Chicken casserole

Well the sun is out late Sunday afternoon and that is another weekend done.

Supper tonight is a chicken casserole and its smell is now filing the kitchen as I write ths. The doors are open and the heavy breeze outside is catching at the smells and all I can hear is the wind in the trees.

The sage outside the kitchen has come into flower and it seems that every blue petal has its own bee tucking its head in and then out again to another one looking for nectar. I bet their honey will taste good.

The weather seems to have done the plum tree good as all the branches are weighed down with fruit. We missed them last year being in Ireland and the squirrels had them all. Hopefully we will do better this year as we are going early so we should be back for the full heat of August.

The casserole has been made with a kilo of chicken thighs browned in olive oil and then put to one side whilst I softened diced celery, carrot and onion. A couple of chopped cloves of garlic were then thrown in together with a couple of bay leaves and some sprigs of thyme. I then stirred in some flour and let that cook for a minute and then stirred in half a bottle of red wine. The chicken was put back in anmd it has been cooking for an hour.

We will eat it with new potatoes, salad and the three pieces of purple sprouting broccoli that I have managed to grow.


Read any book on fish and mackerel come a poor second to the herring. Although they swarm in unimaginable numbers they have never created boom towns in the way that herring have turned obscure fishing villages into small versions of the Klondyke and at times generated industries that for their time and place compared to the importance of North Sea Oil.

Mackerel spoil too quickly. Its price has depended on its ability to get from boat to shore and then to market in time for it not to have lost the freshness and taste that make it potentially the best of fish. Otherwise it has to be salted and there has only been a limited market for that. There has also been an unpredictability in its whereabouts. Although it might always be there year in and year out its surges have been more susceptible to the vagaries of the wind and weather.

Its lack of staying power has set it apart from other fish. When Billingsgate was declared a free fish market six days, a week, permission was given, by William III in 1699, for the selling of mackerel on a Sunday leading to complaints from John Gay, writer of The Beggar’s Opera, that Sundays were being profaned by the cry of mackerel sellers.

On the coast of Ireland, the Mackerel is taken from the county of Kerry in the west, along the southern shore, eastward to Cork and Waterford; from thence northward toAantrim, and north-west to Londonderry and Donegal.

The same article from a magazine called The Saturday Magazine describes the number of fish caught from Brighton and Dover and describes how in June 1808 the shoal of Mackerel was so great, that one the boats had the meshes of her nets so completely occupied by them, that it was impossible to drag them in. the fish and nets, therefore, at length sunk together. At that time the boats engaged in fishing, are usually attended by other fast-sailing vessels, which are sent away with the fish taken. The magazine dates from August 1835 and describes how the fish were taken up overnight to London in vans.

Twelve years later a similar article appeared in The Illustrated London News describing how the mackerel were taken in great abundance from every part of the coast in spring and early summer. They are conveyed by rapid land journeys from the coast to London for sale; and, for the encouragement of the Mackerel and other similar fisheries, the carriages in which the fish are thus conveyed are exempted from post-horse duty. However, this measure is now almost nugatory, from the greater rapidity of railway transport.

Contrast these two articles with what was going on in Ireland at the time. The methods of fishing as described by Yarrell and the quick journey to town for the fish to be sold. The boats available in Ireland and what must have been the difficulties with transport – go to the Somerville book and its description of the isolation of a wife coming to outside of schull and the difficulties with transport.

As the first shoals move inshore they are a harbinger of spring announcing the imminent arrival of other species moving to the shallow warm soup of sea fat with food. They have even lent their name to garfish that were once known as ….so common was it for the arrival of the spring mackerel to be followed by the garfish.

In 1819 the land West of Schull was entirely cut off from the rest of the world.  Sir John Moore had desribed it as “wilder than anything I have seen out of Corsica”. There were no proper roads. When Pococke had toured in 1740 he had found that the only reliable way to travel was on horseback with outriders tp protect him from dangers. In 1819 there was one boggy track connecting Ballydevlin with towns to the east, and this was so bad that very few carts made the journey.

Compare with the south coast of England and the roads and shortly to be built railways that allowed for the fast transport of the fresh fish to their ready market where there was an eager population prepared to pay for their fish.

Ireland was still struggling to rise above a sort of subsistence living and the increase in population and the dehabilitating system of land tenure pushed people back to only being able to look for themselves and their master or landlord. Fishing was there to supplement the diet when available.

The mackerel of the Mediterranean, however, are poor and tastless, compared to those of the Atlantic, and though Apecius wrote many receipts for sauces to dress them in, and to pour over them at table, it is certain that the ancients hardly considered them fit to eat fresh, but preferred them salted, as the Spaniards do to this day. The physician Celsus, eighteen hundred years ago pronounced them very heavy food, – gravissimum alimentum. Oppian, a Greek of the second century, who wrote a long poem on fish and fishing, compares the mackerel’s fondness for brilliant colors and his readiness to bite at a bit of red rag, to the rashness of the infant playing with fire:-


“Just so the little smiling boy admires

The candle’s painted blaze and curling spires;

Extends his hand, but dear experience gains,-

The greatest beauty gives the greatest pains.”


As the fish soon become unfit for food, the mackerel dealers have been allowed, since 1698, to cry their commodity for sale through the streets of London on Sunday.

In May, 1807, the first Brighton boatload of mackerel sold at Billingsgate market for forty guineas a hundred, or nearly two dollars for each fish. On the other hand, they were so plentiful at Dover in 1808 that sixty were sold for a shilling. At Brighton in June the same year, the quantity of mackerel in the water was so great that the fishermen of one boat could not drag in their nets, but had to let nets and fish sink together

We may further remark of the Mackerel taken early in the spring, that they often differ in quality according to the season and place, a circumstance which may with much probability be ascribed to the variety of food they chance  to meet with in their widely-extended excursions. In some parts of the Mediterranean they are described as being always small and dry; and such appears to have been the case in ancient times at Rome, where, in their fresh condition, they were disregarded. As they were sold by fishmongers wrapped up in paper which was fit for no other use, a sarcasm was directed against inferior poets, that their works would be applied to the use of wrapping up Mackarel. Risso, on the other hand, praises the Mackarel taken at Nice for its superiority of size and flavour; but we believe that in no districts will any be found to excel, and few to equal those which visit the west coasts of the Britsh Empire.

In the 19th century mackerel was of considerable commercial scientific importance but by 1926 the importance of mackerel had declined. Why

As herring stocks in European waters went into decline in the 1960’s commercial interest in mackerel started to revive. This interest intensified as declining stock abundance led to am almost total ban on herring stocks by the mid – 1970s. exploitation of the European mackerel stocks intensified further as distant water demersel trawkling fleets were displaced from their traditional fishing grounds following the universal adoption of 200 milw fishing limits throughout the N Atlantic

In the 19th centuary the mackerel was a highly valued species. The first of the season landed at Brighton in May 1807 were sold in Billingsgate Market, London, for seven shillings (£0.35) each, which is about £30 in 1885 value!




Looking forward to arrival – the drive from Durrus

You may know it now but for me there still is a tightening in the stomach as we drive out of Durrus along the coast road to Ahakista. It is there not just the day of arrival but each journey back from Durrus.

The drive from Cork is almost 2 hours following the signs for Bantry through the easy rolling countryside. Over the years the towns we drive through have become familiar, but we have rarely stopped such is the desire to get there; first Bandon, then Enniskeen, then Dunmannaway and finally Drimoleague.

A few miles out of Drimoleague on a clear day if you look to the left you can see through the hedges and trees the distant grey mountains of the Sheep’s Head.

Mostly it is easy driving although suddenly the road will sharpen and narrow and there is always the slow unyielding clump of a tractor to take you unaware as you come out of a corner.

At last you come to the turn off for Durrus and the Sheeps Head. Rinn Mhuintir Bhaire. It might be the sign for the end of the world. The road rises up and past Knockboolteenagh and then down into the green valley of the Durrus River. There is another quick glimpse of the mountains of the Sheep’s Head and that is the last sight of them before you pass Durrus and reach the water.

Through Durrus and if the tide is high, the black stench of mud, normally stalked by a couple of herons, is covered with water which can rise so high as to almost drown the bridge past the Anglican Church the last building in Durrus and then the water on the left of the road pushing and pulling away from the land and the first proper sight of Knocknamaddree sitting in the middle of the Mizen moving out of the narrowing of the bay out of Durrus past the grain store and then through the trees the bay widens slightly to take in on the left the blue of Blair’s Cove.

We normally make the journey down in late July or August when each side of the road, each hedgerow, is coloured and marked by a blaze of red or pink from fuchsia in its full summer bloom and the orange montbretia flowers pushing through to dominate through all the thick green leaves. The fuchsia has been chosen as the symbol for West Cork, but for the lack of an attractive shape montbretia would do just as well, the flowers spill out of every ditch and hedgerow, a surprise that there could be so much colour against all that green.

The road chases back to the land as the swallows cut up, over and through the hedges on either side and then up to and past Rossmore Point, its rambling farmhouse and ruined castle stuck in a plot of land away from the sea the road rises and then falls to cling back to the coast and the view is the full sweep of the bay opened up. Knocknamaddree squat over the Mizen on the left and on the right the mountains of the Sheep’s Head, Rosskerrig, Seefin and in the distance a misty glimpse of Ballyroon Mountain the last stop before the Atlantic and between the two peaks of the bay the straight line that separates sky from water dominating the distance.

If it is late afternoon in summer the sun will be falling behind Rosskerrig and the water is silver fast as the flash of a belly of mackerel. At each beach there is a rush of smooth stones to the water, cars parked and people are swimming or fishing looking for the boiling of water as sprats are chased to the shallows.

Then the bay opens up and fills with the water sliding down from the Atlantic as if it the world is not going to stop tipping and the waves will soon be lapping over the seawall.  On the left the mountains of the Mizen hovering over the back of Doneen Coos mostly shrouded in the mist of distance and the yawning gap of the mouth of the bay.

Now the sea is touching the sky not touching dissolving into a smooth milky blue the eye forever drawn and never quite seeing. The sea still and the bare glimmer of wind rippling the surface, looking out again, perfectly mirrored so water and air seem one. The horizon then disappears and there is space you could move through if only you could just carry on. The sea sits very still and the sky is perfect summer blue dwarfing the clouds through its enormity.

Now the tide is going out. Slipping its suck and leak from the shore. Soon the bay will feel emptied, drawn out and plug gone.

From the Cottage it is not possible to see the head of the bay but boating out of Kitchen Cove to the point off Owen Island it again opens up and the two penisulars – the Sheep’s Head and the Mizen race off to that milky point.

222 230

“Look to your lee’ard line!” he cried. “They’re up for it!”

He hauled a mackerel aboard, and, catching hold of the shank of the hook, flicked the fish into the bottom of the boat with one and the same motion that flung the side overboard again; and after it the lead. Wedging the mackerel’s head between his knees, he bent its body to a curve, scraped off the scales near its tail, and cut a fresh lask from the living fish. He is tender-hearted by nature, but now: “That’ll hae ‘em!” he crowed

The mackerel bit hotly at our new bait.

Before the lines were properly out, in they had to come again, flop-flop went the fish on the bottom boards as we jerked them carelessly off the hooks. Every moment or two one of them would dance up and flip its tail wildly; beat on the bottom boards a tattoo which spattered us with scales; then sink back among the glistening mass that was fast losing its beauty of colour, its opalescent pinks and steely blues, even as it died and stiffened.

Suddenly the fish stopped biting, perhaps because the rising sun was shining into the water. The wind dropped without warning, as southerly winds will do in the early morning if they don’t come on to blow a good deal later. The Cock Robin wallowed again on the water. “We’m done,” said Tony. “Let’s get in out o’ it in time for the early market. There ain’t no other boats out. Thees yer ought to fetch ‘leven-pence the dizzen. We’ve made these day gude in case nort else don’t turn up.’

Fishermen and Fishing Ways by Peter F. Anson

A walk to Seefin

One morning Kevin, Anna and I got up early and set off to walk to Kilcrohane, over the top of Rosskerrig and Seefin and then down the Goats Path before being picked up again. The last time I had done this walk was also with Kevin, it had been grey and damp with not much to be seen.

This time the sun was clear and bright although there was a breeze that quickened the higher we got. On the road past Hillcrest B&B and then the sharp right turn onto the track that quickly falls away as it goes up the hill and you are on the trail of posts with their yellow walker showing the way. The walk up was easier this time. We took it more slowly not being dragged forward by those fitter than us.

The walk up is a series of ridges a hard slog up and then down again, and then another hard slog up. Each ridge takes you higher and periodically we looked back and could see Kitchen Cove tucked into its corner of the bay, the boats dwindling as we got higher. Ahakista a smudge of green fields in its valley down to the sea. Over another ridge and we could see over the Mizen to the Atlantic, the Fastnet Rock and light rising some 10 – 15 miles away a grey smudge in the white sea. Higher still and the ridges became tighter, the climb up the other side steeper and we paused more often for breath and to look back at the view until finally we were at the top of Rosskerrig.

Here the breeze thickened to a quick wind blowing over the top of the mountain. We could see the green valleys falling away, the farms in the hills and what looked like a dump for used cars and we looked down over the pier and Kitchen Cove. Kevin called Julie on his phone and had her and Andrea come to the end of the pier to wave at us. We could just about see them, like being in a plane that final moment before it reaches into the clouds and the barely made out bones of the earth disappear into the white. They had to stop waving as they spotted our famous neighbour walking his dogs in his garden and he clearly thought they were waving at him.

We carried on the walk. The path to Seefin rises slowly and more easily to the ridge that straddles the whole of the peninsula, the two bays, Bantry to the right and Dunmannus to the left, laid out either side and the hills rolling out to the west. It was clear and blue though the wind now took our breathe away and I had to hold onto my hat as we became exposed on the crest. The last time we had done this walk there was nothing to be seen. Now either side of us the hills ran down to the water, brakish browns and greens scarred with the outcrops of rock, each bay taking on a different shade of light depending on the corner of the eye that caught it, Dunmanus silver and sharp, Bantry a deeper and forbidding grey even under the clear sky. The path kept skirting around the crest of the hill favouring the south side for a hundred yards or so and then the north side as if it also was trying to take some shelter from the wind until gently it wound to the top of Seefin.

Anna climbed to the top of the survey post and the wind try to buffet her down. We were at the top of the peninsula, at the old man’s seat from where he could look around and survey the full reach of his sea and land. There was no quiet in the wind. Over the Mizen the sea seemed to disappear into light. The islands in Dunmannus Bay were smudges of black against the silver, the distances and extremes distorted and seemed as nothing. The Mizen a thin finger of land stretching out to the sea and the granite lump of Knockmardree  reduced to a kink in the landscape.