J.G. Farrell on the Sheep’s Head

That morning we had been for a walk up by Gortavellig and the abandoned copper mines and before that past the old slipway. The sea had been quiet and the children walked down the slope to the water running back up as the waves came in.


I was back in the pub now for a pint in the late afternoon. There was a man there and I had asked him about the story I’d heard of an old style film producer who had lived in the house on the corner where the road turns left to Kilcrohane and right to Durrus on straight road through the hills and there is a bridge over Ahakista Stream.

‘That was Wolf Mankowitz’ he said. ‘He had the house and he died there as well, too much time spent in this pub my Dad said. He was a friend briefly of Jim Farrell. Did you hear of the writer J.G. Farrell. We knew him as Jim.’

Up by the slipway we had seen the bronze plaque with him name on and a list of his books. It had sent me down to call at the children to come back from the water.

‘Did you know him?’ I asked.

‘I was a boy then so I can’t say that I knew him but I met him a few times and he would drink in the pub in Kilcrohane a few times before he died. Kilcrohane’s not too much of a walk on the straight road and he would walk down too from his house. He lived up in Letter beyond the Alice West House, Black Gate. So I shook his hand with my Dad and we passed a few words. But knowing him?’

‘Well I think that if there is a man whose a writer and he’s lived for a while where you live then you should read some his writing to get a fix in your mind on his. After he died there were times I came across his books in Bantry Market. You go there enough times on a Friday there’s a whole library of books you can pick up and so I did over time. I read his books and I got a fix on his mind. But did I know him? I don’t know that.’

‘One of his books is about a hotel in Ireland and it’s burnt down and all there is left is the ruins and the melted glass and and the cracked remains of the baths, sinks and toilets. I always had in mind that he was writing about one of those smart hotels in Glengariff. One of those places where Queen Victoria might have stayed. But it was someplace over in New York where he wrote that he was thinking about. I felt disappointed when I found that out.’

‘There is something restless about the books that I read. He was moving around and trying to settle down into the words that he wanted to put on the page and he couldn’t quite do it but I read he was happy here.’

‘There was a book of his letters for sale in the Cafe on the road into Durrus. I did some work there last summer mending broken windows and when it was quiet I picked the book from the shelf and had a look. It was too expensive to buy but I wanted to read what he said about this place.’

‘It was sad. There you had a book of 500 pages and only 25 were from here and he seemed to be happy and then he died. He had dinner at the house on the corner with Wolfie and he made friends with Curly. That must have been Curly O’Brien. But what made him happiest was catching fish.’

‘I remember now he would be there in the pub and he would have brought with him a bagful of mackerel. Four of them and he’d lay them out on the bar so we could see what he’d caught and it was if he had never caught fish before. This was 1979 and there wasn’t mush transport so I think that the fish that he caught was good food. He’d try to grown some things in his garden but the soil there was bad and whatever came up green was soon eaten so those fish would have been good. He was surprised with what you can catch from a rock with a line.’

‘That was the year that the Fasnet race got blown out. Wolf he had a big party and there were a hundred boats down there in bay all his friends come for the party and it all got blown out by the wind. The writer he was fishing from his rock. he’d gone there to get some pollock and with the weather I don’t know he had heavy clothes on and a wave came in and he was in the water and gone. There was a woman, she saw him fall, and she said that once he was in that was it and he ever came up again.’

‘It was six weeks later he washed up again on the other side of the bay. but I think he was happy, he thought that the fishing was a bliss.’

My book is at last making little progress though it has a rival now – viz. fishing off the rocks. I know no one is going to believe me but I’ve actually been catching fish and eating them, great fun and beats writing into a cocked hat.

 A Thursday in June 1979


2 thoughts on “J.G. Farrell on the Sheep’s Head

  1. Ralph, I so enjoy reading your blog. I am learning a lot about the area and you make me pull out recipes I have not done in a while. Well done Carmel

    • Thanks Carmel. It is good to get some feedback. Sometimes it feels as if I am sending these things out into a bit of a vacuum. We should be back in Ahakista at Easter so we may see you then. Ralph

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