A farewell to Kilcrohane.

Nothing lasts forever. All good things come to an end. One door closes and another one opens. The glass is half full not half empty and so on.

The Summer of 2012 and the beginning of a perfect day.

The Summer of 2012 and the beginning of a perfect day in Kilcrohane.

These are the comforting words I have been telling myself over the last few weeks as we prepare to leave Kilcrohane for our new home just down the road, at the gateway to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, in the village of Durrus.

This is Kilcrohane on a wonderful summers day. Blue sky and warm breezes

This is Kilcrohane on a wonderful summers day. Blue sky and warm breezes

Our year on the Peninsula has past so quickly that as I sit here looking out the window at Dunmanus Bay glistening in the February sunshine, it feels like we have just arrived and unpacked.

I will miss Kilcrohane. Part of me doesn’t want to leave, this is a very special place and I have been very lucky to be able to live, even if only for a short time, in such a wonderful community.

Those of you who have been reading my scribblings over the last year will know all about the beauty of this very special part of West Cork. We have enjoyed adventures both on land and at sea, we’ve met artists, musicians, chefs, farmers, fishermen, sailors and of course the locals who make this place so inviting. We’ve had friends from the city who stayed for weekends and went home jealous (though they’d never admit it) and determined to come back.

Farranamanagh Lake from the little stone jetty

Farranamanagh Lake from the little stone jetty

There were days when the rain just didn’t stop, and the south-westerly gales had us wondering if the house would still have a roof by the end of it all, but then there were the days, just a few, when we were in the right place at the right time. When the sun turned the Peninsula into a lush green finger of land jutting out into the blue and white of the Atlantic Ocean. The days when you could sit on a rock and watch the gannets diving into Dunmanus Bay, or the seals basking on the rocks, or the otters fishing for sea urchins. Those few days when all seemed right with the world, when walking along the Funeral Path or the Fisherman’s Walk you knew that it didn’t get much better than this.

Sea Urchins, spiney but delicious?

Sea urchins, spiney but delicious?

First fish of 2012 a nice pollack off the rocks in Dunmanus bay

First fish of 2012, a nice pollack off the rocks in Dunmanus Bay

I particularly loved meeting the people who arrived during the summer for their annual vacation. Standing on Kilcrohane pier watching the sun set over the Peninsula, their children tired and happy after a day spent swimming, fishing from crabs or messing about in boats, standing there we would nod a knowing hello before the usual conversation would begin.

‘Isn’t it great here,’ the tourist would say.

‘Indeed it is,’ I would answer while we both looked out over the blue water towards the Mizen Peninsula.

‘You can’t beat West Cork, it’s a long journey from Dublin but it’s worth it just for this view alone,’ the tourist would continue.

‘Yes, it is lovely,’ I’d say smiling as I prepared myself for the next inevitable question.

‘Where are you from yourself, did you have far to travel?’

‘No,’ I’d answer.

‘Just a few fields away, I live here,’ I’d say, as I picked up my fishing rod and headed back home with one or two fresh pollock for dinner.

Heading for home at the end of the summer 2012

Heading for home at the end of summer 2012

This, I suppose, was cruel but I do enjoy saying I live in such a beautiful place.

Let me give you a quick rundown of the highlights of our year living dangerously in West Cork.

I stopped wearing suits, I grew a beard, I passed out while waiting to interview the Minister for Health, I sailed a million euro yacht in Dunmanus Bay.

Life on the ocean wave. Notice the beard? Sadly no longer in place.

Life on the ocean wave. Notice the beard? Sadly no longer in place.

I plucked and ate pheasant, dined on lobster and scallop freshly caught from the same bay, visited a fish farm in Bantry Bay, reported on a pirate invasion and compered a food festival.

Far from the Caribbean these are the pirates of Bantry Bay.

Far from the Caribbean, these are the pirates of Bantry Bay.

Long John and his one massive claw finally in the pot

Long John and his one massive claw finally in the pot

Scallops fresh from the bay.

Scallops fresh from the bay.

My first brace of Pheasant

My first brace of pheasant

My wife started her own food business and we built our first home together, I put my back out and needed a pain relief injection while painting a skirting board. All in all, I think you’ll agree, it’s been a very productive year in West Cork.

Carrageen Moss pudding

Carrageen moss pudding

Now we are about to begin another chapter in our adventure, if I can be allowed to quote a certain political party’s slogan, ‘A lot done, more to do’. I will continue to eat the Sheep’s Head and all it has to offer but I am determined to cast my net out beyond the Peninsula and see what’s going on in Skibbereen, Schull, Ballydehob and Clonakilty. The Beara and the Mizen peninsulas are full of places to explore and good things to eat so I hope you will continue to follow Eating the Sheep’s Head as the next story unfolds.

As we begin to pack up and get ready for the journey to Durrus, I want to thank everybody in Kilcrohane for all their kindness and making us feel so welcome. Even though they knew that a journalist was living in their midst, they never once threatened to run me out of the village. Believe me, this was a change from my last posting.

Thanks to Eileen and Mary for keeping the drinks flowing, to Elaine and Noel for the wonderful house, to Frank and Marie for providing us with not only our daily newspaper and pint of milk but also for the wonderful food and wine at the Grainstore. Thanks to Finbarr for his superb rendition of ‘Galway Girl’ played on the spoons, and to the human jukebox Neil Lynch for a New Year’s Eve to remember. Thanks also to the ‘man with the gun’ for keeping us supplied with game and seafood and of course thanks to everybody who we met and who made us feel at home.

Enjoying the art at the Grain Store in Kilcrohane

Enjoying the art at the Grain Store in Kilcrohane

Finbarr Spillane the best spoons player in the world. (Well, Kilcrohane anyway)

Finbarr Spillane, the best spoons player in the world. (Well, Kilcrohane anyway)

The Kilcrohane Farmers' Market

The Kilcrohane Farmers’ Market

Close encounters of the woolly kindWell, that’s it, next stop Durrus.

The West Cork effect

West Cork does strange things to perfectly ordinary people. Back when we first moved to the Peninsula, I was told about the ‘West Cork air’ and the effect it has on anyone who spends enough time absorbing all its goodness.

You may think I’m joking but there is something very strange going on down here. I tell you this because it seems that this West Cork effect has taken control. Back in January, as I strolled around the fantastic farmers’ market in Skibbereen, I met the wonderful Sally McKenna. Now, Sally and her husband John produce the Bridgestone Guide, which is the guide to all things good to eat in Ireland, and they have long been my heroes. Indeed, to me they encapsulate my ideal West Cork lifestyle: writing, eating and enjoying the landscape with all that it has to offer.

Happy shoppers at Skibbereen Farmers’ Market

Anyway, Sally had set up a stall at the market in Skibbereen selling cosmetics that she makes from harvesting seaweed along the coastline and when I told her about my West Cork adventure living on the Sheep’s Head for a year she smiled. ‘Oh, you’ll never leave,’ Sally said. ‘West Cork won’t let you; one of these days you’ll have a stall at a farmers’ market. Wait and see.’

I laughed at the idea but Sally is on to something; Firstly, you get the itch to grow your own vegetables (which we do), and then you find you can’t leave the house without your camera (I never do), somehow food tastes better (yes it really does) and everything seems to slow down. For those hardcore individuals who really get stuck-in to the West Cork lifestyle, it’s all about dreadlocks, yoga and making your own clothes. I’m not quite at that stage yet but my wife has crossed the Rubicon, so to speak; well, of course, she was born here so maybe it’s not that strange. As we have learned, one of the main ways you know that West Cork has gotten under your skin is opening your own stall at a farmers’ market.

Even Leo has gone all West Cork

For many, this involves selling their excess veg or the eggs from the chickens they now keep, or homemade cakes, or the ceramics and pottery that they create themselves. However, my wife has come up with a unique product and is now selling it to some very appreciative customers.

Proof of the ‘West Cork effect’. Lamps made from driftwood created by a Frenchman living in Kilcrohane.

Ladies and gentlemen, my wife has unleashed her Carrageen Moss Pudding on the people of West Cork. Regular readers will remember my first encounter with this pudding when I described it as tasting like straw and having the consistency of rubber. Well, it seems that I will never get a job as a food critic because the general public can’t get enough of it.

Carrageen Pudding

Twice my wife and I have gone to the Skibbereen Farmers’ Market, set up the stall, and sold out of the pudding on both occasions. We also set up at the Sheep’s Head Producers’ Market in Kilcrohane and again sold out. When I say ‘we’, my input involves nothing more than helping to set up the stand and offering moral support. Caroline does all the work. She has spent hours perfecting her recipes and trying new flavours. Vanilla, orange and lemon, Irish cream liqueur and carrageen pudding with stewed rhubarb or apple – all have been received with gusto. At the markets, I play my usual role of arm candy for my very successful better half. Well, that’s what I tell myself anyway. In reality, I just stand there, run for refreshments, and then help to load up the car again. While I am damn good at getting the tea, my standing there and the loading of the car is only undertaken with the expert supervision of my wife. I know my limits.

Sheep’s Head Producers’ Market in front of Eileen’s Pub in Kilcrohane

But getting back to the so-called ‘West Cork frame of mind’, now that we have opened a market stall, I would like to inform you all that I will not, repeat not, be attempting to grow dreadlocks or take up yoga. I have, however, embraced my new life in West Cork in my own way. My many suits, for example, are, as I type, gathering dust in the wardrobes and sometimes I can go two (yes, two) days without shaving. However, I fear that my body has now built up an aversion to wearing suits. The last time that I wore one, I ended up on a trolley in Bantry General Hospital. I was waiting to speak to the Minister for Health who was opening a new unit at the hospital when suddenly I found the room spinning. When I opened my eyes, I found that I was hooked up to various machines with doctors and nurses in attendance; all this because I wore a suit after months of casual clothes. But I still got the story and, no, the Minister for Health did not call to see if I was ok.

So, it seems that if you’re not careful, the West Cork lifestyle can in fact damage your health. I may try and wear a suit again one of these days but I’ll have to have at least one doctor standing by first.

Beware of the West Cork air.