Your Favourite Posts of 2014

Cape Clear Harbour

Cape Clear Harbour

What were your favourite Roaringwater Journal blog posts of 2014?

Our blogging software provides a running count of visitors to Roaringwater Journal and it’s always fascinating to see which ones receive the most views. Some of them are our own favourites as well, and some can attribute their high numbers to being re-blogged by others, or to being shared on social media. So tell us, Dear Reader – did the software capture it – or do you have a different favourite from our top posts of 2014?

From the Whiddy Island high point

From the Whiddy Island high point

The top two posts of 2014 were the ones we wrote about our trips to Cape Clear and to Whiddy Islands. We loved our time on the islands and intend to go back often – our enthusiasm probably shone through. But it may also be that islands hold a mystique for us that is hard to define – out there in the dawn mist, mysterious and peaceful, whole worlds unto themselves. The islanders of West Cork are worried at the moment by cuts to their development officer funding, and need all the support we can give them. So if you live here, or are planning a trip, include one or more of these beautiful islands in your plans.

Timoleague Friary

Timoleague Friary

Next in popularity was our post on the Timoleague Friary. It’s an iconic piece of West Cork history and architecture – the only sizeable medieval religious ruins we have, perched on a picturesque estuary of the Arigideen River.

I've learned to look carefully for road signs

I’ve learned to look carefully for road signs

Finola’s frustration at the inflexible regulations that treated her like a novice driver, despite forty years of driving experience, must have struck a chord with you. Maybe you dropped by Driving Home the Point to sympathise with her plight, or maybe it was to chuckle over the numerous example of the routine flouting of the Irish rules of the road, or the bemusing driving conditions of many rural roads.

Evans of Bantry

Evans of Bantry

We have enormous nostalgia for the things we remember from our childhood, don’t we? In that vein, it’s not surprising that Shopping for Memories was such a popular post. These lovely old shops evoke a time when a whole variety of shops lined the main streets and our mothers went from the butchers to the greengrocers to the chemists to the haberdashers and, if we were lucky, to the sweet shop on a daily basis.

Carraig Abhainn Gardens

Carraig Abhainn Gardens

But sadly, the numbers of these old-fashioned shops are dwindling. This year we said goodbye to Wiseman’s in Durrus, no longer able to compete against the hardware shops of Bantry. Fortunately, their wonderful Carraig Abhainn Gardens are still open behind the shop – and our description of this hidden gem was one of your favourite posts of the year.

A group of posts on festivals came next. We wrote about the question our friends asked us when we decided to move here, What on earth will you find to DO? We answered in a series of posts describing some of the local events and festivals we have taken in this year – the Ballydehob Jazz Festival and Arts and Culture Festival (which included our own Rock Art Exhibition), traditional music Festivals in Baltimore, Bantry and Ballydehob, and a host of musical and theatrical events. One day all of you retirees out there are going to discover that moving to West Cork is the best decision you can make!

The next group of posts centred on the Mizen – the Mizen Magic posts where we concentrated on aspects of the Mizen Peninsula that delight us – the Beaches, Brow Head, the Butter Road, Mount Gabriel, the Gortnagrough Folk Museum, and the history and archaeology of this beautiful part of Ireland.

How are ye?

How are ye?

In fairness, like, it looks like ye would have enjoyed our take on how to speak like ye’re from West Cork. Those little posteens made you happy out.

Ye must be a fierce active crowd altogether because you really got a kick out of Finola’s description of her day of sailing and (perhaps her personal favourite in the activities department) her moonlight kayaking on Lough Hyne.

Happy New Year from Robert and Finola!

Happy New Year from Robert and Finola!

And our own personal favourite of 2014? Robert’s post on the Sky Garden, of course! If you haven’t read it yet, you’ll have to do so to find out why this was the highlight of our year in West Cork.

Dear Minister

Share the road

Share the road

Readers will remember my travails with the Irish driving system. I wrote about having to apply for an Irish Driving License and then about the mandatory driving lessons and passing the driving test. I promised myself that when it was all over I would write to the Minister for Transportation and make recommendations about how people like me could be treated respectfully and flexibly.

I’ve finally written the letter and have extracted my recommendations below. I would be interested in whether readers agree with them. I’d also love to hear your personal experiences of driving in Ireland. It’s a unique experience in many ways – I am constantly bemused by what I observe as I navigate the boreens and village streets of this part of the world.

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EXTRACT FROM LETTER TO MINISTER OF TRANSPORT, TOURISM AND SPORT

There is no justification for such an inflexible approach to holders of foreign licenses. I know Ireland is committed to negotiating mutual recognition agreements with other countries over time, and that Canada may be a little more complex since licensing is handled by individual provinces, thus  requiring recognition of ten provincial licenses rather than one national one. I also understand that progress is being made, but slowly.

Since my license happens to be Canadian, I will venture now to make some recommendations on an alternative approach to how holders of Canadian licenses (and by extension others) could be treated.

Recommendations:

  1. Retain the requirement for the Rules of the Road test – there are enough differences to make this a good idea.
  2. Waive the requirement for the mandatory lessons or reduce them considerably – four lessons would be more than adequate to cover some of the idiosyncrasies of driving in Ireland.
  3. Waive the requirements for the Canadian license holder to apply for an Irish Learner Permit.
  4. If, for whatever reason this is not possible or practical, waive the regulation whereby the Learner Permit then takes precedence over the Canadian License. In practice, this allows the Canadian license holder to continue to drive on their Canadian license for a year (as they can if they do NOT apply for a Learner Permit) while preparing for the road test.
  5. Conduct a desk review of all ten Canadian Provincial Licensing systems. They are all easily accessible online, and fully explained. I can assure you that each province in Canada has a rigorous and comprehensive learner-driver program, but don’t take my word for it – a civil servant in your Ministry can conduct this assessment in less than a week.
  6. Once you have done this, immediately declare a unilateral recognition of Canadian driving licenses, as your Ministry has already done for several other countries.

The Road Safety Authority is doing a good job of raising the standards of driving in Ireland. In doing this they are battling decades of deeply-engrained negative attitudes to careful driving and to adherence to licensing regulations, especially outside the major metropolitan areas. I applaud this progress towards real change to the culture of driving in Ireland. But please, allow flexibility in how the regulations are applied so that someone with 40 years of driving experience is not treated like a  beginning driver.

Sincerely

Finola Finlay

Don't get distracted by the scenery

Don’t get distracted by the scenery

I wonder if I will get a response. I will let you know.

Mooooove over!

Mooooove over!

One last image…

What the...?

What the…?

Driving Home the Point

Another grand road

Another grand road

In my two previous posts about driving in Ireland, I chronicled the bureaucracy involved in registering our car and in applying for an Irish driving licence. Since Ireland and Canada do not have a mutual recognition agreement I had to take the theory test, a series of 12 mandatory lessons, and then take the road test. The good news is that I passed – I am now a fully qualified Irish driver! More good news – we got a €50 rebate on our car insurance. And best of all – having never even sat in a tractor in my life, I am now licensed to drive one. This is particularly pleasing since it is the vehicle of choice for the farmer visiting the pub at night in country villages, so you never know when I might be called upon to use this facility.

I can park my tractor in town now if I want.

I can park my tractor in town now if I want.

The bad news is that, between all the fees and the mandatory lessons, I spent a LOT more than the €50 I saved. It also cost me several months in which I was unable to drive on my own, and the aggravation of being trapped in an inflexible bureaucracy that refused to acknowledge my 40 years of safe driving.

I've learned to be alert for road signs

I’ve learned to be alert for road signs

However, all that paled when it came to the frustrations of learning to drive in a whole new style. As my friend Danny puts it, if someone tries to teach you how to walk (place this foot here, now lift this one) you will fall down. It just messes with your head to have to unlearn a sequence of actions that is as familiar as breathing, and relearn them a different way. This is not to do with being a better driver (although I think I am a better driver now), but with passing the test by demonstrating the correct procedures in the approved sequence.

You MUST not stop or park in a box junction

You MUST not stop or park in a box junction

Some examples might help to demonstrate. Shoulder checking is a huge thing in Canada – looking over your right and left shoulder before moving off, changing road position, turning a corner, etc. It’s because of the danger of not seeing a cyclist in the car’s blind spot. In Ireland, they want you to do a quick glance, no more. Here, you MUST check your mirrors before signalling, and after – there’s a strict sequence to follow. In Canada they teach you to take one hand off the steering wheel so that you can turn around and look out the back window when reversing – here they want both hands on the wheel at all times. You WILL be asked to reverse around a corner (you would not be asked to do that in a Canadian test) and you WON”T be asked to parallel park (a Canadian right of passage). None of these things are matters of life and death – they are all stylistic, but this is what you will be tested on. The national pass rate for the test is only 56% so there is a very real possibility of failing, no matter how well prepared you think you are.

No parking where there are zigzag lines. Or double yellow lines. Or both.

No parking where there are zigzag lines. Or double yellow lines. Or both.

Meanwhile, all around you, you will see Irish drivers doing the most appalling things and routinely flouting the rules of the road. This can be put down to the lax driving standards of the past, and so it is encouraging that it is now more difficult to get a license and that the expectations for skill and safety have been elevated. (See an interesting discussion on this here.)

Don't drive too close behind the slurry tank

Don’t drive too close behind the slurry tank

There was one bright spot in all of this – my driving instructor, Frank O’Driscoll. Having spent years driving big rigs all over Europe, and huge buses around the tiny West Cork roads, there’s nothing about driving that Frank hasn’t seen or done. Sympathising with my plight, he nevertheless gently prodded me through the lessons in sequence and encouraged me to just get on with it. An hour and a half in the car with Frank wasn’t just about driving, though. He has a great tenor voice and on the long straight stretches we roared our way through Come By The Hills or The Fields of Athenry, punctuated by snatches of poetry or by snippets of local history. Back at the house Robert put the kettle on and we settled down to tea and laughter as Frank filled in the log book and entertained us with his West Cork wit and stories.

Frank – if you’re reading this – I almost miss my driving lessons!

Frank O'Driscoll - instructor par excellence

Frank O’Driscoll – instructor par excellence

Mizen Magic 2: The North Side

A pet day on The Mizen

A pet day on The Mizen

We are once again being battered by Atlantic storms, but on a sparkling day earlier this week we drove, on a whim, to Durrus for breakfast. The day was so pure and sunny that it seemed a crime to go home again, so we set out to drive along the north side of the Mizen Peninsula.

Dunbeacon Castle

Dunbeacon Castle

What a day! We rambled down to the shore to investigate the 15th Century Dunbeacon Castle. There’s nothing left except one tall wall, standing sentinel against the wind, facing down the length of Dunmanus Bay. Its commanding position would have given its builders, the O’Mahonys, a strategic advantage in protecting and controlling their territory from adventurers arriving from the Atlantic.

Not much left

Not much left

Further along we explored an abandoned cottage, and found one of the water pumps that were once ubiquitous in the irish countryside. We saw few other cars, but we weren’t alone – our movements were observed from above by interested parties.

Preserved. Observed.

Preserved, Observed

Heading towards Dunmanus Harbour we stopped to pay our respects at the little ruined church and graveyard, beautifully called in Irish Kilheangul – the Little Chuch of the Angel. This was a curious mixture of cillín and modern graveyard: rough unmarked stones stood shoulder to shoulder with more recent granite headstones and lovingly tended graves.

The Little Church of the Angel

The Little Church of the Angel

We headed west along the road that skirts the sea and eventually leads to Barley Cove. We are convinced that this is one of the most breathtaking drives in Ireland – and, in a land as scenic as this, that’s a tall order! To the east we looked back up Dunmanus Bay to the Kerry Mountains in the far distance.

Looking East up Dunmanus Bay

Looking East up Dunmanus Bay

To the north lay the Sheep’s Head and beyond it the looming presence of the Beara Peninsula.

Across to the Sheep's Head and Beara Peninsula

Across to the Sheep’s Head and Beara Peninsula

To the west, Knocknamadree (the Mountain of the Dogs) and the wild Atlantic.

Bird Island and the Atlantic beyond

Bird Island and the Atlantic beyond

Once home to hundreds of families, this is a depopulated area now. There are some small farms, but many of the houses are holiday homes, seldom used. Sobering, that such a wildly beautiful place is no longer economically viable to support a thriving community.

The North Side of the Mizen

Northside of the Mizen

But thanks to the foresight and hard work of local writers, we can have a true appreciation of what life was like here. Northside of the Mizen has its own book! Recorded, edited and written by Patrick McCarthy and Richard Hawkins, and illustrated by Thelma Ede and with old photographs, it’s a charming, quirky compendium of character sketches, folktales, customs and traditions, poems and songs, and descriptions of country life. With chapters organised by month, it’s the kind of book you keep by the bedside and dip into when the spirit moves you. In January, for example, there’s a section on scoriachting, or visiting neighbours. It’s accompanied by a photo of a man and his jennet in somebody’s kitchen, with the caption Michael and Tom McCarthy out scoriachting. Once the neighbours arrived (but not on Saturday night as you would have to get ready for mass early the next morning) the night…

“…would start with games, blackguarding (horseplay) and sometimes dancing, then progress on to songs and poems. Storytelling was the preserve of an evening by the fire. With flames flickering and the wind and rain howling like the Banshee, the imagination of the storyteller and his forebears was let loose on a delighted and spellbound audience of children and adults alike. This, in turn, would lead to stories of a more superstitious nature, into a world of small folk, púcas (sprites), mermaids and of people’s misfortune when they interfered with the fairy ways.”

Look out for future posts about the Mizen – we’re only scratching the surface of this marvellous region of West Cork.

Where once were farms

Where once were farms

Rules of the Irish Road

Directional signs in Irish and English, cars parked every which way, street names in small print on the wall. Welcome to driving in Ireland!

Directional signs in Irish and English, not enough room for two-way traffic, cars parked every which way, street names in small print on the wall. Welcome to driving in Ireland!

In my Driven to Distraction post I alluded to having to get an Irish driver’s licence. I can drive legally for a year on my Canadian licence, but if I intend to stay longer, and if I want to get insurance at reasonable rates, I have to get an Irish one.

Do not overtake

No Overtaking. RR (Rules of the Road) p79

I have driven for almost 40 years without incident, in all kinds of conditions (Northern Canadian winters!) and vehicles, standard and automatic. I have rented a car every summer in Ireland year after year. I was prepared for some kind of process whereby I would be asked to demonstrate my competence and my knowledge of the Irish road rules – a process which I assumed would also acknowledge my experience and skills. The first part of that last sentence was a realistic assessment; the second part was a hopeless dream. It turns out that I must start from scratch, as if I was 17, as if I had never driven before.

Double yellow lines: no parking at any time. RR p115

Double yellow lines: no parking at any time. RR p115

Perhaps, you surmise, this is because we drive on the right in Canada and in Ireland we drive on the left. But anybody with a European driving licence can simply swap it for an Irish one, no matter what side of the road they drive on. This also applies to those in possession of licences from Taiwan, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Within Europe, all countries have agreed to the principle of mutual recognition for all sorts of qualifications and Ireland happens to have concluded agreements with several other countries for mutual recognition of driving licences. But with the US and Canada, it has not yet happened. There are “talks” apparently, but no real progress. This also means that Irish drivers who emigrate to Canada must go through a staged testing process.

You MUST not park on a footpath. RR p116

You MUST not park on a footpath. RR p116

 

Right – fair enough – I must prove my knowledge of the road and my driving competence. OK, theory test now passed, when can I take the road test? Wait, not so fast! First I must take, and pay for, a series of 12 driving lessons from an approved instructor. The lessons must be documented and they should occur two weeks apart: that will take six months. In the meantime, I must have L plates on the car and I cannot drive alone or on Motorways. Did you get that? I CANNOT DRIVE ALONE. I have, in effect, lost my independence. I must rely on Robert to drive me everywhere (we live three miles from the nearest village) or to sit beside me while I drive.

Drive at a safe speed.  RR p88

Drive at a safe speed. RR p88

In a future post I will describe the lessons – a whole experience in themselves! Meanwhile, I must admit that studying the Irish Rules of the Road has been a salutary experience. I leave you with some photographs to illustrate the Irish approach to road signage and to the observation of the Rules.

Unprotected quay ahead

Unprotected quay ahead. RR p183

West Cork Speak: Lessons 1 and 2

The scenic route

The scenic route

Stories abound of hapless tourists convinced that the locals were speaking to them in Irish (which foreigners typically call Gaelic) and finding afterwards that in fact it was English. (For an amusing twist on this idea see the excellent short film: Yu Ming is Ainm Dom.)

The sing-song burr of English as she is spoke in West Cork can be impenetrable to non-natives. For those planning a visit, therefore, I thought I would do the world a favour and provide a primer on sounding like a native.

Lesson 1: Grand and Like

The first thing to know is that you put like at the end of every sentence, and the word grand somewhere within it. I’ll give you an example. You have hired a car and chosen a route marked on the map as scenic. You find yourself inching along a potholed track that clings perilously to a mountain side, with yawning cliffs beneath and a mountain with a cross on it above. You are sure you have gone astray and are on a long abandoned road to nowhere. You are about to turn back (but how? The road is barely wide enough for your car) when around a bend comes a tractor, bucketing and swaying, driven by a genial man in a cloth cap. Through some miraculous process that you can’t afterwards describe, he manages to find enough ground to pull over to let you pass. You roll down your window and ask him if the road is passable ahead. He looks puzzled, then realizes you are a tourist and assures you “’Tis a grand road, like.”

'Tis a grand road

‘Tis a grand road

You are now in possession of a word, Grand, that is appropriate for all possible occasions and can be used in the most prodigal manner. Indeed, you can’t go wrong with it.

keep-calm-it-ll-be-grandHow are you? I’m grand. Better – I’m grand, thank God.

How is your husband? Himself? The back was playing up, but sure he’s grand now, thank God.

Oh, sorry – I can see I am in your way. Ah no, you’re grand.

I’ve just broken both arms and the bank is repossessing my house. Ah sure, it’ll be grand, like.

Lesson 2: Now and So

Together with Grand and Like, Now and So will get you through a surprising number of situations. Although they can be used interchangeably on occasion, they also have distinctive nuances. Now is the one that every waitress will say to you as she appears to take your order and as she delivers your food. It announces that she is here to look after things and you can relax. Its versatility doesn’t rest here – if delivered in a forthright or perky manner you can use it to indicate that you are ready for whatever the day holds as you head out the door, that you are settling down to a good conversation about your neighbours, that the kettle has just boiled, or that it’s your partners turn to hit the ball. If you say it with a slow or sad inflection – ah, now – you can use it to deflect an insult or express sympathy with one who suffers.

So contains a hint of expectancy – So, breakfast is served at 8; So, is it from Canada you are?; So, that will be twelve euros.

But the real trick is to use them together properly – Now so, or so now.

So now is a good one as you settle into a corner of the sofa for a chat: So now, Maureen, I hear Donal up the road was seen in Dunmanway last week with that American woman.

Now so can be used to wind up the conversation: Now so, I’d better be going or himself will be roaring for his dinner, like.

Now so, you’re all set for the first day of your holiday in West Cork. Yes, they drive on the left but just take your time, like, and it’ll be grand. And once you get into the rhythm of life here you’ll be ready for lesson 3 – how to manipulate every sentence into the conditional tense. Perhaps we will also touch on one of the truest Cork talents: how to insert multiple vowel sounds into the word no.

I Can't Do It

I Can’t Do It

Meanwhile, if you want to get a true flavour of the accent, try viewing some of the Sminky Shorts by the talented  Andrew James on YouTube. Be warned – the language is atrocious in some of them – back away NOW if this offends you. Otherwise, start with the Chicken Audition or the Nervous Horse.