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!

Shenanigans

running fox

The word shenanigan (a deceitful confidence trick, or mischief) is considered by some to be derived from the Irish expression sionnachuighim, meaning ‘I play the Fox’. That’s by no means the only definition of shenanigan that you’ll find, but – for me – it’s a good one.

The Red Fox stops by Nead an Iolair on most days. He’s such a frequent visitor that he’s trodden a furrow across the lawn – which he follows meticulously in order to keep his feet dry: he’s a fastidious creature is our Ferdia.

It’s a bit unkind, perhaps, to always think that the Fox is up to some kind of shenanigans. That would be playing up to his reputation of being cunning or sly. Our Ferdia is pretty open about why he takes an interest in us – purely and simply, it’s his stomach. His patter is always the same: he stands at the window and presses his nose against the glass, managing to look somehow downtrodden or neglected (we know he isn’t at all – in fact his current winter coat is magnificent: not just red, but with a silver grey sheen, and his legs, paws and ears are a beautifully velvety black).

on the wall 2

The Irish word for Fox is Sionnach, and there are stories that this animal was brought over here by the Vikings, who reputedly used them for hunting. Now the tables are turned: in Ireland Fox hunting is a legal sport (which it no longer is in Scotland, Wales and England), and we have very occasionally seen The Hunt crossing the fields during our travels. If you read the highly amusing Irish RM by Somerville and Ross you will quickly gather that actually apprehending a Fox is something very rare for The Hunt: more usually it results in a loss of balance, life or dignity for the participants. This is probably a realistic picture: Edith Somerville was herself a MFH and therefore had considerable experience in the matter.

Well, Ferdia’s ploy usually works, and he frequently deprives us of the last morsel on our own plates. I’m sure I’ve heard him chuckling to himself as he disappears off into the fields clutching a bone or three. Foxes are good family animals: generations can live together for a few seasons, helping to look after the succeeding offspring – the collective noun for Foxes is A Skulk. Ferdia himself has got his act together: if we give him some scraps he’ll eat a good chunk first and then carry the rest off home – which I’ve worked out is quite a distance away. That’s fair enough: as Alpha Male and number one provider it wouldn’t do if he was debilitated with hunger.

We have on occasion seen Ferdia lead another Fox into the garden – either a wife or a daughter, but they are so nervous that their visits are rare and short. Ferdia, on the other hand, is totally confident that he’s got us wrapped around his little finger… In the summer he has been sitting out with us on the terrace, passing the time of day in a very relaxed fashion.

img4954Only yesterday I noticed our Fox sorting out some scraps on the lawn. Suddenly, there came into view two magpies. As I watched, one of them hopped around to the front of Ferdia and he stopped what he was doing to chase it away. Immediately, the other Magpie jumped in and took a good helping. Ferdia rushed at this competitor, and Magpie number One hopped in and had his share… From which I deduce that the cunning of Magpies is equal to that of the Red Fox.

In folklore, the Fox has a big presence. The animal is said to be able to foresee events including the weather and its barking is said to be a sure sign of rain (the only time we heard Ferdia bark was when we hadn’t noticed him standing at the window).

It is thought to be unlucky to meet a woman with red hair when setting out in the morning, especially if you are a fisherman. We may assume that the woman is a Fox in disguise.

There are legends about both St Ciarán and St Brigid finding and taming a Fox, and there are medieval carvings in churches showing Foxes: in one instance a Fox is in a pulpit preaching to Geese!

Where does the word Fox come from? One theory is that it derives from the French word faux – false. Interestingly there is also a possible link to the flower – Fuschia – so prolific in the Irish hedgerows. Theories abound, but we know that the Fox is above us in the night sky, in the constellation of Vulpecula – once known as Vulpecula cum Ansere – Fox and Goose.

Vulpecula

The story of Fox and Goose has been immortalised in what is reputedly one of the oldest folk songs in the English Language: The Fox or Daddy Fox. This version is from the 14th century:

‘Pax Uobis quod the fox,

‘for I am comyn to toowne’

It fell ageyns the next nyght

the fox yede to with all his myghte,

with-outen cole or candlelight,

whan that he cam vnto the town.

When he cam all in the yarde,

soore te geys were ill a-frede;

‘I shall macke some of youre berde,

or that I goo from the toowne!’

when he cam all in the croofte,

there he stalkyd wundirfull soofte;

‘for here haue I be frayed full ofte

whan that i haue come to toowne.’

he hente a goose all be the heye,

faste the goos began to creye!

oowte yede men as they myght heye,

and seyde, ‘fals fox, ley it doowne!’

‘Nay,’ he said, ‘soo mot I the

sche shall go vnto the wode with me;

sche and I wnther a tre,

e-mange the beryis browne.

I haue a wyf, and sche lyeth seke;

many smale whelppis sche haue to eke

many bonys they must pike

will they ley a-downe.’

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Here’s a more accessible version:

The fox went out on a chilly chilly night

He prayed to the moon to give him light

He had many many miles to go that night

Before he reached the town-o, town-o town-o,

Many many miles to go that night before he reached the town-o.

He ran ’til he came to a great big pen

Where the ducks and the geese were kept therein

He said a couple of you will grease my chin

Before I leave this town o, town o, town o

A couple of you will grease my chin before I leave this town-o.

He grabbed the grey goose by the neck

And he threw a duck all across his back

He never did heed the quivvy quivvy quack

Nor the legs all a dang-ling down-o, down-o, down-o

He never did heed the quivvy quivvy quack

Nor the legs all a dang-ling down-o.

Old mother Flipper Flopper jumped out of bed

Out of the window she pushed her little head

Cryin’ O John, O John the grey goose is gone

And the fox is away to his den-o, den-o, den-o

O John, O John the grey goose is gone

And the fox is away to his den-o.

Well, the fox he came to his very own den

And there were the little ones, eight, nine, ten

Saying Daddy you better go back again

‘Cause it must be a mighty fine town-o, town-o, town-o

Saying Daddy you better go back again

‘Cause it must be a mighty fine town-o.

Well, the fox and his wife without any strife

Cut up the goose without any knife,

They never had such a supper in their life

And the little ones chewed on the bones-o, bones-o, bones-o

They never had such a supper in their life

And the little ones chewed on the bones-o.

stamp

We’re on Facebook

Our Facebook page

Our Facebook page

We have heard from some readers that they prefer to access blogs through Facebook, so after a year of thinking about it (Ah sure you wouldn’t want to be rushing into things, would you now?) we have taken the plunge and set up a Facebook page for Roaringwater Journal.

Besides links to our regular weekly blog posts, this page will feature photographs that haven’t made it into a post, or items that catch our eye as we continue to explore our West Cork home. If you’re on Facebook, do drop by and hit the LIKE button so that we will show up in your news feed. If you’re not, or you’d rather just get the weekly posts, don’t forget to enter your email address in the box on the right: you’ll get an email every time we post something new on the blog.

Ferdia's not on Facebook - he just wanted to say hi.

Ferdia’s not on Facebook – he just wanted to say hi.

 

A Charm of Goldfinches

Carduelis Carduelis

Carduelis Carduelis

Ferdia demolished our beautiful bird-table – made for us by Danny – by jumping up and hanging on to the peanut feeder, swinging there until the whole thing came down: and he showed not one ounce of contrition! After his peanut feast he licked his lips, stared at us brazenly and seemed to say “Now, so – that was a grand game”…. The outcome is an architect-designed, post-modern, deconstructivist bird feeding station made from two broom handles (total cost 3 euros) that is painted green (of course) and is Fox proof!

redhanded

Caught redhanded!

Ferdia may feel thwarted, but our resident Goldfinches are delighted. I was delighted, also, when I found out the collective noun for Goldfinches: a Charm. How apt – the birds are vivacious, colourful and noisy. The word might come from the latin Camina – song.

It’s hard to keep up with them as they fall out of the sky (literally – they just appear suddenly, flap around the feeders, hang on – often upside down, constantly squabble with each other, and then vanish just as quickly) but I have counted up to 20 in one ‘sitting’. The Chaffinches, Robin and Tits edge in occasionally, but when the Charm is around then it’s all-pervasive. Only the Greenfinches seem oblivious to the crowd and staunchly carry on with their meal through all the mad tumblings and twitterings.

gfinch2

‘Teasel-tweaker’

Goldfinches have a folk name: Thistle-tweaker. Evidently their preference is for the thin seeds of thistles and teasels which they prise out with their beaks. We provide exactly the right seeds (purchased at the bird shop at great expense) but will they have them? Not a bit of it! Only one thing interests them and that’s the peanuts  – just like Ferdia. But their supposed liking for sharp seeds, and thorns for their nests, has given them a place in Christian iconography – and folklore.

A medieval legend tells that when Christ was carrying the cross to Calvary a Goldfinch came down and plucked a thorn from the crown around his head. Some of Christ’s blood splashed onto the bird as it drew the thorn out, and to this day Goldfinches have spots of red on their plumage (a similar story is told about the Robin). Certainly, Renaissance artists frequently depicted the Christ child with a Goldfinch, and it is suggested that the bird is linked to a foretelling by Christ of the manner of his death – something often attributed to the great Folk Heroes.

Chaucer’s Cook is thus described: “…gaillard he was as a goldfynch in the shawe…” – as merry as a goldfinch in the woods. In some parts of England the popular name for the bird was Proud Tailor – which picturesquely sums up the patchwork appearance of this busy and brightly colourful little character.

There is a Valentine’s Day tradition based around birds. If the first bird a girl sees on that day is a Bluetit, she will live in poverty; a Blackbird foretells marrying a clergyman; a Robin tells of a sailor; and if she sees a Woodpecker she will be left an old maid. If the first bird she sees is a Goldfinch, however, she is promised a wealthy marriage…

Goldfinches in Rennaissance art

Goldfinches in Renaissance art

John Keats wrote this verse in ‘I stood tip-toe upon a Little Hill’

…Sometimes goldfinches one by one will drop

From low hung branches; little space they stop;

But sip, and twitter, and their feathers sleek;

Then off at once, as in a wanton freak:

Or perhaps, to show their black, and golden wings,

Pausing upon their yellow flutterings…

Here in Ireland there is a tradition that Goldfinches – under their other folk name: Redcaps – haunt the realms of The Other Crowd, and they will always be seen around the raths (Fairy Forts), ancient mounds and in thorn trees. I will have to research that one.