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.
“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