You know we love the beauty of West Cork, and we can’t resist the odd foray into all our neighbouring parishes. They are perhaps a bit wilder and higher, with markedly remote open spaces. So here’s a little wander on to the Beara Peninsula and beyond: I have raided our archive of photographs to enthuse us – and, hopefully you – to travel those roads in the coming spring. Firstly, have a look at this:
There’s a house down there, nestled under some spectacularly steep fields! This is to remind you that you have to up the scale a bit if you are stepping across the county boundaries. This Kerry landscape is such a contrast to our own seascapes and islands. We have our hills, of course: Mount Gabriel was in the news this week because of the gorse fires which lit up its summit. Such fires are allowed up until the first of March – by longstanding tradition – to clear the land and improve the grazing. It all seems a bit incongruous, though, when governments are planning to outlaw wood-burning stoves because they lead to poor air quality, and we are being advised by the HSE about the adverse health effects of air polluted by smoke and ash. Fire on Mount Gabriel 26 February 2023 – photo by Magnus Burbanks – courtesy Southern Star:
Let’s leave that argument – and the drama – for others to debate, and return to the colour and spectacle of our neighbours. Below are fishing boats tied up in Castletown-Berehaven. You’ll note that ‘Iolair’ is registered in Skibbereen. If this seems strange, remember that our West Cork town on the Ilen River is still the Port Of Registration for all shipping on the south-west coast of Ireland between the jurisdictions of Cork and Limerick. My recent post on the Ilen described Skibbereen as “. . . a settlement served by water . . .” with perhaps up to nine historic quays and a Custom House located within the town in its heyday of commercial vessels working on the river. Present day Shipping registrations are administered by Customs & Excise in Bantry, even though the prefix ‘S’ (for Skibbereen) is still used – a somewhat quirky anomaly: the Custom House in Skibbereen was closed in 1890!
The people of the Beara Peninsula quite likely think of themselves foremost as an entity, rather than a mixture of Corkonians and Kerry people. In Eyries a Seanchaí – or storyteller – is celebrated: Pádraig Ó Murchú. His story is a somewhat sad one, certainly not untypical of many remote areas in Ireland. He was born in Gort Broc (Gortbrack, Co Kerry – north of Kenmare Bay) on 15 February 1873. His parents were Seán Ó Murchú whose wife Máire Harrington. (‘Caobach’) and he had four sisters and two brothers. Five of them, the boys and three of the girls, went to Butte, Montana. Seán died in Gort Broc at the age of 47 when Pádraig himself was a young boy. None of his forebears ever returned home but he would receive a letter every now and then from one of his aunts. Folklorist Martin Verling states that 707 men and 431 women emigrated to Butte from the parish of Aorí between 1870 and 1915. An account of how his great-grandfather, Seán Ó Murchú, settled in Kerry was taken down from Pádraig’s mouth (or Patsy as he was called): Seán was abducted by one of the ‘Cithearnaigh’ (a name given to certain Irish landlords in Beara) in Kerry and sold in France as a slave. When he managed to escape, he landed in Beara.
Commemorating Pádraig Ó Murchú in Eyries
Measles affected Pádraig’s eyesight so badly that he was given a blind pension; ‘flickering’ left him unable to read or write. He spoke English fluently, with Irish his native tongue. Until she died in 1923 his mother lived with him, and it fell to him to tend to her during the decline of old age. He earned his living by farming and fishing and was always in good health, apart from his eyesight. Writer and folklorist Máirtín Verling recorded memories of him from men who were young boys during Pádraig’s old age. Pádraig was part of a culture now vanished, and Verling states “. . . the day Pádraig Ó Murchú was lost as an old man – the habit of storytelling, and the habit of speaking Irish, died together in Béarra . . .”
Map of the Beara Peninsula from the Royal Society of Antiquities of Ireland, T J Westropp 1919. Principal archaeological sites are indicated.
These Beara landscapes are typical of the remote grandeur of the territory. Human settlement has encroached upon it – the patchy forestry plantations above are unnatural and uninspiring – but there are sufficient wild prospects remaining to ensure that the all-embracing beauty can never be eroded. Plenty of living history remains in evidence.
Archaeology, colour and community are all part of the local scenes on the Beara. The tourism industry is undoubtedly thriving, bringing fresh life with it.
We hope you will agree that the Beara – whether it’s Cork or Kerry – is deserving of a visit – and a stay: you have to delve deeply into the lifestyle and traditions. Enjoy!
(Above – the work of stained glass artist George Walsh. A visit to the little church in Eyries to take in more of this is a must)