Beyond the Mizen: Top 14 West Cork Pics of 2015

We were heading home from Hare Island after a Fit Up Theatre Performance, when this happened

We were heading home from Hare Island after a Fit Up Theatre Performance, when this happened

Many of our top Facebook photographs this year were from the Mizen, but not all. You also liked and shared photographs that captured the essence of other parts of West Cork.

Baltimore Bay and Ringarogy Island

Baltimore Bay and Ringarogy Island

I think the Baltimore Bay one was so popular because the colours are SO west Cork. When you get blue sky and clouds, the sea turns this amazing Caribbean blue and the contrast with the green fields and wilder high ground is gorgeous.

Lighthouse Loop, Sheep's Head

Lighthouse Loop, Sheep’s Head

This photograph of our friend Susan Byron of Ireland’s Hidden Gems is one of my favourites this year because of the impression it creates of sheer wildness.

Occasionally we get lucky with the local wildlife. Ferdia, the fox, used to be a regular around our place but has forsaken us recently for neighbours with higher quality leftovers.

Bantry House in winter

Bantry House

It’s possible to get good shots of Bantry House in winter, when the trees don’t obscure it from view.

Kilcoe Castle

Kilcoe Castle is such an icon on the landscape. This photograph shows the neighbourly way it interacts with the other houses around it.

Bardic School Loop, Sheep's Head

Bardic School Loop Walk, Sheep’s Head

This tiny abandoned cottage may have been part of the 17th Century Bardic School near Lake Faranamanagh on the Sheep’s Head. We’re looking across at the Mizen in this shot.

The Beara, from the Sheep's Head

The Beara, from the Sheep’s Head

And here’s the view from the other side of the Sheep’s Head, across to the Beara Peninsula, with the instantly-recognisable bulk of Hungry Hill to the far right.

Priest's Leap Valley

Priest’s Leap Valley

The long climb up to Priest’s Leap starts near Ballylickey and ends at a high mountain pass that separates Cork and Kerry. The views are spectacular from the top, but this shot of a colourful house and farms in the valley on the way up seemed to express something typical of West Cork.

Farm, Sheep's Head

Farm, Sheep’s Head

This farm appears to be carved out of the mountain land behind it.

Barloge Bay, at the entrance to Lough Hyne

Barloge Bay, at the entrance to Lough Hyne

This was taken in November. I love the contrast of the turquoise water with the autumn colours of the bracken-covered hillside.

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A final sunset to end this post. This was taken last February from the lay-by overlooking Roaringwater Bay on the N71. The light was extraordinary – a once in a blue moon kind of shot. The mussel beds make the water look like floating ice packs.

A big thanks to Celia Bartlett for helping us improve our photographic skills this year. We loved our workshop with her.

Happy New Year to all our faithful readers!

Ghosts of the Past

An abandoned village slowly returns to the bog

An abandoned village slowly returns to the bog

Amanda, Bardic School

Amanda, Bardic School

Amanda and Peter Clarke were our hosts yesterday for a Sheep’s Head Day. They know the peninsula intimately and were able to take us to places we would never have found on our own. They also love it: they have made their lives in Ahakista in a beautiful old farmhouse with a productive garden, and between them manage several projects that are great local resources.

We have written about the Sheep’s Head Peninsula in previous posts. It’s a wild and beautiful place, criss-crossed by a network of world-class marked trails, and full of prehistoric and historic sites. Part of our tour took in the Bardic School, about which Robert wrote in his Kings and Poets piece. But mostly what we saw was new to us: an impressive stone circle and a stone alignment, a lonely and moving famine graveyard, the remains of a pre-famine village, and finally a holy well and mass rock site.

The stone circle is probably the recumbent type, in which two tall portal stone stand opposite a stone with its longest axis parallel to the earth. The sightline from the portals over the recumbent stone is often focused on a solstice sunrise. Stone alignments in this area tend to be three to five stones in a row and may also be part of the solar and lunar observatory system that is characteristic of many Neolithic and Bronze Age monuments.

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Ireland before 1845 had a population of 8 million people. Over a million died of starvation and disease and another million emigrated in the period of the Great Famine, from 1845 to 1852. West Cork was one of the epicentres of the disaster. It is still alive in the folk memory of the people and we saw two graphic reminders of it on our tour. The first was the Roskerig burial ground. Although stones were scattered around the graveyard, not a single inscription was visible, as if it had been hastily used in a chaotic time and then forgotten. The second reminder was the remains of a long-abandoned village, now slowly returning to the bog.

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The holy well and mass rock are dedicated to Mary and are adorned with multiple images of her. The well is still in use and credited with miracle cures. The mass rock, where a crowd would gather outdoors in the days of the Penal Laws that outlawed Catholicism, to hear mass, is well preserved. When the Redcoats got wind that a mass was in progress and came to arrest the priest, Mary threw up a thick mist around the area to confuse the soldiers and allow the priest to escape. In acknowledgement, we deposited our coins in the well and said a prayer for something close to our hearts.

well

Of Kings and Poets

We are standing in one of the most beautiful places in the world… Or so it seems to us on this late November day as a cloudless sky casts an azure sheen over the whole sea stretched out between the Sheep’s Head and the Mizen, while the folds of the mountains behind are painted an indescribable autumnal gold by the low sun.

view west

We decided today that our Sheep’s Head walk would be by the water, and chose to start at Dromnea – where we were intrigued by mention of an old Bardic School. This is listed in the guide book, together with the nearby castle of the O’Mahony’s: both are picturesque ruins. In Feudal times, when they flourished, students of the school would serve a seven year apprenticeship which consisted of spending hours in a darkened cell composing poetry which was later read out to and critiqued by the whole company. They carried the traditions and history of families and communities, to be recited on their travels around the countryside, where hospitality for bards and minstrels was obligatory. The Dromnea School was owned and run by the O’Daly family, traditionally bards to the O’Mahony’s. The most famed of the poets was Aenghus O’Daly – also know as the Red Bard – who died in 1617. He is best remembered for his work – Tribes of Ireland: A Satire. As ‘research’ for our walk I read this – an 1852 edition available online: in a hundred or so verses Aenghus tells of his travels around the four provinces seeking hospitality from the ancient families of Ireland, as was the right of his profession. The whole work is a list of complaints as to how lacking the hospitality actually was. For example:

The tribe of O’Kelly—the screws whom I hate

Will give you goats’ milk, mixed with meal, on a plate

This hotch-potch they’ll heat with burnt stones, and how droll some,

Among them will tell you ’tis pleasant and wholesome.

and:

Three reasons there were why I lately withdrew

In a hurry from Bantry: its want of a pantry

Was one; and the dirt of its people was two;

Good Heavens! how they daub and bespatter

Their duds! I forget the third reason. No matter…

or:

Poor little Red Robin, the snow hides the ground.

And a worm, or a grub, is scarce to be found

Still don’t visit the O’Keeffe; rather brave the hard weather –

He’d soon bring your breast and your back-bone together.

Such was the reputation of the Dromnea Bards that the King of Spain sent two of his sons to the School to receive their education. They were both drowned while swimming in the lake by the castle: the story tells that they were turned into swans. We leave the ghosts of the school behind us and reach Lough Farranamanagh – a tranquil stretch of fresh water which flows out to the sea. We look across to the few stones that define the O’Mahony stronghold: sure enough, floating serenely in front of it are two stately swans.

After passing the time of day on the beach with a periwinkle collector (she exports great tubfuls of them to France) we walk for three hours, leaving the coast behind and going up into the the hills where we come across further ruins: this was once a village, and lazy-beds and ancient field systems are visible in the rocky moorland terrain. Finally we descend back to the now defunct old Ahakista – Kilcrohane road: a remote green trackway that has been given a new lease of life as one of the Sheep’s Head Way walking routes. This brings us back foot-weary but satisfied to our starting point after our tour through an intellectual and historical landscape in stunning West Cork.

A Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd

A Bard of the Cornish Gorsedd