Mizen Magic

We’ve done several posts on the Sheep’s Head and the marked hiking trails that crisscross that peninsula. But we actually live on a different peninsula, The Mizen, and it is just as glorious and wild and beautiful.

Map of Mizen and Goleen

The road to the Mizen Head starts at Ballydehob, runs along the southern side of the peninsula through Schull and Toormore and on to Goleen and Crookhaven. At the far or western end are the beaches of Barley Cove and the Mizen Head Lighthouse and Visitor Centre. There are no villages on the northern side of the peninsula until you reach Durrus, which also marks the start of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. It is bounded on the south by the waters and islands of Roaringwater Bay and on the north by Dunmanus Bay. The whole peninsula is rich in history and archaeology and we plan future posts about many aspects of life here.

For the moment, a flavour in photographs of what The Mizen landscape has in store for visitors.

Dunbeacon Stone Circle

Dunbeacon Stone Circle

Ballyrisode Beach

Ballyrisode Beach

Dunmanus Bay

Dunmanus Bay

Mizen Head

Mizen Head

Dunmanus Harbour

Dunmanus Harbour

Three Castle Head

Three Castle Head

Relaunching

Image

Nead an Iolair

We have returned to West Cork, to the house we bought overlooking Roaringwater Bay, and this time it’s for keeps. Our first month has been a whirlwind of unpacking, sorting, making the house our own, meeting neighbours and friends from our winter stay, and taking in everything West Cork has to offer in the summer. Within a few days of arriving we had been to markets, a play, and several concerts; spent a day at an agricultural fair and another on a beach; attended gallery openings and a classic boat gathering; participated once again in the Friday night music sessions in Ballydehob; hosted dinner parties and been hosted in return; in short – settled back into the marvellous rhythm of West Cork life, but this time as permanent residents.

 Cruinniú na mBád: Ballydehob boat gathering

Cruinniú na mBád: Ballydehob boat gathering

We will be writing in Roaringwater Journal about aspects of life and why we love it here. An enormous part of it all, of course, is the people we meet – their open welcome and friendly acceptance has made us feel at home. But it’s more than that: people here are still close to the land, fiercely proud of this area, keepers of the lore and the history and uniquely expressive. Everyone loves to talk, so you’d better not be in a hurry. Today, for example…

After a late night at the session (made exceptional by the addition of a group of French musicians) we had slept in a bit and decided to head into Skibbereen to breakfast and the market. But even though it’s Saturday here comes Ger, the electrician, with the replacement bathroom fan. Abandoning the plan, we made breakfast for all of us and Ger, having installed the fan, regaled us with stories of the townland he comes from, a mile down the road. We told him we had tramped up and down the roads there, the other day, looking for a piece of rock art, a large boulder with cupmarks on the top, and couldn’t find it. He grinned, “’Tis in my yard,” he said. “The legend is that Finn McCool threw it down from Mount Gabriel.” We made a date to go next week to record it and moved on to discussing the theatre. Ger is an actor and knowledgeable dramatist and, over the eggs and toast, he gave us an insightful review of the recent “Fit Up Theatre” productions (excellent!) we had been going to.

West Cork Arts Centre

West Cork Arts Centre

Then it was off to Skibb, to see if Richard, the cable guy, could come back and finish installing the wireless network in the house. In the store, the manager, who turned out to be Richard’s father, explained to us that Richard was on a hurling team that had just won the County finals for their division and needed to celebrate. With a twinkle in his eye, he suggested that we not look out for him before Wednesday. And while we were waiting, he added, why didn’t we take in this great presentation on Tuesday night, for which he would be delighted to sell us tickets. Half an hour later, we left the store, having been brought up to date on the plans for a new Arts Centre and been told the history of his name, family and business.

First Visitors

First Visitors

And so go our days. The summer is winding down and the villages will soon lose the tourist-mecca bustle. Already many of the houses in our little cove have the blinds down as their owners return to the city. There’s a slight hint of autumn in the evenings. Our walks are slowed by the temptations offered by the blackberry brambles, our mornings enlivened by visits from Ferdia, our friendly fox.

From Canada and from England, from cities, from careers and responsibilities, from vastly different lives, we have come together to this extraordinary place.

And now here we are – at home in West Cork.

Buckets of Culture

Željko Lučić as Rigoletto. Photo by Metropolitan Opera

Željko Lučić as Rigoletto. Photo by Metropolitan Opera

-What we love about being here – the scenery, the history, the people, the hiking, the markets, the food, the opera…

-What? The opera?

-Yes, and the theatre. And very good cinema too.

-Wait – seriously? I thought you were there to get back to nature?

-Well, er, yes, but…

-But?

-West Cork is also a Mecca for artists of all kinds – musicians, actors, painters, poets, photographers – and part of being here is taking advantage of cultural events. As one local told me last year, “if it’s culture you’re after, we have buckets of it.”

-Oh, OK…tell us all about it, then.

The weekend started with a trip to Cork to stay overnight with my cousin and to go to the Metropolitan Opera Live Broadcast of Rigoletto. This was a stylish production with the action moved to 1960’s Las Vegas and the singers modelling themselves on Rat Pack characters. The Duke of Mantua made a wonderful fist of Old Blue Eyes, and Marilyn Munro made an appearance as Ceprano’s wife. The singing was glorious, with the German soprano Diana Damrau as a transcendent Gilda and Željko Lučić suitably tortured and barrel-voiced as Rigoletto.

The following day we visited a friend in his beautiful and very modern house in Kinsale, ate a huge Sunday lunch and then got into The Music, with Alastair on the fiddle and Robert on his melodeon.

about EllyThe Cinemax in Bantry has all the latest releases and comfortable seating. They run an Arthouse Tuesday and this week we saw ‘About Elly’ by the Iranian Director, Asghar Farhadi. I had seen his movie ‘A Separation’ and was struck then, as I was now, by how much these films challenge our stereotypes of Iran. This one featured an ensemble cast of outstanding actors as young professionals from Tehran. The plot revolves around the disappearance of one of the group during an outing to the Caspian Sea, and the disintegration of cohesion as white lies and deceptions are compounded and revealed. The exploration of the dynamics of man-woman relationships was particularly riveting in what is apparently a time of transition between traditional and modern notions of gender roles.

Photo from Schull Drama Group Facebook Page

Photo from Schull Drama Group Facebook Page

On Friday night we attended the Schull Drama Group’s production of The God of Carnage, a play by French actor and playwright, Yazmina Reza. This is the same company of players that was responsible for the broad comedy and slapstick of the traditional pantomime we had seen in January and this comedy/drama was a testament to the depth of their talent. Two couples, Veronique and Michel and Annette and Alain, meet to discuss a contretemps between their sons. Their plan to do this in a civilized manner, over coffee and clafoutis, quickly descends into chaos, as accusation and counter-accusation reveal the fault lines of each marriage and the assumptions and veneers of middle-class privilege.

Amanda and Peter on our Rock Art Day

Amanda and Peter on our Rock Art Day

Finally, Saturday saw us in the company of two new friends, Amanda and Peter Clarke on a Rock Art Day of tramping through the countryside. Peter and Amanda are the talented couple behind two websites: Sheep’s Head Routes and Sheep’s Head Places, both invaluable resources for exploring this part of West Cork. Amanda is also a keen photographer with a wonderful eye. You can read her description of our day, and view more of her beautiful photography at her Blipfoto site.

Return to Roaringwater

Were we mad? Whose idea was it, exactly, to rent a house in West Cork for six months? After one glorious, seductive, deceitful day of sunshine, the rain has been unrelenting. Sometimes it’s a fine mist and sometimes it’s a downpour. Sometimes it makes your hair curl into tendrils and sometimes it soaks you to the underwear. The bay below the house, teeming with aquatic life on that sunny day, is now blanketed in grey fog.
And yet…and yet…the green lawn is drooping with fuchsia; a tiny robin is peeping at me from the hydrangeas and there is the possibility that the fox will come back for a visit. We think he took the leftover pork from the edge of the lawn – although the friendly dog that dropped by today did seem to go straight to the place we left it.
We spent a happy hour today at Whyte’s Books in Schull. They serve coffee and delicious cakes and have collections of book reviews in large binders. Browsers and buyers come and go. The local priest is after Salman Rushdie’s latest: “Destined to be a classic, Father” the owner assures him. An elderly German drinks hot chocolate and reads quietly, two Englishmen chat in a back room, a woman is looking for Alice Munro stories. We inquire about the Writing Circle to take place Monday nights and we Google the name of the instructor. All we can find is one 60-page self-published paperback and a couple of references to ‘aromatherapy and crystal workshops’. Perhaps we’ll give this one a miss.
Besides, I am already signed up for fitness classes, thanks to information from the friendly post-mistress. The classes are run by M, who is English, and doing it for free. The postmistress has already told me this, but it is confirmed when I go to buy trainers at the sporting goods shop in Skibbereen. When I say I need them for a fitness class the salesman says, “That would be M’s class out in Ballydehob, would it?” It turns out that this is the only fitness class in the area, and M has been in to order steps and weights. The only other local offering is “the occasional bit of yoga” run above a restaurant by the proprietor but only “when herself isn’t too busy with the food, like.”
We have decided we need discipline. Our resolutions go like this:
·         Get up early. Does 8:30 count?
·         Music practice every day so that Robert can learn new tunes on his squeezeboxes and so I can become a bodhran genius. I am setting my sights high, convinced that the fact I am having trouble keeping the beat is a mere temporary beginner stage.
·         Healthy activity every day. We envision long hikes over the rugged hills, strenuous climbs rewarded by sandwiches on a rock with sweeping vistas. So far we have walked down through the fields to the water (it was uphill all the way back), and along to lane to see what the neighbours’ houses looked like. Occasional houses, but little sign of neighbours.
·         Writing every day. We have in mind, ultimately, a collaborative writing project – the kind of blog that garners a devoted readership and establishes itself as a staple among the literary/naturalist/outdoorsy/amateur historian or archaeological set. To date we have each managed one email, and this.
We tell ourselves that we haven’t been here a week yet. That we have a whole six months. That we are still getting over jetlag. That we are still discovering how to just be together. That we will eschew the scone with our coffee from tomorrow on. That spending an hour looking through the spotting scope is an important way to orient ourselves to our environment. That the fact that we included ‘come and visit’ invitations to everyone we know at the end of our emails just means we are friendly types. That tomorrow we will do a section of the Sheep’s Head Way. And that right now is a good time for bodhran practice.
But wait! Is it? Can that shaft of watery light be…YES, it’s the sun! Hold that bodhran – I’m off down to the water.