure you all know by now, anything highlighted in blue is a link to something else: either another one of our posts in the Journal, or to another relevant source of information on the subject. Good hunting!

cover

Into the Heartland

Elphin Windmill

Because we live on it, sometimes we get carried away by the notion that The Wild Atlantic Way represents the best that Ireland has to offer. A recent trip to the midlands – the Heartland of Ireland – convinced us (if we needed it) that there is no part of Ireland that isn’t beautiful and full of fascinating things to do and see. (Like the Elphin Windmill, Co Roscommon, above.)

Parked at Coolnahay

We spent a lot of time along rivers and canals! 

Robert explains the background and purpose of our trip in his post, Travel by Water. I knew very little about canals before I met Robert and it’s been eye-opening to learn about the history and the sheer extent of Ireland’s inland waterways. We spent a lot of time exploring the canals – walking and driving – and enjoyed it all tremendously.

Boa Island figures

Boa Island on Lough Erne, Co Fermanagh, is home to these mysterious carved figures. Lower left: heads on a medieval church in Kilmallock, Co Limerick. Lower right: a contemporary sculpture celebrates the mythical Finn McCool, in Keshcarrigan, Co Leitrim

But wherever we went there were always other places luring me away – tower houses and fortified houses, churches and graveyards, friendly villages and colourful houses, stained glass windows and prehistoric sites. We drove along roads where we counted ring forts in every field. We explored ancient graveyards and we found a Holy Tree. We visited two sites we posted about last week, the Corlea Iron Age Trackway, and the Hill of Uisneach.

Holy Chestnut

The Holy Tree. A local man we met called it a ‘holy show’ and it certainly had some very questionable items mixed in with the statues and offerings

It’s autumn now, and, while we do experience a change of colour here in West Cork, it’s really in the midlands that the colours of the deciduous trees can overwhelm the senses. They were just starting to turn. I’m strongly tempted to head back in another couple of weeks for the full experience.

Birr Castle Gardens 2

These photographs were all taken at Birr Castle Gardens. Birr Castle (Co Offaly) was one of the most interesting and beautiful places we visited, home of the famous telescope and beautifully maintained

We visited thirteen of Ireland’s 32 counties on this trip – and never came close to the sea or the Wild Atlantic Way. Instead, everywhere we went we saw notices for the latest iteration of the Tourist Board’s marketing scheme. This one is called Ireland’s Ancient East, and appears to take in every county that isn’t on the Atlantic seaboard. A good resource, if you’re considering a trip like this, is Neil Jackman’s guidebook, Ireland’s Ancient East – we kept it by us and found it invaluable.

Grange Stone Circle, Lough Gur

Grange Stone Circle, the largest in Ireland, is one of a complex of monuments at Lough Gur, Co Limerick

Our headquarters for the biggest chunk of our time away was the incomparable Mearescourt House near Mullingar, Co Westmeath. George and his team made us welcome and comfortable, there were glorious grounds to wander around and animals to meet, and delicious breakfasts that left us feeling full for the rest of the day.

Mearescourt House

Mearescourt House – highly recommended!

When tourists are interviewed about their holidays in Ireland they praise the scenery, the food, the music – but most of all, they say, it’s the people who make it so enjoyable. We agree! Everywhere we went we ended up in conversation, as you do here, with local people delighted to help out with information, share old stories, invite us to the sessions, tell us where to go for a nice dinner, or point out places off the beaten track (and then rescue us later when we got lost).

Claire and Paddy Crinnegan, Coolnahay

Paddy and Claire Crinnegan maintain the canal lock at Coolnahay on the Royal Canal. in Co Westmeath They made us tea, fed us Claire’s delicious currenty bread, told us about the trad concert that evening, loaned us a book, and related stories of growing up at the lock, where Claire’s father was the lock keeper.

Future posts will go into more depth on some of what we saw and experienced on this trip. This one is just an introduction, to share some of our impressions and drop some hints about what might be upcoming.

Clonfert Doorway

Clonfert Cathedrall (Co Galway) has the most beautiful Romanesque doorway I have ever seen
Along the canals and rivers, flora and fauna
Top left: in case you might get too happy with yourself; top right: the imposing gates to Portumna Castle, Co Galway, a 17th century house now owned and managed by the Office of Public Works; Bottom left: I peeped inside the priest’s section of a confession box and observed how he maintains an efficient count of time spent on each confession; bottom right; we disturb the rooks at Ballycowan Castle, Co Offaly

HC Studio, Athlone

Athlone Cathedral (Co Westmeath) has a gorgeous set of enormous windows from the Harry Clarke Studios – this is a detail from just one of them.

Can you detect a future post or two?

Susan’s Burren

Valerian

Valerian provides a carpet of red in a Burren field

We want ‘A Susan Day’, we told her – and what a day we got! Readers may remember our visit (Showing off West Cork) from Susan Byron of Ireland’s Hidden Gems. We’ve been planning a return visit ever since, so that Susan could show us HER Burren. 

Fields of Stone

I’ve written about the Burren before – the unique karst limestone landscape full of heritage and wildflowers in West Clare. But this time we had the benefit of Susan’s intimate knowledge of the place – she lives there and has been exploring it for years. Since we only had one full day, she planned an outing that covered everything we love about this part of Ireland – you’ll see what I mean.

DESTINATION
Our destination: Turlough Hill

Leaving the car in a convenient spot, we set off up a long green road, Susan pointing out the wildflowers as we walked, here and throughout the day. We stopped at numerous places to admire features in the landscape: Corcomroe Abbey, for example, lay below us in all its medieval glory.

Corcomroe

Corcomroe – a wonderful site to visit if you’re in this area

Our first real stop was St Colman’s Holy Well. It’s a beauty, with all the remote wildness that lends such atmosphere to these ancient sacred spots. One of our blogging heroes, Ali Isaac of the wonderfully researched and entertaining site Aliisaacstoryteller had visited this same route a couple of weeks earlier. We were walking in her footsteps, although in reverse. She tells of her journey here and has extensive details about the holy well and St Colman here.

St Colman's well

St Colman's Well 2

Robert and Susan at Colman’s Well and a peek into the interior of the well

Ali had walked through the Burren in time to see the last of the electric blue Gentians that grow here and in the Alps. They were gone by the time we got there, but we were not disappointed in the wildflowers, which were everywhere underfoot in the most prodigal abundance.

Carpet of Orchids

Bloody Cranesbill, left, and a white orchid

Brilliant magenta Bloody Cranesbill jostled with delicate Orchids and tiny yellow Potentilla (or Cinquefoil), while Wild Thyme scented the air. One field was awash in Valerian. A rare Lesser Butterfly Orchid was spotted in the long grass and lovely Burnet Roses in a hedge.

Clockwise from top left: Burnet Rose, Lesser Butterfly Orchid, Mountain Avens and Spotted Orchid

Milkworth

Milkworth lurking in the grasses

Hiking up Turlough Hill was an excellent opportunity to see how the Burren is laid out. From below, it looks like bare rock, but as you ascend, you realise that the hills are stepped in a series of terraces, the evidence of retreating beach levels after the ice age. These terraces provide important forage for sheep and cattle, who, in turn, help in the regeneration of the plant life. The going isn’t easy – we didn’t stick to any defined path but simply clambered up the steep slopes. The flat parts had been deeply rutted by cattle hoofs – we had to be vigilant to prevent stumbles and ankle injuries.

Turlough Terraces

But the rewards were enormous – ever-increasing panoramas of North Clare, across Galway Bay and south into the hinterland.

Cattle enclosure?

We had an objective in mind. At the top of Turlough Hill, and most visible in arial photographs, is a prehistoric ‘village’ of over 150 hut sites and some larger enclosures. On the summit is an enormous cairn.

Turlough Hill

Turlough Hill 2

Hut site and cairn

From the top: An aerial image of the hut circles and cairn (look closely!)  from the National Monuments Service, a hut circle looking north to the sea, a hut circle looking towards the cairn

This mysterious site has been the subject of an initial investigation to establish the extent of it. The report had this to say:

Even though the hut sites, in a morphological sense, are domestic in character, it is very hard to see their role and function as primarily domestic, considering their location on this inaccessible and exposed hilltop. The activity that required the building of about 150 hut sites on this inaccessible and extremely windy summit, consisting mainly of bare bedrock, was most likely of a strong social and/or ritual character, with few direct links to secular way of life.

Susan on Cairn

This will give you a sense of how huge the cairn is

Earlier this year, Dr Stefan Bergh of UCG conducted a preliminary excavation within the hut-site concentration. You can read about that in this Irish Times piece. We saw the neatly back-filled trench, and look forward to his results.

Trench

Coming down, as all hikers know, is often more difficult than going up – the knees certainly protest! In this case, some chunks of it were accomplished by dint of sliding down on my butt and picking the thorns out afterwards. Oh – and the tick! Do check yourself after all walks in long grass where cattle and sheep have been grazing.

From the Cairn

The view from the cairn

We ended up at an early medieval site that quickly banished all thoughts of aching muscles – Oughtmama, of the Seven Churches. Meaning The Breast of the High Pass, there are actually only three churches at Oughtmama, but they pre-date the 12th century Cistercian foundation at Corcomroe, and as such they are excellent examples of early monastic structures in the Romanesque tradition.

Oughtmama Churches

There are several examples of churches built with ‘cyclopean’ masonry in Clare, and here at Oughtmama you can see the huge stones used in the courses of the outer walls that give it this name. Associated with St Colman (of the Holy Well) these churches probably fell into decline after Corcomroe was completed.

We hiked back to the car in the soft afternoon sunlight. It’s hard to believe that one day could be so packed with experiences. Thank you, Susan, for sharing YOUR Burren with us. We’ll be back – we’ll let you know when to put the kettle on again.

Wild Thyme

Wild Mountain Thyme

Island Hopping

Long Island Sound

Long Island, with some of Carbery’s 100 Isles 

Carbery’s 100 Isles, they call them, the islands of Roaringwater Bay – and there really are 100, and more, if you count all the islets.  J F Collins, in a paper in the 2015 Journal of the Skibbereen and District Historical Society, has an interesting account of the various ways islands were counted in Roaringwater Bay  – by the Ordnance Survey, by Admiralty charting, and through Griffith’s Evaluations – they all came up with different numbers. Whatever the final count, this week we visited three, each one special and unique.

Long Island Ferry heading back to Colla

The Long Island ferry on its way across Long Island Sound to Colla Pier

The Fastnet Film Festival has just finished – this is the amazing little festival that manages to attract world-class movies in a town with no cinema. We took in several of the events, and watched many of the shorts, but a highlight for us every year is the Long Island Trip. Read about the festival and the Long Island event here, an account from two years ago. To be whisked off to this hidden spot, to be provided with wine and popcorn and invited to go down to the ferryman’s bedroom to watch an hour of excellent cinema – well, who could resist it? Long Island (permanent population: 7) has some interesting ecology and we have promised ourselves a proper trip and wander later this summer.

Cape Clear Ferryman

An overnighter to Cape Clear Island came mid-week – a birthday treat for Finola. We’ve been to Cape Clear before on day trips, and Robert has written about it – but this was something special. First of all, the weather was amazing the whole time – warm and cloudless. Secondly, our time-frame gave us the opportunity to do some serious exploring. Thirdly, the seas are alive at the moment with whales and basking sharks!Sherkin Lighthouse

When the weather is fine the ferry takes the outside route around Sherkin Island. Along the way we pass the Sherkin lighthouse and many treacherous rocks, threading our way, in this instance, through shark-infested waters

The ferry to Cape Clear takes about 40 minutes normally. We were a little longer this time because the ferryman slowed and diverted to allow us time to photograph the sharks. Enormous creatures, with wicked dorsal and tail fins, they are actually peaceable fish who swim with open mouths, filtering plankton, and who are harmless to humans. We are not harmless to them, however, as we have hunted them close to extinction and they need protection in many areas.

Basking shark en route to Cape Clear

This photograph was taken from the ferry

For such slow and cumbersome creatures, it was an out-of-this-world experience to watch one of them breaching in the South Harbour. It happened when we were in the bus on the way to our accommodation and nobody had their camera at the ready. But we all know what we saw.

South harbour with kayaks

Just out there, in the South Harbour, we saw the basking shark leap from the water. An incredible sight!

The bed and breakfast, Ard na Gaoithe, was wonderful. Robert had told Eileen that it was my birthday – and well, would you look at what awaited us! It was the perfect place to stay – just be ready to walk the hill up to it, after a marvellous dinner at Cotter’s!

On day one we followed the way-marked trail that edges along the south side of the island. This involved a visit to the site of a Napoleonic-era signal station and the original Fastnet Lighthouse. This position for the lighthouse proved to be a major mistake, as it was so high that the light was lost in the clouds half the time. The current position, right on the Fastnet Rock, has been much more successful, and remains an iconic sight in West Cork. The remaining stump is beautifully constructed of granite blocks, while the signal tower still clings on to some of its slate covering.

Signal Tower and Original Fastnet lighthouse

Our route took us along the cliffs and to a viewing point over the South Harbour. The sharks were ubiquitous, lazily swimming around with those enormous gaping jaws.

Shark basking

Stone Wall 2

 

Here and there ancient field fences poked their way out of the heather, while skylarks warned of our approach and standing stones framed a distant view.

Standing Stones and Fastnet rock

Looking over the South HarbourOn day 2 we decided to make the climb to the Cape Clear Passage Grave – but I will let Robert tell that story and content myself with saying that I hope he tells you all how arduous the climb was, and how thick the gorse, so you can see how I suffer for science.

Across to the mainland

The views are immense but equally fascinating are the numerous dry-stone walls and the wild flowers everywhere. There’s still lots to explore on Cape Clear and more trips are clearly in order.

Green path

Finally, on Friday, we were invited to lunch with friends on Heir Island. Heir, sometimes called Hare, is the third largest inhabited island after Cape and Sherkin and home to a justly famous restaurant, a sailing school, the wonderful Firehouse Bakery Bread-Making course (we wrote about this in one of our very early blog posts and it’s still going strong but now booked up months in advance), and many artists.

Heir Island Boreen

Strolling along the peaceful boreens of Heir, lingering over Viv and Fran’s fabulous lunch overlooking Roaringwater Bay, and sauntering back to catch the late afternoon ferry – you adjust to island time remarkably quickly.

West Cork Islands – they will captivate and hold you. There is no escape.

Robert contemplates

Into the Kingdom

To the Skelligs

The Kingdom? No, we didn’t go to Britain – we went to Kerry. It’s always been called the Kingdom, possibly based on ancient Irish precedents, although other theories abound. Many people think it’s because of the sheer magnificence of the scenery, and I wouldn’t disagree.

Ballinskelligs Bay

Ballinskelligs Bay. The first photograph is also Ballinskelligs Bay, with a glimpse of the famous Skelligs Islands in the background – subject of a future post, we hope!

Our journey took us on the Ring of Kerry, along the south side of the Iveragh Peninsula, by the sea. This is prime tourist territory – bus after bus passed us and every lay-by was thronged with camera-wielding tourists, including us. We came back through the middle of the peninsula, through deep valleys and high mountain passes.

To Ballaghbeama

Not for the tour busses!

These are not roads that busses can manoeuvre through, so we had it mostly to ourselves, the locals, and a few tourists armed with small cars and good maps. I love this Iveragh backcountry. It’s where I spent my student days, conducting my research. I even recognised the place where I crashed my Honda 50 into a bog.

Ballaghasheen Pass

Although it seems totally mountainous, vast sheltered valleys occupy some of the hinterland of the Iveragh Peninsula  

We visited two stone forts, the mighty Staigue and the lesser-known Loher, and of course some rock art. Staigue Fort is generally reckoned to be Iron Age (about 250AD), while Loher, although very similar, was built later, around the 9th Century.

Staigue Interior and outlook

Loher Stone Fort
Staigue Fort (upper), at the head of a long valley, commands views to the sea. Loher is also strategically sited with extensive views all around.

We toured Daniel O’Connell’s House at Derrynane and took the Nature Trail walk along the dunes, using the app developed by local man Vincent Hyland.

Shoreline walk

Wild flowers a-plenty on the dunes at Derrynane. Top: Sea Pinks and Sea Sandwort. Bottom: Pyramidal Orchid and Kidney Vetch

We searched in vain for the holy well devoted to Saint Crohane, patron saint of Caherdaniel – we’ll have to go back with Amanda to help us find it.

Across to the Beara

We didn’t find St Crohane’s well but when we finished our search, in twilight, this is what was waiting for us. The mountain range in the background is the Beara Peninsula in Cork

In fact, the primary purpose of our trip was to re-connect with cousins that I haven’t seen for about 45 years. The last time I saw Annie and her siblings they were kids, and we were all piled on to a donkey and cart in a vain attempt to get from Lamb’s Head to Staigue Fort. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that the donkey came out the winner. Most of the family still live around Caherdaniel, in jaw- dropping surroundings, and we were accommodated and hosted with true Kerry hospitality.

The view from Annie's

Top: The view from Annie’s house, across to Lamb’s Head where the family grew up

Along the way we saw a house shaped like a ship (Robert has more – much more – about this!), had our first experience of bottle-feeding a lamb, and we watched Rex the sheepdog gently herd a flock of chickens into their pen for the night. We visited my cousin Betty’s grave – she died a few months ago, the heart of the family, much mourned. It was, we hope, the first of many visits, back and forth.

Abbey Island

Abbey Island, Betty’s last resting place, must be one of Ireland’s most beautiful graveyards. To access it, you must walk across the sand and keep an eye out for high tides. The original monastic site was founded by St Finian in the sixth Century, although the ruined church, Ahamore Abbey, probably dates from the 10th Century.

This post is to give you a flavour for our neighbouring county and to show you why it is justly famous for its history and archaeology, but most of all for what is surely some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.

Lamb's Head to Scariff and Deenish IslandsScarrif and Deenish are the two islands out from Derrynane Bay. Uninhabited for 40 years, they are the site of salmon farms now. We walked down Lamb’s Head to get a better view of them.

Tiny green fields

As in West Cork, everywhere in Kerry you can see the traces of tiny settlements. Abandoned long ago, possibly after the famine, each field may have provided enough potatoes for one family. Now only the sheep graze peacefully.

Ballaghbeama Gap

We headed home through the Ballaghbeama Gap. On the south side is Ireland’s greatest concentration of prehistoric rock art. We wrote about this in our post Derrynablaha Expedition.

Down from Ballaghbeama

Heading down towards Derrynablaha and home

Derrynane Sunset

It was hard to leave Derrynane!