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.


Duck and cover

The man with the gun came calling again.

At first I thought he was just wishing us all a Merry Christmas but then he produced a freshly-shot duck and I could feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in pure terror.

He obviously doesn’t read my blog.

As he handed me the duck (still warm by the way), I was transported back to the greenhouse and I swear I could smell (and taste) the pheasants as we got them ready for the pot only a few weeks ago. When I say we, most of you will know that I should say ‘the women’ as they did most (all) of the dirty work.

I was once again faced with the prospect of plucking and cleaning out a game bird. It’s amazing how quickly you can react when faced with an unpleasant task. ‘Wow’, I said trying not to throw up. ‘I love duck, thank you so much. Come in and have some tea’. All the time my mind was racing. ‘Oh God, I can’t go through all that again. Where am I going to put it?’, I thought as I filled the kettle.

‘Shot him a couple of minutes ago just down by Farranamanagh Lake,’ our friendly gunman said as he took a seat at the kitchen table. ‘Boil him up for a while before you roast him because he’s been feeding in salt water and there may be a “fishy” taste off him’, he warned.

Farranamanagh Lake where our duck was shot

‘I don’t care how “fishy” he tastes’, I thought, ‘at the moment I don’t think I’m going to make it as far as cooking the bloody duck never mind tasting it. Maybe I could just get rid of it when no one is looking? But no I can’t do that; if you shoot game you must eat it, that’s my philosophy.’

I decided to man-up and do what I should have done all those weeks ago with the pheasants. After all, am I not a real man now that I live on a Peninsula in West Cork? Taking a deep breath, I took the duck in both hands and… I blamed my daughter and in-laws for the fact that I would be unable to deal with the duck at that moment.

‘My daughter is a very picky eater and we have my mother- and father-in-law staying with us and I wouldn’t like to put them off their food. You see, I have nowhere that I can pluck and clean out the duck without them being aware of it, and my back is playing up a bit, and I think I’m coming down with flu, and our freezer is full too, so if you would like to keep the duck, and a lovely specimen he is, please do and I hope you enjoy it. You’re very good to think of me, maybe next time when everybody is out and my back is a bit better…?’, I pleaded as my gunman gave me a knowing smile.

‘I’ll clean him out for you no problem’, he said as he poured himself some more tea. ‘Have him back to you later today and you can cook him tomorrow’, he continued as I felt the dizziness subsiding.

Farranamanagh Lake from the little stone jetty

So later that day, I was presented with an oven-ready duck and I am not ashamed to say that I felt no less a ‘real man’ when I dropped it in the pot with celery, garlic, onion and bay leaves. I decided to boil the bird for at least ten minutes before finishing it off in the oven. Now, the first thing to note is that a wild duck is a lot smaller than your typical farmyard fowl. There was, I reckoned, just enough meat on our duck to feed one person. While boiling the duck, I noticed a strange smell; it was a sweet cloying odour somewhere between a seashore when the tide has gone out and burning plastic or rubber.

I continued with my plan to boil and roast the bird; when I removed it from the oven the smell seemed to have gotten stronger. I decided to put all this to one side; after all, I love duck and as there wasn’t very much to go around I thought I would make some duck burritos using floury tortillas filled with lettuce and tomatoes. However, as I cut into the breast of the duck the odour of salty stones and seaweed got stronger. I tasted a piece.

Bacon, in floury tortillas filled with lettuce and tomatoes and a dollop of mayo is probably the tastiest suppertime treat you can have with a nice strong cup of tea … and all the windows open letting in lots of fresh West Cork air on a cold December night.

As for the duck, let’s just say that Leo our cat didn’t seem to like it either.

After a stormy night over Dunmanus bay