Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh!

That means ‘Happy Halloween’ in Irish – more or less. Samhain – pronounced ‘sow-in’, with the emphasis on the sow, literally means ‘summer’s end’, while Oíche Shamhna is ‘the eve of Samhain’ (Shamhna is the genitive form of Samhain). If today (I’m writing this on 31st October) is Samhain’s eve, then  tomorrow – 1st November – should actually be Samhain. And that’s true because, in Ireland, Samhain is also the name of the eleventh month. And, before we move too far on, I should tell you that those difficult words Oíche Shamhna are pronounced ‘Ee-hyeh How-nuh’ and the correct way to say the whole title of this piece is ‘E-hyeh How-nuh Hun-uh Dee-iv’ literally summer’s end evening, happy, to you all – I’ll bet you’re sorry you asked! So, we are on the eve of the eleventh month, and it’s always been a time of great celebration in Irish culture: the time of the year when we begin to sense the darkness creeping in; the trees are losing their leaves, the sun is getting noticeably weaker, and it’s a season of dampness, mists and grey shadows. No wonder, surely, that the imagination turns to arcane, otherworldly – even ghoulish – matters. And no wonder, also, that this time is associated with the spirits of the dead – and the Other Crowd.

Our little community of Ballydehob in West Cork takes Samhain very seriously – of course! So I thought I would give you a short overview, mainly in pictures, as to what you can expect to find in the village on this day. Earlier in the week I gave a talk about folklore, customs and traditions in the Bank House Talks in the Vaults series and – to acknowledge that we were nearly at Samhain – Finola provided barm-brack for everyone.

While preparing the talk, I reflected on this time of the year – and what it had meant to me when I was growing up in England. There – back in the 1950s – we had no concept of Halloween: we didn’t even know the word. For sure, we had a celebration at around this time (the beginning of November), when we lit bonfires and got excited by throwing firecrackers and bangers around. We called it ‘Guy Fawkes Night’ (sometimes Bonfire Night or Fireworks Night). We made ‘guys’ – life-sized effigies – which we carried around the town collecting pennies to buy fireworks with (and we later burnt those ‘guys’ on the bonfires – it all seems a little gruesome now). As I got older, I was told (but didn’t really understand) that it was all about celebrating the fact that a man had been prevented from blowing up the Houses of Parliament in London with gunpowder. This was a fascinating concept to me and I could never understand (and still don’t) why we remembered a man who failed to set out what he intended to do, while the then attractive spectacle (to me) of succeeding in blowing up the Parliament would, surely, have been a much more justified cause for remembrance and celebration . . .

When I moved to the western counties of England I discovered that the Bonfire Night celebrations there were far more elaborate, probably far more ancient, and included blazing tar barrels being pulled through the narrow streets by crowds of young people. These seemed much closer to the outlandish atmosphere of Halloween which we find in Ireland now. Here’s a couple of pics showing the spectacle which happens at dawn every early November in Hatherleigh, Devon, where I lived for many years.

Anyway, I’ll let you have a look at the images which we have taken in Ballydehob this week, and you can see for yourselves what a dynamic, exciting and explosive place we live in! Thank you to the many residents, shop owners and publicans who have joined in and worked so hard to bring this ancient Irish festival to life today.

A very special event this year was the transformation of Bank House – Ballydehob’s former bank and now a centre for community events owned by the village – into a very scary ‘blood bank’, where visitors were invited to sample nasty food and to donate blood via the spine-chilling doctor! It was a unique experience!

The topsy-turvy world is an aspect of folk culture that goes back a long way – and deliberately sets out to upset the norm, making us all feel a little less comfortable. This is Budd’s cafe in Ballydehob today.

Ballydehob Garda Station has a haunted look about it this week! And the display there included a very appetising stew… (Pics above)

Remember that celebrations take place every year at this time around the world. In Mexico, for example, they have a ‘Day of the Dead’ on November 1st:  Día de los Muertos. It is a time to remember the ancestors, and welcome them back to their homes. During Day of the Dead festivities, food is both eaten by living people and given to the spirits of their departed ancestors as ofrendas (offerings), and decorations. In some parts of the country children in costumes roam the streets, knocking on people’s doors for a calaverita, a small gift of candies or money; they also ask passersby for it. The fiesta (which can last for three days) is filled with marigolds, the flowers of the dead; muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations. All this bears a remarkable similarity to the goings on in Ballydehob – and all over Ireland – today: skeletons and skulls are very much in evidence!

So I’ll leave it up to you to wish all your family, friends and ancestors Oíche Shamhna Shona Daoibh! next time you are involved in Halloween activities. But remember, also, the ancient origins of this festival, and the fact that very much the same thing – honouring the ancestors and the coming of the dark time of the year – is being enacted all across the world at this time.

Mizening

What do you do when a fine day dawns and you want something totally relaxing? You go Mizening, of course! OK, it’s not a real word, but it should be – for the act of wandering at will around our wonderful peninsula.

We’ve been tied up a lot lately with the West Cork History Festival – it was a great success, by the way, with a wide variety of speakers and topics. We really enjoyed leading two of the field trips, including one that involved much dodging rain showers. But now it’s time to get back to our true avocation – meandering lazily around our own patch of heaven.

So what follows is a record of a blissful day on the Mizen, doing not much of anything, drinking coffee, visiting new friends, observing the wildlife, popping into the Blue House Gallery – well, you get the picture.

Those new friends? Judi and Pete Whitton, both artists, with a home and Gallery near Schull. Judi and I felt we knew each other already although we had never met in person, just through the wonders of the internet. She has a gorgeous show, Easel in the Ditch, running at the moment (follow the signs from Lowertown) – we were bowled over by her beautiful watercolours.

Above – Newcourt Bridge – Judi had seen my post on this ‘hidden wonder’ of West Cork and had to paint it

Then it was off for a walk in the countryside. You think you’ve been down all the little roads before, but there are always surprises.

Cobwebs in an abandoned church

It’s August now and many of the flowers have finished blooming, but others have come along to take over and the boreens are still a delight.

We’ve had an invasion of Painted Lady butterflies. Normally, this is a phenomenon that happens once a decade, but it’s starting to happen more often now, and scientists feel it may be down to general climate warming. The butterflies are especially attracted to the Knapweed, which is abundant, although they have to compete with the bees for it.

We were seeing lots of dragonflies too, although they wouldn’t stay still enough to allow a photograph – I finally snuck up on this one (above, both images), which it turns out is a Ruddy Darter. Well named!

After more obligatory wildflower photography (example above, Eyebright), we dropped into Schull to see the latest Exhibition at the Blue House Gallery. Titled cleverly Blau Haus/Bauhaus, the downstairs show is based on the Bauhaus, the German arts, crafts and design school, founded a hundred years ago, that dragged us all into the twentieth century, .

A tiny taster of the Bauhaus-inspired pieces above – a detail from a tall fused glass and bronze collaboration by Angela Brady and Holger Lönze, and a teapot by David Seeger

Upstairs was an entirely different show – The Drawn Line, curated by Catherine Weld. I was particularly taken with this line drawing by Christina Todesco-Kelly, titled simply Satchel.

A lovely day! I did mention coffee, so I will end with a detail from Judi Whitton’s portrayal of our favourite local, place to get coffee (or lunch or dinner!) – Budd’s of Ballydehob. It captures so well what Mizening is all about and it’s the first thing we see as we approach Ballydehob from Nead an Iolair.

 

How Are You Keeping?

Mind yourself, now

That’s how people greet each other in West Cork. Lovely, isn’t it? And when we say goodbye we always add Mind yourself. Mind yourself – it’s like being told to be careful, to look after yourself, and not to forget to take time to have a cup of tea and a nice sit down occasionally, all rolled up in one.

Directions 1

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post on how to speak like you’re Irish (scroll to the end to see a list of the previous posts) but I’ve been keeping notes all along, so here is my latest primer so that you can feel like you’re getting the hang of West Cork Speak.

Besides my own images, I’m illustrating this post with cards from Conker Tree Studio. Justyna, from Poland but now living in Ireland, has designed a line of cards and magnets with directions and phrases that she has come to, er, appreciate in the everyday talk around her. Look out for her cards anywhere you go in Ireland, or buy them online.

Directions 4

Directions 3Sure it is!

Sure can be used on its own, but it’s more usually heard in combination with other words in phrases that convey an endless variety of responses useful in almost every circumstance. Take Ah, sure, j’know – use it to express sympathy, along with an exquisite understanding of the circumstances being related. Ah, sure, look is similar although it’s pronounced with a more world-weary air and perhaps without the underlying implied slight cynicism of Ah sure j’know.

Sure, we can't complain

Ceramics by Stefanie Dinkelbach, at Etain Hickey Collections (or here)

The auld arthritis is killing me but isn’t it a grand day?  Sure, we can’t complain. 

I bought it off a farmer and it runs great. But I just discovered it has no seat belts. Ah sure, what harm. 

I paid my water bill, like an eejit, and now I hear the lads who didn’t pay won’t get penalised.  Ah sure, j’know. 

I was hoping to get the silage cut today but would you look at the rain, ’tis coming down in sheets. Ah sure, look.   

Sure aren't we all having a grand time?

Sure, aren’t we all having a grand time?

Don’t be bold!

Around children, it’s good to tune in to the specialised vocabulary adults use for their behaviour. Being bold has nothing to do with bravery – to be bold is to misbehave. If a child is being annoyingly but not nastily bold, he might be just acting the maggot. Or she might be a bit giddy. In any case, the proper response of any right-thinking adult in the vicinity is to give out to them. Giving out means rebuking or reprimanding. The other thing adults like to do with children (and other adults) is to put manners on them. This is a very handy phrase that can be used in all kinds of ways.

No acting the maggot

Nobody’s acting the maggot here!

Sinead, stop acting the maggot. Ah, Mammy, don’t be always giving out to me.

The eldest was put into Miss O’Brien’s class this year.   She’s strict out – that’ll put manners on him.

In the stocks

That’ll put manners on him (Elizabeth Fort, Cork City)

Assent and agreement.

Perhaps because it’s considered bad form to say no (even if that’s what you mean) we have developed a plethora of ways to say yes. No bother is a universal favourite, but perfect has lately been making significant inroads. Y’know yerself, however, is the ultimate form of both eliciting and delivering concurrence.

I think the clutch has gone but I need it desperately for tomorrow.  No bother.

I’ll have the Full Irish, but no meat, extra mushrooms, gluten-free toast, a large cappuccino…no wait, I’ve changed my mind, add the black pudding back in and change the cappuccino to a soya latte. Perfect!

Breakfast at Budd's

The full Irish at Budds of Ballydehob – all local ingredients

They’ll all be down for Christmas, there’ll be nine of them including the grandchildren all wanting mince pies and home made scones and mountains of mashed potatoes, but y’know yerself, like…

How are you? Ah sure, y’know yourself.

So now – off you go and do a biteen of practice. You know yourself, like, that it’ll take a while before you can make a good fisht of it, like Justyna from Poland. But if you don’t get around to it, no bother. Life is busy, in fairness. Mind yerself, now.

Ah sure, all in their own time

This is the fifth in a series. Previous posts:

West Cork Speak: Lessons 1 and 2

West Cork Speak: Lessons 3 and 4

West Cork Speak: Lessons 5 to 7

You’re Grand

Skibb men

How are ye keeping?

Mizen Mud: Recipe for a February Exploration Day

Muddy Boots

It’s been a wet, wet winter, but when the sun shines in February (which it does, honestly!), we are out exploring. This particular day our companions were Jessie, Brandon, Amanda and Peter and our accompaniment was MUD, and lots of it.

Explore Group

Amanda took the photo of the group, and the one of my muddy boots

We had goals – Amanda was after some elusive holy wells and Robert wanted to find the pirate steps at Canty’s Cove for his talk on William Hull and the Leamcon Pirates’ Nest, part of the Ballydehob spring lecture series, ’Talks at the Vaults.’ Jessie is a professional tour guide, wanting to learn more about the Mizen. Finally, I wanted us to swing by Dunmanus Castle so I could check out a few construction details.

Dunmanus Castle and bridge

Dunmanus Castle on its knoll, surrounded by water

You don’t actually need goals like this to go out exploring, but it helps. It gets you into places you wouldn’t normally go, down tiny boreens, into farmyards and across fields. You end up knocking on doors and meeting people who know all about the well, or the old stones, or the legends of the place, or who owns what field and whether he minds people tramping through it. On this occasion we met, for the first time, the near-legendary Pat McCarthy, one of the writers of Northside of the Mizen, and a huge authority on this area. We’ve promised ourselves a return visit with him as we weren’t able to stay long enough for a good talk.

Budds

The best way to start a day like this is with excellent coffee, in Budds of Ballydehob, where we assembled with our map to plot our course. It was off then to Toormore and the Altar wedge tomb. On this occasion we weren’t actually after the wedge tomb (although I can never resist a photo of it) but the little holy well across the road.

Altar Wedge Tombe

Our next stop was Dunmanus, to take a good walk around the castle with the camera, looking for details I had missed on previous visits.

Dunmanus Castle ground floor entrance details: The bar-hole for barring the door once inside; the spud stone and the hanging eye. The hollows are for the pole that the door swings on

And then on to Canty’s Cove. You can read Robert’s post, Canty, for more about this place and its association with Canty the Pirate. Finding the steps wasn’t easy and it was a big thrill when we finally figured out where to look.

from Canty's House

This is the inlet with the pirate steps. Photographing them involved hanging over the edge with someone holding on to your ankles

Pirate Steps

How would you like to climb up these with a keg on your back?

By then we were starving – this exploring is hungry work – so we repaired to O’Sullivan’s of Crookhaven for one of their famous crab sandwiches. Even at that early date the sunshine was so inviting that people were sitting outside with their sandwiches and their pints.

water pump at Crookhaven

Crookhaven Pier

From Crookhaven it’s a quick trip to Lissagriffin, where there’s a medieval church and a bullaun stone doing double duty as a holy well/wart well. The church has a panoramic view over the salt marshes behind Barley Cove Beach as well as interesting architectural features.

Lissagriffin Doorway

Our next holy well was right by the side of the road a couple of miles further east – labelled so we couldn’t mistake it.

Callorus Oughter

Amanda inspects Tobareenvohir – or Tobairín an Bhóthar, the Little Well of the Road

The final one was harder to find and necessitated negotiations of some seriously muddy fields. Tobairín Brón (Little Well of Brone) was in the general vicinity of where we ended up, along with a small monastic site – all very brambly and hard to decipher. But what a place – a view clear out to the Fastnet Rock, with Knockaphuca looming behind us. Cnoc an Phúca means the Hill of the Mischievous Spirit – it’s been tamed, presumably, by the large cross erected on its peak.

Monastic site

Knockaphuca

Fastnet Rock

Read Amanda’s post for her take on the four wells we visited that day.

By then the sun, so warming earlier in the day, had been overtaken by high cirrus clouds, and we were donning jackets and gloves and remembering that it was only February after all. As if to make up for its lack of warmth, it treated us to a magnificent solar halo (I’ve always called them sun dogs)  as we made our way back to the cars.

Sun dog

We were never much more than 30 kms (or about 40 minutes) from home but in that distance we managed to see heritage sites dating from the bronze age through the medieval period up to the recent past, surrounded all the time by the magnificent scenery of the Mizen. You can do this anywhere in Ireland. Using the Historic Environment Viewer of the National Monuments Service, define the area you want to explore, pick your fancy (ring forts? medieval churches? cross slabs? megalithic tombs? castles? rock art?), and off you go.

Peter and Amanda in a holy well

A holy well looks back at Amanda and Peter

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to buy some wellies…

Black Pudding

Breakfast at Budd's

Breakfast at Budd’s of Ballydehob – all local ingredients

When did black pudding assume foodie status?

Breakfast Pack

Black pudding (a blood sausage) was always a popular breakfast staple in Ireland – served in all decent bed-and-breakfasts on a ‘Full Irish’ plate along with white pudding, sausages, rashers and eggs, and sometimes tomatoes and mushrooms, accompanied by homemade brown soda bread. I never liked it – “Please, no black pudding on mine.”

West Cork Pies' Black Pudding 'Brunch' Scotch Eggs, at the Skibbereen Market

West Cork Pies‘ Black Pudding ‘Brunch’ Scotch Eggs, at the Skibbereen Market

But somewhere in the last ten years black pudding has been transformed into the gourmet must-have ingredient du jour: added to scallops or crab, used to lend interest to staid sausage rolls and scotch eggs, served as canapés with the requisite goat’s cheese and caramelised onions.

The black pudding selection at Field's of Skibbereen

The black pudding selection at Field’s of Skibbereen

And it’s delicious! Artisan butchers and food producers all over the country have been developing their own recipes and flavours, although the basic ingredients (pig’s blood and oatmeal) have remained the same. Some credit Clonakilty Black Pudding with leading the charge. They use beef rather than pork and their exact formula is a closely guarded secret. Their website has lots of recipes and the history page features a video on how the pudding is made. This has become such a celebrated West Cork product that there has been talk of a Black Pudding Visitor Centre!

Clon web page

Nowadays, every supermarket meat section will sport an array of artisan black and white puddings. Here in West Cork we find local varieties such as McCarthy’s of Kanturk, Putóg De Róiste (an Irish-speaking black pudding from the Ballyvourney Gaeltacht), Hodgins of Michelstown, as well as Rudd’s from County Offaly, further afield. There are mass-produced varieties too, and supermarket chain generic puddings, all of which have their fans.

Avril Allshire at a function in Rosscarbery, handing around her black pudding swirls – our first taste of them; The Rosscarbery Recipes range of products on sale at Fields

My own favourite is made by Rosscarbery Recipes. This is totally attributable to Avril Allshire, the cheerful producer whom I have met on numerous occasions demonstrating ways to eat their black pudding or serving it up at events. She’s always up for a chat and she loves to share her enthusiasm and her recipes. She and husband Willy and two sons run Caherbeg Free Range pig farm (the Facebook page is full of adorable piggy pics), as well as the Rosscarbery Recipes food range and are totally committed to food quality, to provenance control, and to traditional curing methods that result in delicious pork products. They’ve even developed a gluten-free black pudding!

The Allshire Family with awards for their food products. Avril, William and the two boys are totally involved in all aspects of the business

The Allshire Family with awards for their food products. Avril, William and the two boys are totally involved in all aspects of the business

Avril’s Black Pudding Swirls have become my go-to appetiser recipe and I am sharing it at the end of the post, taken directly from her website but adapted for our non-West Cork readers.

An Chístín Beag's black pudding potato cakes.

An Chístín Beag’s black pudding potato cakes

The other way I have come to love black pudding is in potato cakes. As served by the fabulous An Chístín Beag (The Little Kitchen) in Skibbereen, this is a way to start your day off right, especially if you’re planning a hike! According to Pauline, you simply add chopped up black pudding to mashed potato, shape it into cakes, and fry. There’s got to be more to it than that, I insist – egg? flour? But no, that’s it. I think it helps if you leave them in the fridge to chill and firm up a bit before you cook them.

The choir Christmas get-together at Rosie's Pub. My contribution was the black pudding swirls, recipe below.

The choir Christmas get-together at Rosie’s Pub. My contribution was the black pudding swirls, recipe below

What about you and black pudding? Love it? Hate it? Got a favourite? Figured out how to get hold of it outside Ireland or the UK?

Making the swirls

Making the swirls

Rosscarbery Recipes’ Black Pudding Swirls

By Avrill Allshire (additional notes by Roaringwater Journal)

Ingredients:

1 pack of Field’s Puff Pastry; (any ready-to-bake puff pastry will do, 500g or 1lb)

1 Rosscarbery Recipes Black Pudding; (Any good-quality black pudding can be substituted, 300g or 11oz)

1 large egg.

Method:

About an hour beforehand, take the puff pastry and the black pudding from the fridge and allow to come to room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 200°C/ 400°F/Gas Mark 6.

Whip the egg.

Roughly chop the black pudding and blitz in the food processor with half the whipped egg. If you don’t have a food processor, use a fork or wooden spoon. The idea is to get it to a spreadable consistency.

Dust your rolling surface with flour and roll the puff pastry into a large rectangle. Lay the Black Pudding mixture on the puff pastry. Spread it out evenly but not to the edge of one long side which should be brushed with a little of the whipped egg. Roll from the other side. Finish the roll by pressing gently onto the whipped egg end. Slice in 1cm slices and place on a sheet of greaseproof paper on a baking sheet. Brush each slice with the whipped egg.

Put in the oven and bake until a golden brown. This will take anywhere from 12 to 15 mins, so keep an eye on it.

Remove and allow to cool. Makes about 50 swirls.

swirls finished

Yummers!

Shauna and Robert tasting

All the Trimmings

Near Dunmanway

In my two previous posts on our wonderful West Cork colourful houses, A Lick of Paint and An Extra Lick of Paint, I’ve concentrated on overall house colour and on how that colour stands out in the landscape or the streetscape. Since that second post was written, in March, two of the most colourful houses I photographed have been re-painted, both in shades of khaki. Am I chronicling an endangered species? I hope not!

Boatmans

So in the spirit of celebrating our colourful tradition, I am devoting a post to the trim choices – the window surrounds, the doors and the chimneys, the shop fronts – that add to the vibrancy and delight of our neighbourhoods, villages and countryside.

VERY VERY PINK

The most common trim choice is white and often that seems the only, or perfect, choice. Or perhaps the safest. It certainly provides a lively contrast to a bold colour.

Marine blue

Orange you glad to see me?Gallery, Union HallWhite and bold-colour contrast can also look charming the other way around – white walls and colourful trim.

However, the juxtaposition of two bold colours, or even three, for walls and trim is irresistible.

Purple on Mustard

Windows are a natural focus for colour. Sometimes the frame and the surround is painted the same colour and sometimes two colours are employed, both contrasting with the wall colour.

Ballydehob windowsills

A local tradition seems to be to paint the chimneys the same colour as the walls, although occasionally the trim colour is used instead. I particularly like the chimneys in Eyries on the Beara Peninsula. Note the jaunty use of the trim colour on the chimney pots, on the second-to-last house in the lower photograph.

Eyeries Chimneys

chimney trimMany traditional village or town commercial buildings here are masonry, with the shop-fronts in painted wood. A few examples here – although traditional shop-fronts deserve a post to themselves at some point. I also include cafés, restaurants and pubs in this category.

Causkey's

The Coffee Shop Union Hall

Kinsale is a cornucopia of colour! Herewith just a few examples of what you’ll find if you wander its streets.

Van

Trim colour is often used to good effect on garden walls and gate posts in addition to the house. Here’s a fetching example from near Union Hall .

Swedish

So – what do you think, Dear Reader? Do you have a favourite among these examples? Do you have any photos of your own to share? If so, comment below, or drop by our Facebook Page and vote for the one you like best. I will finish with one of my own current favourites and an exuberant addition to Ballydehob.

Budds