Biodiversity Ballydehob

In the same way that strangers are friends you haven’t met yet, weeds are wildflowers you haven’t yet come to know and love. So come with me to the Ballydehob estuary and meet the dazzling array of wildflowers that call it home. That’s me, by the way, with my trusty camera, at the always-scenic Twelve-Arch Bridge. All the photos in this post were taken within 100 metres of the bridge, on the west side of the estuary.

Thrift, or Sea-pinks, is the most visible flower at the moment, in pink drifts along the shore. There’s a lot more than Thrift in this photograph, but before we move on, let’s take a closer look at them.

In Irish Thrift is called Rabhán (pronounced ravawn) and this word means an outburst, as in rabhán gáire, a sudden fit of laughing. Pretty apt, isn’t it, for a flower that is suddenly everywhere at this time of year. By ‘everywhere’ I mean all along the coast, although in Great Britain it is also found in a few mountainy places too.

Ballydehob has some white Thrift too, fairly unusual. According to Niall MacCoitir in his wonderful Ireland’s Wild Plants, Thrift has many alternative folk-names, such as Lady’s Cushion, Sea Daisy, and Sea-July Flower.

As there is everywhere at this time of year, there’s lots of Ribwort Plantain (did you use it to play Soldiers as a kid?) but there’s also Buck’s-horn Plantain (above). The stalk and flower look very Plantain-like, but the leaves of the basal rosette are what give the plant its name – look at all those tines. In Irish the plantains are called Slánlús, which means health plant as they are used liberally in folk medicine. But be careful – in regards to Ribwort Plantain (below, with Oxeye Daisy and Cat’s-ear), Mac Coitir warns us, . . .while it could be used to cure many ailments, there was also a danger that if the wind changed wile you were collecting it, you would lose your mind.

Here’s Buck’s-horn Plantain again (above), along with three different pink flowers – can you make them all out? I’ll talk about each one and then you can go back and look at his photo again and see if you can see them this time.

Here’s the first one, Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill. The dove’s-foot comes from the shape of the leaf, and the crane’s-bill from the shape of the seed-pod – you can see both in this picture.

The flower is tiny and very sweet, deep pink with purple anthers. It’s a member of the Geranium family, and that makes it first-cousin to the next little pink flower, Herb Robert, below.

It’s one of my favourites, not just for its attractive flower, but for the leaves that turn a deep red as the plant matures. Himself, of course, is very pleased to have a plant named after him, although a more boring explanation could be that the Robert comes from the latin ruber, meaning red. It’s got lots of alternate names but my favourite Irish one is Eireaball Rí, means the King’s Tail. It’s another powerful herb, used traditionally to stop bleeding.

The last of the pink flowers is Kidney Vetch, although it also comes in other colours. It’s actually more common in yellow around here, but I have read that it can be orange, purple, or even pure white. In the photograph above it’s mixed in with the Buck’s-horn Plantain, but here it is on its own, below.

Kidney Vetch is a member of the Pea family but the funny thing about it is that each little pink petal is embedded in a tuft of what looks like cotton wool. It’s a bit otherworldly, but it makes it easy to identify. It’s also known as Lady’s-finger (or in Irish as Méara Muire, which translates as The Virgin’s Finger) and as Stanch, which comes from its reputation as being able to staunch blood flow.

Another member of the Pea family is Red Clover, beloved for its nectar by bumble bees, which have longer tongues than honey bees and can get at the goodness.

This is one of those flowers that are so familiar we hardly notice them, but a really close look reveals a beautiful flower indeed. The leaves are the familiar shamrock shape, but much larger and often with pale patches, and another reason to look closely is to see if you can find a four-leaved clover, considered lucky all over the world. In Irish myth and legend the clover is a symbol of prosperity and the fertility of the land. Among Mac Coitir’s many examples is the story of St Brigid who decided to make her home in the Curragh of Kildare because when ‘she saw before her the delightful plain covered in clover blossom, she determined to offer it to the lord’.

Above is Trailing Tormentil. Although this is a widely-distributed plant in Ireland I haven’t seen a lot of it around here. In fact it’s much more common to see its first cousin, simply called Tormentil, especially on heath, among the heathers and gorse. Tormentil has only four petals on its yellow flowers, whereas Trailing Tormentil can have five, as in the patches I found along the estuary. The name seems to relate to its potency as a cure for stomach torments – the root was boiled in milk as a cure for colic. Add in a little wine and it was good for what ailed you. Add in some St John’s wort and it was a sleeping draught. This is reflected in the Irish name Néalfartach: néal has several meanings which can related to depression and to sleep.

A very exciting find for me now (above) as it’s the first time I have seen it. Look how tiny it is – it’s very possible I’ve walked over it many times without noticing, especially as the old eyes aren’t what they used to be. It’s one of the Sea-spurreys (the others are Rock Sea-spurrey, Greater Sea-spurrey and Sand Spurrey, all of which are found in West Cork) but this one is Lesser Sea-spurrey.

It’s very like Greater Sea-spurrey but several factors distinguish it – it’s tiny, the sepals are longer than the petals (see above) and it has far fewer stamens. The distribution of all the Sea-spurreys is coastal, as you would imagine, but strangely Lesser Sea-spurrey is also found all over Britain, inland as well as by the sea. In Ireland, it is only coastal. Is it weird to get this excited over a tiny plant? (Okay, don’t answer that.)

Moving right along, this is Cuckoo-flower – so called because it appears about the same time as the Cuckoo does. It’s also called Lady’s Smock and it can vary from pure white to a mauvey pink and if you look closely at the stems you might see tiny eggs – they are white when laid but turn orange with time. They are laid by the Orange-tip Butterfly and the larva feeds on the stem of the flower.

There’s a little patch of grass jutting out into the estuary and at first I thought it was just covered in daisies. Daisies are important little flowers for our pollinators too, but what caught my eye was smaller so I had to lie down to get close enough to see the little blue ones.

This is Thyme-leaved Speedwell, one of the many Speedwells you can find in West Cork, and one of the smallest ones. Right across the road is another one – much more visible. In fact, if your eye is caught by a flash of blue in the grass in West Cork, this is likely to be what’s causing it.

It’s Germander Speedwell – a closer look below. Speedwell looks a bit like a Forget-me-not but it doesn’t have the yellow centre and only has four petals to a Forget-me-not’s five.

It belongs to a different family too – the Veronica family, which includes the next flower, Ivy-leaved Toadflax, which I found growing all over the bridge pillar.

This is one opportunistic little plant – it will find a crack in a wall and dig right in. In fact, walls are its favourite habitat. Here’s what Zoë Devlin’s Wildflowers of Ireland (my go-to resource) has to say about this adaptable genius: The seed-planting mechanism of this plant is very clever indeed.  The flowers turn their heads to the sun until they have been fertilised at which stage they turn about towards the wall on which they are growing and in this way they plant or push the seeds into any little crevice possible on the wall. They also have very long roots which help them to hang on, like the Ivy for which they are named, and thereby ensure their survival.  This plant was introduced in the seventeenth century from the Mediterranean countries.

As Zoë says, it arrived here from the Mediterranean – but how? During the craze for importing marble from Italy, including marble statues, the plant hitched a ride, jumped ship once it got to Britain, and flourished from then on. Even though it’s not a native plant it’s adapted well to the Irish climate and has proven to be a good neighbour, unlike many other alien species.

Just glancing along the bank, it’s hard to take in how many plants are here, and what a variety there is. I will finish with a couple from across the road. First, the Hawthorn is now in full bloom.

It’s also known here as the Whitethorn and it comes into flower after its leaves have arrived and after the Blackthorn has faded. Beautiful – but considered to be very unlucky. Woe betide anyone cutting a Whitethorn or bringing its flowers or branches into the house – except in the month of May when it was customary on some counties to bring the flowers to the house, or even into it, to honour Mary (it’s the May Tree) or to ward off evil. That’s a bit confusing – it’s May now so should you gather some blossoms? Better to take no chances, I say, and leave it to bloom outside for all our enjoyment.

And what’s this I spy? It’s St Patrick’s Cabbage and you will only find this plant in southern or Western Ireland and in Spain and Portugal. Called the Lusitanian Flora, there is a group of plants who seem to have flown, as if by magic, across the Bay of Biscay, France and Britain, to land in West Cork, and this is one of them.

If you’re a gardener it might look familiar – the popular garden plant, London Pride, is a hybrid of this and another member of the Saxifrage family.

There’s more – lot’s more – but I’d better leave it at that (except I couldn’t resist that image of the Scarlet Pimpernel, above, with the Dove’s-foot Crane’s-bill). Here’s what I want you to take away from this post – with the exception of the Ivy-leaved Toadflax, which has been here for hundreds of years, every single one of the plants I have written about here is native. Every. Single. One. Why is that important? Because this is what a wildflower patch looks like and should look like. These are the flowers to which our native insects and pollinators have adapted over millennia and therefore these are the ones which are critical to our ecology here in Ireland.

We’ve been fed images of colourful meadows full of poppies and cornflowers and told that’s what a wildflower meadow looks like – it’s not. THIS is what our pollinators need – a wide variety of native plants left undisturbed. It’s wonderful to see this in Ballydehob, but every village and town in Ireland has areas like this. Let’s make sure they flourish!

 

The Day the Sun Came Out – in Ballydehob!

It always happens: you go through a ferocious winter of gales, floods and bitingly cold winds and then one day – probably not too long after St Brigid’s – you realise that spring is arriving! It happened this week, here in Ballydehob. Suddenly, the sun came out; the sky was deep blue and all the coloured houses, bars and shops lit up and made us remember what a wonderful place we live in.

Ballydehob – that’s the name in Irish, above, on the gable of the community’s Bank House. A literal translation would be Town of the ford at the estuary of two rivers and, indeed, the Bawnakeane and Rathravane streams converge here before flowing out into Ballydehob Bay, once a hive of water-borne commerce with coasters, schooners, sand-boats, and punts and skiffs from the inhabited offshore islands arriving and leaving, while the tiny train puffed and rumbled across the viaduct on its way from Skibbereen to the Schull terminus.

When you feel the spring in the air for the first time, you begin to look anew at your surroundings. Shapes, reflections, the play of images on water: there’s such a difference as the ‘ordinary’ is changed through the quality of the light. That’s the freshness of annual renewal.

There are so many little details in the townscape that we can overlook, or just take for granted. Ballydehob has a long history of creativity, which is reflected in shop signs, decoration, window dressings. Take a stroll in the sunshine and see if you can find anything new!

You don’t have to wander far from home to welcome and experience the joys of a new spring. You will also find yourself looking forward to the seasons still to come, which will bring Ballydehob to life with its visitors, galleries, festivals and gatherings. Not to mention the hostelries which feed the body as well as the soul.

We are looking forward to many sunny days to come as the year warms up. Meanwhile, we can always revisit happy memories of our village life through our photographic archives. Thanks to Judi Whitton for the endpiece watercolour featuring our wonderful Budds, just turned five years old this weekend: congratulations to Jamie and his dedicated team!

West Cork in Photographs – Your Favourites, Part 1

Navigating Mizen Head

A fishing boat navigates the rocks of Mizen Head

Our Roaringwater Journal Facebook Page features lots of our photographs of West Cork – two or three every week – and we know by the views and the ‘likes’ the ones that capture your imagination. It’s become a tradition here with us at the end of the year to go through them all and show you the top choices. Think of it as our Christmas present to you, our wonderful readers – nothing to read, just images of our gorgeous part of the world to drool over. Of course, we have our own favourites too, even if they didn’t get as many likes as others did, so we sneaked a few of those in here two. This is the first of two posts – the next one in a few days.

Sheeps Head November Day

Sheep’s Head

Chough by the Gate

Chough in the rain

Fastnet in the sunset

Fastnet Lighthouse at sunset

2 0f the 12

Two of the arches of Ballydehob’s famous Twelve Arch Bridge

Roaringwater Bay from Sailors' Hill

Roaringwater Bay from Sailor’s Hill above Schull

Gougane Oratory 2

Gougane Barra in the autumn

To the Mass Rock, Sheeps Head

Walking to the Mass Rock, Sheep’s Head

Kealkill 2

The archaeological complex at Kealkill – a five stone circle, a standing stone pair and a radial cairn

Rossbrin Dawn

Rossbrin Cove dawn

The next batch (Part 2) is now up. Enjoy!

West Cork Speak: Lessons 3 and 4

How are ye?

How are ye?

You all did very well, Dear Readers, with learning to speak like a true West Cork denizen. I was especially proud of all the grands and likes you appended to your emails and comments. So, now, I think it’s time for the next couple of lessons.

I wish I could really capture for you the true cadence of the language here – the colourful vocabulary, the way stories are infused with a humorous acknowledgement of the foibles of the teller and the audience, the up-and-down rhythm of the speech, the expressiveness of all communication. But at least I can teach you some of the basics, so you will feel at home when you get here.

Would you be after some scallops?

Would you be after some scallops?

Lesson 3: Using the Conditional Tense

Today’s first lesson deals with the importance of mastering the conditional tense – in other words, using the word ‘would’ and all its variations, where the rest of the world would use the simple present or past tense. This has the effect of softening a statement in quite a delightful way, but it can also be confusing if you’re not used to it.

At a recent class I took, the instructor presented her credentials by saying, “I would have qualified in 1996.” Now, if someone outside West Cork had said that, you would have been waiting for the rest of the sentence…”Except that I failed the exam,” perhaps. But she was simply saying, in the West Cork way, “I qualified in 1996.” It’s just a bit more roundabout, a bit more diffident, a bit less assertive, than baldly stating a fact. Here’s how I normally say something, followed by how it is said in West Cork:

I got married in 2004. 

I would have been married in 2004.

I don’t like jazz.

I wouldn’t be a huge fan of that kind of thing myself, now.

Hi, I’m Finola.

’Tis lovely to meet you. I would be Finola.

I’m always exhausted after yoga.

Sure, ’tis tiring, like, but you would feel great after it, wouldn’t you?

That guy is a crook.

He wouldn’t be the saintliest of fellas, like, but he would have had a hard time of it as a young lad.

I asked him to bring the umbrella.

I asked him would he bring the umbrella.

This will take some practice: set yourself the task of turning one declarative sentence a day into a conditional statement. You would want to spend a fair bit of time on it, like.

And where would you be from, now?

And where would you be from, now?

Lesson 4: Pronouns

Pronouns! Most of them are the same as English elsewhere, but with two important differences.

You/Ye. If you look up the word ye in a dictionary it will tell you the word is archaic, and died out in general usage several hundred years ago. Not in West Cork! It is in common usage, here and elsewhere in Ireland, as the plural of you. So, if you meet a group of people and are addressing them collectively, you say “How are ye?” I must say, this make eminent sense. How often do we have to qualify you by saying “I mean you, plural?” Or, “I mean both of you?”

Herself would have raised the ducks.

Herself would have raised the ducks.

Now so, are ye ready for the last biteen (we’ll deal with that word another day) of the lesson? On we go, so, to reflexive pronouns – those are the ones with self at the end of them. They are used in Ireland in a variety of ways. Himself and herself are sometimes used to denote a husband or wife, but also can have a slight suggestion of amusement or mockery.

Himself would be holding forth about politics the whole evening.

I’d like to stay a while longer, but herself has the tea on the table at six sharp.

Is it yourself? It is indeed.

It will be time for a quiz soon, so ye should study what we’ve learned so far and I’ll think about a suitable test, and maybe some prizes. Wouldn’t that be grand? Himself thinks so, too.

Is it yourself, Sean?

Is it yourself, Sean?

Mizen Magic

We’ve done several posts on the Sheep’s Head and the marked hiking trails that crisscross that peninsula. But we actually live on a different peninsula, The Mizen, and it is just as glorious and wild and beautiful.

Map of Mizen and Goleen

The road to the Mizen Head starts at Ballydehob, runs along the southern side of the peninsula through Schull and Toormore and on to Goleen and Crookhaven. At the far or western end are the beaches of Barley Cove and the Mizen Head Lighthouse and Visitor Centre. There are no villages on the northern side of the peninsula until you reach Durrus, which also marks the start of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. It is bounded on the south by the waters and islands of Roaringwater Bay and on the north by Dunmanus Bay. The whole peninsula is rich in history and archaeology and we plan future posts about many aspects of life here.

For the moment, a flavour in photographs of what The Mizen landscape has in store for visitors.

Dunbeacon Stone Circle

Dunbeacon Stone Circle

Ballyrisode Beach

Ballyrisode Beach

Dunmanus Bay

Dunmanus Bay

Mizen Head

Mizen Head

Dunmanus Harbour

Dunmanus Harbour

Three Castle Head

Three Castle Head

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