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

The Turning Year in Rossbrin

We are fortunate to live in a rural idyll: our immediate environment is immersed in the natural world. In fact, I suppose it is ‘Nature tamed’ – as we have pasture all around us as well as banks of gorse and rock: even a few trees which manage to cling on to the shallow soil all through the winter gales and (occasional) summer droughts. As the years go by we feel we become more closely entwined with the cycle of everything around us – we get to know personally the fox, pheasants and rabbits that pass by our window, and the myriad of birds that feed here, forage in the Cove or just show themselves to us on memorable occasions – Spioróg the Sparrowhawk is so handsome when she is resting on our terrace wall while on her deadly missions, and our choughs frequently perform wild dances in the air to entertain us. This year was special for me because, for the first time, I saw a hare amble around the house, alert with erect ears, before loping off into the next door field.

I have written about Rossbrin Cove many times before: look at A Moment in Time, Tide’s Out and Words on Roaring Water, for example. That sheltered natural harbour and the old mine road up on the hill above probably give us the most pleasure because we visibly see the year change and turn every time we walk there. Just now the days are rapidly shortening, and the autumnal influx of wading birds is returning. One we keep a particular eye out for is the curlew – a threatened breeding species here in Ireland. We see many on and close to the water, particularly at low tide, but these are probably migrants rather than resident breeders.

The year is turning – from late summer into early autumn, and the colours are changing from rich reds and purples – fuschia and heathers – to the more sombre yet equally attractive yellows and browns of furze and fern. Finola has closely followed the wildflowers right through from the spring – she is still finding and identifying every imaginable species – it’s a complete world of its own!

We have been seeing some exceptionally high and low tides here in Rossbrin. I’m always fascinated to see the mud-flats revealing bits of discarded history, while I am convinced that the huge remnants of dressed stonework on the north-east shore are the vestiges of once-busy quays, dating either from the medieval period, when Sir William Hull and the Great Earl of Cork owned the lands around here and set up thriving fish-processing ‘palaces’, or – at the latest – when the copper mines were active up on our hills and on Horse Island in the nineteenth century.

The real turning point comes at the end of October – Samhain – when the old calendar enters the ‘dark year’ (the ‘light year’ begins on May 1st –  Bealtaine). We know we have long, dark nights to come – time to huddle down by the stove – but there will be bright days as good as any in the year for walking, exploring and breathing in the Atlantic breezes. And the Rossbrin sunsets will be magnificent!

Spring Green

Spring comes early this year – on the 20th of March instead of the 21st. It’s all to do with the precession of the equinoxes. But you might follow the old tradition (and why wouldn’t you?) that Spring begins on St Brigid’s Day – the 1st of February. We have been having many good, clear – and warm – days of sunshine since then, to balance out all the cool and wet ones, and the days are ‘drawing out’.

Ireland’s green landscapes presented using the panorama technology of a phone camera! Top – the two lakes at Dunlough, above Three Castle Head, Mizen Peninsula; centre – view across Roaringwater Bay from the top of Mount Gabriel; lower – Peekeen ridge, Sheep’s Head Peninsula

It’s the abundance of weather – in all its varieties – that makes Ireland’s landscapes so green, and so beautiful: as we are not so far from St Patrick’s Day (last week, when everything turned green!) today’s post is a celebration of the special colour as we find it around us. Finola mentions it today, but in a different context.

…When Erin first rose from the dark swelling flood,
God bless’d the green island and saw it was good;
The em’rald of Europe, it sparkled and shone,
In the ring of the world the most precious stone…

(William Drennan 1754 – 1820)

Where Ireland’s most westerly land mass dips into the Atlantic: looking east from Brow Head towards Crookhaven

…Ireland, it’s the one place on earth that heaven has kissed with melody, mirth, and meadow and mist…
(Old Irish Blessing)

Rossbrin Cove – with its ancient castle lost in the mist – seen from the green fields of Cappaghglass

In our own townland of Cappaghglass we have vivid green pastures but also, up on the old mine road, colours that constantly change with the seasons. It’s too early yet for the abundance of wild blooms that will transform the hedgerows and verges – we’ll watch out for those.

Cappaghglass: upper – a kaleidoscope of colours along the mine road, waiting for the Spring; lower – the colour green proliferates when the wildflowers appear

…When I come out on the road of a morning, when I have had a night’s sleep and perhaps a breakfast, and the sun lights a hill on the distance, a hill I know I shall walk across an hour or two thence, and it is green and silken to my eye, and the clouds have begun their slow, fat rolling journey across the sky, no land in the world can inspire such love in a common man…

(Frank Delaney)

One of Ireland’s spectacular roads makes its way through the Kerry mountains

Her eyes were like two sparkling diamonds
Or the stars of a bright frosty night
Her cheeks were like two blooming roses
And her teeth of the ivory so white
She resembled the Goddess of Freedom
And green was the mantle she wore
Bound round with the shamrock and roses
As she strayed along Erin´s green shore

(Mick Moloney)

Erin’s green shore: upper – our own Roaringwater Bay: Horse Island just off the coast and Cape Clear beyond. Lower – the tide is out below Brow Head, Crookhaven, exposing an ancient stone row which has been drowned by rising sea levels

…The gorse was in bloom, the fuchsia hedges were already budding; wild green hills, mounds of peat; yes, Ireland is green, very green, but its green is not only the green of meadows, it is the green of moss – and moss is the plant of resignation, of forsakenenness. The country is forsaken, it is being slowly but steadily depopulated…

(Heinrich Böll – 1957)

…There is not in the wide world a valley so sweet
As that vale in whose bosom the bright waters meet;
Oh! the last rays of feeling and life must depart,
Ere the bloom of that valley shall fade from my heart…

(Thomas Moore)

The meeting of several waters here at Donemark Falls, just north of Bantry

…Sure a little bit of Heaven fell from out the sky one day and it nestled on the ocean in a spot so far away. When the angels found it, sure it looked so sweet and fair, they said, “Suppose we leave it for it looks so peaceful there.”
So they sprinkled it with stardust just to make the shamrocks grow. ‘Tis the only place you’ll find them no matter where you go. Then they dotted it with silver to make its lakes so grand and when they had it finished, sure they called it Ireland…

(Linda Weaver Clarke)

The Lakes of Killarney, Co Kerry

The seas in which Ireland floats are as variegated in colour and texture as the landscape itself. Should our last words on this go to James Joyce…?

…The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea…

(James Joyce – Ulysees)

Ancient fields on Brow Head, Mizen Peninsula, looking towards Barleycove

All beauty is in the fine detail, we are told. The panoramas, the wide views, the seascapes are unbeatable – but, sometimes, it’s just the simplicity of a gateway that invites you in to explore this verdant island…

The Wild Side

Tortoiseshell

Up here in Nead an Iolair, in the townland of Cappaghglass, we luxuriate in the nature all around us. Our house was built in the 1980s on a piece of land which had belonged to the successors of the mining company – the copper mines were active for a few generations in the 19th century both here and on Horse Island, just across the water. The post-industrial landscape which surrounds us is alive: small, stone-enclosed fields are grazed by cattle, ponies and a few goats while in equal measure are large tracts of gorse, heather and rock. Here and there are the remains of the mine workings – a stump of a chimney, fenced-off and walled shafts, quarries, ruined workshops and cottages: the architecture of abandonment.

horse on horizon

Nick's Goat

nead birds

It seems to me that our house interrupts nature, with our lawns, our haggard, stone terrace, hedges and fences, but nature is well able to adapt and cope. Of course, we encourage this: we enthusiastically nurture all the little birds that visit our feeders – and the big ones: rooks, pheasants, magpies: they all get their share. And there are those that don’t come to the feeders but nevertheless forage the land – choughs (which perch on our roof and shout out their names – cheough – cheough… before flying off to give us an endless and entertaining display of dizzying acrobatics), starlings, blackbirds, thrushes and – always on a Sunday – Spiro the sparrowhawk who unsuccessfully dive-bombs the feeder, scattering – but never catching – the small birds. After the effort he rests on one leg on the low terrace wall and stares thoughtfully out to the Cove.

Can YOU see it?

Chough on the post

Spiro

From The Galleries

Michael, whose family has farmed the fields around us for generations, tells us that the land above us is known as The Galleries – possibly because there is such a spectacular view to be had from these fields to Rossbrin below us and to the islands of Roaringwater Bay beyond. The Cove itself is a paradise for the waders, especially at low tide, and for crustaceous life in the rock pools.

Muddy shanks

Curved beak

All around are the hedgerows that, in the spring, summer and autumn, support a wealth of wildflowers. In turn these are the haunt of nectar-seeking insects, especially bees and butterflies.

We are visited by four-legged mammals in all shapes and sizes: I’m pleased to see some of the decimated rabbit population returning after a recurrence of myxomatosis these past couple of years. We don’t get hares in the immediate neighbourhood: they seldom mix with the smaller Leporidae, but we sometimes catch a glimpse of them from the road that goes down to the village. Rats, mice and shrews are never far away, but are kept under control by our larger visitors – feral cats and foxes. Our own Ferdia has gone from us during this past year – he was an ancient fox who had made a pact with the human world: I’ll sit picturesquely on your terrace and entertain you provided you keep the food scraps coming – we did, of course. His descendants make fleeting visits, passing through but, as yet, never pausing to make our acquaintance.

Ferdia's Eyes

Bunny eyes a daisy

When it comes to observation of the natural world there’s never a dull moment here. We are fortunate that some globally threatened species seem to thrive around us – curlews can always be seen by the water, for example. The small birds crowd in, especially when I refill the feeders: sometimes we have to fight our way through the melee when we want to go out. It’s a great way to live, and a great place to live in. Thank you, Mother Nature.

RH and friend

Photographs (from the top down): Tortoiseshell butterfly; Cappaghglass field; Nick’s goat; Nead an Iolair with starlings; greenfinches; chough on our gatepost; Spiro the sparrowhawk; view across Roaringwater Bay from The Galleries; muddy shanks; curlew in the Cove; 2 x bees; Ferdia the fox; rabbit; Nead bird feeder with goldfinches, greenfinch, bluetits and great tit – and pheasant; Robert and friends; heron hairdo. Grateful thanks to Finola for many of these pics

Heron Mullet

Winter Storage

approaching the cradle

As you all know, boys can’t resist toys, especially radio-controlled ones. Sorry if this sounds sexist – I’m quite sure that there are many girls out there who like them as well. But, when it comes to Boys’ Toys nothing can quite compare to the piece of equipment which we have just down the boreen in Rossbrin Cove…

boatyard ltd

Up here in Nead an Iolair we are well placed to keep an eye on all the nautical coming and going in and out of the Cove through the spring and summer, and extending into the autumn. There is considerable activity because, at the end of the Cove, is Jimmy Murphy’s boatyard – and that’s where many of the boats that ply the waters of Roaringwater Bay during the sailing season are ‘laid up’ during the winter months. Just occasionally we have seen a single boat riding out – and surviving – the January gales afloat, but that’s not to be recommended. Far better to be safe and sound out of the water – and out of harm’s way – in the security of the yard.

from the terrace

Rossbrin Cove – the viewpoint from the terrace of Nead an Iolair: the main October activity is bringing the boats into the yard for winter storage

So, what’s the boys toy? Well, if you are technically minded, the full description is a Wise 16T immersible slipway boat hoist. This may or may not fill you full of excitement with the heart beating a little faster than usual but, let me assure you, it’s a fine sight to behold when it’s doing its stuff. I had the opportunity to behold it yesterday when I looked down from our terrace and noticed a sailing boat (with sails furled) making its way through to the far end of the Cove, where the boatyard is situated. That’s a sure sign that the Wise 16T is coming out and is on its way down to the slipway. Not wanting to miss a good photo opportunity (it was a beautiful October day), down I went as well!

Header picture – the Shaughraun approaching its winter quarters. Above left – expert navigation: the Shaughraun entering the boat hoist; above right – the slings are tightened to secure the boat ready for its journey up the slipway

I suppose what makes the Wise 16T such a compelling draw for this boy is the sheer size of it, and the fact that the whole contraption is controlled from a little box hanging around Jim Murphy’s neck: he doesn’t even have to be on board to operate it! For me it somehow brings back memories of travelling by steam train in the days of my distant youth when I always made sure I got to see the driver and the fireman on the footplate handling the huge monster that was the hissing, thundering locomotive (I did achieve my dream of travelling on the footplate once, but that’s a completely different story). Rather, though, the Wise 16T is probably more akin to my youthful aspiration to be in charge of a radio controlled model plane and to be able to make it loop, dive and spin spectacularly, thereby thrilling the admiring crowds. Sadly, this aspiration was never fulfilled. All the more reason, therefore, to hurry down to the water and catch a glimpse of the Wise 16T in action.

through the branches

The boat hoist looks a bit like a giant insect, albeit having only four legs. At the end of each leg is a wheel, and each wheel is turned – and steered – by hydraulics powered by a diesel engine mounted high up in the frame of the hoist: this is to keep the engine above water while the main body of the lift is immersed as it negotiates the slipway. Hydraulics also operate the slings which secure the boat once it has been expertly navigated into the lift. All this can be done by the remote radio controller, although there is also a driving position on the structure itself – again, mounted high enough to be out of the water.

out the water

Top left – the driving wheels (it’s all done by hydraulics); top right – the diesel engine casing can be seen mounted high up in the frame to avoid immersion. Above – Jim steers the machine up the slipway using a radio controller

I was able to closely observe the whole operation: the boat (the Shaughraun) approaching the immersed lift, being secured by the slings, then raised clear of the water as the Wise 16T climbed up the slipway; the crew were still on board. The boatyard is a little way from the slip and along one of Rossbrin’s narrow lanes, so I was able to see how Jim – walking in front – expertly drives the whole ensemble using his little remote box. There was quite a lot of activity on the water on the day, with small boats being pulled out and mounted on trailers, and soon there was a bit of a traffic snarl-up on the lane with the small boats following along behind the big ‘insect’ going – understandably – at a slow pace as it made its way round bends and past overhanging trees and bushes.

traffic jam

in the boatyard

Top – West Cork traffic jam! Below – safely entering the gates of Rossbrin Boatyard, and ready to settle in for the winter

However much of a hold-up it might have been to the traffic following behind (and it was barely a couple of minutes) the delay must have been more than outweighed by the sheer spectacle of the machine in action. I was delighted to have seen the Wise 16T from a close vantage point. Many thanks to Jimmy Murphy, Rossbrin Boatyard Ltd and the crew of the Shaughraun for allowing me to share the experience.

remote controller

Rossbrin Boatyard ‘Skipper’ Jimmy Murphy in full control!

The Old Mine Road

to the castle

Exactly two years ago I wrote a piece for this Journal – A Moment in Time – remarking on the very specific changes that we become aware of at the end of the summer: the holiday homes being closed up and shuttered; the boats being taken off their moorings and stored away in the boatyard; the shorebirds returning to their winter quarters. I finished up by pointing out that our own summers never end: we enjoy living in Cappaghglass just as much in the darker, colder days at the turning of the year as we do when the sun is high in the heavens.

cove gray day

high road gray day

Top – starting point: Rossbrin Cove on a gray day. Bottom – The Old Mine Road wearing its raincoat

It is an idyllic life and we are privileged to have the quiet boreens to ourselves in all weathers. We have talked about Rossbrin Cove so often, in its many seasonal variations: for today’s post I’m taking the upward road through the townland, the route that I call The Old Mine Road. This road – or more accurately this series of lanes and byways – will take the traveller from the Cove into the little town of Ballydehob, and will pass through an old copper mining district which, two hundred years ago, saw heavy industry, intermittent employment, smoke, noise, pollution and desperate human working conditions where now ‘peace comes dropping slow’ with only the crying of the Choughs over an undisturbed backdrop of rock, heather and coarse grasses – and the occasional jumble of stones showing where there were once buildings, shafts and crumbling walls marking the old mine complex.

cappaghglass

captain's house sun

Top – the landscape of The Old Mine Road: Mount Gabriel dominates the horizon to the west. Bottom – looking from the road towards Roaringwater Bay: in the foreground is the site of old mine workings, now reclaimed by nature, with one of the two Mine Captain’s Houses in the centre and the stump of an old mine chimney on the right

A walk along The Old Mine Road on a benign late September day will be rewarding because of the good air, the distant views to the Mounts Gabriel and Kidd, and with the bays of Roaringwater and Ballydehob below. You will find medieval history in the form of towerhouse castles, modern economy delineated by distinctive lines of mussel ropes spilling over the water and always alongside you the immediate wildness of a natural, undisturbed landscape. Views change as the way winds and dips – always interesting, always different, however many times you follow these routes.

mussel ropes

waving grass

mine buildings

Top – mussel ropes abundant in the Bay. Middle -waves of grass in the wild landscape to the north of the road. Bottom – ruins of old mine buildings can still be seen from the road

Autumn brings with it a certain melancholy. Time passes, our lives move relentlessly forward. We enjoy the changing of the seasons but we want to know that there will be so many more seasons to see. Each one will bring us unique experiences.

blue in the grass

from the road

Top – wildflowers in abundance on the boreens of Cappaghglass. Bottom – signs of old workings in the fields below the road

As I walk the old road, I can’t help trying to picture the scenes there from other times. I wonder what feelings the hard working miners had – did they take in the changing light and the views? Did they see the way the grasses moved with the wind, creating waves on the landscape? Did they have any time to notice nature’s fine details – the incredible variety, colours and designs of the wild flowers? Or was theirs just a drudging commute from cottage to workplace at dawn and dusk?

ballydehob wharf

The end of the road: Ballydehob Wharf, which would have seen great activity (intermittedly) when the mines were in full swing. Cappagh Mine was operating between 1816 and 1873, with its maximum output of about 400 tons of ore being produced in 1827

The poet Seamus Heaney has much to say about the hardship – and order – of a physical working life; his own father had worked the land and the poet was infected with memories of his younger days. This poem – Postscript – has a different emphasis but strikes me as a similar commentary on encounters with the landscape, although it’s concerned with another geography:

…And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully-grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park or capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open…
wall and heather