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.
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.
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.
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.