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.

Safari in the Bay

It’s amazing what you find if you take time to look about; let me give you an example. For months now, I have been fishing from a certain spot just down the road from the house. I always travel the same path, stopping every now and again to admire the Bay or the flora and fauna as it changes from one season to the next. When I arrive at ‘my spot’, a huge flat rock that slopes gently towards the deep waters of Dunmanus Bay, I get on with the task at hand (chucking a lure out to the waiting fish) and never really pay much attention to the environment around me.

Low tide reveals a hidden treasure trove of life in Dunmanus Bay

This all changed a few days ago. I arrived at the spot to find that the tide was out. Very far out. Where once there were metres of water between where I stood and the dark rocks far below, I could now easily climb down, browse the rock pools and, most importantly, retrieve the lures that I lost over those previous attempts at catching any fish at all from Dunmanus Bay.

The flora on the Peninsula

As I explored the pools in an attempt to get closer to the waterline so that I could start fishing (and yes, I have since learned that when the tide is out it’s the worst time to go fishing), I suddenly discovered, in the crystal-clear water of one of the pools, these purple spiny globes. I had stumbled across a nest of sea urchins.

Just some of the sea urchins in the pool getting ready for love

Believe me, this was not just one or two sea urchins; I counted fifty and then gave up. The pool, which would normally be completely out of sight and out of reach, was full of these prickly creatures and I couldn’t resist reaching out and picking one up.

Sea urchins, spiny but delicious?

Now I know that for many out there sea urchin is a delicacy and we had eaten these at the Ivory Tower in Cork city but I have to admit that I am completely stumped as to how to prepare or deal with these amazing creatures in the kitchen. After a quick search on the interweb and some really good advice from a true food hero (thank you once again Sally McKenna), I discovered that while the sea urchin is not that difficult to prepare the best time to harvest is in September. Right now they have other things on their tiny little minds, hence the army of them in the pool. Apparently, it’s the season of love for sea urchins and a few prickly spines aren’t going to get in the way.

A sea urchin ready for some creative cookery but what’s the next step?

So, from now until September I will be closely guarding the secret location of my sea urchin cache. However, I could do with some recipes and suggestions as to how we should enjoy these delicacies from Dunmanus Bay and would love to hear from anyone who can help.

As I climbed back up the rocks to my spot, I suddenly got the feeling that I was not alone, I looked over my right shoulder to find four pairs of eyes watching me. There, floating not 10 metres from me, four seals bobbed gracefully in the water as they munched on the fish I had come to catch. I found a comfortable rock and sat basking as the seals continued eating their lunch. I was amazed to see the hidden landscape that was now revealed by the receding tide. Rocks with colonies of baby mussels clinging firming to the surface, sea snails, anemones, starfish and, of course, the ever present collection of seaweeds, all laid bare before me. As I sat there, taking all this in, something climbed out of the water and sat on a rock just a couple of metres away. This new arrival was not a seal; the seals had moved on (having, I supposed, wolfed down the underwater buffet). It sat there looking directly at me and then got back into the water and disappeared. An otter!

Empty and sun bleached. Somebody knows how to get the best out of these prickly creatures.

Suddenly there was a splash and there, swimming on its back, the long brown otter was on the surface and this time it wasn’t alone. As it climbed back on to its rock I saw, held firmly in its jaws, a fish, a cuckoo wrasse I think, and the otter set about enjoying its lunch. With all these expert anglers around, I decided to call it a day and headed home, fishless once again, but amazed at the diversity of wildlife both above and below the waters of Dunmanus Bay.

The Caribbean? No, West Cork baby!!!!

A perfect day

I really, really enjoyed the summer of 2012.

Remembering it now, I can feel the tears begin to well up in my eyes. It’s all fine having warm, dry weather but to have warm, dry weather on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula means that you are in fact transported to what many have described as the Riviera of Ireland.

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

Well, when I say many I mean me; I describe it as the Riviera of Ireland because when the weather is good, and I mean really good, ‘good enough to wear a polo shirt without losing the circulation in your arms’ good, then there is no place like the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.

It all began on Friday morning; somebody somewhere turned up the thermostat, switched on the sun and turned off the cloud machine. Blue skies, temperatures in the mid-twenties (that’s the high-seventies for our American friends – practically a heat-wave for Ireland), warm, blue water in the Bay and the swallows returning en mass from South Africa to their holiday homes along the Peninsula.

As I left the house, there was a blast of warm air, warm air that was coming in from the outside not the other way around – like when the cabin crew open the door of the aircraft upon landing at your sun holiday destination. The birds were singing, there were smiling people everywhere and all was right with the world.

Now, here in Ireland we have learned down through the generations that you have to make the most of the good weather when it arrives. So, if you are ever on this Island and you encounter people who look like they have third-degree burns, this means there must have been good weather in the not so distant past. If indeed you are lucky enough to be here when the weather is good then you will see people (men for the most part) stripped to the waist as they go about their daily business: driving cars, shopping, sitting on buses, drinking in pubs, etc. A simple rule applies – when the sun comes out, take off your shirt. As for sun cream to protect against skin cancer and sunburn, well, that’s just for girls and children. A real man knows that the harmful effects of the sun do not apply to his milky white skin and, anyway, the ladies love it when the Irish male goes topless.

You will be glad to hear that I did not strip off my top to celebrate the good weather. I did however put on my first polo shirt of the season and I got out the ‘legs’. That’s right; I exposed the good people of Kilcrohane to the milky white goodness that is my legs. At first, I feared for the eyesight of my neighbours who would be exposed to their blinding whiteness but I decided to risk it and hope for the best. Now, suitably attired with shorts and a polo shirt (I also removed my vest but decided not to go ‘commando’), I headed out to enjoy the Irish summer.

And enjoy the summer we did. Plans were quickly put in place for a picnic. Armed with marinated chicken, a mushroom and pepper frittata, olives, bread, a really good bottle of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (we also included a flask of tea, after all this was an Irish picnic) and the fishing rods, we headed for a tranquil and beautiful bay just down the road from our house.

An ideal spot for a picnic

After a short walk along the headland, we found our spot overlooking Dunmanus Bay where it joins the Atlantic Ocean. As we sat on our perch, looking at the blue sky, the green patchwork of fields along the Peninsula and the clear water, it was hard to imagine the gale force wind and driving rain that had only a few days ago rushed down the length of the Bay.

We drank our wine and toasted our good fortune to live in such a beautiful place. At this very moment, our day out enjoying the good weather was almost perfect. Just one more element needed to fall into place and then this Saturday could go down in history as ‘a perfect day’.

I had the fishing rods; if only we could return home with sun-kissed skin and a few fresh fish, that would be something to tell the grandchildren about.

Ready for the first cast of the day

I set off armed with my rod and a new lure that cost me the princely sum of €1.50 ($1.89). ‘This,’ the man in the tackle shop said as he held the new lure up to the light, ‘this will have the fish out of the water and on to the rocks quicker than dynamite’. I wasn’t convinced but dynamite is a lot more expensive and harder to come by (typing ‘dynamite for sale’ into Google seemed unwise) so I handed over the €1.50.

My new ‘dynamite’ lure

As I stood on the rocks ready to cast, I could see gannets diving in the distance and a cormorant drying its wings on the rocks. ‘I hope they left some fish for me,’ I thought as I cast the lure out into the Bay. When it hit the water about 36 metres (40 yards) from me, I counted to 10, slowly, to give the lure time to sink. Then, as I began to retrieve the bait (still wondering about the possibility of getting dynamite), the lure suddenly stopped and the rod was almost wrenched from my hand.

At first I thought the lure was caught in rocks or some dense seaweed, a situation I have found myself in many times. However, this was different, my fishing rod was bent over and the tip was moving in all directions. I lifted the rod up; the movement became quicker and stronger. I began to reel in, there was definitely something alive on the other end of the line and after a few minutes (minutes that felt like a lifetime) I got my first glimpse of the fish. A long, silver body attached to the end of my line getting closer by the minute.

How about this for a stunner? And the fish ain’t bad either! Please note the ‘legs’ have been cut from the photo to avoid blindness.

After some mad thrashing on top of the water, I managed to land the pollack on to the rocks. I stood there amazed; not only had I caught a fish, a very big fish, over 3 kilos (7lbs), I did this on my first cast. It seems I don’t need to order the dynamite after all. Three more fish followed in quick succession. I actually arrived home with fish, no excuses about the wrong tides or the wrong water temperature, real fish that I didn’t buy or get as a present. A perfect day at last.

Pollack from Dunmanus Bay

Today as I sit here writing my blog and looking out at the rain lashing against the window, watching the grey sky and the trees swaying in the wind, it all seems like a dream. Ah, the Irish summer of 2012; it was the best 48 hours ever.

Heading for home at the end of summer 2012

The Donkey in the fog

There are times when I know that no matter how much I try I will not be able to describe or do justice to an event I have been lucky enough to witness.

This is one of those times and I am fighting to find the right words to give you just a sense of what I experienced this morning.

However, if you bear with me, I will try to share exactly what happened.

One of the first things I noticed when we moved to Kilcrohane was just what an important part the weather plays in everyday life here. While we have yet to have frost or snow, we did have storm-force winds and some very hard rain over the last few weeks.

This morning all that was just a distant memory as I awoke to blue skies, calm water in Dunmanus Bay and a light breeze. The birds were singing, the sheep stood sunning themselves in the fields and it was turning out to be one of those days when you find yourself in the right place at the right time.

I set off out into this picturesque scene armed with my camera and a mission to scout out good fishing locations for later on in the season.

For fresh fish, follow the sign

A short distance from the house is Dooneen Pier and the section of the Sheep’s Head Way called the ‘Fisherman’s path’. This, I decided, would be an excellent place to start my quest for my own piece of angling heaven.

As I made my way along the path, which ran along a cliff’s edge, I could see gannets diving into the sea far below. Always a good sign for any would-be fisherman.

I made my way to the edge of the cliff. Far below, in fact out of sight, I could hear the waves crashing on the rocks. High on the cliff, as close as I could go to the edge, I found a flat rock and sat there taking in the glorious scene before me.

Blue skies over Dunmanus Bay

In the distance I could see the mouth of Dunmanus Bay with the Mizen and Sheep’s Head peninsulas facing the Atlantic Ocean like two pillars of a gate leading into a vast turquoise field. Everything was calm; I could feel the warm sun on my face as I sat like a lizard warming myself on my rock. The only sounds were the occasional wave breaking on the jagged rocks, the cry of a lone gull, and the splash of the gannets diving into the deep water far below.

Every now and again there was a sound like a bass drum echoing from depths as the water gushed into one of the many caves at the base of the cliff.

I found my attention drawn back to the mouth of the Bay. As I watched, it looked like someone had switched on a smoke machine. There, just like a slow set at an eighties disco, was a cloud of what looked like white smoke making its way between the two peninsulas.

Now the ‘smoke’ was not making its way along the headlands or spreading out over the land. It was confined to the bay and was steadily making its way toward me like a scene from that horror movie ‘The Fog’.

Here comes the fog

From my vantage point, I could see the fog moving slowly down the Bay; I could also still see both peninsula heads. The fog bank was about 12 meters (40 feet) high and getting closer all the time. It was like watching grains of sand filling one end of an egg timer.

I also noticed that it was very quiet; very, very quiet. Even the waves seemed to have stopped. The gulls and the gannets were gone. As I looked behind me, wondering if I should leave as well, I saw the sheep, that had been happily munching the grass and enjoying the warm sun when I arrived, were now all heading towards the far end of the field. Some of the sheep were walking but more had decided to run. ‘Time to go’, I thought.

As I stood up to make my way back, the temperature suddenly dropped. High above, I watched as the fog reached the edge of the cliff and seemed to just float there above the now no longer visible water. Then it began to climb up the cliff wall.

Time to leave?

I made my way back to the car, chased by this wall of white fog. I began to imagine giving directions to the rescue services trying to find me as I lay freezing to death surrounded by fog. ‘Yeah, I’m over by the big rock, just past the two sheep on the cliff. Don’t go too far left, there’s a bit of a drop there’.

Then, as I made my way out of the gloom, I was confronted by a few donkeys who unlike the sheep were not going to let a bit of fog upset their morning. They looked at me. I looked at them and then the fog arrived and we all headed towards what I hoped was the quickest way to my car. I don’t know where the donkeys were going but they seemed to be heading towards the cliff edge. I didn’t hear any splashes so I can only assume they’re ok.

Foggy donkey

Back at the car, I watched as the fog bank made its way deeper into Dunmanus Bay towards Durrus. Then, almost as soon as it had arrived, it was gone and there I was, blue sky above me, sun on my face and the sound of the waves on the rocks once more in the distance.

I decided that I didn’t need the rescue services after all. Although it was touch and go there for a while, for both the donkeys and I.

Before the fog

 

 

The fog arrives