The Farm in the Bay

It’s easy to forget, when you live on the Sheep’s Head overlooking Dunmanus Bay, that there is a famous stretch of water just over the Goat’s Path.

Unlike its sometimes forgotten neighbour, Bantry Bay has seen invading armies, Irish patriots, maritime disasters and the discovery of a long-lost sunken French man-of-war. All this and it is one of the deepest natural harbours on the planet as well. But now Bantry Bay and many of the people who live and work along its 35km stretch are embroiled in a bitter fight to prevent the development of a salmon farming project just off-shore from the little village of Adrigole.

A salmon cage in Bantry Bay with Hungry Hill on the Beara Peninsula in the back ground (photo thanks to Niall Duffy)

Bantry Bay already has two other salmon farms in operation but the protestors, a gathering of local pot fishermen, recreational anglers, concerned residents and fish consumers, hospitality business owners and environmental groups say that the Bay, and indeed the livelihoods of many, will be damaged for generations to come if this salmon farm is granted a licence.

In these times of recession, the peninsulas and the surrounding region need jobs. More and more people are being forced to emigrate in an effort to find work. Surely new jobs in the area would generate much-needed income for the local businesses and retailers? The salmon farm company envisages 10 new jobs, eight during the construction phase and two permanent jobs when the farm is operational. The company will also commission a new vessel, which will be built locally and will service the up-and-running fish farm.

I get the chance to have a closer look at a salmon cage that is home to almost 40,000 salmon (photo: Niall Duffy)

On the other hand, local pot fishermen say that some of their traditional fishing grounds will be out-of-reach because of the salmon cages, while they fear that pollution created by the salmon farm (faeces and uneaten food pellets) will decimate the stocks of crab and lobster. Salmon anglers, who have seen a regeneration of the wild salmon stocks in the rivers that flow into Bantry Bay, warn that a salmon farm at the proposed location would all but destroy the numbers of wild salmon returning to spawn and force the fish already in the system to run a gauntlet of sea lice before they make it to their feeding grounds in the Atlantic. Tourism ventures that line the seashore along the Bay fear that their businesses will suffer and close because of the proposed salmon farm. Kayaking, sailing, windsurfing, swimming and even walking along the Sheep’s Head Way and the Beara Way will all be adversely affected by the placing of another salmon farm in the Bay. Meanwhile, environmentalists say that Bantry Bay, while deep, does not have the flow capacity to ‘flush’ all the contaminants they say salmon farming produces out of the Bay.

Beautiful Bantry Bay

The two sides are indeed split, as are many of the residents who live beside this wonderfully scenic part of southwest Ireland. It all boils down to this: will the creation of 10 new jobs through this venture actually end up causing more unemployment in an area struggling to hold on to the jobs it already has? Will this new salmon farm project damage the tourist industry, which is a lifeline for many local families and business owners? Will the location of the salmon farm spoil the scenic beauty and water quality of the area? Or are all these concerns to be dismissed because of the potential extra jobs that the salmon farm MAY create in the years to come? As one local man whose son had just emigrated to Canada said, ‘We have to consider the future, you can’t eat the scenery can you?’

A farmed salmon from Bantry Bay (photo: Niall Duffy)

So what do you think? Should the people of Bantry Bay put the economic future of the area first or should its environmental future take priority? Or are the two inseparable? Can both fish farming and tourism exist side-by-side?

Do any of these issues cross your mind when you eat farmed salmon?

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Bush Wars

I have a question for you. Where can you get a good feed of bacon and cabbage at 11pm on a dark St. Patrick’s Weekend night?

Why in Kilcrohane on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, that’s where. I kid you not; just when you might be thinking of calling it a night after a day ‘wetting the Shamrock’ (as I once overheard an American tourist say), there at the end of the bar in the Bay View Inn you will find steaming plates of Ireland’s national dish waiting free of charge.

But more about this later. First, let me tell you about one of the best restaurants in Ireland, a restaurant that serves only the freshest, seasonal, locally-sourced food this part of West Cork can provide, a restaurant that is guided by Carmel Somers, a woman possessed with a passion and skill few Michelin-starred chefs can outshine. All this and on the Sheep’s Head as well. Ladies and gentlemen, may I present Good Things Café.

Good Things Café, Durrus

West Cork Food Hero Carmel Somers gathering fresh herbs at Good Things Café

Now, before you think I am over-selling or gushing too much about what, in my humble view, is a restaurant with few equals on this Island, let me assure you that I am not doing the experience of eating at Good Things justice with what follows. I’ve eaten at three-starred Michelin restaurants in Paris and London but for me nothing compares with an evening spent at Good Things Café, sipping some wine, eating great food (try the Ahakista lobster) and watching the sun set over Dunmanus Bay.

Over the years, August was the traditional time for our Good Things pilgrimage. Travelling from the city for the annual Ahakista Regatta, I have to admit that I am always more interested in what’s on the menu at Good Things than watching the boats race in Dunmanus Bay. My first trip to the Peninsula, all those years ago, shocked me. It was an unusually hot August, the Sheep’s Head in all its glory looked like a green slice of the Mediterranean, the temperature was in the high twenties (that’s the high seventies for our friends in the USA – a heatwave by Irish standards), the sky was cloudless and the water in the Bay was crystal clear and so calm that it looked like someone had placed a huge mirror between the peninsulas. Sun, warm sea, birds singing and Good Things Café. This is what my then girlfriend introduced me to when she said ‘Come and meet my family in Durrus’. One look at the place and I decided to marry her. It took me a couple of more years to break down her defences but finally, and if you will forgive the angling reference, I landed my West Cork flower. So you see, Good Things has a very special place in my heart. For me, the restaurant encapsulates everything that this part of Ireland is all about, scenery, fresh local food and good company.

Our latest edible adventure at Good Things saw us dining on nettle soup, fresh prawns and scallops landed earlier that morning from Dunmanus Bay, wonderful salad leaves from Gubbeen Farm just down the road in Schull and brown sugar meringues with rhubarb. An excellent way to spend Mother’s Day.

Fresh Dunmanus Bay prawns at Good Things

Scallops from Dunmanus Bay

Brown sugar meringues with West Cork rhubarb

Meanwhile, back in Kilcrohane preparations for St. Patrick’s Day were well underway. As if a switch had been clicked somewhere, Kilcrohane began to emerge from its winter slumber. The sun was shining and the village was alive with children and holiday home owners returned to their little piece of heaven after an absence of many months.

As you know, this is my first time living in ‘rural Ireland’ and my experience of St. Patrick’s Day normally involves a few drinks and a day off work. However, in Kilcrohane there seems to be a deeply-engrained competitive streak in preparing for our national day. This competition isn’t centred around the number of pints you can drink before passing out or the number of rebel songs you can sing before your voice gives up; no, in Kilcrohane it is all about shamrock and the amount of this green foliage you can wear. Some people looked as if they were on manoeuvres with the army.

Shamrock to the fore, ladies

Indeed, as the day progressed my wife asked one of the ladies how her bush was holding up, I haven’t felt comfortable leaving the house since.

So, after a day celebrating the fact that a Welshman came to Ireland, banished the snakes, found a use for an innocuous weed, upset the druids and climbed a mountain, if you’re lucky enough to find yourself in Kilcrohane, you can get a free plate of bacon and cabbage from Mary in the Bay View Inn at 11pm. After that you will be ready for the rest of the night when the singing and dancing get underway. Just be sure to leave your bush, sorry, shamrock outside.

Bacon and cabbage, a meal for shamrock champions