Lost in West Cork

You’d think we would know every centimetre of West Cork by now… Of course we don’t! But we do like a challenge so, on occasion, we will follow a whim and deliberately go off main roads and randomly follow the smallest lanes. We invariably find ourselves emerging at places we know, but the journey along unfamiliar ways is always worthwhile. I thought that this week I will treat you to just such an exploration – in fact it’s a few explorations: I’m not going to tell you where any of the pictures is taken. You will travel with us and open up many new vistas (hopefully), just to give you a taste of the boreens, which you can also find for yourself when you come and visit – unless you are fortunate, as are we, to live here already.

Wherever you are in West Cork, you will not be far from the sea – and there’s seldom a view which doesn’t have at least a silver horizon or a glimpse of water which is so brilliantly hued at the moment under our clear spring skies. We have taken to following the smallest of lanes which lead down to a dead-end at some little inlet, bay or remote pier along our coasts.

As a retired architect, I was delighted to find this modern gem at the very end of a cul-de-sac, a long way off the beaten track. An extension to a traditional house, it is right on the water’s edge: a spectacular location. I researched the building, and found that it was designed by Níall McLaughlin Architects – London based, but with obviously Irish roots. Below is a piece of architecture a few thousand years older, a possible passage grave, on the far end of the Mizen – equally spectacular and with a dramatic view.

Not every byway discovery is as memorable as some of these examples: just a lane lined on each side with natural hedges can be inviting in its simplicity – and could be hard to find again!

Often it is important, of course, to know where you are going – and to find your way back. The latter is seldom a problem, especially with boreens which have an obvious end.

Sometimes you have to leave the car behind and explore the tiniest of trackways: we know them as ‘grey roads’ on the map. Finola uses the term ‘Tis a grand road’ quite frequently, as the mud sticks to our boots and progress becomes slow.

I am pleased when we come to the top of a small rise and suddenly find we have a wide view set out below us. On this occasion (above) we were presented with an unexpected prospect of the Ilen River in its broad tidal reaches before it becomes a true estuary. Of course, there are many moments when the view revealed to us is no surprise, as we have trodden so many paths so many times.

There have to be some contrasts in our travels – and some curiosities. Here, not too far from home, we were presented (below) with the answer to ‘where do all the old rock-breakers go’? We have lived here long enough now, to be familiar with the constant sound, day and night, as landscapes are broken down and smoothed off in order to ‘improve’ pasture for the farming industry: it’s a conundrum for the archaeologists among us who can see the danger of ancient history written on the land being swallowed up in the name of progress.

There is still so much history which remains visible, of course. This (below) was a thriving established village not too far from here dating from pre-famine times. It once had a church, a shop, two schools, mining, and maritime related industries. Now all are gone – or in ruins – and there is barely a family living in the area.

We are always delighted to discover spots such as this (below): again, a long way from any main road and right out in the middle of nowhere – yet a site which is immaculately maintained and celebrated. Note the ‘Top Bloke’ cup…

This post could go on forever. I have so many photographs of boundless boreens, captivating seascapes and intriguing sites – enough to revisit the subject in future posts. Let’s close with a woodland walk which is on a West Cork demesne, and open to all: at this time of the year it is magnificently decorated with all the spring wildflowers and vivid young shoots creating a green cloud in the tree canopies.

Following the Cascades (Sweet Ilen – Part 7)

There’s a walk that goes down from Castledonovan to Drimoleague: it follows an ancient mass path and much of it is right alongside the Ilen River. At its northern end there is a section known as the Deelish Cascades: this is geologically fascinating, and gives us some insights into how our West Cork landscape was formed thousands of years ago.

. . . The oldest rocks exposed in West Cork are of Devonian age (410 – 355 million years ago) . . . These mostly red and green sandstones, siltstones and mudstones were deposited on a continental landmass in a low latitude desert or semi-arid environment. The sediments were deposited from rivers, whose flow was dominated by flash-floods fed by episodic rainfall, which originated predominantly from mountainous areas lying to the north which were were formed during the Caledonian Orogeny (mountain building event) in latest Silurian and early Devonian times. The environment was perhaps similar to the present day Arabian desert. This “Old Red Sandstone” continent extended over what is now northwest Europe. In Cork and Kerry these sediments accumulated in a large subsiding trough (the Munster Basin), resulting in one of the thickest sequences of Old Red Sandstone encountered anywhere in the world (at least 6km thick) . . .

Geology of West Cork, M Pracht and A G Sleeman, geological Survey of Ireland 2002

I have marked on this Geology Map the course of the Ilen River from its source on Mullagmesha Mountain to the tidal estuary which begins at Skibbereen. The map shows the ‘grain’ of the various faults which run SW to NE over the terrain: the river generally flows perpendicular to these faults, and the ‘grain’ is clearly seen in the exposed river bed running over the Deelish Cascades.

Praeger usefully simplifies the geological definition of the landscapes (for more on Praeger see Finola’s complementary post today):

. . . The story which geology tells as to how West Cork and Kerry got its present form is interesting, and I shall try to tell it in non-geological language. Towards the close of Carboniferous times – that is, after the familiar grey limestone which covers so much of Ireland and the beds of sandstone and shale which succeeded it were laid down on an ancient sea-bottom, but long before the beginning of the Mesozoic period, when the New Red Sandstone and white Chalk were formed – the crust of the Earth in Ireland and beyond it was subjected to intense lateral squeezing from a north-south direction. This forced it into a series of great east-west folds, thousands of feet high from base to summit – the Carboniferous beds on top, and below them and following their ridges and hollows the massive strata of Devonian time, and other deeper-buried systems. A series of pieces of corrugated iron laid one over the other will illustrate what happened. The folding was developed particularly conspicuously in the Cork-Kerry area. What we see is the result of this ancient crumpling, now greatly modified by the effect of millions of years’ exposure to sun and frost, rain and rivers . . . The more resistant slates, carved into a wilderness of mountains, still tower up, forming long rugged leathery ridges. A sinking of the land has enhanced the effect by allowing the sea to flow far up the troughs. That the ridges were longer is shown by the high craggy islands that lie off the extremities, and continue their direction out into the Atlantic . . .

The Way That I Went, Robert Lloyd Praeger, Methuen & Co London, 1937

While the upheavals of far-off eras reaching back millions of decades certainly laid the foundations of our landscape, the geological events which actually honed the shaping of the terrain as we see it today are far more recent – the ‘Ice Ages’ which developed only 30,000 years ago and had receded by about 10,000 BC. During that time sea levels fell and then rose again, and the topography and shoreline of the island with which we are familiar today was established. The ice sheets covered most of the land and were up to 1,000 metres thick. As they melted, glaciers fell away from the highest points and carved fissures into the slopes, creating valleys and rivers. One of the most extensive ‘local’ ice-caps was in south-west Munster where a ‘Cork-Kerry’ glaciation, centred on or close to the Kenmare river, developed independent of the general ice sheet. Our own ‘Sweet Ilen’ was a consequence of the ice movement, and the rock formations that we see in the Deelish Cascades are good evidence of these modern geological events.

All the way down the Cascades you will see evidence of the scouring of the rocky river bed, and huge ‘erratic’ boulders that have been carried from the mountain-top on the ice flow, to be deposited randomly – and picturesquely – in the torrent. Of course, you don’t have to know about geology to appreciate the walk: you are free to explore the well kept path and delight in this West Cork experience which has been laid out for us all through the mighty efforts of the Drimoleague Heritage Walkways and the Sheep’s Head Way.

Previous episodes in this series: Sweet Ilen : Sweet Ilen – Part 2 : Sweet Ilen – Part 3 : Sweet Ilen – Part 4 : Sweet Ilen – Part 5 : Sweet Ilen – Part 6

O’Donovan Country (Sweet Ilen – Part 6)

Here’s a forerunner to Roaringwater Journal (above)! Philip Dixon Hardy lived from 1794 to 1875 and described himself as a poet, bookseller, printer, and publisher. He was the first to use a steam-powered printing press in Ireland and was the editor of The Dublin Penny Journal which was published every Saturday between 1832 and 1836. If you scroll through the contents you will see articles on all aspects of Irish life and accounts of many of his travels through the Irish countryside, including a series of ‘Rides through County Cork’. He was undoubtedly a man after our own hearts!

Continuing our own series of travels, exploring the Ilen River, we can’t help comparing our impressions of Castle Donovan (above) – which overlooks the Ilen after it has cascaded down from the summit of Mullaghmesha and broadened out to cross the plains of Cork County – with those that are recorded by Philip Dixon Hardy as he journeyed over the same terrain in 1828, almost two centuries ago.

The upper picture is taken from the Ilen plain looking north, with the castle tower set against the high mountains beyond. Above is our earliest known photograph of the castle: it comes from the Lawrence Collection, National Library of Ireland, and could date from the 1880s. Juxtapose this with the Dublin Penny Journal view, 50 years before that, shown under our header at the top of the page. Bear in mind that Hardy carried out most of his travels on foot:

. . . We will now suppose the the tourist who rejoiceth in the splendour of a wheel carriage has proceeded without any interruption to Bantry. We will act in the charitable capacity of guides to the humbler pedestrian. Him we would advise to select the old, or northern road, leaving Dunmanway to the west. Thence it proceeds to the lofty hill of Mielane, and surmounting a rising ground beyond this eminence, the vale of Castle Donovan (which forms the subject of our sketch) opens on the sight. It is hard to conceive of any thing more wild, more desolate, more lonely, than this savage vale. … I reached the eminence which commands it from the east, about two in the afternoon of a warm sunny day. Trees there are none in this district, and the heathy covering of the hills was incapable of showing any marks of the advancing season. In the centre of the vale beneath me, was the tall, castellated tower; an extensive marshy meadow lay beyond it, bounded by the steep rocky hills of Mullaugh-Nesha, and its peaked brethren. . .

Philip Dixon Hardy, 1828, from The Dublin Penny Journal

The Castle itself has a fairly well recorded history, although its origins are unclear. James N Healy – The Castles of County Cork, The Mercier Press 1988 – suggests that the first fortification on this site dates from the early 13th century, but the present building is more likely to be 16th century. There is a carved stone in a window embrasure on an upper floor which bears the date 1626, but Healy suggests that this marks a later restoration of the castle, and gives a probable date of construction between 1560 and 1584.

The castle was traditionally the seat of the Clann Cathail sept of the O’Donovans, and was first named ‘Sowagh’. I can’t find any origin for this name. Healy gives an intriguing story:

. . . A local story is told of how O’Donovan and his ally MacCarthy Duna hanged a protestant woman at the castle in 1641, as a result of which the curse of a corroding drip from the main arch was placed on the building. This would not cease until the demise of the last of the family: the castle does not appear to have been lived in again.

James N Healey – 1988 The Castles of County Cork

It is recorded that Cromwell’s officers attacked the castle and it was left in ruins. Returning to The Dublin Penny Journal, Philip Dixon Hardy describes his exploration of the remains:

. . . I diverged from the road to examine the old castle; it is founded on a rough rock whose surface, forming the floor of the vaulted hall of the castle, retains all its original inequalities. Strange notions of comfort must our ancestors have had! Here were men, possessed of a large tract of country, sufficiently wealthy to build several castles; and in this one, the constant residence for many years of a principal branch of the family, the floor of the hall is bare rock, which never has been levelled, and which is intersected with two or three ridgy indentations, nearly two feet in depth, and extending almost the whole length of the apartment!

PHILIP DIXON HARDY, 1828, FROM THE DUBLIN PENNY JOURNAL

This is what Hardy is referring to – in fact it’s not ‘the vaulted hall of the castle’! It’s the lowest floor – at ground level – and was in all likelihood a store or cattle shed. It might even have been a dungeon. The main ‘hall’ of the castle is on an upper level.

The castle structure was stabilised by the OPW and public access to the grounds was granted in 2013. Restoration works included the replacement of key elements of the masonry to prevent further decay. The ‘peep-hole’ above allows a view by a sentry located just inside the entry door of who might be standing outside: perhaps an undesirable character (below):

When you visit Castle Donovan, look over the low wall to the west of the tower itself. You will see an archaeological feature which is quite rare today, but was once common all over Ireland from early times: a cereal-drying kiln (also called a corn-drying or grain drying kiln).

What is a cereal-drying kiln? Here is a good summary, from Irish Archaeology. It looks almost megalithic – and the earliest one dated so far goes back to the Bronze Age, but there are many that are medieval, and this one at Castle Donovan is likely to be contemporary with the castle itself. The structure has a fire-pit (below) and trays of cereal were placed above the fire, and in this case under a capstone, presumably protecting the corn from wind and rain.

This extract from the 25″ Ordnance Survey map (late 19th century) shows the castle overlooking the Ilen River and, to the south, the bridge and the old school. To finish off this episode in the Ilen series, we will pause at this bridge. There’s plenty to see – good views back to the castle from the arches of the stone bridge; the site of the old National School. There is no sign of the building today, but there is a memorial stone:

This is from the Duchas Schools Folklore Collection, dating from 1937:

. . . Walkers: it was no uncommon thing for people to walk to and from Cork in olden times – often carrying baskets. Tradition has it that a woman Magg Hourihan of Deelis did the double journey on foot in one day (approximately 90 miles). Biddy Regan of Castledonovan is credited with the same feat – The occasion in both cases being the payment of Rent (which at that time was often paid through Cork butter factors). Herewith is a direction given to people who were unacquainted with the road – Bí ag dul soir, soir, soir – go bfeidir séipéal ar thaobh do láimhe deise ni fada uait Corcaig annsan.


Seán Ó Súilleabháin, múinteoir Deelish Co Cork

Previous episodes in this series: Sweet Ilen : Sweet Ilen – Part 2 : Sweet Ilen – Part 3 : Sweet Ilen – Part 4 : Sweet Ilen – Part 5

Ilen’s End (Sweet Ilen – Part 5)

It rises on a remote mountain-top in the wilds of Mullaghmesha townland and falls 500 metres from there to the Atlantic, over a length of 34 kilometres. I think it’s time to establish exactly where the river ends, and the ocean begins. As you can see from the photo above, the lower reaches are wide and shallow, and the estuarial waters are dotted with islands and islets, some of which are only revealed at the ebb of the tide.

Below Skibbereen, the river is fully tidal – and its character is constantly changing. The history of the waterway has also seen an evolution, from a busy highway carrying lighters filled with cargoes to the wharves in the town (in the 19th century there were five of them – and a Customs House), to the present day where it is a tranquil scene, only busy – in normal times – with the skiffs and light craft based at the Rowing Club (above): that establishment has produced some celebrated champions!

Oldcourt (above) was the transhipment point where laden ships from distant shores would leave their loads into the shallow draft barges that would take them upstream into the town. Today it is still a busy hub where vessels are stored, built and repaired – and also left to decay. The disorder of the place has a picturesque informality, and there is medieval history also: a rickety tower house stump stands guard over the apparent chaos. We have written about the boatyard (and the castle – and a ketch named Ilen) in a previous post.

You can cross a bywater of the Ilen by bridges at Inishbeg (above) and Ringarogy. Exploration of those two islands will reveal a number of view points over the main channel of the river to the north. The marked aerial map below shows the lie of the land, while the photos following show the wide views of the river in both directions from Inishbeg.

(Upper) looking upstream from Inishbeg, and (lower) a close view of The Glebe Burial Ground, also seen from across the main river at Inishbeg.

Downstream from Inishbeg: at the east end of the island we found an unusual large rock which appears to have a worked surface and a possible cup-mark. Below that rock is the lonely ruin of a structure which must have had a remarkable aspect over the whole width of the river. It would be easy to suppose that this ruin could have been part of a defence system, but there is no mention in the archaeological records of this, or of the rock. For now, they remain enigmas – but perhaps there is an alert reader out there who can shed some light?

Ringarogy has fewer accessible viewpoints than Inishbeg, but the long causeway and some prospects from high land indicate how the lower course of the river is punctuated with small, barren landfalls (above).

I have made up my mind that the Ilen proper must ‘end’ at Turk Head – the pier, above, is looking towards the main channel of the river. It is also a small but substantially built harbour – partly hewn out of the low cliffs – which can shelter a few light fishing craft.

But the reality of the downstream ‘end’ of the river seems to be defined on the 6″ OS map above, which dates from the early 19th century and shows the townland names and boundaries as they were recognised at that time. There, a clear line is drawn between the island of Inishleigh to the north, and Spanish Island to the south. To the east of that line, apparently, is the Ilen, while to the west is the edge of Roaringwater bay, which leads into the ocean, but first skirting a myriad of rocks and small islands, only some of which have names.

There may be traditions – unknown to me – that define where the river mouth lies. Perhaps it doesn’t really matter. If you are a seafarer carrying goods bound for Skibbereen you will have to negotiate your way safely through a fairly convoluted channel before entering a contrasting world of wide, calm water and rich, smooth meadowlands: Sweet Ilen.

Previous episodes in this series: Sweet Ilen : Sweet Ilen – Part 2 : Sweet Ilen – Part 3 : Sweet Ilen – Part 4

Favourite Posts of 2020

This has been a banner year for Roaringwater Journal – we passed the milestone of a million views and had our most viewed post ever (see below). Most of all, though, it’s been a year in which we feel privileged to have been able to keep bringing you our weekly blog in the teeth of this global pandemic. We won’t lie, there have been moments when it all seemed too hard, weeks when we couldn’t do the sort of travelling around and photographing that are so essential to our research, and days when the sense of underlying dread and distraction made it hard to concentrate on writing. Through it all, you kept us going, cheering and encouraging us with your likes, your views and your comments. So a huge THANK YOU to you, our dear readers!  We hope that our little efforts have provided to you, in turn, some notes of sunshine in the dark – like our view, above, from Nead an Iolair, taken just before we hit Publish. Herewith, keeping with the tradition of our usual year-end round up, your (and our!) favourite posts of 2020. 

Finola’s Favourites

That most-viewed post of all time? Of course it was Beautiful West Cork in Picture and Song. Colum Cronin’s song – and that voice! – paired with the incredible West Cork Scenery. A perfect fit.  Here it is again, in case you missed it first time around, or just to enjoy it once more.

Amazingly, our second most popular post this year was a recipe! We all got into baking during lockdown, and Roaringwater Journal was no exception. The main attraction with this Savoury Soda Bread is how easy it is – in ten minutes you can have bread in the oven filling your house with the aroma of virtue. It’s also a great base recipe which can be varied to make it more like a tea-time treat to serve with jam.

I’ve been wanting for a long time to do a proper treatment of the prehistoric Stone Circles that dot our West Cork landscape. When you write about archaeology there is no substitute for on-the-ground observation. Only by spending time at each monument do you become more alive to their presence in the landscape, their orientations, their similarities and differences. Travel restrictions this year made field trips more challenging and there are still a few on my list to see, but most of the ones we saw are so isolated and in such spectacular settings that it was a joy to plan and write this series. That’s Glanbrack Stone circle below, with a pair of stone outliers (taken in a big hurry as a slurry tank was heading into the field). You can start with The Stone Circles of West Cork: An Introduction (written in 2019), and move one to Multiple Stone Circles, Five-Stone Circles and finally the Discussion.

Readers will know my stained glass obsessions  and this year I devoted three posts to a group of mid-century artists and craftspeople producing unique and accomplished windows under the name Murphy Devitt Studios (links to all three parts on this page). I confined myself to their Cork windows and a marvellous journey of discovery it was to see how a young and energetic group set out to test how the ancient traditions of stained glass could be influenced by modern movements in art and design.

Finally, a post about a place that totally captured me – Monaincha, The Isle of the Living, in Co Tipperary. This is a site that takes a little effort to find and get to, but once you’ve been, you might agree with my opening statement that There are places on this island that seep into your soul. You come away with a sense of having visited another world, of having passed through a portal and been lucky enough to come back to tell the tale.

It’s been hard to limit myself to five (and as you can see I did cheat a bit) and indeed I could as easily have chosen others. Over to Robert now.

Robert’s Favourites

As Finola has set out, we are each reviewing favourite posts of this year: 2020. It has been a year unlike any other for both of us – and for everyone else, of course. At times we have been very limited as to where we can travel – no more than 5km from home for weeks at a time, for example. It’s not surprising, therefore, that our immediate environs have come into close focus for us. In one of my posts – from 26 January this year (and before Covid) – our own Rossbrin Cove was my subject, and I saw it partly through the eyes of others, including some local artists. The photo above was taken by our friend and neighbour Julian van Hasselt in 2010 – that’s a year before we arrived. It’s more or less our own view of Rossbrin’s medieval castle. Our winters so far haven’t been so ‘Christmassy’, but – who knows – there may be something waiting for us around the corner. . . The following photo, also from this post, was taken in January this year and shows how contrasting our weather patterns can be.

This beautifully atmospheric view of Rossbrin castle also includes another castle across the water in the distance: that’s the one that gives Castle Island its name. One of the highlights of the year for me was a visit to that island, courtesy of another neighbour: thank you, Dietrich, for giving us a ride out there on your handsome classic fishing boat ‘Barracuda’ (and for bringing us back)! We look out to the island from Nead an Iolair, and it has always had a sense of mystery for us: it has a number of dwellings on it, all now deserted and in ruins (have a look at the picture below). My post Castle Island Explored – Part 1 tells of our exploration but also sets out a little of the history of the place. Since our visit I have discovered more about the island and its story, and I really will get on with the long overdue second instalment in 2021 – that’s a promise!

In March this year, our lives changed: the pandemic was upon us, and I realised that one of my favourite pastimes – playing in the live music sessions in the Ballydehob pubs every Friday evening throughout the year – would not be happening for a while. To compensate, I started a new blog giving our musicians the opportunity to put up recordings of tunes and sings online to try and keep up our spirits as Covid progressed. ‘A while’ became a very long time and, in fact, music sessions have been out of the question ever since. The way things are looking as I write, it’s unlikely that they will start again until well into the coming year. I introduced the Swantonstown Sessions blog with a Roaringwater Journal post. Why ‘Swantonstown’? Because Ballydehob carried that name for a time in its history: many Swantons once lived here, and some still do today. As a musical interlude for this post, here’s me playing a tune by Turlough O’Carolan which I recorded for Swantonstown Sessions on my anglo concertina – Planxty Maggie Brown:

This year I discovered – and wrote about – signal towers in Ireland built at the time of the threat of a Napoleonic invasion in the very early years of the nineteenth century. One post turned into a series of seven posts, as – in spite of travel restrictions – we were able to explore most of the sites of these structures in County Cork, including the restored example at The Old Head of Kinsale (above). All the others are impressive but gaunt ruins dotted around the coastline, each one in sight of two further ones, and signals were passed between them using flags and – sometimes – beacons. If I had opened the series to include the whole Irish coastline there could have been 81 posts! That many were built in a period of just a few years. I called the series A Signal Success in Irish Engineering: you will find them all by following that link. Here’s a picturesque rendering by our friend, Peter Clarke, of the very vestigial tower remains at Ballyroon Mountain on the Sheep’s Head:

Another project which I started towards the end of the year is the exploration of our major West Cork river – the Ilen. That’s Ballyhilty Bridge, above. My series – Sweet Ilen – will continue into next year. There have been three posts to date: here is the most recent – Sweet Ilen Part 3. At the end of that one you will find links to the other two. It’s a magnificent waterway, rising in the summit of Mullagmesha Mountain and taking a lazy, winding course down to meet the Atlantic at Baltimore. I’m really looking forward to getting to that mountain source, when circumstances permit – and to the mouth. In the meantime there is plenty to to keep you busy in these posts, and all the others I have mentioned above. Enjoy your own celebrations and I hope the new year will bring us all renewal. Here is Sweet Ilen close to its tidal limit at Skibbereen:

Sweet Ilen – Part 3

Here is the third instalment of our wanderings along the Ilen – one of West Cork’s most significant rivers. Once a commercial highway connecting the merchants of Skibbereen with the coastal ports and scattered islands, it now plies its way from the summit of Mullagmesha Mountain taking a lazy and often secret course through lush valleys and pastures, showing itself to us only at a few crossing points until, boosted by many tributaries, it becomes a wide tidal waterway heading for Baltimore and the wild Atlantic.

Our explorations so far have taken us from Newcourt upstream to Ballyhilty Bridge. We have yet to ‘top and tail’ the river: that will be done, but only when restrictions and conditions permit. I doubt that we will be searching for the source in the mountains until next spring at the earliest, as those high paths are closed for safety at present. But, back in November, we were able to continue north from Hollybrook Demense and Maulbrack townland.

Images from top include the header showing the river at Caheragh with the distant mountains to the north; an anglers’ seat at Ballyhilty; and the broad river just upstream of Ballyhilty Bridge. The river is still wide as we follow it, but becomes shallower and is interrupted by rapids mixing with contemplative, deep pools (above).

Large parts of the river here are lost in the hinterland. We try to follow every small trackway that might take us close to it – and which certainly take us to the back of beyond – and catch the occasional glimpse such as this one (above), which is probably an ancient ford.

We delight in travelling the tiniest of boreens, which invariably open up new vistas for us, and make us feel so happy to be living in such a beautiful part of our world! This little used lane (above) takes us to the next crossing point – romantically named, as far as I can ascertain, Graveyard Bridge.

Two extracts from the OS maps of c1840 (upper) and c1897 (lower) show the site on the border of Ballaghdown South and Caheragh townlands, where an ancient road crosses the Ilen River. Both maps show a ford and stepping stones at this point. Today we found a bridge there dating (we believe) from the early twentieth century. We also found the remains of the old ford: large cobbles providing a trackway down the the waters’ edge: Finola is following the original line of the lane (below).

This river crossing was of significance in Medieval times. ‘Blessed Mary de Caheragh’ was a monastic site, said to be situated on the hilltop commanding the view above the graveyard. It was no doubt founded here because of the proximity of the watercourse.

1317 December 28, Geoffrey Fitz John de Cogan is presented by the King (by mandate to the Bishop of Cork), to the church of the Blessed Mary de Catheragh, in the King’s gift, by reason of his wardship of the lands and heir of John de Cogan

Tuckey’s Cork Remembrancer, from Durrus History

There are certainly earthworks, embankments and (reputedly) a souterrain on the high ground which overlooks the river, the ford site and the adjacent burial ground connected to Caheragh village. The Historic Environment Viewer suggest that this site (shown on both maps above) is a ringfort and makes no mention of an ecclesiastical settlement. I braved fierce cows and barbed wire to make the steep climb: it was well worth the effort (and the risk) for the views across the old fort ramparts which opened up to the distant mountains. There is no sign, today, of anything remotely monastic up there on the hill. There is another ‘ringfort’ a short distance to the south – enigmatically named ‘Bishopland’. Nowhere can I find any records or accounts of the fort or the small settlement to the south of it named Bishops Village: this confirms that there is still so much early history to be unravelled in the Irish landscape.

Caheragh Graveyard is located beside the Ilen here and it is also well worth making the time to explore. The village and present day church at Caheragh (which has some fine stained glass) are some way off to the west. You can see the spire on the skyline in this view from the graveyard itself (below).

The extensive Caheragh graveyard (above) – a view from the ringfort (and possible medieval site) looking across the river. The ford, roadway and later bridge are on the far left of the picture. Burial grounds are always a magnet for us, and we spent significant time exploring. The Skibbereen Heritage Centre has done sterling work researching this and many other West Cork graveyards: you will find information online here, and more in the Centre itself, which merits many visits. One grave which was important for me is that of the parents of Captain Francis O’Neill, the Chicago Police Chief who came from West Cork and collected thousands of Irish traditional dance tunes and songs which he gathered from the many Irish settlers in Chicago and who had kept the tradition alive far away from their birthplaces. I wrote about Chief O’Neill a few years ago. The ‘Celtic Cross’ memorial below was commissioned by Francis during a visit home in 1906.

Erected By Captain Francis O’Neill

Chicago, USA To the Memory of his Parents

John O’Neill of Tralibane

Died Nov 1867 Aged 66 Years

And Catherine O’Mahoney

Died 1900 Aged 88 Years

Requiescant in Pace

Amen

inscription in Caheragh Graveyard, West Cork

This aerial view above clearly shows the bridge that has replaced the old ford and stepping stones at this site. You can also see the ‘fort’ on the hilltop above it. The bridge should not be dismissed because it is relatively modern: it’s an example of practical civil engineering in Ireland, possibly in the early years of the Free State, and is functional rather than elegant, serving the purpose of helping to open up some of the remoter regions of the west of Ireland.

Here are the previous episodes in this series: Sweet Ilen and Sweet Ilen – Part 2