Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cape Clear Island

Patty and I found a company that arranges walking tours in Ireland--SouthwestWalks Ireland. Through them we arranged two days of guided walking on Cape Clear and Sherkin Islands, the two islands where our great grandparents were born and raised. Our guide, Michael Barry, met us in Baltimore on Wednesday evening. This turned out to be the best decision of the trip. Everything, including meals, was arranged for us and Michael was a wonderful guide. 

When we arrived on Cape Clear Island there was a van to take the luggage and parents to the guest house where we stayed--Eileen Leonard's Ard na Gaiothe.  The rest of us hiked across the island. Cape Clear is quite hilly so we got a bit of a work out. Mrs. Leonard was incredibly hospitable. She had fresh scones and hot tea for us when we arrived. As the evening had turned a bit chilly both were very welcome. 

After our refreshments we sorted out the room and then headed off for dinner at Ciaran Danny Mike's. It was a good meal but we were all ready for bed soon after. 

The next morning we had a full Irish breakfast at Mrs. Leonard's and then everyone but Jack and Marion went off hiking. It was spitting a bit but luckily we never had heavy rain on our two hiking days.

One of the first things you learn about Cape Clear Island is that the Fastnet Light can be seen from most parts of the island. The light is four miles from the Cape Clear but even that far away it looks huge. There was a good video on the most recent building of the lighthouse at the local museum where we had lunch. There were also several memorials to the 15 sailors lost in the Fastnet Race (from Cowes in Southern England around the Fastnet Light and back to Plymouth) in 1979.

The island is rocky and covered in gorse, heather and grass. The small fields are mostly separated by old stone walls.
There are two harbors that nearly meet in the middle almost cutting the island in two.

Our guide, Michael, started out by leading us uphill to the south side of the island. On that side the cliffs mostly just drop into the sea.

Many of the early morning trails meandered through the gorse and heather.

The island is beautiful in a stark, blustery sort of way.

We encountered a fair number of cows in our meanderings. You can see the thin wire in the foreground that is all that keeps the cows off the footpath. Michael showed us how to use a blade of grass to test if the wire is electrified. It wasn't something you wanted to use as a hand rail!

We walked up to the old signal tower and old lighthouse. There was a No Trespassing sign and a video camera. We just waved and walked on by.

The signal tower on the left was part of a series of towers used during the late 1700s and early 1800s to warn of the invading French. I think the old lighthouse was replaced by the Fastnet Light.

We climbed over a number of stone stiles on our wanderings. This one looked really new.

There was lots of flowers in bloom--foxglove, fuchsia, corn marigold, daisies and a lot I don't know the names of...

While traversing one field we came upon a herd of horses.

Once we got close to them it turned out they were not very big. However they were VERY friendly.

They followed us down the path as far as they could.

Thomas and Emily said good bye to their new friends.

The horses seemed sad to see us go.

After walking through open gorse and heather fields we came upon a grove of stubby pine trees.

It was a little like walking into a cave. Maybe this is where I got the tick that I pulled off my leg later that day. Then again there are supposedly lots of ticks in the grass there.

This is a common view on Cape Clear--rocks, trees, fields, houses and the sea.


In the distance you can see the signal tower and light on the horizon. It was still not lunchtime...

We crossed to the side of the island that faces the mainland. It seems to be the softer, gentler side.

This is a view of the island and Baltimore harbor in the distance.

Before lunch we stopped at the goat farm for ice cream.

The proprietor is blind but seems to run a thriving business. He let us go into the milking room and told us all about the goats and the business.

The farm's cat eating lunch. She also got the first squirts of milk from the goats.

Charlie handing out the goat's milk ice cream. It was tasty but has a very high butterfat content. It left a greasy feel in my mouth that I did not care for. However, the higher fat content really transfers to flavors to one's taste buds.

One of the goats by the milking room. They milk in two batches because all the goats don't fit inside at one time.

Just down the road from the goat farm is the old school house. It is now a local heritage centre. My great grandfather taught in this school before going to teach at the boat building school in Baltimore.

There are a lot of interesting exhibits in the centre. It is well worth a visit.

The new school is in an entirely different part of the island. This one was only one or two rooms.

There were a number of exhibits we found of note from a family history perspective. This one talks about the rescue of the crew of a ship that went aground on Cape Clear. Instrumental in the rescue was one Tim Cadogan who must have been my father's great grandfather. It mentions his three sons--Jerry, John and Kieran-- who all ended up in San Francisco. They were my dad's great uncles!

The binoculars on the right (hard to see) were given to Tim Cadogan in recognition of his part in the rescue of the SS Nestorian.

This drawing shows emigrants leaving from Queenstown (now Cobh) on their way to America and other parts of the world.

In the lower right hand corner is a crate labelled "Jack Sullivan goin to Ameriky."

More views of the Cape Clear terrain. After lunch we continued east on the island to see the "Marriage Stones."

Our guide Michael explained that these markers designate the township names in Gaelic. This one means "Field of Lepers." Charlie's quip was "they grow lepers here?!?"

The mainland can be seen in the distance. At the end of the point is a white painted stone beacon that serves as a navigational aid.

When we reached the field where the Marriage Stones are located it was full of cows. Michael investigated and decided that the bulls were not very friendly. Behind the brown cow you can just see the hole that passes through one of the stones. Click here for a better picture of the stones.  They are thought to be thousands of years old and at one time couples married by clasping hands through the hole in the stone.

There was lots of this yellow dandelion type plant in bloom on the island. Michael told us it is corn marigold. You can see the blue bachelor buttons (aka cornflower) mixed in with them. Both grew wild everywhere on the island.

There were many dry stone walls on the island. Many of them had grass, lichen and succulents growing on them. The stones are actually dark gray but they are mostly covered with white lichen. The style of the walls varied and at one time that designated the field's owner.

In the distance you can see the old O'Driscoll castle on the island. We never got any closer than this to it.

Everywhere in Ireland there are the ruins of houses and barns. Often there is a new house built next to the old ruin.

Here is another fuchsia hedge. This one had pink and white blossoms.


We finished our day down at the harbor waiting for the ferry to take us to Sherkin Island. We met an older woman who insisted on showing us the old Cadogan farm near the lake. This is a part of the island we had not walked. It was difficult to say no so off Jack, Patty, the old woman and I went in one of the local taxi vans.

She pointed out a lot of farms and who lived where. Taking photos from the moving van meant I have no idea which was which a few weeks later. This picture of the lake came out nicely.

Back at the ferry dock we loaded our gear onto the boat and headed to Sherkin Island. The sun was out and the seas were calm so we had a great trip from one island to the next. The locals were really friendly and we chatted with a number of people on the hour long journey. Here are Scott and Patty enjoying the fresh air.


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