Ireland – West Cork and a Puncture

Schull Harbour

It was another fine morning and waking early Richard and I drove into Schull and down to the harbour and then both ways in and out of the village to make sure that we hadn’t missed anything and satisfied that we hadn’t we returned to Rock Hill House for another fine breakfast.

Shortly after we left Schull and plotted our way east along the coast of West Cork.  When I say West Cork I am being carefully specific here because a few days previously in Cork City a man enquired where we were travelling to next and I said we were going west. ‘Where are you going, Galway?’  he asked and I told him ‘no, to Schull’, ‘that’s not west’ he said, rather indignantly, ‘that’s West Cork!’ and although Schull is clearly on the west coast I did not challenge his peculiar and insistent slice of Irish logic.

Our first stop was in the port town of Baltimore where they were preparing for a pirate festival weekend and there are two stories that I will tell you about Baltimore.  The first is that this is the town after which the U.S. city in Maryland is named as both were originally colonised by the English Baron Baltimore and his family.

The second is about pirates because in the seventeenth century this was a bolt-hole for English and Irish pirates who were operating along the south coast of Ireland.  All of this YO HO HO stuff however came to a shuddering stop in   1631 in the Sack of Baltimore, a middle of the night raid by Barbary pirates from North Africa who carried off almost the entire population of the town and sold them into slavery in Algiers.

There was a pirate exhibition in the restored castle in the middle of town which was interesting if not thrilling but we enjoyed the stories of local legends told to us by the man at the pay desk who had plenty of time to spare as we were the only visitors.  As I say, it was interesting but if you want a much better pirate experience then I suggest going to see ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ at Disney world in Florida.

Baltimore Pirate

Oh, a third story.  It is claimed that Napoleon Bonaparte’s famous white horse, Intendant, came from Baltimore but I can find no real evidence that the French Emperor ever visited a horse market anywhere nearby.

Napoleon White Horse

Back to the Pirates and the story goes that those fortunate to escape the raid left Baltimore and went inland to Skibbereen so we followed them and then had the first bit of car trouble as an orange warning light started winking to attract my attention.  I was confused.  Some warning lights are blindingly obvious, for example, ‘there is no oil in the engine and it is going to blow up’ or ‘the brakes aren’t working and you are about to crash’ etc. but some are more obtuse and this curious little symbol fell into the latter category so I put a map across the dashboard and ignored it which is my recommended way of dealing with these situations as we drove on along a series of remote roads to Loch Hyne an area of outstanding natural beauty.

We didn’t get to stay very long because between us we worked out that the warning was tyre related and sure enough we found a half deflated nearside front with an alarming bulge in the tyre wall.  I was annoyed about this because I hadn’t bought tyre damage insurance from the car rental company; I always buy tyre damage insurance and I have never had a puncture so I cursed my misfortune today.

Richard and I could have supervised a tyre change but but Kim and Pauline didn’t want to get their hands dirty so we collectively crossed our fingers and I drove slowly and carefully away from the Loch and to nearby Skibbereen where by a stroke of good fortune we came quickly to a tyre replacement workshop.

The mechanic examined the tyre and identified a previous puncture repair so it looked as though we had been stitched up by the car rental company so to get our own back we bought the cheapest possible replacement that the man had in stock and then drove on into the town and parked in a supermarket car park.

Walking into the town it is fair to say that we weren’t blown away by Skibbereen so we poked around in some visitor shops, looked for photo opportunities and then found a pub for Guinness and Wifi where we could catch up on our emails.

How Rude

We left Skibbereen with barely a backward glance and drove the few miles to our next overnight destination in the town of Clonakilty and as we drove into Wolf Hall Tone Street and checked into the Clonakilty Hotel we immediately knew that we liked this place. As we walked into town narrow streets and lanes opened into elegant squares, a town of tall spires, grand houses, towers and historic buildings.

It was late afternoon and England were playing Wales in an important football match in the European Championships so we found a pub with a television and downed a Guinness and enjoyed the 2-1 victory.  As it turned out this was quite a well-known Ireland pub on account of the number of famous musicians that have played there and their photographs were pinned to the walls. Noel Redding, the bass player with the Hendrix Experience apparently lived nearby  (probably ten minutes away) and used his influence to attract big names to De Barra pub including David Bowie, Paul McCartney and Donovan. Donovan? In case you don’t remember Donovan, here is a clip – Donovan – Colours.

Donovan is Scottish but we were hoping for a night of traditional Irish music and we were disappointed to discover that this was the week of the Clonakilty Arts Festival and tonight instead of music there was poetry and none of us are really that keen on poetry.

After evening meal we found a pub with music but instead of fiddles and accordions it was modern New Orleans blues/jazz which was pleasant enough but not what we were hoping for.  This seems a shame to me, Ireland, just as everywhere else, is changing and it appears that it wants to shake off its traditions and run headlong into a modern cosmopolitan era.  I have seen this in Greece and I hope in Ireland they come to their senses and resist it before it is too late.

De Barra Pub Clonakilty

In The Garden

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Ireland – Mizen Head and the Fastnet Rock

Ireland Mizzen Head

The Rock Hill House served a first class breakfast in a dining room overlooking the gentle sea and a big blue sky and we lingered for a while before we left and after dining took some time to explore the surrounding wild flower gardens.

Today we were heading west, to Mizen Head, the most south-westerly point in mainland Ireland and the location of a lighthouse station and a rocky cliff top terminus and after only a short drive along a spectacular coast road overlooking sandy beaches and the Atlantic Ocean we arrived at the visitor centre and bought our entrance tickets.

The walk to the old lighthouse took us up and down steep raking steps and across a bridge where the Atlantic Ocean surged with anger and rage between fiercely jagged rocks  just thirty metres or so below our feet and very soon we were at the most south-westerly point of the peninsula and could go no further and we were staring out at two thousand miles of water and next stop Canada and the USA.

At 10°27’ longitude Dingle, slightly to the north of our position today, claims to the most westerly town (as opposed to city – this is important) in Europe but whilst this may be true there are lots of other ‘most westerly’ claims to take into consideration.

Mizzen Head Ireland 1

The Blasket Islands (10°39’) at the end of the Dingle Peninsula are the most westerly point in the British Isles but these have been uninhabited since 1953, Iceland is the most westerly country in Europe and Reykjavik is the most westerly capital city (21°93’); Lisbon (9°14’) is the most westerly city on mainland Europe and furthest west than anywhere else are the Azores at 31°30.

When someone tells you that something is the biggest or the longest or the highest or the heaviest it is always worth checking up I find.  The most westerly point in Asia is Cape Baba in Turkey and in the United States it is Alaska which is also the most easterly as well because it stretches so far that it crosses right into the eastern hemisphere (a good pub quiz question that).

Fastnet Rock and Lighthouse

Four miles further south we could see the Fastnet Rock a small rocky islet in the Atlantic Ocean and the most southerly point of Ireland. It is the location of a famous lighthouse because these are some of the most dangerous waters around the British Isles.

Due to its location, Fastnet is known as “Ireland’s Teardrop”, because it was the last part of Ireland that nineteenth century Irish emigrants saw as they sailed to North America.  There are sixty-three lighthouses around the coast of Ireland but there are no lighthouse keepers any more because these days they are all automated and controlled from a secret central point somewhere on the mainland.

After an hour or so we left and drove east, stopped for a while for a walk on a magnificent sandy beach and then continued to Crookhaven, the most southerly village in Ireland, which is a leisurely place today which depends on tourism but was once a thriving port because the harbour here was the first and last place for ships to stop before or after crossing the Atlantic to and from America.

Ireland Beach

Lots of people crossed the Ocean from this part of Ireland because it was very seriously affected by the Irish famine of the 1840s and it isn’t difficult around here to find museums and restored cottages dedicated to the memory of the disaster.  Inside the cottages there is generally a recreation of a typical mid-nineteenth century family home and information boards about the famine and the consequences.

It seems that at that time Irish people lived almost entirely on potatoes and that a working man would eat as much as fourteen pounds a day – that is a lot of potatoes, roughly equivalent to two hundred and fifty bags of potato crisps (chips)!

Now, I know potatoes are versatile – boiled, baked, mashed, fried, hash browns, dauphinoise, gnocchi etc. but I imagine this sort of diet can become awfully monotonous!

potatoes

Unfortunately not only did the Irish rely completely on the potato they specialised in just one variety.  The Arran Banner was a reliable heavy cropper but not such a reliable heavy cropper when the  potato blight virus dropped by and a succession of harvest failures in the late 1840s led to starvation, death, farm failure, cruel and vexatious evictions by English absentee landlords and eventually mass emigration to the United States.

Interestingly it is most likely that the virus came from the United States in the first place (just like the phylloxera virus that infected French vine crops at about the same time) but regardless of this they blamed the English and five million Irish (80% of the total population at the time) chose to go there anyway.  Today nearly sixty million people in the USA, almost 20% of the population, claim Irish heritage and twenty-two out of forty-four of US Presidents (including Barack Abama!) have claimed Irish ancestry.

Canal du Midi near Beziers

The U.S.A also stands accused of destroying the iconic Plane trees that line the Canal du Midi.  A fungus has been attacking the trees, spreading along the waterway and defying all attempts to cure or control it.  Tree specialists have concluded that it is almost certain all the planes will have to be chopped down, burned and replaced because the trees have been struck by an outbreak of a virulent, incurable microscopic fungus which spreads through the roots and is thought to have first reached France with American GIs in the Second-World-War whose sycamore ammunition boxes were infected with the virus.

After we left Crookhaven we drove to the next peninsula to the north and drove around the Sheep’s Head Way but I am afraid I am unable to explain the curious name – it doesn’t even look like a sheep’s head!

We finished our drive in the town of Bantry which turned out to be one of those places that sound as though you should visit but when you get there you wonder why?  We walked along the main street, contemplated staying a while for an early evening meal but eventually decided against it and returned directly to Schull where later we dined at a French restaurant and for the second time finished the evening in Hackett’s Bar.

Ireland Dingle

Ireland – Signs of the Times

No Grave digging signTourist Office Sign SchullSchull Closed Staff Rest

You will probably have to open this one & enlarge it to see the sign content….

Funeral Samaritans StopIreland Shit Ice Cream

Ireland – Cork, Kissing the Blarney Stone and a Big Secret!

Cork Ireland

“I go off into Dublin and two days later I’m spotted walking by the Liffey with a whole bunch of new friends.” – Ronnie Wood (Rolling Stones)

After a fine full Irish breakfast at the Montenotte hotel we checked out and prepared for a morning in the city of Cork.  I struggled a bit again with the electric handbrake but managed not to crash into the hotel reception and after a few moments driving through the city streets I eventually got the hang of it.  We parked the car and set off on foot into the city centre.

The first city that I visited in Ireland was Galway in the Province of Connaught and I liked it there, I liked it a great deal and I now tend to make comparisons with it and my first impression of Cork was slightly disappointing.  Cork was destroyed in the Irish Civil War of the early 1920s when it was the stronghold of the anti-treaty side and I suppose that accounts for the modern development and lack of heritage and I have to say that it didn’t especially thrill me.

English Market Cork

We walked around the centre, visited the indoor English Market and then crossed the river Lee and made our way to Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a Protestant church where a service was due to begin imminently which meant that we were unable to go inside.  There was an admission charge as well which always puts me visiting a church.

Kim and Pauline went shopping while Richard and I found a pub for a Guinness and after we all met up again we turned our backs on Cork, returned to the car and set off to our next destination – Blarney Castle, a few miles out of the city.

Blarney-Castle1

The main reason people visit Blarney Castle is to kiss the stone of eloquence – the famous Blarney, because it is said that whoever plants his lips on this saliva sticky stone will never be short of words ever again.  Politicians for example make a visit here a priority before they begin their careers and it turns them immediately into gobshites who cannot shut up or say anything sensible ever again!

We paid the admission fee and made our way through the extensive grounds where Blarney Castle presents a fairy-tale picture,  tall towers are set within wonderful gardens containing such romantically named corners as the Druids Altar, the Witches Kitchen, the Wishing Stairs, The Rock Close and the Poison Garden.

The Blarney Stone is situated at the very top turret of the castle and to kiss it you have climb a steep staircase and wait patiently in turn.  There was a rather long queue and Richard decided very early on that he was not prepared to stand in line and would prefer to visit the gardens instead.

Kim, Pauline and I carried on and shuffled forward for the next few minutes until we reached the doorway and to our horror saw the endless queue snaking all the way to the top which was going to take almost two hours to get here and then we made a decision –  and I am going to tell you a big secret here and I absolutely don’t want you to tell Richard.

We didn’t go to the top and kiss the Blarney Stone either but we all told him that we did and that he had missed a unique and wonderful opportunity.

We were pleased with our decision and you should be too, because if I had kissed that slobber stained stone then this post would be twice as long!

Instead we walked around the gardens and admired the views and were eventually reunited with Richard and we told him about the once in a lifetime experience of kissing the stone.

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah!  –  Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah!

Blarney Castle

We would all probably of liked to stay longer at Blarney Castle but by late afternoon we were running out of time and ahead of us we had a two hour journey through West Cork and to our next destination, the village of Schull where would be staying for the next two nights.

The Rock Hill House Hotel it has to be said was a curious place, about a mile out of the village and set on a windswept headland in a wild garden with dancing daisies underneath a blue sky hosting a flotilla of billowing clouds racing by in the stiff breeze.  Inside was eclectic and curious but the rooms were comfortable and well provided and had good views over the garden and the sea and we declared ourselves satisfied when we set out for the village and an evening meal.

After dinner we walked along the streets of the village as far as the harbour and then went in search of a pub for a final Guinness.  Two years ago we found a pub called Eugene’s in a place called Ennistymon which we have all been happy to declare our favourite pub in Ireland and tonight we came across Hackett’s which we were equally happy to put straight into second place.

It seems to me that the Irish people are the friendliest in Europe, possibly even the World, everyone in here had kissed the Blarney Stone for sure and after a few minutes we were included in conversations and felt part of the community and by strange coincidence we found ourselves chatting to a man called Eugene who shares his time between his home here in Schull and his second in Scunthorpe in Lincolnshire just a few miles from where we live.

After an excellent evening and that final Guinness we made the short way back to Rock Hill House.  It was the longest day of the year and a clear night so although the sun had not long disappeared already the sky was beginning to brighten again in the east.

Do you have any suggestions for who may have kissed the Blarney Stone?

Hackets pub Schull West Cork

WordPress Crossroads

Ballyvaughan Ireland

Recently things have changed around my WordPress experience and I wonder if this has happened to anyone else as well?

I pressed the publish button on my first post on May 1st 2009 and I have kept up a steady stream of posts ever since.  Three thousand- five hundred posts over seven years!

Progress was slow at first.  I kept publishing but very few people visited and I despaired about achieving any meaningful interaction.

I worked at it.  I joined in the challenges.  I hunted down bloggers with similar interests and made sure to comment regularly.

Slowly my readership and on-line relationships grew and I was making new friends.  I kept working at it.  I kept fishing for new contacts and friends and it worked very well.

Then, I admit, I grew complacent.

One by one, my blogging pals started to disappear.  I thought they would be there forever.  I hoped they had the same staying power as me.  They started to post less frequently.  Some stopped altogether without explanation.  Some stopped altogether with explanation.  Some went off in a different direction.  Some I guess just got bored by my content.  They dropped by my blogging site less frequently and they stopped leaving comments.  Some continue to comment (I am certain) only out of politeness.

OMG.  Have I got to start again?  Have my blogging pals got no stamina?  Shall I bother?  Shall I reinvent my blog and its content?  Have I run out of anything interesting to say?

I am at a crossroads!

Kim says that I should stop and do more housework!

Ireland – Cobh, Queenstown and the Titanic

Titanic (1)

“I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel.  Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.” – Captain Edward Smith

“You could actually walk miles along the decks and passages covering different ground all the time.  I was thoroughly familiar with pretty well every type of ship afloat but it took me 14 days before I could, with confidence, find my way from one part of that ship to another.”  – Charles Lightoller, Titanic Officer.

Everyone knows the story of the RMS Titanic.  When it was launched in 1912 it was the largest ship ever built.  It was the biggest thing ever built that moved. It weighed sixty thousand tonnes (modern passenger liners are about three times bigger) and its two thousand one inch thick steel hull plates were held together with three million rivets.  It was proudly proclaimed as the safest ship ever built.

Titanic Belfast

It might have been considered unsinkable but on its maiden voyage the unthinkable happened and it sunk after colliding with an unyielding iceberg in the North Atlantic and one thing that became absolutely clear was that Captain Edward Smith was completely hopeless at making maritime predictions.

As it turns out, he may not have been much of a sailor either.  In January 1889 approaching New York on her final White Star sailing, he managed to run RMS Republic aground.  In 1890 he ran the White Star RMS Coptic aground in Rio De Janeiro and in 1909 he ran another White Star liner, the RMS Adriatic, aground also in New York.

In 1911 as Captain of the White Star ship RMS Olympic he nearly crushed a tug in New York harbour and on the only voyage of the Titanic there was a near collision in Southampton with a steamer  which by strange coincidence just happened to be called the New York.

To be fair collisions in the Atlantic Ocean and in the sea ports were quite common because as the cruise author John Maxtone-Graham wrote, “There were many more close calls on the western ocean than passengers ever heard about”.  This was the case because the Atlantic Ocean was significantly busier than it is today.

Cruise fans today well might tell you that it is the only way to travel, but in the first half of the twentieth century if you were travelling to the United States, it was.

Given his unfortunate record of running into things and damaging company property it might seem odd therefore that White Star Line trusted Captain Smith with the biggest and most expensive ship ever to take to the seas.  It may also not have escaped reader’s notice that most of these incidents involve New York in one way or another and that was exactly where the Titanic was heading.  Even a raging sceptic would have to admit that these were bad omens.

There are many theories about the reason for the sinking.  The Captain has been blamed for being reckless for sailing too close to the ice field, the White Star Board for trying to set a speed record despite the danger of sailing at high speed through an ocean full of icebergs but currently the most popular is the rivets.  Apparently those used at the bow and the stern were made of iron rather than steel and contained high levels of impurities.  They only had a 5 mm tolerance and as a consequence of the collision they shattered and popped their heads and the steel plates of the hull undid like a giant zipper.

From the very day that she was designed she was almost doomed…this (the use of iron rivets) was the Achilles heel of the Titanic.” – Paul Louden-Brown, White Star Line Archivist.

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So, everyone knows that the Titanic sank but as we came to the end of the visit I began to think about what if it hadn’t?  To begin with the three millionaire U.S. businessmen who died that night, John Jacob Astor, Benjamin Guggenheim and Isidor Strauss might have gone on to be even more successful and who knows what they might have achieved.  Thomas Andrews, the designer of the ship might have built something even bigger and better and Captain Edward Smith could have carried on crashing into other ships for many more nautical years.

Just maybe someone on board emigrating to the New World might have gone on to be the U.S. President and this isn’t as unlikely as it sounds because twenty-two of forty four Presidents claim ancestral heritage from Ireland (Andrew Jackson, James Knox Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S Grant, Chester Alan Arthur, Grover Cleveland, Benjamin Harrison, William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G Harding, Harry S Truman, John F Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H W Bush, Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barak Obama).  Whoever comes next there will still be Celtic roots, Hillary Clinton claims Welsh ancestry and Donald Trump Scottish.

We certainly wouldn’t have had that awful film ‘Titanic’ with Leonardo DiCaprio and we would never have had to endure Celine Dion singing ‘My heart will go on’.  As a point of interest there have been twenty-two films that are directly or indirectly based on the story of the Titanic and if you want my opinion (you are going to get it anyway)  the best of all was ‘A Night to Remember’ made in 1958 and starring Kenneth More playing Second Officer Charles Lightoller (see quote above).

Does anyone else have a favourite Titanic film?

On Board Titanic