South-West Cork

A Place Near Heaven – a year in West Cork – by Damien Enright
published 2004, Gill & Macmillan


West Cork is heaven for the amateur naturalist. The air is clean, the sea unpolluted, every spring-time hedge is a lexicon of wildflowers, every rock a confection of lichens. Summers are full of mackerel and butterflies, village festivals and horse races on the sands. Autumn brings berries and mushrooms, wild redwings and fieldfares from Scandinavia, and flocks of 5,000 golden plover spiralling over our local bay. In November the arrival of the sprat shoals signals a wild life spectacular, with seals and gannets and every kind of diving duck. At Christmas, once every few years, there may be the magic of snow. I have written about all these things and the pleasure of living with them. With no background in botany or biology but a life-long love of nature, I have learned about them as I went, full of wonder and constantly surprised.

This part of Ireland, the west and the extreme south-west, has a weather system of its own; it is never really cold and only for short spells is it ever really dry. The natural vegetation is a delight; wild palm trees, fuchsia and rhododendron thrive. Year round, humpback, fin, blue, sei and minke whales, dolphins and porpoises migrate along the coast. In summer, basking sharks, ocean sunfish and even turtles dift by on the temperate Gulf Stream sea. Our West Cork neighbours are a passionate and convivial people, confident and independent, Catholic and pagan, Celtic and imaginative, hospitable and neighbourly. In adversity their first resort is a sense of humour. Work is always there, woven into life, the building of houses, the harvesting of the sea, the husbandry of animals, the setting and reaping of crops; it is not a nine-to-five affair. “When God made time, he made plenty of it…”, they say.

“Suer it is yett a most bewtifull and sweete Country as any under Heaven, seamed throughout with many Godlie rivers, replenished with all sortes of fishe most aboundantlie…”
– Edmond Spenser, poet and planter, county Cork, 1596

Prizewinning article in Dutch glossy travel magazine Columbus, written by Louise ten Have, pictured here (m) receiving her award.
To read the article, featuring South-west Ireland and Éirí, click here.