Friday, 20 May 2016
Standing at the edge of the world
during a weekend in Bantry Bay
Although my mother was born in Millstreet, Co Cork, Cork is a county that I do not know very well.
I am reasonably familiar with Cork City, and have in recent years have been delighted to get to know Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral. But until my now-sons were in their early teens and attended a summer camp in Kinsale about 15 years ago, I was unsure of the geography of Co Cork
Indeed, until recently, the furthest west I had been in West Cork was Rosscarbery, for a short visit to Saint Fachtna’s Cathedral, Ross, and I might have been unable to tell my Bandon from my Bantry.
Now, thanks to a very special present, I am spending the weekend in Bantry in West Cork, staying at the Maritime Hotel on Bantry Bay, close to the three rugged peninsulas of Mizen Head, Sheep’s Head and Beara, stretching out like toes at the end of the foot of the island of Ireland.
In this decade of centenary commemorations, I am reminded that Bantry is the birthplace of both William Martin Murphy, who gained notoriety for his confrontation with Jim Larkin and James Connolly during the Dublin Lockout in 1913, and his friend Tim Healy (1855-1931), the combative former Home Rule MP who played a part in split in in 1891 and later became the first Governor-General of the Irish Free State.
Bantry is an excellent base for seeing the glorious scenery of West Cork and the Maritime Hotel is in the town and by the sea.
In Bantry, there are the town’s expansive square and Bantry House and estate, with commanding views over the colourful vista of the inner bay. Nearby too are Glengarriff with its forests, Schull, Castletownsend and Baltimore, all by the sea, and to the west the Healy Pass that leads on to Kenmare.
Here too are Barleycove Beach, Garnish Island, the Dursey Island Cable Car, and the Ring of Beara, as well as hundreds of inlets, tiny coves, safe harbours and blue flag beaches that are so attractive as the daylight stretches into the late evening at this point in late May. Nearby islands include Whiddy Island, Sherkin Island, Cape Clear Island and Seal Island.
At the end of two long working weeks that have included a full working weekend, it was a long journey from Dublin this afternoon, and from the point of view of the front-seat, map-reading passenger, this is one of the most remote and distant parts of Ireland for anyone living in Dublin. Indeed, Mizen Head, with its signal station and visitors’ centre at the south-west tip of Ireland, invites visitors to “stand at the edge of the world.”