Our third leg of the Wild Atlantic Way brought us to Cape Clear island – off the coast of West Cork. The islands of West Cork are the place to go if you want to slow down to a STOP! There is a different rhythm on these islands – the islands of Cape Clear, Sherkin and Heir – the quality of the sea air is intoxicating, and definitely adds an extra hour to your sleep each night.
We left the pier in Baltimore (sharing a name and a link with Baltimore city in the USA) at 10.30am and headed off to Cape Clear across a gentle swell. Cape Clear has about 130 people living there permanently – all speaking Irish to varying degrees. That had dropped from a pre-famine population of over a thousand. In the 1901 census, there were still 1131 people listed for the island.
Coming into the protected North Harbour we noticed that the harbour did not provide much protection to the recent winter storms. Whole sections of the piers were torn up and were slowly being replaced. As soon as the boat stops and the engine turns off – complete silence!
One of the first places we wanted to visit when we went to the island were the ruins of the O’Driscoll castle – magnificently perched on a rocky outcrop. There is nobody about – probably because the sign above shows everything to the left, but the castle is to the right!
A short trek across some farmland (a right of way) brings up to this magnificent sight – the O’Driscoll castle of Dún an Óir (Golden fort) . The O’Driscolls were the leading family of the Corcu Loíghde tribe for many centuries. They based themselves in latter years around the waters and islands of Roaring Water Bay. The first mention of the surname O’Driscoll (Ó hÉidirsceoil in Irish) was in 1103 AD. The castle was started in the 13th century and destroyed by 1601 AD.
I remember this road as a young fellow – staying at the local youth hostel and heading to the all-night craic at Club Chléire in the north harbour. Our time were somewhat incompatible with the hostel closing time of 11.00pm – so all six of us moved into a two-man tent in a field above that road.
There are now some nice paths cutting through the island which lead you to outstanding viewing points such as this one – with Schull, Mount Gabriel and the Mizen Peninsula in the background.
Plenty of holiday homes changing hands on the sheltered north side of the island. I wonder how much this one is going for? I can just about make out the telephone number.
It’s a hilly island – one for walkers, not for bikes. Always appreciate a downward slope!
Through the heather and the gorse – following the old mass path that joined the south of the island to the social hub for many years – otherwise known as the church.
If you look back over the census for the islands at the beginning of the last century, you will find many familiar Cork names – and one or two peculiar to this area. And lots of Driscolls/O’Driscolls!
Family surnames associated with the island down through the centuries include:
Barry, Beamish, Bushe, Cadogan, Collins, Connolly, Cotter, Curtin, Daley, Donovan, Driscoll, Leonard, Mahony, McCarthy, Minihane, Nolan, O’Neill, Regan, Roche, Salter, Shea, Sheehan, Sullivan, Sweeney, Walsh and Young.
Are any the Irish surnames in your family tree here?
Join us on the next leg of the Wild Atlantic way when we’ll be travelling from Skibbereen to Mizen Head.
And – do feel free to leave any comments or questions below!
Anglo Norman Surnames – Following the Norman Trail to Ireland (#402)
From an Irish Cottage to a Castle – A Journey into one Woman’s Hidden Past (#308)
Do You Know this Irish American Hero?
Do You Have an Irish Saint in Your Family Tree?
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