Nothing much about today to report apart from that I had to leave the gorgeous West Cork and my fantastic hosts. Yes, I got that website going (as a testbed) and with any luck Joleen can get it up and going herself. Yes, I had a great time and yes I really would like to head back sometime if I’m welcome.
As ever, I’m indebted to hosts. So a huge “thank you” to the whole crowd. Everyone I met was great. Friendly, helpful, generous, full of advice, nothing ever too much trouble. If the rest of Ireland can be judged on the small town of Crosshaven then no wonder all the traditional singers miss it so much when they go abroad.
Now as I write this, I’m sat in the Waiting Area of Hell that is Stansted Airport. I bloody hate this place. Nowhere to lie down comfortably, permanently too bright, expensive “food” (and most places are shut at night anyway), overpriced internet access, no way to go to the loo without someone nicking your seat… oh, and they have construction work going on right by the waiting area so chances of sleep are pretty much zero tonight. Fan-flipping-tastic.
I’ll just have to hope I can nod off when they have a tea break and dream of those lovely hills and rivers and fields and… Zzzzzz….
I spent most of the day working on stuff for Jolene. She takes and sells photos and needs a website set up to make this as easy as possible. The least I can do in return for all the generosity she and her family (and Mike!) have shown me the last week or so.
I’ll spare you the technical details, though. But I will link to it once she’s got it online, hopefully well in advance of Cork Week.
My main sojourn out was to take another trip on the water. Jolene needed to get some snaps of the boats in the second race of the weekend. Olga drove us both down to the marina where we jumped (OK, Jolene jumped. Olga and I stepped gingerly) aboard the RIB that had been giving our sailboat some engine power the day before. Hugh had kindly loaned her it for an hour or so. Suspicious minds are convinced this is to make her more inclined to buy one of his spare ones!
So we shot out into the blue yonder. Nice and slowly at first and then bouncing off the wave-tops once we’d cleared the harbour limits. We zipped round a few of the sailing vessels as they worked their way round the course in better wind that I’d got the previous day. There was a hope we could nip further along the coast and possibly see some dolphins, but we had to double back and pick up Pat from his ship. He had to be on the pier for the first boats returning. Water-borne taxi to the rescue!
After dropping him off, we headed up the river at a more gentle pace to take in the scenery and for Jolene to have a nosey at the boats parked up along the way. There’s certainly a variety stashed up there, roped up to buoys. Some in great condition, some looking like they get taken out once in a blue moon. Definitely a nice way to waste half an hour, and it makes a change to view the town and surrounds from the water rather than from the pathways like I normally do.
We returned to the marina safe and sound and dry – but my bum hurt like I’d been on a jet-ski. There’s only one double-seat on those things and the ladies had it. I was on the boarded area at the front of the RIB and those waves hurt when they pinch the boards away from under you then return them with a *thud*. Again and again and…. ow.
I popped home for a short while to get on with more work, then Mike and I decided we were hungry. Mike after eating a huge bowl of pasta. That guy can really shovel it away! The pub was doing a BBQ so we walked down, only for me to find that it was all seafood. Ick. Mike had a piece of salmon which by all accounts was rather lovely, while I cheated and walked round to the chippy for a sausage and chips. Not too impressive – the sausage was about the size of my middle finger (but tastes nice) and the chips had no salt or vinegar! I do wish I liked seafood, but no matter what I’ve tried so far I just can’t stand the stuff.
So after a couple of pints, we walked back to the house and – yes I got on with more work. Hey, I have to pay back this hospitality somehow! Jolene’s folks had gone away for a couple of days so she and her brother stayed overnight at the pub. It really is a family business (a collection of them, in fact) and there’s always something to do.
Arr! Pieces of rum and bottles of eight! Klingons off the starboard bow! I’ll bilge-haul ye, ye naval cur!
And other piratical rantings.
I lucked out a little with the dates for my visit to Ireland. My last weekend here coincided with the Crosshaven Traditional Sail event, an annual gathering of traditional sailing vessels. A couple of races are put on over the weekend, all in fun, and an excuse for people to show off their boats and their skills. Oh, and of course to get drunk and dance a lot.
Joleen suggested it would be “fun” for me to join in the racing, which is a giggle as I don’t think I’ve ever been on a sailing vessel in my life. Also, I was queasy to vomity on almost every boat I boarded in the last two years. But then, I know she’s got a cruel streak. And she was dressed as a pirate. And she had a gun which made *KKKCCCPPPWWW* noises and everything. Not to be argued with. Arr, indeed.
market stall (guarding it from everyone but myself, and the cute children who all wanted samples) she walked me over to the pier where a couple of dozen sailing vessels were moored about 6 deep. Sailors seem to be more polite than car drivers. I can’t imagine someone being particularly happy if you had to climb over their Range Rover or Peugot 205 to drop into the sun roof of your Megane in a crowded car park.
Joleen sorted me out with a crew who were shortdesparate generous enough to allow me to hop aboard. Me, a complete landlubber, and one with no sea legs or stable stomach. But they had beer. And head-scarves with skulls and crossbones on. And plastic swords. Who was I to argue? I’d been press-ganged. Which has to beat being keel-hauled.
We sat for about an hour waiting for the other boats to get ready, and the race to begin. This involved chatting to my skipper/captain/boat owner, his mate/friend/skurvy dog and two cabin-boys. I hate to admit that I can’t recall their names, but perhaps Joleen can enlighten me when she reads this post! I should be made to walk the plank.
Eventually, we set off under diesel power to get away from the dock and made our way up to the start buoy. Quite a crowd of boats gathered and it was some sight to see. Some vessels were more “traditional” than others, looking like they’d been carved from fallen trees only a few days before the race. One in particular, owned by a chap called Pat who I believe helps organise the race, was a beauty. The mast could have been felled that very morning, before having its branches ripped off, being varnished and screwed into the hull. Absolutely gorgeous.
Around 15 minutes later, the foghorn (referred to the in the rules as a “gun”) went off and… we kind of started to crawl forwards a bit. Now, here’s the problem. Sailing involves wind. And it wasn’t windy. This is problematical when you’re in a race but at least everyone’s in the same boat (so to speak).
Well, they are until a local photographer comes by in a RIB piloted by one of her neighbours and starts pushing random boats forward! That’d Be Joleen and Hugh (who I had dinner with on my first night in Crosshaven) trying to liven the party up. We got a shove a good few metres/yards/fathoms/whatever up the course before our ride veered off and the wind began to pick up a little.
This is where I realised that, like IT, sailing has a language of its own. I was utterly baffled by the words being slung back and forth between the skipper and the first mate. I mean, I know my port from my starboard and I now know the difference between up/down and above/below (it’s to do with the side of another object you’re guiding your boat – I think), but the rest of it… blimey. I know how people feel when I start talking about work now. All of a sudden I can sympathise with the glazed expression and the change of subject.
“Splice the gib and turn us tak-wards!”
“Hard fast the gunwal around the binnacle!”
And so on. Nautical talk is fun but pretty much incomprehensible to folk like me.
I also discovered that sailors hate motorboats. We’d just got some speed up when a motorboat went by quite a distance in front of us. However, the wash from its passing eventually reached us as a series of waves. These completely kill your speed and by the time the fourth or fifth had passed us by, we were stationary again as the wind had dropped.
Then another thing – tides. We began to drift entirely the wrong way, almost backwards, as our competitors further behind caught up due to the wind reaching them and not us. And we had to negotiate the end-point buoy by judging the difference between what forward momentum we were now getting with the cross speed we’d get if we “changed tak” and the drift of the tide.
This is why I stick to cars and computers.
We did make it, eventually, and in good time. As we really caught the wind heading back towards the start line, around 10 boats were all clamouring to get round the buoy. Some made it easily, four came round side by side like a synchronised team. And one hit the thing. Good aim.
Then… the wind… died. And this time it wasn’t in a mood to start blowing again. We sat for around 20 minutes, ate sandwiches, drank beer and finally decided to make our way in using the engine. We were one of the last to hold out in hope of some breezes but time was getting on and the pubs would be getting full.
I sat with my crewmates (remarkably with my stomach contents still right where they should be) and nattered for a while before heading back up to the house. I’m working on some web stuff for Joleen and it’s taking more time than I expected.
The evening, of course, involved beer and this time a trip down to the Anchor Inn where a barn dance was taking place. Without a barn. But with hay-bales. In the street. Which they’d just blocked off. As you do. The bar was heaving, so getting orders in wasn’t easy but the atmosphere was fantastic. There were a couple of hundred people stood in the street jigging away, tripping over hay-bales and having a right old laugh.
I sank a couple of Murphy’s and then Olga (and I’m sure I’m spelling that the wrong way) gave us a lift home. We then did the civilised thing and drank tea. And wolfed Doritos with hot chilli dip. Mmm.
The original plan today had been to head off on the road and see some of the coast, but the weather wasn’t up to much. And, frankly, neither were Jolene or I after the previous late night. Instead, we opted for a walk along the hills nearby around the village.
This is a route Jolene’s familiar with, having lived in Crosshaven all her life bar the occasional trip abroad. The weather wasn’t as bad as we’d feared, but the sky was pretty cloudy for a lot of it so driving long distances to take photos would have been a waste of time.
Thankfully, it certainly wasn’t for us. The country lanes were lovely and as we walked on, the sun did eventually come out and burn all the cloud off. Our first stop off point was Templebreedy Church, a small derelict building swamped with ivy and with a very old graveyard. There are some nice views from this relatively high point, and the graveyard itself makes for some very photogenic pictures. One of Jolene’s best efforts – a night time shot of a headstone – is available as a print from her mother’s shop in town.
Jolene’s great-grandparents are actually buried in the now-overgrown graveyard, though we couldn’t find their resting place as there was simple far too much grass. Bizarrely, and slightly annoyingly, the oldest grave in the place was “upgraded” a few years ago. The original headstone – or what was left of it – was mounted on the church wall. This looks superb, framed by ivy, but the actual area where it was placed originally looks awful. It’s been trimmed back, but then painted in glossy blue and white paint. It just looks utterly out of place in an otherwise beautifully atmospheric spot.
We trudged down towards the cliffs and stopped by the house of a couple of Jolene’s friends which overlooks a bay. They were watching the tennis, but very kindly allowed Jolene to make them (and us) a cuppa! In return, I did my IT thing and sorted out the wi-fi connection on one of their laptops. And left my watch lying on their sofa. I didn’t see it again for days. A good job the time in Ireland is something that just ticks away. You don’t really need to keep track of it.
It was here that Jolene regaled me with a little story. When she was staying with someone, he made up all the tea things (pot of tea, little milk jug and so forth) and left his two guests to make their own tea. When they did, he pointed at each in turn and said “you’re Catholic and you’re Protestant“. What’s more, he was right.
Bizarrely, he’d figured this out from how they’d poured the milk. Historically in Ireland (going back a couple of hundred years), the Protestants had all the money while the Catholics lived in poverty. As such, they had delicate bone china cups which didn’t react too well when you poured boiling water straight into them. So they added milk first, then the tea to the milk so that the cups didn’t heat up to quickly and crack. Catholics, on the other hand, just poured tea directly into whatever thick mug they happened to be using.
True? Dunno. A mate of mine always told me the milk goes in first to avoid scalding it or something, which affects the taste. Given that I’m the kind of person who buys teabags based on which supermarket has an offer on rather than the delicate flavours involved, I’m hardly one to comment on taste.
A short walk further on after our little rest was when the sun came out with a vengeance to make up for earlier in the day. By the time we arrived at our next rest stop, the house of one of the girls who works at Cronin’s, I was certainly starting to show signs of redness. I really should wear more suncream.
From there, we got a lift into town to buy supplies for another BBQ – a delayed housewarming. Armed with two 5-litre kegs of beer as our donation, we were driven back up to the house by Dennis, Jolene’s brother. He and I managed to get the BBQ going (though we kind of left the cooking itself to a couple of the girls as the beer kicked in) and chatted to what seemed like a delegation of the UN.
If I recall correctly we had two Kiwis; one German woman; one English guy (me); a Polish girl with her Carribean boyfriend and her daughter; a Lithuanian couple and their two daughters; and three Irish hangers-on.
The food was great, and the beer just kept coming (5l is more than you think when you buy those kegs – beware). As darkness started to descend, we walked down to Cronin’s via a very large empty property that’s up for sale. It’s wide open and a complete mess inside. A shame as it’s got, as an estate agent would put it, “a lot of potential”. Basically, it needs a shedload of work but it’d be great with the right owner. Right now, it looks spooky when you wander round it in the twilight.
Down at Cronin’s I got into a conversation about football (surprise) with one of the locals before Jolene called it a night as we needed a moderately early start the next morning to fit in a few sites she needed to get photos of.
Two days, two BBQs. I’m not going to lose weight at this rate even with the walking.
I don’t know if that’s grammatically correct, but it’s the limit of my Irish Gaelic for the moment, so deal with it. It’s been a long day (well, more accurately, it was a very short night) and my forthcoming week looks to be as busy and full as any tourist could want it to be.
I was up around 6:20 to grab some breakfast and pack the last remaining part of my luggage – my toothbrush. My folks had very kindly offered to drive me to Glasgow Prestwick Airport for the flight over to Cork, and I wasn’t going to turn that down. Not when the alternative was setting off at 5am to get the train. I bundled myself into the back with the two dogs and finished the Jeremy Clarkson book I was reading so my dad could have it when I left.
Snoozing may have been involved shortly afterwards.
Glasgow Prestwick is a barn. Back in the day it was an awful barn, by all accounts. Get checked in, wait like a cow with no seat, shuffle onto plane, leave. Recently, someone had the idea of spending a few bob on it and giving it a personality. And it’s worked, believe me.
Fact: Prestwick Airport is the only airport in Scotland that has never been closed due to visibility problems.
Fact: It’s the only airport in Scotland with it’s own dedicated train station.
Fact: It’s the only place in the UK that Elvis ever set foot. At least, they thought it was until it turns out he snuck in another visit elsewhere that was discovered recently.
Then there’s the fact that the paintwork’s a glorious purple and the catchphrase “Pure Dead Brilliant” is scrawled everywhere like some Glaswegian numpty’s gone crazy with a tin of Dulux Emulsion. Amusing Scots caricatures adorn the wall above the check-in desks and the large standard symbol for “men’s toilet” is wearing a Tam o’shanter.
Overall, as far as airports went, I liked it. It’s right by the beach, as well, so my folks walked the dogs after they dropped me off.
The flight itself was fair enough. Crammed in like cattle into the cheap, plastic RyanAir seats we shot into the sky. Where we were buffeted by heavy winds for a good 10-15 minutes. It felt like the rocky parts on a shoddy roller-coaster, and I swear the wings were wobbling so much the plane looked like it was trying to flap its way over the Irish Sea.
I cranked my PSP up to max and dove into my book to take my attention from it. When I could focus on the words as the pages kept zipping past my eyes anyway.
Well, I didn’t die and we landed five minutes early so I shouldn’t complain. Cork Airport is another dinky one, all big glass panels, and I was outside within a couple of minutes. Joleen was there to meet me and she’s not changed a bit in nigh on two years. Still tall, red-headed and most definitely Irish.
We had a quick natter as she drove me to Crosshaven where she lives and her folks run a couple of businesses. Her brother was working at the farmer’s market – basically half a dozen benches with umbrellas over them to give protection from the lovely sunshine – on the square in front of Cronin’s Pub. He was selling cheeses. And they were fantastic. I tried a couple and they were absolutely divine. I’ve spent quite some time in France with its huge history of cheese-making. They have lots of the things. Some of them are great. But the Brits and the Irish still make the best, no argument.
I was welcomed into the Cronin’s Pub by Joleen’s dad, Sean. We had a quick chat round the busy lunchtime crowd as waitresses buzzed back and forth. I also had a few minutes to talk to Ilona, one of the Polish staff, who was rather pleased to hear about my trip to Poland. There are some locals who are French, three Kiwis work there, and Joleen’s housemate is Welsh! A very international flavour for a small community.
The main difference between this genuine Irish pub and the fake ones that litter the UK, Oz and umpteen other countries is that it’s clean. The fake ones seem to go with the idea that if you fill the walls with enough crap then let it get battered, faded, dusty, tarnished and so on then all of a sudden you have an Irish pub. Not so. Cronin’s has an amazing collection of tat on the walls, hanging from the ceilings, on shelves and in display cases. Great stuff. And it’s all clean, shiny and sparkly.
Then, of course, there’s the beer. I’ve had precisely half a pint of Murphy’s in the past. I couldn’t finish it – I thought it tasted of bitumen. It’s brewed in Cork so perhaps it doesn’t travel well as the pint I was gifted on my arrival was very nice indeed.
So I sat and I drank and I had the most delicious ham sandwich (everything from the crisp lettuce to the butter they used was amongst the best I’ve ever tasted) before going for a stroll along the coast following the “Scenic Walk” signs to walk off the calories I’d already put on.
Crosshaven is a boating town. Or “village” if you believe the signposts. Where you draw the line sizewise between one and the other I don’t know. Anyway. You’d hardly guess this was the case unless… oh, I don’t know… you opened your eyes. Boats are everywhere. Sat in the dock, propped up on sticks in dry dock being worked on, sat on the gravelly beach while the tide’s out, zipping back and forth past the pier.
There are all kinds from small yachts, fishing boats of all sizes, canoes, bigger yachts, dinghies, life raft, and probably forty others that I don’t know the names for. Given the local geography it does make sense. The opposite bank of the river is 50 minutes by road, or a brisk paddle away. You could swim, but it’s not very convenient if you’re lugging two bags of shopping from the supermarket located on this side.
I wandered up the gradual incline to an old fort which is very visibly marked as not accessible. Huge signs are at every entrance point – though it’s not blocked off, so you could choose to ignore them – warning you of danger and so forth. I admire Irish law in providing landowners with a get-out clause from trespassers, too. As long as they say, effectively, “enter here and hurt yourself and we’ve legally pre-absolved ourselves of any blame, ya boo sucks” they’re fine.
In the UK, you can stick these signs up to your heart’s content but you’ve got no legal backup. If some scrote climbs your walls and falls off, or walks in your front gate and treads on a carelessly-left gardening rake then they can sue you. Ridiculous. Unless, of course, you make sure they hurt themselves properly and you bury the corpse where nobody will find it.
I do not advocate the above solution. Well, maybe just a bit.
So on and up I walked until the walk petered out. I found the local Gaelic Football ground which looked like it hadn’t been used for a few weeks. No treadmarks on the grass. Or bloodstains. Gaelic goals are pretty unique as is the sport. They’re a mix of rugby goals (the H shape), but with a lower crossbar and the supports at the back to hang a net on as in a regular football goal. A shame it’s past the end of the season as I’d have loved to have seen a game live.
I walked down a slightly different route back to Joleen’s house where I met Mike. He’ from Wales and has been working in Ireland for some time. We had a chat on the balcony in the sunshine for an hour or so and he pointed out a few things that could be seen nearby, and some more trivia.
Crosshaven is home to the oldest yacht club in the world, the Royal Cork Yacht Club formed in 1720. It was originally located a bit further towards the sea on Haulbowline Island, then moved to Cobh (pron. “Cove”) around 80 years later when the Navy decided they wanted the island. In 1966 it moved to its current location in Crosshaven.
Also, Cobh was the last stop for the Titanic before its final, somewhat fatal, one. Well, it moored up some miles outside of the area as it was too large to fit down the waterways and people were ferried up to it. At the time, the town was still going by the name Queenstown, renamed so in 1849 after Queen Victoria popped by. It reverted back to “Cobh” in 1922. “Queenstown”, after all, isn’t a great name for a town in a republic which has just gained its independence from the crown.
Spike Island, the second of two islands between here and Cobh, is home to a prison which is currently being rebuilt.
With this knowledge in my head and a cup of tea in my belly, I popped upstairs for a snooze. It had been a long day and I still had the evening to come!
I woke up after about 2 hours when Joleen came home. Some neighbours had invited us for dinner and we made our way over around 8pm. We were warmly welcomed by Dierdre, Hugh and Emmet who never seem to have Joleen visit them with the same person twice – and always foreigners!
We mulled for a while as Hugh fired up the steak and ribs, before settling down to a hearty meal of two delicious perfectly-done steaks and all the trimmings/veg as well as an organic salad provided by Joleen. Beer flowed, conversation was entertaining and the food was fantastic.
We stretched our legs walking back down to Cronin’s where we drank the night away with a few of Joleen’s friends… which basically means 3/4 of the village. This is very much a place where everyone knows everyone else. Entertainment was provided by Pat, the kind of man that every genuine Irish pub has at least one of.
Even without the aid of several pints of the black stuff, he’s prone to break into song at full tilt with no warning and expect everyone to join in, slapping their thighs and stamping their feet. He didn’t do a bad version of The Leaving of Liverpool either. Around 1am, Joleen headed along the road with a couple of friends with some carry-out, but I was struggling to keep my eyes open.
Home and bed it was. If this is what Ireland’s like, I’m going to have a great week-and-a-bit. I already know some of Joleen’s (and therefore my) plans for the next few days and I’m really looking forward to it.