We had three weeks holidays in August. The fortnight beginning, Monday, August 7 was to be spent in Paris (of which, much, much more anon) but we had no plans for the first week. A chance conversation with herself revealed a shocking ignorance of the western part of my home county so I decided we would go to West Cork for the week.
There were a number of initial difficulties. Firstly, it turns out that if you are planning to holiday in West Cork, ideally, you should book more than a week in advance. Secondly a number of places in West Cork were associated with hours of teenage boredom in my head so I vetoed Goleen (I once mortally offended a colleague by screeching, “Goleen, you’re going there voluntarily?” I spent many evenings in the back room behind the pub at the cross roads eating crisps, playing with the young daughters of the house and wishing that the grown-ups in the pub would let us all go home), Roscarberry (where I often stayed with a friend whose parents’ had a house there and we definitively established that there was nothing to do as teenagers – as a child I stayed with another friend in the Warren in Roscarberry and my memory is that all we did every day was gather the snails in one corner of the garden and then, the next morning, marvel at how far they had travelled, that’ll show you), Union Hall (too small, there’s nothing there), Schull (too crowded, too full of Dubliners), Skibbereen (a possibility but the fact that I spent a fortnight there every summer aged 1-9 meant there were few enough new worlds to explore, brother also put me off by saying “Nobody spends holidays in Skibbereen”), Leap (not even by the sea), Allihies and the Beara penninsula (too far) and Kinsale and Clonakilty (much too near, we might as well have done with it and stay in the city). Hours hunching over the computer revealed that the only coincidence of possible location and available accommodation was Cape Clear. So we booked it. I felt I was giving my children the opportunity to be bored on holidays in the same neck of the woods as myself like some kind of middle aged salmon, I was going upriver to spawn.
The evening of Sunday, July 30 saw us in Baltimore with all our belongings in the middle of a festival. It was very loud. The ferry to Cape Clear wasn’t leaving for an hour. We were all a bit tired. We went into the pub for a drink and a healthy snack while waiting for the ferry.
It was a beautiful evening.
Mr. Waffle kindly pointed out to us that all the boats in the harbour were pointing in the same direction because of the wind and was pretty much ceaselessly mocked for this for the remainder of the holiday because we are a cruel bunch.
At first we really enjoyed the journey across.
The ferry, however, was surprisingly rough and surprisingly far. It was about an hour to the island. Apparently there are 100 islands in the bay and they make it quite wavy. We all felt a bit green by the time we arrived and were very glad to reach the island’s north harbour.
The only cars on the island are owned by the locals who generally have other cars on the mainland. They are essentially falling apart and tax and insurance arrangements seem to be…unusual. It was strange. A not untypical island car:
We went up to pub, they gave us the key to our little house and ran us up in what, in retrospect, was a jeep in reasonable order. We were near the north harbour which is the main drag on the island so all good.
Rather belatedly, I had asked my sister about the island. Our Irish teacher in school was a big fan of Cape Clear and took favoured students, of whom she was one, to work there over the summer on island genealogies (quite challenging because, as far as I can see, every person living or dead connected with the island is an O’Driscoll). “No beach and very hilly,” she said. She did not lie. The craft shop/tourist information was full of books by my Irish teacher on local matters. Since there was no love lost between us, it didn’t exactly make me warm to it, I have to say.
So, while before the famine, in the 1840s, more than 1,000 people lived on the island, there are now only about 100 year round inhabitants. It’s a Gaeltacht, in theory at least, but I didn’t hear much Irish other than from the children at the Irish college on the island. The main retail opportunity is the Siopa Beag in the north harbour. It is tiny and breathtakingly expensive. But, as Mr. Waffle pointed out, every time we went to the mainland en famille it would cost us €45 so, in this light the Siopa Beag costs seemed relatively reasonable.
Our house had no wifi (possibly why it was still available at a week’s notice) and internet connectivity on the island was generally pretty poor. This was actually a bit of a blessing. It definitely felt very away from it all. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, just before we were out of range, I showed the children this video> on youtube and it became their song of the holidays. Daniel learnt all of the words; let us hope he does not remember them for the next time we visit Northern Ireland.
The next day, I suggested a walk to an open farm. It was a beautiful day and the walk was truly amazing. We saw the Fastnet in the distance and the island was wild and empty and the views were quite extraordinary. It was, however, very, very hilly and the children were, perhaps, not as enchanted as their mother. Cape Clear is a big centre for bird watching and I kept peering up shortsightedly and saying, “Is that a hawk?” but it was always another seagull.
(Incidentally, see the Mongolian yurts on the hillside there – how’s that for cultural exchange?)
At the end of the walk we found the farm. There were a number of large, friendly dogs and some horses but, sadly, no tea room, more of a take away scone operation. We met some girls from Clonakilty who were staying in the yurts and pronounced them excellent.
You would think that the children would have been delighted to discover that it was a looped walk and the farm was very near our house but, alas, they were bitter. To reconcile them, we said we would take them to dinner on the island’s pizzeria. It turns out that Seán Rua’s is only a pizzeria on some days so, no pizza. We went to the local pub instead. It was the meat and two veg end of things but fine for our needs.
In the absence of any internet, Mr. Waffle, Daniel and I started on the large jigsaw, Michael read the Economist and herself went to bed.
Tuesday, 1 August
I was up with the lark as I had to go up to Cork and I left Mr. Waffle and the children behind on the island. When I was debriefed subsequently, they were practically speechless with horror having toiled up the very steep hill to the cultural centre which, I understand, boasted extensive information from my former teacher’s research and was quite dull unless you are actually an O’Driscoll or, at least, related to one.
Herself acquired a hoody saying, “Meh…is cuma liom,” which is extremely appropriate.
Tune in soon again for the final installment of our island odyssey.