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

Foto Mizen!

Hydrangea and Montbretia

Montbretia and Hydrangea (Ava)

Sunday August 7th is The Mizen on a Sunday Project Day. The what? 

Robin

This young robin was curious about our activities in the woods

The organisers of the new Photo Mizen Festival, which launches next year in Schull, have come up with a great fundraising idea. Here it is: a photo book of life on the Mizen Peninsula during the 24-hour period of a single day, Sunday, August 7, 2016.

Stream

This little stream flows into the sea at Derreennatra

Derreenatra Bridge

The stream flows under this picturesque bridge (Ava)

My niece, Ava, and I decided to participate. Ava is almost 12 and she has a great eye and her parents’ camera. She and I rose at dawn this morning and set off to see what we could capture of life around us in Rossbrin.

My nephew Hugo, my sister Aoibhinn, and Marley, were happy to be photographed

Within three hours we had 250 images. Oh dear! We spent several hours deciding on the ones to submit to the Foto Mizen project and of course we had lots left over – we can only submit 5 each. So here is a selection of images that didn’t make the final cut.

Kilbronogue Wedge Tomb

We walked up through the woods to the 3,000 year old wedge tomb at Kilbronogue (Ava)

The wildflowers were everywhere in abundance, some blowing in extravagant crowds and some tiny and hidden.

St John’s Wort, heather and gorse, and blackberry flowers

Ava took lots of photos but was a bit shy of having me take photos of her! Here she is doing her best imitation of a Jawa.

Ava the Jawa

She was a little puzzled when I said our next stop was a graveyard, but got into the spirit of things right away when she found this statue.  She labelled it Creepy Mary, and I have to admit, those eyes are a little weird.

Creepy Mary

A tiny reminder from Stouke Graveyard that The Mizen is still a place where the past is sacred (Ava)

But she loved this little gate with its colourful postbox.

Gate and Post Box

And she took several photographs of the disused postbox at the old Rossbrin National School.

Rossbrin Post Box

It was a lovely way to spend time together, wandering companionably around the incredible Mizen countryside, snapping away at whatever took our fancy.

Rock wall with Montbretia

We didn’t have to go far – this is Ava’s picture of the little boreen outside our house 

Her younger brother, Hugo, got in on the act too, helping us to decide on our final five photos, which we will submit for the Photo Book Project. Turns out he has a great eye too – so next year there’ll be three of us roaming the hills of West Cork in the wee hours.

Fennel

Here Be Pirates!

prospect from leamconCrough Bay in the townland of Leamcon – one of the sheltered and hidden moorings which became known as a pirates’ nest in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. This is the view from the former estate of Sir William Hull who, as Vice Admiral of Munster, was charged with routing the pirates but in fact connived with them for his own financial gain

…Ireland may well be called the nursery and storehouse of pirates… wrote Sir Henry Mainwaring in a manuscript now in the British Museum (A Discourse of Pirates, on the suppression of piracy 1618). He had first-hand knowledge: this adventurer who was born in the time of Elizabeth spent most of his life at sea, survived the English Civil War – although on the losing side – and had been privateer, pirate and Royal Naval captain. He died at the age of 66 with his feet on dry land, although in poverty and exile in France.

map of baltimoreThe Earl of Cork’s map of Baltimore,1628 –  following well-founded fears of ‘Turk’ raids he petitioned the Admiralty to fortify the coastal settlements. He was ignored and in 1631 the town was sacked and burned by Barbary pirates who carried away over 100 of the residents to the slave markets in Morroco

My possible ancestor Captain James Harris of Bristol died with his feet in the air: he was hanged at Wapping, in the estuary of the Thames, with 16 other pirates in December 1609. They had been captured in Baltimore, in sight of Roaringwater Bay. Why was it that Ireland – and, in particular, this coastline of west Cork was the notorious harbourer of pirates from all over Europe?

behold leamconAccording to Mainwaring, the west of Ireland was enticing because food and men were abundant; fewer naval ships patrolled the coast [than in England]; many of the local inhabitants were willing to trade with the pirates; and there was a …good store of English, Scottish, and Irish wenches which resort unto them… 

1611 John Speed map – Roaringwater

John Speed’s map of 1611 which portrays ‘Ballatimore Bay’ and Carbery’s Hundred Islands – ideal territory for concealing pirates. Note the curious geography, the names of the Irish clans and some of the places we recognise today: Rossbrenon (Rosbrin); Lemcon; Shepes Head and Myssen Head

The coast of west Cork, in particular, was eminently suitable for sheltering ships in need of careening and victualling: bays, coves, inlets and estuaries abound and Carbery’s Hundred Isles (in fact many more than a hundred but it depends on what you count as an island) offer refuges a-plenty. In Captain Harris’s time there was only one naval ship patrolling the whole area from Kinsale around to Bantry and beyond – and this was the Tremontane – an ancient leaky pinnace which could be easily outrun by any respectable pirate crew. All the more unfortunate, then, for my forebear and his band who fell into the hands of the authorities, no doubt through some act of treachery or double-dealing.

Captain Harris’s family paid to retrieve his body from the gallows at Execution Dock (above left) and gave him a Christian burial. It was more usual for the bodies to be immersed by ‘three high tides’ before being disposed of. In particularly notorious cases the corpses were tarred and then hung in gibbets (iron cages – above right) to remain in public view. Captain Kidd was displayed this way for at least forty years after his death in 1701.

pirate ship

…The Irish folk surreptitiously colluded with pirates. When a captain needed supplies, he sent word of his needs. The reply to his note told him where he might find “so many Beeves or other refreshments as he shall need” on a specific night. When he and his men came ashore, they were to fire upon those who tended the herd, which allowed the herders to claim that they had been forced to hand over the cattle. Later on, he secretly landed “the goods or money in exchange, which by custom, they expect must be 2 or 3 times the value” If the pirates desired arms and/or ammunition and the Irish had any, they traded those items, too… (from Pirates and Privateers – The History of Maritime Piracy – an excellent online resource compiled by Cindy Vallar).

If you would like to learn more about Pirates in west Cork (and to listen to some great music) come along to the Fastnet Maritime + Folk Festival in Ballydehob this weekend 17th – 19th June: Robert is giving an illustrated talk on William Hull and the Leamcon Pirates’ Nest on Saturday 18th at 2.30pm in the Old Bank Building

Say Cheese!

Cheese Bundle

Goats Cheese, that is: creamy, delicious – and home-made! Goats cheese is what I made today at our friend and neighbour Nick’s Rossbrin Permaculture Farm on the shores of Roaringwater Bay. The ingredients? Happy goats, a couple of ingenious WWOOFers and eager students.

Nick and Goats 2

Nick bringing the goats home in the evening

Nick has a smallholding and tries to be as ecologically sensitive, environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. His WWOOFers seem to like the place and some stay for extended periods or keep coming back. (For those of our readers who are not familiar with the concept of WWOOFing – take a look at the WWOOF Ireland website.) Jasmine from Taiwan has become a keen forager and cheesemaker, and Helene from France loves to experiment with natural flavours. Recently there was a Slow Food event on the farm (wild garlic pesto – forage and make) which we couldn’t attend, so when this opportunity came up I jumped at the chance to sign up to learn how to make goats cheese.

Helene and Jasmine

Helene and Jasmine – cheese makers extraordinaire!

I had this idea that cheese was a long slow process involving ageing in caves and something called rennet so I was intrigued that we would make and take away goats cheese in one afternoon.

Diluting the citric acid

Jasmine dissolves the citric acid – available in any pharmacy

Jasmine and Helene had milked the goats that morning so the milk was fresh, although it can also be a few days old – the older the milk the stronger the distinctive chèvre taste. We started by adding dissolved citric acid to the milk, drop by drop, and stirring, while it sat on a moderate heat. The idea is to add the citric acid very slowly while the temperature rises to 180-190F. This process pasteurises the milk and starts the process of making curds.

Left: Jasmine and Helene and students Manon, Bríd and Maria. Right: adding the citric acid drop by drop and patiently stirring

Once it has reached the proper temperature the milk is allowed to cool a little then poured into cheesecloth-lined colanders to separate the curds and the whey. Since the next step is to let it drip slowly through the cheesecloth, we enjoyed some tea and cake and then we took ourselves off for a wander around Nick’s farm.

Julian straining

Through the cheeseclothUpper: Julian strains the heated milk. Lower: left to drain

We walked down to Jasmine’s seaweed-gathering beach and made a quick inspection of Nick’s ingenious vegetable island. Why grow vegetables on an island? Easy – no rabbits and no slugs! Nick practices Hügelkultur on this plot.

Once back in the kitchen we inspected the cheese and saw that the whey had drained away to our satisfaction. To continue the process we tied the cheesecloth up to make a ball and suspended the cheese over pots for a while longer.

All tied up

During the next wait period Jasmine and Helene showed us how to make seaweed appetisers. Jasmine had harvested sugar kelp and sea spaghetti that morning and together we made seaweed crisps and sea-spaghetti bruschetta. It sounds a bit weird, I know, but honestly, they were delicious.

Jasmine had washed the sugar kelp and hung it out to dry along with the other washing. The recipe for the crisps and bruschetta is at the end of the post

By then, we were ready to finish the cheese. First we added a little salt and then decided on the flavouring. On Helene’s advice we selected cumin and mustard for one and sundried tomatoes and basil for the other. A little tasting, a final lesson in wrapping, and we were done!

I love goats cheese and have several favourite recipes so I’ll be trying out a couple this week. It’s going to feel really good to casually drop into the conversation that, oh yes – I made it myself. And if that’s not totally and strictly true, I’m sure none of you will tell on me. Right?

Recipes