Céad Míle Fáilte – and welcome to this weeks Letter from Ireland.
I am on some pure, clear water from the well as we chat this morning. So, I do hope you’ll join me now with a cup of whatever you’re having, as we start into today’s Letter. Have you ever considered planning the ideal Trip to Ireland? Well, here is an example of Touring West Cork in the company of one of our readers.
Have you ever visited Ireland? Maybe you’ve lived here at one stage – maybe you still do! Over in the Green Room, I get quite a few questions on where to visit in Ireland and how long to spend in different places. However, I do notice that people who enjoy their visit the most are those who slow down and concentrate on a specific area. I was talking to a man during the week who commented on how true this was for him:
“heaven is having a few weeks in some remote location in West Cork or Kerry – with no plans but to see what each new day will bring”.
And in Ireland, a new day usually brings lots of the unexpected – specially when you bring yourself to talk spontaneously with us “natives”. For the rest of this letter, we’ll take a comment from one of our long-time readers and then take a leisurely tour around the Irish villages and townlands of her ancestors. One of our great friends on the letter, “Kilcrohane Sue” from Canada, sent in the following last year:
“It is difficult to explain the connection I have to Ireland. My parents never made the trip although my father longed to go most of his life. I am feeling the ‘pull’ to visit more and more every day. Sometimes it is difficult to understand such a strong connection to a land I have never seen. Now, if I could just find that pot of gold I’ll be all set!”
I think that when Sue eventually gets to Ireland, she will enjoy nothing more than basing herself in Kilcrohane on the Sheeps Head Peninsula – the land of her ancestors – and waking up each morning with no expectation of what a new day will bring.
So, how about you, me and Sue take a trip to Kilcrohane and take this journey in our imaginations? (By the way – I do have a link to lots of photos to help us along in the shownotes).
The Sheep’s Head Peninsula is in the very west of West Cork. It’s a strip of land that travels out to sea for about 30 miles from the town of Bantry. Maybe you know this town already?
As we travel from Bantry we first pass beautiful green-wooded pastures on either side. Over a few miles, however – as we go through the villages of Durrus and Ahakista – the land starts to open up with rocky fields and sea vistas to our left. By the time we get to Kilcrohane, it can feel a lot like the “end of the line” – but this is just the opening to one of the best walking areas in the world. As you go even further west, you might feel like you are travelling on the deck of a ship as the sea starts to come in from both sides.
This land was originally ruled by the O’Mahonys – with strong oversight from the McCarthys, but the local chiefs were the Cork branch of the bardic O’Daly clan. You still find all these surnames in abundance in this area, both in the graveyards and above the shops and pubs of the villages.
But, let’s go back to the village of Kilcrohane. If it’s a Sunday morning, we will head to the small market just outside Eileen’s bar in the village. A good place to catch up with the local “going-ons” and to figure out what to do for the day. It takes a while to wander a few yards in this part of the world as you bump into some welcoming faces and become part of a conversation on the latest coming and goings in the parish.
If it’s a nice day, we’ll take the car a few miles up the road and go for a walk around the old O’Daly bardic school. This was the place you came to study to become a Bard or Poet for one of the lordships of Ireland back in the 1600s. It’s all a ruin now, but the land and vistas hint at the inspiration these student poets must have felt on a daily basis.
Towards evening, after a nice lazy lunch in front of our homestead – looking out on the view once enjoyed by so many of our ancestors – we’ll head to the end of the Peninsula to sit above the ocean. A nice cup of tea and a slice of rhubarb tart at “Bernie’s Cupán Tae” will see us right for a brisk walk to the lighthouse. A place where the sky, the land and the ocean become one.
And then we’ll see the sun setting over the sea to finish a perfect day – before a trip back to the local pub for some convivial chat and maybe even a song or two.
I think it is fitting to close with a verse from an O’Daly song called Eileen Aroon (Eileen my Love) – one of the oldest Irish songs on record:
I know a valley fair, Eileen Aroon
I know a cottage there, Eileen Aroon,
Fair in the valley shade, I know a tender maid,
Flow’r of the hazel grove, Eileen Aroon.
Who is the song so sweet, Eileen Aroon
Who is the dance so fleet, Eileen Aroon,
Dear are her charms to me , dearer her laughter free
Dearest her constancy, Eileen Aroon.
Were she no longer true, Eileen Aroon,
What would her lover do, Eileen Aroon,
Fly with broken chain, far o’er the sounding main
Never to love again, Eileen Aroon.
Youth will in time decay, Eileen Aroon,
Beauty must fade away, Eileen Aroon,
Castles are sacked in war, chieftains are scattered far,
Truth is a fixed star, Eileen Aroon.
How about you? What would be your ideal trip to Ireland?
Slán for now – Mike and Carina : )
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