This lovely walk from the imposing medieval fort of Jamesfort brings us along the lovely estuary to Sandycove. Sandycove is a cute little hamlet with a smattering of human habitation and a beautiful bay which is very popular with serious swimmers.
A gorgeous walk over the cliffs at Sandycove gave us views over the bay and the islands. As we approached the seashore we were greeted with a plethora of enthusiastic swimmers, both human and canine.
We wended our way back to James Fort, passing through the tiny, pretty Dock Beach. A gentle walk over the cliffs brought us to the the old fortification which was heavily influenced by the Battle of Kinsale.
Looking across the harbour we could see the other star fortification at Charlesfort. This is believed to be haunted by the White Lady’ who lost her betrothed on her wedding night. She is said to wander the area and is known as both a benevolent and malicious ghost.
We hired a private charter last Sunday to go whale watching with Cork Whale Watch. We lucked out with incredible weather, warm sun, calm seas and excellent visibility. Within minutes of leaving shore, a huge dark fin was evident in the water, a basking shark, and the first one most of us have ever seen.
These gentle giants can reach up to 40 feet but feed on krill and small fish. They sift the soupy water to extract their food and drink a swimming pools worth of water in a day! Over the next half hour we saw 7 more of these magnificent fish, hard to imagine that they really are. One cruised past the boat and its body kept on going and going, it was larger than our trusty steed. They disappear like submarines, gently lowering themselves down out of sight. Sometimes we could see the gaping chasm of their huge white mouth as they skimmed their dinners with grace.
As we headed to more open water an energetic pod of common dolphins sped towards us. They leaped around the bow and jostled for space at the front to surf the waves our boat provided. All the while gannets dove around us at breakneck speed, hitting the water with the accuracy of a master archer.
Then the minke whales arrived. These are the 2nd smallest baleen whale in the world. They feed on much the same food as their cartilaginous compadre, the basking shark. They are solo travellers generally and are more interested in food than us. We watched them bolt through the water after their quarry and after a time we were definitely surrounded.
Over the course of the charter we saw at least 20 minkes (we even experienced minke breath which has a pretty gnarly stench).
More common dolphins came back to bow ride and all round as far as the eye could see, were hundreds more dolphins, many more whales and birds skimming the ocean. Just glorious.
Our Sunday trip was filled with sun, jaw dropping scenery, epic coastline and some ridiculously cute donkeys to boot! Mizen Head and Barleycove are two spectacular locations down in the most Southerly parts of Ireland. The waters here team with life and in the summer particularly it is not unusual to see whales, basking sharks, seals and a plethora of birds with regularity.
Mizen Head is drenched in history and has played a significant role in the culture, development and pride of the local community.
The Teardrop of Ireland
In 1847 an American liner, the SS Stephen Whitney sank off Crookhaven with the loss of 92 lives. The Irish Lights Board decided to build a lighthouse on Fastnet Rock as the Cape Clear island lighthouse was too far inland. This was the first landfall after America and was called the ‘Teardrop of Ireland’ as it was the last place that Irish emigrants saw when they left Ireland. The first lighthouse was built in 1854 and lasted till 1891 but had to be replaced as it was made of iron and was unable to withstand the merciless fury of the Atlantic ocean.
It was rebuilt in 1899 using Cornish granite and was completed in 1903. Each block of granite weighed 3 tonnes and were interlocked for maximum strength and protection.
Six men kept watch at Fastnet Rock, four at a time and two on leave. Reliefs were twice a month when the men were taken off duty. Each man worked 4 weeks on, 2 weeks off. One man had to stay on watch during the day to look out for fog and signal passing ships. As soon as fog was seen, another man was called up to work the fog signal.
When there were so many men at the tower they slept three to a bunk. They were all turned out at 5am and were made to wash themselves thoroughly, turning out all their bedding to air and washing down the barracks. This way the men stayed healthy.
Mizen Head History
In 1906 the Board of Trade along with the Irish Lights Board decided to build a fog signal station on Cloghane Island, Mizen Head. In 1909 the fog signal was established and in bad visual conditions the keepers manually set off a charge of explosives at 3 minute intervals. The arched bridge was built between 1908-1910 to connect the island to the mainland. The design was picked from a competition that was run to create the best bridge. The bridge is 172 feet (54 m) across by 150 feet (50 m) above sea level.
In 1931 a wireless beacon was installed at Mizen Head and in 1959 a light was placed on the rocks at the end of the head at a height of 180 feet (60m) with a range of 13 miles in clear weather. The fog signal was discontinued in the 1970’s when sonar and satellite navigation (GPS) took over. Mizen Head Signal Station has participated in the whole history of radio communication.
The local village of Crookhaven was the first and last port of call for ships going between Northern European ports and America. The ships stocked up on fuel and provisions before tackling the Atlantic ocean. A flurry of small boats would meet the arriving ships, swarming around them to get business. Lots of these boats came from the UK and were commisioned by Reuters and Lloyds agents.
Reuters and Lloyds agents had flag signalling and semaphore equipment up on the nearby headland of Brow Head to communicate with passing ships. At the end of the 19th century there were so many boats in the harbour that you could walk across the decks from one side of the bay to the other. Up to 700 people lived and worked in the village during this period. Currently there are only 29 permanent residents living in Crookhaven.
How Marconi came to Crookhaven
In 1896 the famous Italian inventor, Guglielmo Marconi went to England to file the worlds first patent for a telegraphy system using Hertzian waves. In 1899 he acquired a premises in Essex and established communication across the English channel. He was desperate to get a signal across the Atlantic and searched for a suitable for his masts. After much research he found the village of Crookhaven. In 1902 he established a telegraphic station here using a coherer receiver. He brought wireless operators from England with him.
Marconi worked with the Irish Lights Board in 1904 to put telegraphic equipment aerials on Fastnet Rock. The station was then moved to Brow Head as there had been a long established tradition of using signal equipment and Brow Head is also the most Southerly tip of Ireland. The telegraphic messages were sent from Fastnet by signalling and then relayed to Brow Head by wireless telegraphy and relayed onto UK and Northern European boat owners and companies.
Initially a few ships started to use telegraphy equipment on board. The signal stations might be in touch with one ship at a time but by 1904 the telegraphers were in touch with at least six. In Crookhaven there were 6 operators initially working in the village. After they were relocated to Brow Head they had to make the lonely trudge up to the exposed headland. They worked on 3 watches: Midnight-8am, 8am-4pm, 4pm-midnight. There always be two operators on each shift.
A shift broke its shaft 80m from Crookhaven in 1904. Fitted with Marconi equipment, hundreds of messages streamed back and forth to her as passengers contacted families and friends. Assistance was sent for immediately and she was back on course without any mishap. Marconi’s invention had thus taken much of the fear out of the sea.
After Marconi had achieved transatlantic messaging and more shipping fleets were equipped with his technology, it was unnecessary to be close to shipping and man a station so the station was closed at Brow Head. Crookhaven reverted to a quiet fishing port.
The End of an Era
The signal station at Mizen Head was automated in 1993. The same year with a lease from the Irish Lights Board and with funding from the rural development LEADER programme, the local community of Goleen decided to reopen Mizen Head as a tourist attraction. Murphys, West Cork Bottling, Cork County Council and Ford helped match the funding to open the centre to the public. This attraction is now internationally renowned and has hosted over a million visitors!
The dreamy, beautiful Barleycove beach was formed under auspicious circumstances. The sand dunes there were thrown up by a tidal wave that swept through Europe after an earthquake in Lisbon in 1755. Today the dunes are now partially eroded but the beach and surrounds are designated as a Special Area of Conservation. It is host to a diverse range of habitats and wildlife that preside in and around the sand dunes.
When you live far from home for a long time you oft forget the many wonderful places that encompass Ireland. Lough Hyne is a gorgeous lake, fed by sea water near Baltimore. It is the only lake in Ireland to experience this and it has thus created an unusual for aquatic creatures and plants.
It was believed to be a freshwater lake approximately four millenia ago but was flooded as a result of rising sea levels. The Lough now regularly receives Atlantic water streaming in through Barloge creek. The water here is a combination of warm, highly oxygenated water which makes it a very attractive prospect to many plants and aquatic creatures.
It is one of the most studied lakes in the world due to its unique aquatic disposition. The purple sea urchin, Paracentrotus lividus was first discovered here in 1886. It is also the only place in Ireland where a seahorse was found in the 1980’s. It is popular with kayakers and has spectacular phosphoresence which fills the Lough with otherworldly stars in its waters at night.
It was established as the first Marine reserve in Europe in 1981 and University College Cork opened a research station here to study the impressive array of plants and animals that call this Lough home.
The combination of marine magnificence, lush forestry clustered protectively around the Lough and ancient,druidic remains have created a bewitching place for all. Eoghan Harris summed up this magical place wonderfully in his book ‘Lough Hyne – From Prehistory to the Present’:
“Lough Hyne is a sacred place, a natural amphitheatre with perfect acoustics, where we can guess our pre-Christian ancestors gathered to worship the lost gods of the Druids.’
Hiking in the verdant forests of Killarney always brings a lightness of step and joy even with soggy conditions. We headed up the Old Kenmare Road to do one of the beautiful trails and cocooned ourselves from the ever present rain.
We dropped down to a very swollen Torc waterfall before heading in search of vagrant sheep up along Molls Gap. One very accomodating sheep modelled patiently for us before we headed on to Sneem. A triple rainbow did its best to outshine our ruminant friend, momentarily dazzling us.
A trip through the Garden of Senses and a view of the Pyramids illustrated what a gorgeous spot this wee town is.
On to Derrynane to see the house of the famed Daniel O’ Connell. The house was closed but the gardens were open and the breaking waves of the nearby ocean beckoned us forth.
A typical day tour to Killarney National Park. Sneem and Derrynane :).
The storms of last Saturday left a much flooded Ireland and some surging seas. Our trip was booked for the following day and we were mad excited to get out there and see what was about.
We lucked out with calm descending on Sunday and giving us a much welcome reprieve from the maelstrom.
The sea had been amply churned out by torrential rains and was murky and foamy, yet incredibly beautiful. The sun was valiantly trying to show itself and kept on peering at us from behind the clouds.
Our charter for the day was the Holly Joe, skippered by the excellent Colin Barnes of Cork Whale Watch. He steered us through the waves with ease and grace and guided us towards the rocky promonotories to see the seals and ancient ruins.
A few porpoises snuck past us but they eluded most of us by the time we realised. On our way back to port a lone dolphin cruised by. We watched it as it sped through the water.