Walking around Gortavallig.

Looking out of the window the weather is grey and full of too much character; the wind is gusting in from the water and each squall sends across a burst of rain. The sky is nothing but a sheer wall of grey in front of us.


Thursday was bright enough for a walk round Gortavallig.

Down by The Cove where JG Farrell slipped off a rock whilst fishing and drowned the water churned up against the slipway. It looked wild and angry and it wasn’t hard to imagine how difficult it would be to climb out again should you fall in.

Further up the hill towards the old mine workings the wind was strong enough to blow back a stream as it tried to flow down a cliff and specks of white sea drift floated through the air.

We had lunch by the collapsed miner’s cottages – a row of about five stone huts high on the hill looking out over Bantry Bay. The miners were brought in from Cornwall to search for copper ore for a couple of years in the 1840’s. Unfortunately the dreamed for riches were not to be found and the mine closed after just two years.

We were there on a day in August but the wind still blew hard through the cottages and the sky that was being blown in from the Atlantic was heavy with rain. It must have been a wild and terrible place a hundred and fifty years ago on a winter’s day.

The rain stayed away for us and we were able to finish the walk ambling along the quite country lane that would its way through green fields back to our car.


That evening we had a lobster soup.

Four lobsters from Tommy Arundel. I cooked them two at a time in a large pan of boiling sea water. As they cooled I sweated onions and garlic in olive oil in the same pan in which I had cooked the lobsters.

I took the lobsters outside to split them and prise out every last nugget of white meat.

The shells then went into the pan and I cracked them with the back of a wooden spoon. I then made use of the Pernod, pouring some into a ladle, setting it alight with the flame from the stove and then tipping it into the pan. The flames were big enough to light up the whole kitchen.

I then sloshed in some white wine, a couple of tins of tomatoes, tomato puree, a handful of fennel from the pier patch and topped it up with water. Seasoning was salt, pepper and a few crushed chillies.

To eat I strain the liquor out of the pan and then poured it back in and stirred through the lobster meat to heat through.


We ate it with bread listing to Exile on Main st.

A walk up Rosskerrig

We celebrated a 17th birthday Tuesday night in the top room in Arundel’s Pub.

It had rained heavily during the afternoon but the skies had cleared by the time we walked up there leaving the ground slick with wet.

It wasn’t a late night and as we parted Hugh and I arranged to meet at 8.30 the following morning at the crossroads by the bridge over Ahakista Stream for a walk to the top of Rosskerrig. In the clear evening sky we told ourselves that it would be good day for walking.

It was windy but dry when we met up and started on up the road up the hill behind Ahakista. This was the old Mass Road. There are no churches on the north side of the Sheep’s Head so those living in its few scattered houses and farms would to cross over the spine of the peninsula to attend the church in Ahakista to celebrate mass. The path crosses over through one of the low pinches of the central ridge.

Most of the walk up was easy going on a tarmac road, it was only as we got almost towards the ridge that the road fizzled out and we had to follow the signs taking us to the top.

At the top we could just about see through the cloud hanging over Bantry Bay to the mountains on the Beara. Behind us and to the south the air was clearer and we could see back down the bay towards Durrus. For a while the sun came out over the bay silvering the water.

We continued to walk along the ridge of the peninsula – Bantry Bay to the right Dunmannues Bay to the left. We paused every so often to take in the air and the view.

At the top we could see through the bracken the marks of old walls from when people had tried to scratch a living out of the rough ground. There was even the layout of what could have been an old shelter of some sort – a large headstone and at right angles to it a row of four five flat stones.

The wind started to bear down on us at the top. It was coming from the south and every time we got into the lee of the hill on the north side there was a small relief from it bearing down.

Heads down making our way I saw a toad in the path. It sat there impassively waiting for us to pass.

As we came down from Rosskerrig the cloud start to lower and we felt the first few specks of rain that was to last for the best part of the rest of the day.

On the hill it hit us hard in the face stinging our cheeks and it was only when we were through the steep creases in the valley, up and down, that it started to soften.

Two and an half hours after the walk started Hugh fed me bacon and black-pudding .


The rain hardly stopped all day. Back at the Cottage I watched the fishing boats come in to the pier. Out on the water there was a grey wall of cloud and the water was churned into a mass of white horses.

I felt guilty asking if I could buy a bag of prawns. All that hard work on the water to keep us fed with a few mouthfuls of food.


The day of the festival

‘Feck the feckin’ feck the feckin’ fecks got my finger.’


The afternoon had started well but with Pat O’Mahoney’s burst of extravagant language the chairman’s heart sank .

One of the two nuns looked at her sister and shook her head sadly ‘Was that the ‘f’ word I heard in there?’

The sister had been listening carefully ‘No dear I think he managed to avoid that word he was only feckin’ the feck.’

The chairman cast his mind back over the afternoon.

Michael Noon had won the Turnip Throwing Cup, smashing all previous records, with the throw of a turnip grown by Edna O’Malley especially for the event. She claimed that a regular feed of rotten mackerel manure in the three weeks leading up to the competition gave the turnip an ability to sail through the air more quickly than turnips left to fend for themselves.

There had been some debate as to whether it was possible to extract enough manure to make it worthwhile feeding a turnip but Edna swore that she had her methods and that if you had a bucket to hand and squeezed them right as they came out of the water then a supply could be had. It was then a question of selecting the turnips for the feed. They only needed a few drops so it was no great bother.

Michael Noon put the win down to local knowledge of the hilly terrain from where he undertook the winning throw and the strength in his throwing arm to time well spent hauling in lobster pots, others whispered that it was time less well spent lifting pints that built up the muscle.

The Car Smash had gone a treat. Patrick O’Riordan had donated his old pink Mini Metro for the day and it had taken seventeen youngster, togged in goggles and helmets, to reduce it to a pile of broken and twisted metal, plastic and glass with a sledgehammer over the course of the afternoon. There were a few injuries but these had come about more from a misapplication of the sledgehammer rather than anything to do with the car. The hunt was now on for another Mini Metro that could be donated for next year’s festival.

The swim races and raft race and all passed off with no incidents. There had been acrimony in previous years with there being a suggestion that some of the youngsters were not as young as they claimed and there had been a manipulation of birthdates. There problem came to a head when two six foot lads with too much hair on their legs claimed they were eligible for the under thirteen freestyle across the bay. They had been allowed to compete but some of the smaller lads all but drowned in their wake. The Chairman’s bright idea that all competitors produce a certified copy of their passport had brought some order to the event .

A last minute replacement for the duck chase had been found and it proved to be eminently suitable keeping the competitors at bay for a good ten minutes and it was adept at getting away just has some lad was about to make a grab for its tail-feathers through the water. The winner had able to keep a hold of the duck without breaking its neck and there was general agreement that it should be kept available for next year.

There was a great deal that had been a success but now as an arc of bright blood smeared it self over the pier the chairman had to gird his loins in order to deal with the root cause Pat O’Mahoney’s burst of extravagant language

Lunch in Schull

Most summers when we go to Schull lunch is taken at the fish’n’chip shop down by the pier. Tables laid out in the sun, fish fresh from the sea and fried almost in front of you before being piled into cartons with mounds of thin chips and balanced precariously on plastic trays to be eaten with relish with a bottle of cold Muscadet drunk out of small plastic glasses.

This year the weather in Schull was grey and full of impending wet so we didn’t make past the lure of the dark interior of Hackett’s.

We were squeezed onto the end of an table by two ladies who were having a long lunch talking about seaweed courses at the Good Thing’s Cookery School and how many bales of hay one of them was able to bring in from her fields.

I had an open crab sandwich; a pile of white crab meat on top of thick chunks of brown soda bread with pint of Murphy’s to wash it down.

After lunch, buoyed up with the Murphy’s I bought myself a smart new shirt and another stylish hat.


There was a satisfactory amount of traffic blocking up Main street.