The Last Post

The view from Nead an Iollair

The view from Nead an Iolair

The time has come to say goodbye to West Cork. Yes, it really has been six months, and we leave next Thursday.

But here’s the thing. If it isn’t obvious how much we have enjoyed it here, then let us spell it out – we have LOVED our time here, in Ballydehob, in West Cork, and in Ard Glas.

In fact we have loved it so much that we are buying a house! It’s the perfect house for us, with views across our beloved Roaringwater Bay, and lots of room for entertaining family and friends. We intend to call the house ‘Nead an Iolair’ – it’s pronounced Nad on Uller, and it means Eagle’s Nest. We will return this summer, although we don’t have an exact date. We plan to resume the blog when we return, although perhaps with some differences. At the very least our sub-title, Six Months in West Cork, will be changing. If you haven’t yet clicked the “Follow” button and left your email address, do it now – that way you will be notified when the blog starts up again.

Peaceful Harbour, West Cork

Peaceful Harbour, West Cork

And so, dear reader, we have a couple of questions for you. Even if you’ve been shy about commenting in the past, make an exception now and tell us –

Which posts, or which kinds of posts, have you most enjoyed?

What do you want us to write about that we haven’t yet covered?

And now, until we meet again…

May the road rise to meet you,

May the wind be always at your back,

And may you be in heaven half an hour

Before the Divil knows you’re dead.

Finola and Robert

Another Day in Paradise

Another Day in Paradise

Craic agus Ceol

Let's Make Music!

Let’s Make Music!

First the Drink, Then the Story – this is the legend above Rosies’s pub in Ballydehob. In that spirit, we hosted a brunch at Ard Glas today for about 25 people. It was to say goodbye for a while to all of the wonderful people we have met since coming to live in West Cork and to thank them for their friendship.

Michael tells a Dartmoor Story

Michael tells a Dartmoor Story

Gillian tells The Beekeper and the Hare

Gillian tells The Beekeper and the Hare

Friends of Robert’s, Michael and Wendy Dacre of Raven Tales, are in Ireland and have come to stay for a few days. They are professional storytellers, with a wide repertoire of stories and songs from around the world, and we took advantage of their visit, and of our friends among the session musicians we have met, to bill this as a Stories and Music Brunch.

The food was fantastic, thanks to our wonderful catering team of Jo and Bob O’Toole, and when everyone had eaten and drunk their fill we started on the music and the stories.

We listened, wrapt, we tapped our toes, we sang along, and of course we talked and laughed and ate and drank the afternoon away.

You can read Amanda’s take on the afternoon here.

Jo and Bob, our wonderful caterers

Jo and Bob, our wonderful caterering team

Half-Term Break

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This being their half-term, my sister arrived for a few days’ visit with her two children – Ava, 8, and Hugo, 6.  But half-term is not scheduled this week in all parts of the country – and particularly, it is not scheduled for here. This means that organised activities for children are not up and running, and local amenities suitable for children are all shut for the winter. But no problem! All you need is a dram of sunshine, a beach, a market, a stream, and a couple of imaginative youngsters.

In the garden at Ard Glas.

In the garden at Ard Glas

Barleycove Beach, mid-February.

Barleycove Beach, mid-February

Bantry Market and Never Too Early to introduce them to archaeology.

Bantry Market and Never Too Early to introduce them to archaeology

They went back to Dublin yesterday and we miss them already!



Author and Danny - with brand new table!

Author and Danny – with brand new table!

Perhaps you didn’t know that we have our own mini airport here – right outside Ard Glas! It all started when we asked our friend Danny – who constructs wonderful furniture and accoutrements in the Irish vernacular, and paints them green – to make us a birdtable. He duly did so, and painted it green. It now sits outside our windows and provides us with hours of entertainment.

Firstly, we have a squadron of Spitfires. These are our Chaffinches – to date the record is 24 of them on or around the table at any one time: handsome birds, male and female almost alike, but the males have perky crests which they raise when they want to assert themselves. They whizz in, a whole bunch at a time in close formation, and settle on the grass landing strip where they methodically hoover up the seeds and crumbs. They don’t seem to take much notice of us or the bigger birds – they just get on with the job in hand. Quite suddenly they must get a call to action, for they all take off at once and fly across to the fields down below us, returning en masse after a short interval. They are quite quarrelsome, and often engage in dogfights with each other, diving, spinning and turning in the air.

Then there are the helicopters: these are Tits, of several varieties – Great, Coal and Blue. They hover around the seed holders and suet balls, then make a vertical landing on an impossible perch. They will hang upside down and spin around, quite unperturbed. But they don’t stay long: one seed, it seems is enough – then  they are off to a tree or bush to enjoy it at leisure, before returning on their distinctive undulating flight paths.

We no longer see the Goldfinches: they have gone south for the winter. Also vanished is the Jay, whom we saw only once, taking a break from its journey to the oak woods inland.

Airport in action...

Airport in action…

Daily regulars are our three Magpies: maybe they are one male and two wives, or perhaps parents and a child – they always come down together. One has to admire their magnificence: sleek and shiny. For me they are the flight officers and crew. You know when you see them passing through the concourse at the airport carrying those intriguing flight bags? Crisply uniformed, black and white – and strutting importantly through the crowds…. That’s Magpies: they strut. And they do think of themselves as important. They’ll dismissively push away the smaller birds and take large beakfuls of whatever is available. If I see only one I have to remember to say the mantra – “Good morning Mister Magpie – hope your wife and children are well” else some bad luck might befall me. Then, of course, there is the other mantra – “One for sorrow, two for mirth, three for a marriage, four for a birth…” As it’s invariably three of them they must be trying to send us a message.

It’s odd that the biggest birds of all are the most nervous: these are the Hooded Crows. We have two regulars and they are undoubtedly the Jumbo Jets around here. It’s great to watch them coming in – a slow descent, hovering with their wings up, then a solid bump onto the ground. But they are always on the lookout: they take ages to pick up a crust or a nut. They stand a little way from it, eyeing it up, but will then look all around to make sure no-one is watching before jumping and snatching it, quickly flying off to hide it in a safe place. Well, they don’t take off quickly – it seems to be quite an effort for them to get airborne: they need the longest runway.

I haven’t mentioned the resident Robin, and the Wren has disappeared since Christmas. I’ve got a feeling the Wren Boys were out on St Stephen’s Day, and succeeded in catching it for their supper! The Wagtail is a constant: as it is always walking around on the ground with its perky manner I feel it is that man with the two bats who very cleverly makes all the planes manouevre  in impossibly tight circles, just for the fun of it…

Robert communes with feathered friends

Robert communes with feathered friend

The Sun Stands Still

The Entrance Stone at Newgrange.

The Entrance Stone at Newgrange.

That’s what solstice means – the sun’s apparent ability to stand still at the mid-winter point. It rises no further south, hangs around that area for a few days, and then starts on its trek back to the eastern sky. For early farmers, like the ones who built Newgrange in the Boyne Valley in Ireland (and Stonehenge and the Pyramids) and like the ones who carved our rock art, such seasonal markings were critical. At Newgrange, an enormous passage tomb built 5000 years ago, the rising sun illuminates the passage and chamber only during the winter solstice. In West Cork, near here, the Drombeg Stone Circle is designed so that the winter solstice sun sets over the recumbent stone, through the two tall portal stones. Drombeg probably dates to the Bronze Age.

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Ballybane West at sunset

There is a good argument that open air rock art may also relate in some way to equinoxes and solstices and days of seasonal change, such as those that were celebrated in the ancient Celtic festivals. So far, the only rock art that has been putatively identified as having a significant solar orientation is the Boheh Stone in Mayo. We decided to visit our favourite rock art site, Ballybane West, on the evening of the 20th December and again on the morning of December 21, to see if anything interesting showed up at sunset or sunrise. We were rewarded in the evening by the rock art glowing beautifully in the slanting sunlight, although we could observe no particular significance about where the sun was setting.

Enigmatic carvings at Ballybane West

Enigmatic carvings at Ballybane West

The next morning, although the dawn colours were spectacular when we left the house, the clouds rolled in and obscured the sunrise. Still, it was wonderful to be out on the rock at dawn, listening to the birdsong and feeling in communion with the ancient spirits of this special place.

Happy Solstice to all our Family and Friends!

Ard Glas Dawn, Winter Solstice 2012

Ard Glas Dawn, Winter Solstice 2012

A Grand Soft Day

Sometimes the city in which a novel is set functions as a character in the story – a vital influence on events, unthinkable in a different place. I feel the same way about the weather in West Cork. It’s a SHE, of course – in turn tempestuous, caressing, unpredictable, always to be respected and never, ever to be taken for granted. Around here it’s ‘wait five minutes’ forecasting: what it says for the next few days on the iPhone weather app at 9am may have changed radically by noon so we never despair if we see days of rain ahead. We awake to a glorious dawn, with sunshine flooding across the bay and are enveloped in mist by breakfast, only to enjoy a sunny walk that afternoon. The clouds bank up in great mounds, lending glorious light and shade and endless colour variations to the landscape. We have stopped taking rainbow photos because we have so many already. Maybe if I see a triple…

Robert uses the word ‘mizzling’ for that soft wetness that’s one step from mist and that you hardly need a hat for. When we walk along our Greenmount Road to the rise with the great view over to Kilcoe, we can see the rain coming across the sea, slanting down here and there from grey clouds, and sometimes it hits us and sometimes it doesn’t and mostly when it does it’s gone again in a few minutes and we dry out in the breeze that follows it. Odd nights we can hear it lashing on the skylights on the top floor and we echo the Cork people who say “’Tis a hoor of a night.” I remember endless days in Vancouver of rain pelting down and everyone with umbrellas and a grey will-this-never-stop misery sinking into the soul. So far – and maybe we are lucky – that isn’t happening here. We haven’t had a day without some sunshine.

On November the 5th we walked the lighthouse loop on the Sheep’s Head with barely a cloud in sight – what they call locally a “pet day.” This was our third section of the Sheep’s Head Way and took in yet more stunning scenery and a long section where the trail runs on the brink of vertical cliffs, with the waves crashing and roaring below. It was so hot I got sunburn. That might not happen twice: but then again SHE specializes in the art of surprise.