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.


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.


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.


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

Irish History – an Englishman’s Perspective


Why do I feel a little ‘guilty’ about being English while dwelling, for the moment, in Ireland?

This morning I shared a car ride with a friend – Irish – so I started off our conversation by voicing this feeling and pointing out my ignorance of Irish History, having learned nothing about it during my education years. The ensuing journey then consisted of me listening to an erudite and most entertaining blow-by-blow account… Remember Aenghus, the Red Bard? It was as though he was sitting in the car with me, recounting the history lessons of his seven year apprenticeship in the Bardic School at Dumnea.

Round towers helped to defend against Danish raids

Round towers helped to defend against Danish raids

My personal induction began with the Danes. I hadn’t understood, before, that there had been a ‘special relationship’ between Ireland and Denmark, based on trade and education. This had started in the so called Dark Ages and flourished until the time of the High King Brian Boru (c941 – 1014). I already knew about him – in connection with a harp: the Brian Boru Harp sits in Trinity College, Dublin, along with the Book of Kells. Oh – and a traditional tune: Brian Boru’s March. The relationship became an invasion, and the Danes were despatched by a rare coming together – under Brian Boru – of tribal kingdoms, who afterwards reverted to their more usual squabbles.

Now we come to the time of the Normans – well established in England by the 12th Century – and the only English Pope: Adrian IV – who in 1155 issued a Papal Bull to Henry II of England giving him authority to invade Ireland in order to rein in the dissident church there, who were not toeing the line with Rome on a number of matters. This coincided with a feud between a petty King of Connacht – Tiernan O’Rourke – and Dermot MacMurrough, the King of Leinster. O’Rourke’s wife Derbforghaill was abducted by MacMurrough (but evidently at her own instigation, and during which, while being carried off, she provided realistic and convincing screams). MacMurrough had to flee to Wales from where he beseeched the English King to mobilise the Bull and invade Ireland. This actually suited Henry’s empire building ambitions quite well and he dispatched Strongbow (no – not the cider but the Earl of Pembroke, Richard de Clare) and the result of all this was that the Normans arrived in Ireland – where their descendants have caused disruption ever since. Of course – it’s by no means that simple, and this strand of the story will have to be amplified in a future post….

kilcoe2Confused? Well – I haven’t even mentioned Cromwell or William of Orange yet! But perhaps that’s better left until another time… And where does West Cork fit into this jigsaw puzzle? It seems that it was so far away from Dublin and Cork that it didn’t feel the ripples of what was going on for a long time, and local politics were largely sorted out between the O’Driscolls and the O’Mahonys (descended directly from Brian Boru) who built a line of castles along the coast and did very nicely out of charging dues from the Spanish and Portuguese fishermen who reaped an abundant harvest from the seas of those days. And – perhaps surprisingly – the clans built up a reputation for scholarship and knowledge of the arts and sciences. Just around the corner from Ard Glas is an actively disintegrating stone ruin, a single teetering wall: this was the home of the famous ‘Scholar Prince’ Finian O’Mahon, Chief of Rosbrin who lived in the late 15th Century and who was described then as one of the most learned men of his time – not just in Ireland but Europe and beyond. Across the water and central to our view is Kilcoe Castle – formerly an O’Driscoll stronghold: some years ago it was superbly restored and is now the home of actor Jeremy Irons. In order to prevent the ingress of damp (which seems to have been an essential feature of castle life in the Middle Ages), he has treated the walls with an external render which glows yellow, orange and gold as the sun moves round. It is visually prominent in the land and seascape, and this was no doubt an essential element of all the castles in those days when Kings and clansmen had to project their status in order to shore up their often precarious positions in society.