Weather: We were in Ireland from July 9 until August 21. Ireland had the coldest and wettest July and August in recent history. During our 6½ weeks along the southwest coast, there were only a handful of days when there was no rain. In some locations the fields were so soggy that crops could not be tended/ harvested and many of the pastures were too wet for the cattle to graze. There were also weekly gales (winds over 30 knots), usually from the western quadrant, that kept us at anchor.
Typical conditions on the Irish west coast 2 metre seas with 25 kts of wind
History: Ireland has a long history of being invaded. We noticed a system of towers along the south and west coast. The towers were strategically placed so that signals could be sent from tower to tower to tower to warn of invasions.
Signal towers … each can see two others … messages can be relayed around the coast
The potato famine of 1845-1847 killed or drove off over half the population. The absentee British landlords contributed to the decline by stepping up their process of tenant evictions. By 1911 the population had declined from 8 to 4.4 million. Toronto has just opened an Irish Garden to commemorate the Irish who fled to the Toronto area during the famine in the 19th century. Evidently over 38,000 settled in Toronto, but many died because of weakness and disease they brought with them as a result of the famine. Many Torontonians shunned the Irish in those times because of the disease people thought they were bringing to Canada.
The tide has turned and Ireland is now prospering with new high tech business ventures and an influx of money from global companies. Many have stated that it has only been in the last decade that some prosperity has been seen on the West coast.
When the English conquered Ireland in 12th century, they colonized the country and economically exploited it. Irish became tenant farmers, tending the land owned by the English. Land ownership is still a focus of the Irish and the acquisition of properties still a major activity. Now it is not the English, but the affluent from Cork and Dublin who are buying holiday property, driving up real-estate prices and taxes beyond the reach of locals and immigrants from eastern EU countries who work as service staff in the pubs, restaurants and gift stores during the tourist season.
Gannets: The gannets are large seabirds, white with black wingtips and yellow neck. The fly singly or in groups, undulating above the waves. Sometimes they plunge into the sea from a height of 50 feet or more; this is much like the pelicans in Florida and the southern US, but unlike the Pelicans, they enter the water without even a splash … so elegant.
Gannet in a rare moment of relaxation
Guillemots: They are great divers, and use their feet to steer, their wings to propel. We also learned that they lay a single pear-shaped egg directly on a ledge; the shape keeps it from rolling off. It is incubated by the bird standing up over it (they stand erectly, like penguins). Parents recognize their egg by the pattern, and the young by voice. Young birds jump (or are pushed) from the cliff when 3 weeks old, still not fledged, and are tended in the sea by mothers only. The Guillemot does not have the cute belly-flop of the auk, but are still great fun to watch.
Guillemot that had just been evicted from the nest and was not very happy about it
Fulmars: These are seabirds about the size of a Herring Gull, but much stockier with a thick neck and big head. The Fulmars like to fly into the vacuum in front of our mainsail, so that it appeared to us that they were flying right for us … attacking us... before changing direction and flying right in front of our bow.
Seals: The seals in Glengarriff were the most fun to watch, “basking” on the rocks even in the rain. They are curious animals; they like to watch you, but as soon as you watch them, they dive.
Seal lounging in the rare afternoon sun
Seals being very curious
Dolphins: Always a treat to watch frolicking in a bow wave.
We stayed at the Royal Cork Yacht Club for a week to convert Pilgrim back into a cruising home rather than an ocean passage-maker, make repairs, and rejuvenate ourselves. This is the oldest yacht club in the world, founded in 1720. It is not at all stuffy, like so many of the royal yacht clubs. There are 1500 members of the club, 500 of them local. Most of the racing is in dinghies, although there are cruising class races on the weekends. There must be over 50 Optimists and Lasers out every day with kids in the sailing school. This is a real sailing yacht club, with all ages participating. The town has a long history of boatbuilding. One of the Gypsy Moth’s (Sir Francis Chichester, first person to sail around the world without putting into port) was built at the Crosshaven Boat Yard.
Road sign entering Crosshaven …clear emphasis on boating Royal Cork Yacht Club house
RCYC parking lot … boats had priority Sailing school … 5 hours per day … even in the rain
We took a long walk upstream along the Owenboy River, on which Crosshaven is located, to Drake’s Pool. This is where Sir Francis Drake successfully hid his ship, the Golden Hind, and the rest of his fleet from the Spanish Armada. The walk was along an abandoned railway right-of-way that has been made into a walk/ bike path. The old train semaphores had been left. The path was fringed with hydrangea bushes, lilacs, fuchsias, daises, holly, English ivy, oaks and a host of other indigenous plants. The tide was out, and at the top end of the river, the mud flats were extensive with herons, ibis’ and terns foraging for shellfish. The far bank was a mass of green pasturelands.
The pool where Drake and his three ships hid from the Spanish fleet … I bet they didn’t sail into it
They tore out the tracks and have created a lovely and safe walking path
with room for joggers, kids on bikes and backpackers with a bit of history thrown in
We were headed for Carrigaline to purchase charts and other marine supplies at the chandlery, but it had nothing we needed. When we asked for a UK courtesy flag, they could not understand why we would want to go there. There is still a great deal of animosity between the two countries. We took a taxi to another chandlery in Cork. It had a bit more stock, but still not what we were looking for. We spent the afternoon in Cork, the second largest city in Ireland after Dublin. It is a delightful city. Most of the side streets in the downtown area have been sealed off for pedestrian use only.
Cork streets provide a mix of pedestrian only and multiple use lanes … walker friendly
We also saw a high-tech trimaran that is trying to set a world record for sailing around the world and is also promoting new biofuels.
The design allows the boat to cut through waves instead of going over them at high speed
Our first European anchorage was in this harbour near the village of Castletownshend. There is a Gothic castle here that is still used as a house / bed & breakfast by the Townshend family. The O’Driscoll’s Castlehaven castle was ceded to the Spanish, abandoned and retaken by O’Driscoll, placed under siege by the Spanish and finally surrendered to the English after a battle in 1601 between the combined Irish/Spanish army and British forces. After the main battle at Kinsale (further east along the coast) cemented the English conquest of Ireland, English landowners took over the area and established a long lasting community. Castletownshend is primarily Protestant with a beautiful old church (St. Barrahane’s Church (of Ireland, Anglican Communion)) surrounded by a cemetery with many Townshend headstones. As in many small communities in west Cork County and Kerry County upper middle class families from Cork are buying up property as summer homes. This is providing needed economic growth, but is also driving up property values so that local folks find it difficult to purchase homes and/or afford the taxes.
St. Barrahane’s Church dominates the waterfront Harbour full of small dinghies for the boats moored off
We had lunch at Mary Ann’s Pub. It was written up in our Fodor’s Guide to Ireland and was delightful.
Mary Ann’s Pub Brian and Jane’s lunch … fabulous
On our way to Baltimore Harbour, we passed The Stags, a jagged outcropping of rock about 10 miles offshore. It was more impressive than Fastnet Rock, the famous island off the SW coast of Ireland.
Sherkin Island/ Baltimore Harbour:
Sherkin Island provides a large, protected harbour for Baltimore, famous for wooden boatbuilding and a fishing centre. The harbour entrance is clearly identified by a tall white tower known as Lot’s Wife, since it resembles a pillar of salt. Similar white towers were constructed at harbour entrances along the south coast (there are still a towers on Long Island and Goat Island in Long Island Bay north of Baltimore) to help fishing boats identify home ports; the southern coastline has no natural distinguishing features to help ships far at sea find their way home.
Lot’s Wife as seen from offshore and from the Abby on Sherkin Island
We anchored off Sherkin Island and spent a day walking its single asphalt road. It was our first sunny day in Ireland and the road tar softened and stuck in the treads of our shoes. We marveled at the deep purple Heather, making distant hills look purple. The fuchsia bushes still boggle my mind. Not just little plants in hanging baskets, but 6-foot-tall bushes with delicate (smaller than planter variety) blossoms both on the bushes and on the ground. The road had stone fences on either side, overgrown with ferns, heather, thistles and ivy.
The ever-present heather … we thought it only grew in Scotland
Although stone fences have been part of Irish history for over 5000 years (according to an article in the Sherkin Comment, Issue 43) during the famine years of the 19th century the Irish Board of Works had a program for employment for men to build stone fences, some with no apparent purpose. Depending on why the fence was needed dictated the design of the fence. For example, if small animals were to be kept out of a field, the smallest stones were place at the bottom of the fence.
Jane on a road flanked by overgrown stone walls
Overgrown stone walls with no mortar … very easy to rebuild
We discovered the island school (with a temporary schoolroom outside the regular school like so many in North America), the library (advertising the latest Harry Potter to be released in 2 days, but suggesting readers to review the previous 6 volumes in the meantime), the blood pressure clinic, the Church of Ireland church, and a take-out snack bar.
The school with its portable … evidence of a growing population
There is one hotel that includes a pub/restaurant, and the Jolly Roger pub, where we had lunch (local mussels and a couple of Guinness’). The décor in the pub was stunning: traditional Irish instruments on the wall, a working dart board with chalkboard score sheet, and a bar with stained glass trim.
The Jolly Roger Music wall of fame
and gaming centre
Sherkin Abbey was built in 1460 and destroyed in 1537 by the Waterford men (English). It is slowly being restored to prevent further collapse.
Sherkin Abbey Partial restoration to keep the walls upright
The abandoned boat-building and fishing village of Dock lies to the North close to the ruined Castle Dunalong built in 1460. Dunalong was surrendered to the English after the battle of Kinsale.
The old fishing dock and growing automotive junk yard
On our way around Cape Clear we passed Fastnet Rock. It is known as the teardrop of Ireland, since on a map it looks like a teardrop falling off Ireland’s face, but also because it was the last bit of Ireland emigrants to North American saw when they left Ireland.
Once a renowned fishing harbour used by the French mackerel fleet Schull now has only a crab processing plant, tour boats to Cape Clear, and summer home development for moderately wealthy Cork families. A young couple running a pub told us they had no hope of every owning a home; a modest cottage cost €300,000 or $450,000. Other than a great bookstore, French chocolate store, and a county market on Sunday morning where the local Gubbeen farm sells its wonderful cheese, fish and smoked meats, there was nothing to recommend this port. The bay is open to the south and full of local moorings. The visitor’s moorings (for which there is a modest charge) were as far from the dinghy landing dock as possible.
Schull with one main road usually filled with cars or young drunks The Gubbeen stall at the market
Fish processing plant and its attached take-out Brian found a purr
The Scull parish of eighteen thousand people suffered during the famine with up to 50 deaths per day. In 1846 Quakers funded and built a curing house, a salt store house and provided boats and gear to local fishermen. The venture failed because the fishermen were too weak to spend the required time at sea during winter gales. There are the remains of a workhouse from the famine period destroyed in 1921 by the IRA. The doors of the Protestant rectory built in 1723 (one of the oldest in Ireland) are fitted with spy-holes that fit the muzzle of a gun.
Mizzen Head: The southwestern tip of the most southern Irish peninsula is Mizzen Head. The lighthouse and research buildings (extensive seismic research is conducted off the SW coast of Ireland) are on a separate island just a chasm away from the mainland. A bridge joins the two; we understand that the bridge (about 100 feet above the water) is sometimes impassable with spray and ice from waves crashing on the shore.
The Mizzen Head Bridge that gets impassable during the winter and during Atlantic storms
Further around the peninsula is Three Castle Head. There are not three castles; just one with two wings, and evidently the castle is still in relatively good condition. We have read that a nearby farmer charges admission to the castle, since the road to it goes through his property. He has a sign posted with the price of admission and “No Dogs” in large letters. “No Cats” has been added in pencil.
Dunmanus Bay: There are fields and farms on the peninsula south of Dunmanus Bay, but the north side (Sheep’s Head) is quite rocky, with scars from copper mining. There is evidence of inhabitants in the Bronze Age living here, importing tin from Cornwall to mix with the local copper to make bronze. Cooper was mined here until early in the 20th century. Mining meant that this area did not suffer as badly during the potato famine as other areas in West Cork. As we sailed down the bay (NE) we began to see some farms on the north peninsula.
Dunmannus Bay … north side with lots of rock and some grass for cows and sheep
About half way down Dunmannus Bay the water became reddish brown. We thought that this was the result of poor waste management … that sludge from septic tanks had been dumped in the bay during the ebb tide. We learned that this was the “red tide,” a summer phenomena when red algae grow in the relatively warmer water. Some red algae are poisonous; it is why many shellfish are not harvested during warm-weather months (those months with no “r” in the name).
Kitchen Cove is a little bay in the north peninsula, protected from all winds except south. There were two other boats at anchor and about a dozen local sailboats and another dozen fishing boats, half of them commercial.
The small village of Kitchen Cove with the requisite pub … view from the pub
After we left Dunmanus Bay we discovered that the Canadian government had erected the Air India monument in Ahakista, the village near Kitchen Cove. In the mid-1980’s Air India flight 182 exploded off the south coast of Ireland. It had taken off from Vancouver and had many Canadian citizens of Indian descent onboard. After several inquiries and a long, bungled investigation, there have been no convictions, but there is strong evidence that Sikhs in Vancouver paid baggage handlers to place the bomb in the cargo hold. There were no survivors. Twenty years after the tragedy the Canadian government dedicated the monument. During the ceremony, Prime Minister Paul Martin said that the bombing was a Canadian problem, not a foreign problem, saying: "Make no mistake: The flight may have been Air India's, it may have taken place off the coast of Ireland, but this is a Canadian tragedy.”
We are amazed at the surge of the ocean and how far it penetrates the bays. The swell was no more than three feet at the entrance of Kitchen Cove, but it broke on the shallow rocks causing plumes of foam and a slight roar. By the time we reached the mouth of the bay the swells were 5-6 feet and causing major surf spray on the rocky shore. Those who do not enjoy sea swells should not cruise this coast.
Glengariff (Bantry Bay)
This very protected bay at the northeast end of Bantry Bay was a great place to wait out a southwest gale. We picked up a mooring here because of the weather and the ferry traffic to Garinish Island, a tourist attraction in this most touristy of tourist towns. The town is filled with Bed & Breakfasts, hotels, pubs, restaurants and gift shops.
Fish farm or boat trap in the fog it’s hard to tell Best traditional Irish music we heard … pity
We spent an afternoon at Ilnacullin (which means Holly Island) on Garinish Island. We took our dinghy over, bought a guidebook (not too helpful) and walked through the paths. The Irishman who bought the island in 1910 engaged an English architect to design the gardens. There is a formal Italian garden and a walled garden that have cultivated plants and trees and shrubs from South America, Australia, New Zealand, and some places in Asia. Unfortunately the plants were not well labeled. It would have been nice to know which trees were indigenous and which were imported.
Our introduction to “Upper Class” gardens This garden of exotic plants dominates the entire island
Overview of the Italian Gardens Ex tennis court built on a bog … it’s sinking
Jane amongst the lilies and frogs Lookout at the end of Neptune’s walk
An example of the variety of erotic plant life displayed in the gardens.
We are amazed at the rhododendrons and holly (huge 30-foot tall trees). We used to think of holly only in sprigs … maybe small bushes. The garden is now owned and operated by the government as a park.
The Eccles Hotel is a grand old Victorian hotel in which G. B. Shaw is supposed to have written St. Joan. Lunch in their pub was mediocre, but pricy.
The Eccles Hotel … we had our worst meal in Ireland here
As we left the east end of Bantry Bay, we had a good look at Whiddy Island, just south of Glengarriff and north of Bantry (town). The island was bought by Gulf Oil sometime around the middle of the 20th century, as the main oil terminal for all of Europe. They cut a sweet deal with the Irish government, and built the terminal. Supertankers transport oil from Kuwait to Bantry, and then it was dispersed to the rest of Europe in smaller tankers. (Imagine the poor crew going from a climate where there is no rain to a climate where there is constant rain, and no interesting activities for them at either end.) Sometime in the 1980’s there was a huge explosion at the terminal (could it have been sabotage?) but the terminal looked intact when we passed it with huge storage tanks. It is no longer the only oil terminal in Europe, and may not even be in use right now. There were no tankers in Bantry Bay when we were there.
There is also a large gravel pit on the north shore of Bantry Bay, about 2/3 of the way down the bay. There is a large dock for freighters, and we think one of them was entering Bantry Bay on Friday afternoon when we were motoring westward.
In Ireland as in Northern Ontario they tear down high hills to make gravel for export
We motored north of Bear Island along Bear Sound. We are learning about new navigational aids here. Not only are the red / green reversed in Europe (GREEN right returning just does not sound right), but there is a buoy that is red with black stripes and two black balls (isolated danger). The best navigation aid we saw was on Colt Rock. There is a tall pole on it, painted red (correct colour) with what looks like a colt weathervane on top.
Just in case you were disoriented they marked “Colt Rock” with a unique navigation aid
There are a few farms on Bear Island, but it is almost dead compared to what it used to be. Bear Island and the mainland form a natural harbour used by British warships. There were many defense works erected on the island, including watch towers and pillboxes, and it played a role in all major battles including the Second World War, when Churchill threatened to invade Ireland to claim the base as British when the Irish were not willing to let Britain station ships here. Today there a just a few cows and sheep grazing on the rather bare hills. A ferry provides the only link with the mainland.
Bear Island cows and horses The ferry passing a wreck mid channel
Dunboy Bay, Bantry Bay:
Dunboy Bay is just west of the channel leading from Bantry Bay west of Bear Island to Castletown/Bearhaven. It is a cozy bay with lots of rocks that become visible only at low tide.
Looking toward the fort ruins from the anchorage The view from the ruins to the anchorage
We walked around the site of a castle that was torn down to build a fort (Cromwell), which itself is in ruins. The site is in an overgrown condition considering no government funds have been spent on its upkeep. In 1602 the Dunboy Castle was the site of a siege and massacre, six months after the fall of Kinsale. The one hundred and forty-three castle defenders died in the toughest battle of the time. The English who later built a fort on the site blew up the castle. The area is a favorite place for families to come and walk around the ruins, listen to the sea and enjoy a bit of history.
The fort “fireplace” The rebuild of Dunboy mansion into a 5 star hotel
Next to the fort, the Dunboy mansion was built in the late nineteenth century using a mix of styles including French chateaux, Italian villa and Elizabethan house. Landowners from Cornwall owned it. The IRA took it over, and then burned it 1921 to prevent the British soldiers from using it. The partial ruins are now being restored and a 5-star hotel is being constructed around it. The entire site is fenced with guard dogs, and there is a construction tower/crane on site, quite an anomaly in the otherwise pristine countryside.
The nearby town, Castletownbear, a merger of two villages (Castletown and Bearhaven), was much larger than we anticipated. There was a large pier for fishing vessels and an area specifically designed for mending/ drying nets and salting fish. There were several small and one large grocery store, laundry, hardware/chandlery store, and a host of pubs.
The docks at Castletownbear serious fishing the dogs at Castletownbear… serious genetics
Dursley Sound. The tip of the Bera Peninsula (north shore of Bantry Bay) is an island, like so many of the peninsula tips on the southwestern coast. There are also three outlying islands beyond Dursey: The Calf (with the ruin of a tower on it), the Cow (actually looks like an elephant from some angles), and the Bull with a large lighthouse facility perched on its cone-like top.
The Calf The BULL
And the Cow … (since when did a Cow have a trunk? … guess they didn’t know about Elephants.)
We passed between the three outlying islands and Dursey. There used to be a fort on Dursey but now there is an artist colony on the island (a case of the pen being mightier than the sword?). It is connected to the mainland by a cable car 21 meters above the water. Dursey Sound is supposed to be quite lovely, but the cable car cable is just a little too close to the top of our mast to make transit comfortable, even at low tide.
Sneem (Kenmar River)
Sneem is about ½ way down the estuary on the north shore, in County Kerry. After we anchored, a dinghy came by and hailed “the Canadians.” Finbarr Murphy, a retired fisherman, stopped and visited with us. He told us many tales and gave us numerous tips on anchorages in the area and the best places to visit.
The anchorage is two miles from the village up a river that dries out at low tide. Since it was low tide during the morning and early afternoon, we started to walk to town, luckily we were given a lift to town by a women from Cork who is building a summer home in the village and living on a boat with her family in the meantime. The village was full of tourists from Cork and the EU. An excellent butcher shop was the one attraction in the town for us.
Sneem … A town owned by a couple of families with a garden dedicated to Charles De Gaulle … vive Le Eireann libre
View from the bridge that bisects the town. Now how do we get a dinghy up here
Finbarr had told us that on the Kenmare River a unique navigation aid is a post with a 3-sided knob on top. The safe passage is where the knob has a steep side (like a cliff with deep water next to it) and the dangerous side is the gently sloping side. The entrance to this harbour is a bit tricky; there is a range, but then the channel snakes around rock outcroppings. We were so glad we had learned about the posts with the steep and sloping sides from Finbarr. They guided us in. The harbour is almost completely enclosed, and full of moorings. We were at high tide, so were really concerned about the “unmarked rock that dries at low tide in the north of the harbour.” We deployed two anchors since we were in close quarters and our primary anchor, a CQR, does not hold well in the pure sand bottom.
Beach Party time … great beach … warmish water … pub just up the hill … now where is the sun?
We enjoyed a walk on the sand beach in the harbour and also along the Kenmare River. There were abbey ruins and sheep grazing on the hills … a truly pastoral setting. We did less land exploring that we would have liked since we had very strong winds and were concerned about leaving Pilgrim in such close quarters with other moored and anchored boats and the “rock”.
Portmagee is a tiny town with two pubs, a restaurant, a coffee house, a store (not much bigger than a convenience store), and a gift shop. The Skellig Heritage Centre is across the bridge over the river. Landing the dinghy was a challenge since there were no facilities for small boats on the town dock. All of the space was reserved for local fisherman or tour boats.
A town with not much to recommend it except it has the best toilets in Ireland … tops for bottoms!
Since the coastline of Great Skellig is rocky and deep, we decided to take a tour boat to the islands. We checked with the only tour office we could find to make reservations to go to Great Skellig Island, 8 miles offshore. The office said they were completely booked until next Tuesday, and that all the tour boats were fully booked … sorry. Then she said, “There is a tour boat just coming into the dock now. You could see if it has any space.” We went out on the pier, and the operator said he thought he was fully booked (he takes only 12 passengers), but to stick around. Maybe there would be some no-shows. He was planning to leave at noon, a full 2 hours later than the other tour boats. Just before noon he gave us the go-ahead to get onboard. We feel most fortunate (even though it costs us €40 each ($60) for the trip) since the next few days brought squally, rainy conditions, and our guide was Des Lavelle, author, historian and tour operator.
Des Lavelle, author, historian and tour operator a gold mine of information but you have to dig for it
Little Skellig and Great Skellig (or Skellig Michael) are two islands jutting straight out of the water off Dingle Bay.
Little Skellig (foreground) and Great Skellig (or Skellig Michael)
There is virtually no place to land a boat on Little Skellig, and it the one of the largest nesting sites for Gannets. The island is light grey / white due to the number of Gannets perching on the island. We were impressed with Ile Boneventure in the St. Lawrence River last June (nesting site for Gannets), but this was a larger island with more birds. Our tour boat took us to within 20 feet of the shore. Since the tide was going down, there were seals basking on the exposed rocks, and a few brave seagulls and one cormorant took up a bit of real estate.
Little Skellig looks white due to the numbers of birds and centuries of outdoor plumbing …
Then it was on to Great Skellig. In the 6th Century St. Fionan established a small monastery on the island. There are only three landing points on the island, and steps had to be carved into the rock to get from the shoreline to any semblance of horizontal land. The island is about 600 feet high. The monks constructed stone steps to the top of the island from the three landing sites, and then built dwellings, chapels, and gardens using dry stone (no mortar). There were about 500 steps from the modern “road” which is about ¼ of the way up the island to the site on which the monks lived.
Brian heading up … how high? Not very high … Jane was the brave one to make it to the top
The dwellings look like beehives … similar to igloos. There are lovely grasses and alpine flowers growing on the steep slopes. Little burrows dot the cliffs, homes for rabbits and nests for Puffins during the Spring. The monastery was a going concern for 12-15 monks from the 6th century until the 12th century, when it was abandoned.
Bee hive shaped structures were easy to build and repair without use of mortar, peat was the insulation
Vikings attacked this monastery at least 3 times, and once the Abbott was abducted and starved to death by the invaders. Viking attacks on monasteries were common, and even remote sites like Great Skellig were devastated, even though they were so difficult to invade.
A view of Little Skellig and the mainland from the Monastery
There is some reconstruction work being done on the south peak, where the monks built terraces and a hermitage for just one monk at a time. The work currently requires folks to scale the rocks with rock-climbing gear.
1400BC - Milesius, early invader losses two sons in shipwreck on island
200AD – Daire Domhain King of the World rests before a year-long battle at Ventry Bay
400AD – Duagh King of Munster seeks refuge
500AD – St. Fionan establishes a monastery on Skellig
800AD - Viking invaders
812AD – Skellig monastery sacked
820-830AD – continued Viking attacks
860AD – Monastery rebuilt and hermitage added
1130AD – Monastery abandoned, moved to Ballinskellig Bay on the mainland
1578AD – uninhabited, used for bird and feather harvesting and pilgrimages
1826AD – First and second lighthouses constructed
1969AD – Lighthouses upgraded and keepers removed
1970AD – first tour boats start operating
1986AD – Site restoration
1987AD – Lighthouses become automated
We sailed across Dingle Bay and anchored in Ventry Bay, just west of the town, Dingle. The inside shoreline is a huge beach, and there is a large caravan (camper) park, mainly for Irish holidaymakers. There is a small settlement that includes a store/post office and a pub. There were more young children at the pub than adults.
Horses enjoying the beach at Ventry Bay … “Pint of cold milk … please”
The Dingle Peninsula is a favorite hiking area, as evidenced by the number of folks with sophisticated walking sticks and gear. Parents and grandparents played with children (and dogs) on the beach. Ireland is definitely a country for children.
Some wear wet suits … some have enough insulation built in … Grandpa time
We thought the countryside would become much more wild and dramatic the further north we got, but frankly Dingle peninsula looks very much like the ones further south. The islands (The Stags, the Bull, the Skelligs, and the Blaskets) are more dramatic than the mainland. We continue to see irregular fields of potatoes, cows and sheep grazing along the edges of cliffs, and brightly painted buildings. The hills are generally gently rolling, sometimes becoming steep, rugged cliffs along the water’s edge or on especially high peaks. It is beautiful, but has been much of the same since we left the south coast.
The scene changes but remains basically the same … pretty but isolated
There are only two marinas between Crosshaven and Dingle and we did not visit either one. We stopped at the Dingle Marina to fill our water tanks, take care of laundry, and charge the batteries with shore power.
Our entry into Dingle harbour was a bit harassed. There is a resident, “trained” dolphin, Fungi, who lives just outside the harbour and is the feature of tour boats. When we arrived, he greeted us, and the tour boats swarmed us to give their passengers opportunities to get photographs of Fungi. We did not realize why the boats were behaving so erratically until we saw the dolphin and realized they were tailing him, not us.
We thought they had come to greet us … wrong … they were trying to see Fungi who stayed with us
In Dingle we heard good traditional Irish music at a concert at the local church. The first half of the program featured the pipes, tin whistles and guitar. The second half was modern Irish ballads accompanied by guitar. One of the songs was about an Irish lad who fled the famine in Ireland. He landed in the US and was drafted into the Union army in the US Civil War, and wished he were back in Erie.
Friday we took an inflatable ferry with an enclosed cabin to Great Blasket Island off the tip of the Dingle Peninsula. The currents are strong around the island, and the water very deep right up to the shoreline with no anchorage so we decided not to take Pilgrim.
Tour boats wait at mooring and use small RIVs to take people to and from the only landing
Great Blasket is the westernmost point in Ireland. There were monastery dwellings at one point on the island, and then families inhabited it for several hundred years. It is not as inhospitable as the Skellig Islands, but there is little arable land and only one spot for landing boats. There are still sheep on the island, tended by a family that used to live on Great Blasket, but who now live on the mainland.
Sheep seem to have guardian birds that like to sit on their butt … the donkeys think it’s a riot
We also saw a few donkeys and rabbits. When the Irish government evacuated the island in 1953 because they could not service the island with so few residents (120 at that time), the islanders still held title to their land. In the early 1970’s the movie Ryan’s Daughter was shot on the Dingle peninsula with Great Blasket as a backdrop. An American, Taylor Collins, loved the area so much he bought up as many island sites as he could. He established a youth hostel and was planning other development, but then lost interest. He offered to sell his holdings on the island to the Irish government for a million pounds. The government dragged its feet and did not want to pay his price, so he advertised his holdings in the Wall Street Journal and sold the property to some investors. The Irish government is in the final throes of negotiating ownership with the current owners for much more money than Collins wanted. The plan is to develop the island as a national park with highly restricted access to ensure it is not overrun with tourists. Many of the houses are still standing, most without roofs, but with walls, hearths, etc. intact.
Jane in a home that may have held 10 people Rugged coast line with only one way on and off
One of the few houses that is still in use The other one that is only occupied during summer
While we were in Dingle, a replica of the Jeanie Johnston, a 3-masted square-rigger, stopped at Dingle. The original boat was built in Quebec City in 1847 and was put to use transporting Irish to North America and famine relief supplies back to Ireland. Most of the ships taking Irish to North America were called “coffin ships,” because so many immigrants died en route or shortly after arriving in North America. Not one passenger or crew was lost of the Jeanie Johnston because the captain and doctor were so good and dedicated. The replica was built in Ireland in Trawlee on the north shore of the Dingle peninsula in the late 1990’s and visited Canada the summer of 2000. The original wheel is in the replica, a gift of the Quebec government. The original boat sank very slowly with a load of lumber while crossing the Atlantic in 1857. It sank so slowly that a passing ship rescued the crew, thus preserving its perfect record of no crew or passengers lost. (For more information, see http://www.kahunanui.com/projectjj )
Jeanie Johnston … coffin ship that never needed one
Dingle was our most northern port in Ireland. On August 10 we turned our bow southward and had a wonderful, but wet sail southwards.
There are no cruising notes on this harbour and no other cruisers anchored here. Finbarr Murphy told us about this harbour, and we are delighted at the protection and seclusion. There are several ruins on shore and two small towns in the rather large bay. There is also an artist colony outside the nearby village. The ruins seemed to be relatively modern (16th century) so were probably not associated directly with the monks who left Great Skellig in the 12th Century to relocate here. There was terrible weather in the 11th century (a mini-ice age), which may have been a major reason the monks left Great Skellig.
Ruins that may or may not have some connection with the Skellig monks
We had a fantastic sail with a strong northwest wind around Dursey Island and into Bantry Bay. We stopped for a second time at Dunboy Bay (see description above) to wait out another gale and rainstorm.
We left Dunboy Bay with more strong northwesterly winds and had another good sail around Mizzen Head; we sailed east into Long Island Bay, and stopped about 8 miles before we got to Schull in Crookhaven. It is a beautiful natural harbour, open only to easterlies. During the 18th and 19th centuries this was a favourite port for many nationalities, and we understand that the bay … about ½ mile wide … could have so many square riggers at anchor that a person could walk from one side to the other across the decks of the anchored boats. It must have been a grand sight.
French three-masted tour boat in the Crookhaven Harbour
Today Crookhaven is undergoing the same economic boom as so many towns along the west coast. Properties are bought up for millions of dollars by wealthy folks from Cork (and Dublin) as summer homes. We walked the entire town … one street, 4 pubs / restaurants, one convenience store/ post office, one gift shop, one fast food wagon, and the sailing club. The city has only 50 or so folks in the winter and many of them cannot afford their own homes anymore; they must rent. An old lighthouse complex has been renovated into condos, each of which costs €2,000,000 ($3,500,000.).
Church of St Brendan the Navigator Condos built from an old Lighthouse
We were well anchored in Crookhaven. When we hauled the anchor, the rode and anchor were tangled with bootlace seaweed. It is a very tough, brown cord-like plant up to 10+ feet long and somewhat slimy.
Baltimore/ Baltimore Harbour:
We had a lovely sail (broad reach again, with a short down-wind run wing on wing) around Cape Clear and anchored just before the rain began to team.
We anchored close to the city of Baltimore this time.
Baltimore used to be a thriving city. In 1631 it was sacked by two Algerian ships, taking away 110 prisoners as slaves and looting the town. There is hardly any commerce in Baltimore. There is one convenience store, two pubs, a church (of Ireland, not Catholic … the Catholics are relegated to the countryside), a restored (but small) castle, and an abandoned industrial school for boys that is half demolished. There are a number of “self-catering holiday rentals,” for the more affluent Cork and Dublin families, two sailing schools (one run by the French), and two diving centres.
The school taught ship building and repair but lacked enough students … so it became a reformatory
New condos ready for an eager and rich audience
We walked out to Beacon Point, the spit of land on which the tower “Lot’s Wife” stands. We were surprised how small the tower is since it dominates the shoreline from out at sea. There were cows in the field, and many cow patties on the path to the tower.
I keep wondering why the cows don’t fall over the edge … wings? Jane and Lot’s Wife
On August 21 we hauled anchor for the last time in Ireland and headed for the Isles of Scilly in a brisk north wind that kept us surfing at 7 knots for most of the 25-hour journey.