Robert’s Favourite Posts

We had an unexpected – and unsolicited – accolade in the Irish Examiner last weekend! Tommy Barker wrote, in an article about Rossbrin (pictured above): “…The wonderful literary and visually rich website, http://www.roaringwaterjournal.com, by Rossbrin residents Robert Harris and Finola Finlay is a treasure, a sort of 21st century Robert Lloyd Praeger, online…” Of course, we went straight to our bookshelves to dip into our copy of Praeger’s The Way That I Went – An Irishman In Ireland, first published in 1937. Here’s an extract:

…At the southern end of this land of great mountain promontories, in West Cork, you find yourself in a little-known and tourist-free region of much charm. You stay on Sherkin Island (Inis Oircín, little pig’s island) or Cape Clear Island, at Schull (Scoil, a school) or far out at Crookhaven: and you walk and boat and fish and lounge and bathe, and enjoy the glorious air and sea; towns and trams and telephones seem like bad dreams, or like fugitive glimpses of an earlier and inferior existence. A meandering railway penetrates to Schull, and roads are as good as you could expect them to be in so lonely a country. All is furzy heath and rocky knolls, little fields and white cottages and illimitable sea, foam-rimmed where it meets the land, its horizon broken only by the fantastic fragment of rock crowned by a tall lighthouse which is the famous Fastnet…

Yes – that’s our West Cork alright (above is a view of the Mizen taken from Mount Gabriel). We hope that, over five years of writing this journal, we have indeed given a good account of this wonderful place which we are privileged to call ‘home’. Certainly, there is nowhere we would rather be. But Roaringwater Journal has not just been about West Cork: we have covered a fair bit of Irish culture and history as well. Last week’s post set out the six most popular articles that we have written in terms of readership numbers; today we are both reviewing our own personal favourites (see Finola’s here) and there is lots to choose from: 466 posts to date! All of them are listed by category in the Navigation pages.

Foremost in my own mind in terms of personal satisfaction is the series I wrote last year: Green & Silver. There have been nine posts in all, starting with my review of a book which I first read in 1963, when I won it as an essay-writing prize at school. The book, Green & Silver, told the story of a journey around the Irish canal system in 1946 (the year I was born), undertaken by an English engineer and writer, L T C ‘Tom’ Rolt and his wife, Angela. When I wrote the review 70 years had passed since the Rolts made that journey. Finola and I conceived the idea of retracing the steps of the Rolts, although not by boat: we drove and walked. It was to be an exercise in tracking the passing of time. We would find the location of every photograph that Angela Rolt had taken in 1946, and take a new one, so that we could compare the changes that had occurred over seven decades. There were many: the canals themselves, which were then near-derelict in places have now been well restored, and the island of Ireland has today an amazing but probably under-appreciated asset: a cross-border system of navigable waterways which connects Waterford, Limerick, Dublin, Belfast and Coleraine.

Canal port: Richmond Harbour, Co Longford. Upper picture taken by Angela Rolt in 1946; lower picture, the same view taken 70 years on

I have always had an obsession with wildlife, and one of my favourite posts summarises what wonderful natural things we have all around us here: The Wild  Side. We have written about the birds – choughs, eagles, sparrowhawks – and the little ones that come to our feeder and keep us entertained.

We will never forget our good friend Ferdia, who arrived on our doorstep on the day we moved into Nead an Iolair, and was a regular visitor (usually daily) over several years. Sadly, foxes don’t live for long in the wild, and he has now passed away. He was a very fine dog-fox and was undoubtedly the head of a large family. We hoped that one of his offspring might have taken his place on our terrace, but I suppose he just could never be replaced.

Of course, the pasture and coastline that surrounds us has fine creatures of the domesticated variety, too! (left and right below).

I have family roots in Cornwall and, during my time living here, I have become aware of many links between that westernmost peninsula of Britain and West Cork. In fact, those links go back into prehistory: in the Bronze Age – three and a half thousand years ago – copper was mined on the slopes of Mount Gabriel – a stone’s throw from where we live – and was mixed with tin from Cornwall to make the all-important ‘supermetal’ of Bronze. Another link which I was so pleased to find was that Cornwall’s Patron Saint – St Piran – was actually born and brought up on Cape Clear – the island we look out to across Roaringwater Bay. Read all about it here.

The little church at Perranzabuloe in Cornwall (now inundated by sand) marks the spot where St Ciarán from Cape Clear landed to start his mission. Because of a difference in the Irish and Cornish languages, he became known as St Piran over there. He lived to the age of 208!

Stirring up those links led to my life being taken over in the summer of this year by organising (together with Ann Davoren and the team at the West Cork Arts Centre) an exhibition of the work of three contemporary Cornish artists which was held in Uillinn, Skibbereen’s amazing new gallery. The exhibition ran with the title of West meets West and heralds future collaborations and visits to Cornwall by West Cork artists. This link opens the series of posts that report on all this.

My time here in West Cork – and in Ireland – has heightened my interest in all things medieval, particularly architecture. Finola has written a highly researched and detailed series on the Irish Romanesque style, and our travels to carry out this research have been enjoyable and instructive. I have taken a liking to High Crosses, most of them probably over a thousand years old. They are always found in the context of fascinating early ecclesiastical sites. If you want to know more, have a look at the posts: so far we have explored Moone (above), Durrow (below), Monasterboice, and Castledermot. There are many more to add to this list – and to keep us busy over the next few years.

That’s quite enough for one post! It would be possible to write several on how we have been inspired by our explorations in search of material. Somehow, though, our hearts always come back to our very own piece of Irish soil: Nead an Iolair (Nest of the Eagles). Here it is, and here are the eagles flying over it! You’ll find more about them here.

December in Rossbrin

In the past year I have returned to Rossbrin again and again in my posts. That’s not surprising, as it’s just a short and always rewarding walk down our Beautiful boreens:

It’s December, and we can expect anything in the way of weather. This is the mildest corner of Ireland: further north and east of us today, spanning Cavan, Donegal and Wicklow, heavy snow is falling and temperatures are forecast to drop to minus 8 degrees C in the coming hours. The last real bit of snow in West Cork came along seven years ago but we weren’t here, then, to see it (image below of Nead an Iolair in 2010 courtesy of our neighbours Dietrich and Hildegard Eckardt with, below it, today’s view of the Cove seen from the house):

Whatever the weather, our cove has something to offer – and every day is guaranteed to bring a mixture. When the sun is out we can bask in it as if it was the middle of summer, but it’s just as likely that there will be a stiff and invigorating breeze to accompany our bracing walks.

Above – reminders of summer pleasures to come as we wind down to the year’s end in Rossbrin: Andre’s catamaran – Danu – which he built himself, rides out the winter storms on a wet mooring in the Cove. The first of those storms – Ophelia – hit us last month, and there is a fair bit of wind damage still to be seen:

Traffic jam in Rossbrin!

Often, I will start out on the downhill walk with my head buzzing from the inexplicable madness of the outside world: British ethnocentricity, North American absurdity and worldwide chaos. Within minutes these concerns are receding, and when I reach the waterside I am overtaken by the immersive experience of natural things all around me and I find the solace of constancy: not much changes here. This little townland of Rossbrin is above and away from that buzzing, reeking world. It is a far saner place.

Since publishing this post we have received a communication from our good neighbour Julian, who lives down on the Cove, including some excellent photographs of the winter of 2010. Here’s one of them – thank you, Julian…

Cove in the snow 2010

Nest of the Eagle

eagles over nead

Nead an Iolair – that is the house we live in, here in the townland of Cappaghglass, West Cork. That’s it, in the picture above, with a pair of eagles flying overhead… We don’t see them very often. Well, in truth, we haven’t seen them at all – this is a bit of photographic magic – and wishful thinking. Nead an Iolair – our Irish readers will know that this means Nest of the Eagles – is a perfect name for the site, suspended way up above Rossbrin Cove – a good lookout with higher ground behind: exactly the right environment for the big birds. There were undoubtedly eagles here once – and in various other parts of Ireland – but when and how many? As with most things nowadays, someone has carried out the research and there’s a study available online. It’s worth a read, but I can summarise the main points: analysis of place-names and documentary evidence from the last 1500 years enabled the following diagrams to be drawn up:

eagles data

Data from The history of eagles in Britain and Ireland: an ecological review of placename and documentary evidence from the last 1500 years – Evans, O’Toole and Whitfield, RSPB Scotland 2012. Diagram (a) is 500AD and diagram (b) is 1800AD. The dots show Golden Eagle locations in dark grey, White-tailed Eagle locations in light grey and overlapping of both species in black

The diagram shows that White-tailed Eagles have lived here on the Mizen Peninsula 1500 years ago, and both species have been located a little further up the west coast as recently as 200 years ago. In 2001 fifty young golden eagles were released in Glenveagh National Park, Donegal, in an attempt to reintroduce the bird to Ireland. In a similar project to reintroduce white-tailed eagles,  one hundred of the birds were brought from Norway to the Killarney National Park between 2007 and 2011, and up to September 2016 thirteen chicks have survived. The aim is to get at least ten chicks flying from their nests each year. Six white-tailed eagle chicks have flown from their nests in Ireland in 2016, making it the most successful year yet; one of these chicks was born near Glengariff, which is only just over the hill from us in terms of an eagle’s range. So we remain ever hopeful that the white-tailed eagles (sometimes known as white-tailed sea eagles) will soon make their way down here to Nead an Iolair – attracted, perhaps, by the name. We’d be very pleased to see them circling overhead – they are the largest birds on Ireland’s shores. Already our bird feeders attract avians of all shapes and sizes, and they generally get along fine with each other, although the smaller birds do make themselves scarce when Spioróg turns up!

White-tailed sea eagle

A superb photograph of Haliaeetus albicilla – the white-tailed eagle or white-tailed sea-eagle, by Yathin S Krishnappa (via Wikipedia Commons). This was taken in Svolvaer, Norway – geographical source of the birds that were reintroduced into Killarney National Park within the last decade

Whenever we are on our travels we look out for the word Iolair (eagle) in place-names. We found one in Duhallow, a Barony in Cork County, just north of the wonderfully named Boggeragh Mountains. In fact we were alerted by signposts directing us to Nad or Nadd (nest) and found ourselves in a tiny settlement which was determined to point out its links with the eagles.

nad road sign

eagle on post 2

large eagle's nest sign

The village of Nead an Iolair in Duhallow, North Cork makes its associations with eagles very clear. The pub is named The Eagle’s Nest, and there is a fine sculpture of the bird sitting Nelson-like on a column beside it

Besides these features the village has a poignant memorial dating from the struggle for independence: a reminder of harsh realities still within living memory. The words that stand out are May God Free Ireland.

Back to the eagles and – in an interesting diversion into semantics – we noticed that the name over the door of the pub is in old Irish script and has introduced an additional character to the word Iolair – it looks like an ‘f’. Finola tells me that the use of the accent over that ‘f’ – which is known as a búilte – serves to silence the letter. In modern script it would be converted to ‘fh’: so fhiolair would still be pronounced ‘uller’. But we can’t find any precedent for using the word in this form. Perhaps an expert in Irish language can help us here…?

nead an fiolair

Regular readers will be aware that I am always on the lookout for links between Cornwall and the West of Ireland (and there are many). Interestingly, Nead an Iolair is one of them. Just outside St Ives, on the north coast of Cornwall, is a superb house, also called Eagle’s Nest. It was the family home of Patrick Heron, one of the influential St Ives School artists. When I lived in Cornwall I frequently passed by the house and was always impressed with its location – like us now, it is high up above the coast with a commanding view over the myriad small fields and out to the ocean. I always thought I would like to live there, because of that view… Now I have my own Eagle’s Nest – and I couldn’t be more content.

eagles Nest cornwall

Looking across the Cornish moorlands near Zennor, towards Eagle’s Nest – photographed by the artist Patrick Heron, whose home this was

Window on our World…

Our View to the Islands

Our view to the Islands

Sunlight and drama have been the key elements of the view from Nead an Iolair this week. The drama began at coffe time on Monday: whenever we are sitting having breakfast, lunch, tea, supper – or maybe just sitting – we are looking out over the scene you see above. Central in that prospect is our bird feeder, where we keep a constant eye on the comings and goings.

Suddenly, a bomb dropped out of the sky! It scattered the birds and there was such a twittering and chattering – squawks and alarm calls. The ‘bomb’ was a Kestrel – who had singled out a juicy victim from among the avian throng… I’m pleased to say that it missed its target and crashed ignominiously into the adjacent gorse bush. Seconds later it extricated itself and sloped off, trying not to look too foolish. I have to say I admire birds of prey, although I’d rather not see them lunching on our garden friends. In the past we have also had sight of a Sparrowhawk on our stone boundary wall.

The Swallows: Felix Bracquemond, 1881

The Swallows: Felix Bracquemond, 1881

As I write this there are Swallows wheeling in the air above us: although we have had cloudless skies for several days the wind is in the east and it’s pretty chilly – however these harbingers of the Summer seem happy enough to have arrived on our shores in late April.

The Choughs are always with us!

The Choughs are always with us!

The Choughs are good friends of ours – they sit on the roof or tumble about in front of us, showing off their bright red bills and claws. At the moment they are foraging in the rocky land behind the house, pulling out roots and twigs for nest building. Another nester is the Starling family which inhabits the space in our eaves, creating a lot of noise and mess.

rabb

I was pleased to see a Rabbit in the garden: there has been an outbreak of mixomatosis in the surrounding countryside in recent times and over the last year we have hardly come across any of these mammals in the fields locally. Mixomatosis was introduced into the UK in the 1950s – apparently by accident – and then was used as a deliberate Rabbit control measure, by placing sick animals in burrows (then and now an illegal practice). By 1955 95% of Rabbits in the UK had been wiped out. I remember those days: seeing dead and dying animals every time I went out as a sensitive nine year old made me sickened and appalled, especially when I learned that we humans had initiated such cruelty. The virus recurs cyclically every few years, as has happened around here: I am still sickened and angered by it.

The next visitor was a female Pheasant. Although less colourful than her male counterpart she is nevertheless a handsome addition to our menagerie. The good weather has enabled us to have our doors open every day, but this does mean an influx of smaller guests, which have to be carefully rounded up and ejected before we go to sleep. They include spiders and flies, but also Native Irish Honeybees from our neighbour’s hives. Apis Mellifera Mellifera has evolved over thousands of years with a large body and long dark abdominal hairs which make it uniquely suited to survive in a harsh Irish climate. It will be found foraging early and late in the season and will fly in dull, drizzly and cold weather. I gleaned this information from the comprehensive website of the Native Irish Honeybee Society.

Castle in the Mist

Castle in the Mist

These wonderful spring days have been heralded by misty mornings. Evenings have been clear, with the crescent moon and Venus prominent over the western horizon. This is the time when we see our Bats. They might be either Common Pipistrelles or Soprano Pipistrelles: I’m sure you know that the former echolocates at a peak frequency of 45kHz while the latter echolocates at a higher frequency peaking at 55kHz. I keep listening out but can’t quite decide which is which… Anyway, they are both indigenous – and are probably sharing our eaves spaces with the Starlings.

crescent moon

The gorse is in full bloom, as are the blackthorn hedges. Any picture of our surroundings at this time of the year has to show off the yellow and white – and, of course, the emerald green and azure blue.

looking out

No ‘nature post’ here would be complete without mention of our own Red Fox, Ferdia. In fact, part of the drama of the week was the appearance of another Fox! As we hadn’t seen Ferdia for quite some time we worried that he might have gone the way of all Foxes: the average life of a Red Fox in the wild is only around five years – and our neighbours claim to have been hosting Ferdia for more like ten… The new Fox only made the briefest of appearances, just enough to be photographed. I think it is a Vixen – smaller and thinner – and very nervous. We couldn’t help thinking that she had come on to the scene because of Ferdia’s demise – but no! Yesterday evening, there was Ferdia knocking on the window, cocky as ever – although he does look a bit bedraggled at the moment, possibly because he’s beginning to lose his fine thick winter coat. Perhaps now we will have to find scraps for two foxes…

Fresh on the scene: a female Red Fox

Fresh on the scene: a female Red Fox

Seen through the window: a bedraggled Ferdia posing with one of our many household Hares!

Seen through the window: a bedraggled Ferdia posing with one of our many household Hares!

Finally, I was fascinated by another visitor to Nead an Iolair this week: a female Emperor Moth took up residence on our bedroom window cill. As you can see, her appearance is very striking. I wish I had been able to observe her all day, as evidently these Moths stretch themselves out in the sun waiting for a mate to arrive. The males are even more spectacular, but alas I didn’t see one. You’ll find this lady in an Irish folk tale: The Children of Lir.

Female Emperor Moth

Female Emperor Moth

I have to give a special word of thanks to Finola, who expertly took most of the photographs in this post with her excellent Leica-lensed camera

A Moment in Time

Beautiful Rossbrin Cove

Beautiful Rossbrin Cove

It happens so suddenly. One day you will go down to the Cove and the sounds of summer will be in the air: childrens’ voices and laughter from gardens and beach, excited dogs, perhaps a clop of ponies from the riding stable, the flap of sails getting under way and the whirr of outboards on ribs. Then, the end of August comes, and it’s as if a shutter drops mechanically. Gates are shut and blinds are drawn at the many holiday houses along the water; there’s a chill in the morning air and a haze hangs over everything. An ever so slight feeling of melancholy accompanies the Oystercatchers pieu-ing as they glide in.

fuschia

But there’s abundance all around: fat, luscious berries and hips dominate the hedgerows and wild fuschias are as rampant as ever. Bees are constantly in evidence. The sun still comes uninterrupted every day in this record-breaking year while, in the evening, the biggest moon of the season rises magnificently in the east, bringing with it a huge tidal variation: low water empties the Cove almost completely, providing a feasting ground for the little waders, while the Swans are compelled to sit on their single legs forlorn on a mud-bank, or to sail off out to the open water beyond the castle.

haze

On a day last week we perambulated the full rim of the Cove, pausing by Julian’s house at the very end, just before reaching the landmark of Finghin O’Mahony’s ruined tower. Like us, Julian is a year-round resident: there are just a few others. There is activity in the boatyard at the end: they are preparing to receive, over the coming month, all the sailing craft that are currently moored to buoys in the mouth of the inlet: upwards of thirty. Yacht insurance generally runs out at the end of October. Last winter – the stormiest in living memory – saw a single boat ride it all out undamaged on the water, while high and dry in the boatyard several fine yachts were toppled and broken by westerly gales. For some reason (perhaps its because of the now sleeping houses) the birds’ chattering and serenading seems to be louder and more insistent.

When I first came through Rossbrin Cove – many years ago – it didn’t make a positive impression on me. It seemed a bit of a scrappy place, with its huge, muddy slipway at the far end and rusting trailers and discarded dinghies growing in to the encroaching sedges. The shoreline itself, edged with home-hewn jetties and concrete landing places, seemed a little urban: I passed on, looking for a bit more in the way of West Cork scenery and character. Now, the Cove is our daily garden path: with familiarity it has elbowed its way into our hearts and we appreciate every detail. At low tides the rocks are a hunting ground for Mussels (although we have to wait for Good Friday), and sunlit pools are inhabited by scurrying crabs and bewildering varieties of seaweed.

misty

Before the haze burns off, sky and water merge and the islands drift in and out of view. The sea itself is a frontier of the untameable Atlantic but, here in this land of inlets, coastal hills and castles it mirrors the sunlight from its barely rippled surface, and our summer will never end.

Enjoying Rossbrin

Enjoying Rossbrin

Nead an Iolair  - the view to RoaringwaterNead an Iolair – the view to Roaringwater

March Miscellany

shovel

Another selection of Irish ‘normalities’ which have caught my English eye over the last few months (the previous selection is here). They have amused me, surprised me and sometimes baffled me. I have the greatest respect for their ‘Irishness’ – a unique outlook on life and culture from a small island which has made a big mark on the world. Mostly the images need no commentary but I have provided a little information for the curious at the end of the post.

them jobs

holy water

scrap

sprigging

ford hare

red light

shrine

luckyhouse

posterity

till he comes

walker

walking

offerings

Most of the images are from our own neighbourhood, but the spectacular wells and shrines – including the one above (to St Brigid) were seen on our trip to Clare. Can’t resist just one more image: it’s the view we enjoy every day from Nead an Iolair, constantly changing and always arresting.

panorama