Theme and Variations

November sky at Nead an Iolair

Prelude: November sky over Nead an Iolair

Up on our hill above the Cove we are constantly treated to painterly skies. We could fill a whole blog with these changing skyscapes, and now – in late November – we have an extended period of clear cold weather which offers us spectacular sunsets: each day seems to outdo the previous one. On our walks we can’t resist using our cameras to record the wide West Cork skies, although these pictures are barely adequate to recreate the full celestial symphony. We have tried to come up with words to express to ourselves how magnificent these are: somehow the words seem trivial…. Stunning crops up frequently, as do mesmerising, awe-inspiring, exquisite, sublime, unsurpassed. Perhaps it’s best just to let the images speak for themselves: we feel privileged to be living in this incomparable land.

Bay rainbow

Overture: Bay rainbow

Sheep's Head sky

Arietta: Sheep’s Head horizon

Bow over Bishops Luck

Intermezzo: Bow over Bishops Luck

Ballybane sunrise

Crescendo: Ballybane sunrise

Silver sky

A bocca chiusa: silver Mizen sky

Sky trail

Segue: Meteoric dawn

Rossbrin, dusk

Tranquillo: dusk at Rossbrin

Two suns

Caballeta: two suns

Wide sky

Con fuoco: Roaring Water resplendent


Cadenza: transcendental times


Finale and Coda

Bay of Rainbows


It’s a five minute walk down the hill from Nead an Iolair to the water at Rossbrin Cove (and a ten minute walk back up!). I do that walk as often as possible, and I grow ever fonder of this secluded place. I’m always on the lookout for birds: when the tide is low the natural inlet is a large mudflat – ideal territory for waders (Curlews, Oystercatchers), Gulls, Ducks and – occasionally – Divers. I often see the mussel boat working just outside the Cove: there is a network of mussel beds in Roaringwater Bay. The mussels Mytilus Edulis are grown in polyester ‘socks’ hanging from ropes attached to buoys, long lines of which can be seen on the surface of the water between the Cove and the islands. The mussel boat is a strangely complicated piece of floating machinery, having on board heavy winches and drums for winding in the ropes. Altogether smaller are the lobster and shrimping boats – one-man operations which also set out buoys to identify where their pots are put down. I know when the lobster boat is out: there is a white van down on the pier, usually with an elderly Collie asleep underneath it.

low tide

Low tide

From our perch up here we can see six castles, the most prominent being Finghinn O’Mahony’s which once guarded the entrance to the Cove. It’s in a poor state now – quite a lot of the stonework has fallen in the last ten years. The castle and its acreage were recently sold and there is talk of some strengthening of the ruin being put in hand to prevent its complete loss. It’s a great piece of history, well worth preserving. In medieval times Finghinn – the Scholar Prince – presided, here, over one of the great centres of learning in Europe, and in the British Museum there is a leather bound volume scribed at the castle during his time which has never been translated from the Irish. It’s strange to walk along the shoreline, to experience the peace and remoteness, and to remember that this was once a hotbed of knowledge and also a hub for large French and Spanish fishing fleets in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, all paying their dues to the O’Mahony septs (Irish clans) for rights and protection. These rights were worth thousands: West Cork was a wealthy place then – far away from the tax collector!

Rossbrin Castle - at the centre of the Medieval world

Rossbrin Castle – at the centre of the Medieval world

Today we walked out to the edge of the Cove, searching for an ancient cillín (look out Finola’s post for a definition). We are not sure whether we found that, but we did see some very strange field boundaries and a possible unrecorded cup-marked stone. We started out in sunshine but – as often happens here – we were caught out by a sudden storm squall blowing across from the Atlantic: we were soaked. But the reward was a superb rainbow spanning from south to north horizons. Central to it was a shaft of sunlight lighting up Jeremy Irons’ castle at Kilcoe.

Holy well

Holy well (well, possibly the site of one…)

The Cove abounds in history: there is a holy well marked on the old maps, right on the north shore. All that can be seen there now is a spring – presumably of fresh water – which is immersed at high tide. It’s fascinating to think what meaning this once had for those who dwelled here – and long before the time of the Scholar Prince. There is at least one Fairy Fort close to the water, while high above and overlooking the Cove is the enigmatic Bishops Luck standing stone. In more modern times there was extensive copper mining – our Calor gas tank at Nead an Iolair is supposed to be situated over an infilled shaft!


Mines; standing stones; Fairy Forts; medieval castles and manuscripts; holy wells; mussel farming; lobsters, shrimps et al… We are surrounded by evidence of human endeavour going back thousands of years. Through it all the natural world continues regardless: the sun rises, the moon wanes, storms blow in, seasons turn; the tides bring daily changes to the shoreline – and the rainbows are our evanescent doorstep miracles…