Rossbrin Calendar

We know Rossbrin Cove intimately – more so than any other part of West cork. That’s because it’s right on our doorstep, and there is seldom a day when we don’t walk or drive along the Cove; and, even if we fail to get out, the views from our windows at Nead an Iolair will always be looking down on the Cove and its castle. I conceived the idea of sorting through all our pictures and selecting a ‘calendar’ of Rossbrin, taking us consecutively through the months of the year so that we can follow the seasons and the changes that every day brings. That’s Rossbrin Castle above, a view taken in January – which can often be atmospherically misty. But the picture below was also taken in that month, when we explored an abandoned house in the environs of Rossbrin: just as atmospheric in its own way – and bursting with a story to tell . . . But we’ll never know it.

Low tide at Rossbrin, taken from the pier and looking towards the boatyard – an important aspect of the Cove as the winter laying-up and maintenance of pleasure boats brings all-year-round life to the area and provides a livelihood. The picture above was taken in February, on a good clear day. In the middle distance you can just make out a wrecked boat uncovered by the receding water: this is the ‘Flying Foam’ – still rather enigmatic – which I wrote about a little while ago. We expect our strongest gales in February, and the picture below was taken when storm clouds began to gather.

March can also be a month when the weather is inclement (above), but we had a surprise in 2018 when snow covered the land around us (below) – a climatic event seldom experienced in Roaringwater Bay, which is more usually kept mild by the Gulf Stream. That’s Castle Island beyond the Cove – once inhabited (and with its own castle which you can see in the picture) but now just used to run sheep and cattle.

You can see how quickly the weather changes in West Cork: Rossbrin Castle Farm is enjoying blue sea and skies in April, and the gorse is in bloom, showing that love is in season! In the detail below, at the edge of the Cove and also in April, we can see the new spring growth beginning to overtake last year’s seed-heads.

By the time May arrives, boats are already being taken out of winter storage and are anchored in the Cove. We get fabulous skyscapes perched up here above Rossbrin, and these mares’ tails herald windy weather ahead.

This is one of my favourite pictures – taken by Finola from Nead an Iolair in June. Late evening sun paints the sky and sea in almost implausible colours – although the photo has not been doctored. The whole effect beautifully outlines the Fastnet Rock lighthouse on the horizon with some of Carbery’s Hundred Isles silhouetted as if floating; Rossbrin is in the foreground. By day you can see that wildflowers are abundant this month (below).

The sea in July is at its bluest. Here is Roaringwater Bay out beyond the shelter of Rossbrin on a calm day. There is hardly a ripple on the surface, except for the elegant wake of the yacht motoring in.

Nead an Iolair – our house – taken in August. You can see that Rossbrin Cove is central to our view out over the Islands. The name of the house means ‘Nest of the Eagle’, and the birds have obligingly flapped their way into the photo, courtesy of Photoshop. White-tailed Sea Eagles do survive in Kerry – not too far away – and they have occasionally been seen in West Cork. Once they were common across the west of Ireland. Below is another August picture – a wild apple tree close to the shore of Rossbrin.

I couldn’t resist adding this picture to the August tally (above): it’s an abandoned post box set into the wall of the old Rossbrin School, now closed. The school building survives as a private house and retains some of the architectural features of its previous use.

This magnificent machine is a remote-controlled boat-lift and was photographed on the large slipway which is at the western end of the Cove, last September. The Cove is a natural harbour and has been used as a resource for sheltering fishing boats and providing facilities for fish processing since medieval times. This post outlines how ‘fish palaces’ worked: there was at least one here in Rossbrin.

By October most of the boats have been taken off their moorings (above), and the weather changes again. We sometimes have the first of the winter storms this month, although it can equally be benign. Autumn brings with it dramatic skies and sunsets – and a feeling of melancholy, because the holiday houses down by the water are empty and shuttered for the onset of winter. But the weather can continue to surprise and November sunshine (below) can be as warming as any other time of year. It’s a good time for us to watch out for the wading birds – such as the curlews – who come in close to shore and forage on the mud flats.

And so we come to the end of the year in Rossbrin. This has been a fairly random selection of images, picked out because each was taken in a particular month. We know how fortunate we are to live in this rich and constantly changing environment. Not only are we surrounded by nature, but the immediate history is alive with stories – of Fineen O’Mahony, the Scholar Prince of Rossbrin, who lived at Rossbrin Castle in the 15th century and surrounded himself with a university of monks and scribes and made a fortune out of fishing dues – and of Sir William Hull and the Great Earl of Cork who exploited Rossbrin in the 17th century, also for fish. Now we look down on a sparsely populated townland and the bay beyond it: it’s a most beautiful place to know and to live in. For December I have chosen a classic view of the castle with a wintry sky and late sun creating patterns on the half-tide.

Fastnet Trails: Rossbrin Loop, Part 2

Start this walk at the Rossbrin boat slip

Start this walk at the Rossbrin boat slip

A joint post by Finola and Robert

In Part 1 of this trail post, we took you around the first leg of the Rossbrin Loop trail, which we have broken into two shorter rambles.

This one is steeper and climbs higher, but it’s full of interest and you can take it as easy as you like. For this walk, you park at the Rossbrin boat slip, at the eastern end of Rossbrin Cove.

Rossbrin trails route revised Export

You won’t need off-road boots and you can take the dog. Give yourself two to three hours, depending on whether you decide to do the detour to see the wedge tomb. This is a nice, rambling pace, with lots of time to stop and chat to anybody you meet, admire the wonderful views, take lots of photographs, and maybe indulge in a picnic along the way. 

The first hill affords lovely views back to Rossbrin Castle

The first hill affords lovely views back to Rossbrin Castle

Set off north and turn right after the boat yard and then left up the hill. As you ascend you will see the remains of old mine workings to your left. The earliest records of mining at Ballycummisk refer to 16 tons of ore raised in 1814 and 42 tons in 1815. In 1838 a shaft was sunk 20 fathoms, mainly through barytes and shale. In 1857, 174 tons of ore were sold, mainly copper. By 1861 the mine was recorded as being ‘one of the best developed and very satisfactorily worked.’ The ‘Lady’s Vein shafts’ are marked on the OS 6” map. The Ballycummisk Mining Company worked the mine from 1872. In 1878 a section down to 228 fathoms was noted, but in the same year the mine was recorded as ‘abandoned’. Nowadays some concrete pillars and the slag heap are the most visible remains of the once thriving mine-site.

Old Mine site

There are extensive views over the countryside beyond the old mines

At the top of the hill, where you will find a sign to the riding stables, turn left and head through the townland of Ballycummisk with pleasant country views to the west. Once you get to the crossroads you may see a little wayside stall selling vegetables on the honour system. If you’ve brought a backpack, this would be a good place to stock up on carrots, potatoes, or yellow tomatoes.

Beware of the bull

Wayside StallAt this point, we recommend a detour to see the Kilbronogue wedge tomb. Turn left and walk until you reach the next crossroads. Go straight through the crossroads and a short distance on you will see a lay-by on the right side of the road. Step over the wire and find your way up the path that has been generously maintained by the landowner. In early summer this path is awash with ox-eye daisies. It meanders up through a birch plantation until you emerge in a small clearing to find the wedge tomb.

Path to wedge tomb, Kilbronogue

Like most wedge tombs, this one is orientated to the west – take a look at our post Wedge Tombs: Last of the Megaliths for lots of information on this class of Bronze Age monuments. This is a lovely example, and we are grateful to Stephen Lynch for ensuring its wellbeing and providing access to it.

Kilbronogue Wedge tomb

Retrace your steps to the second cross roads and turn left up the hill, turning right when your reach a T junction, and then take the left fork at the Y. This is a pleasant country road – farmland stretches on either side, with ruined or abandoned houses dotted here and there among the neat modern farmhouses with their colourful paint and bowery entrances.

In spring and summer the hedgerows are heady with wild flowers of every variety.

Turn right again at the next junction and you will come shortly to the beautiful and atmospheric Stouke burial ground. Although we have read that there are the ruins of an old church in this graveyard, we have never found it. But there are other items of great interest here, the traditional burial place of many island dwellers. In the centre you will find the grave of two priests, Fathers James and John Barry, who were parish priests here during the time of the famine. According to the Historic Graves listing for Stouke  “Sarah Roberts who is buried here in this tomb, died at an early age… worked as a housekeeper for the parish priest… When his sister died and was also buried here, Sarah’s coffin was in perfect condition. She was reburied with the parish priest even though she was not a Catholic. People of the parish come to pray at this tomb on the 24th June at John’s Feast Day.”

A little way to the right of this grave is a rock, partially covered by heather, that contains a bullaun stone, known locally as the Bishop’s Head. Once again, according to the Historic Graves entry, “The bishop was confirming children in a nearby church. Red coats came in and beheaded the bishop.”

Amanda photographs the bullaun stone

Amanda photographs the bullaun stone

There are offerings of coins in jars at the bullaun stones, and at the priests’ grave. Leave one too, along with a prayer or wish for a loved one.

Bishops Head bullaun stone, Stouke Graveyard

Bishop’s Head bullaun stone, Stouke Graveyard

From Stouke the road drops down to a cross roads. Go straight through and start to climb again up to Cappaghglass. Ignore the left turn and carry on until you reach a Y junction. Take the right fork, pass all the ripe blackberries (if you’re able) and as you crest the hill the whole of Roaringwater Bay is laid out before you. Few views in the country can equal this one for sheer scope: all the islands in Carbery’s Hundred Isles come into view, The Baltimore Beacon gleams on its rocky outcrop to the east, while the Fastnet Rock sits sturdily on the horizon, and the Mizen Peninsula stretches away to the west.

Roaringwater Bay from Cappaghglass

Descend the steep hill, turning right at the T junction, and meander down to Rossbrin Cove.

Shaft of Sun

Now a peaceful boat harbour, Rossbrin in the 15th Century was the domain of Finghín O’Mahony, the Scholar Prince of Rossbrin, a man who used the riches extracted from taxes paid by Spanish and French fishermen to fund a centre of learning here in Rossbrin where scribes and learned men wrote and translated books which still exist today. The ruined section of the castle still standing gives little evidence of the erudite court that was once respected throughout Europe. A fish ‘palace’ for processing pilchards once provided employment to the people of Rossbrin, but little trace remains of it, or the holy well at the shore that once attracted those seeking cures for their ailments.

Kayaks at Rossbrin Cove

If the weather’s warm and the tide’s in, this is a good spot for a dip. No? Well, a photograph, then. 

We hope you’ve enjoyed the two Rossbrin Loop walks – do let us know how you got on.

Ballycummisk Mine

Ballycummisk Mine