“Keep the sea on the left and you can’t miss it”
Killian O’Driscoll was the winner of the Discover Ireland Explorers competition and was sent off on a West Cork adventure weekend. He blogged it for us. Here’s the first post, his arrival in Clonakilty and a night at the Galley Head Lighthouse and the Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage.
The narrow road twisted and turned through the rich West Cork countryside. A cheerful woman was driving her cows along the road and it looked like a postcard from the 1970s. It was strangely re-assuring to know that scenes like this still exist in Ireland. It felt like, another time, a world apart from Dublin.
We had been late leaving, struggling to get out of work, hitting Friday afternoon traffic but the cars thinned out and we arrived in Clonakilty surprisingly quickly. There’s still disbelief that you can travel from Dublin to Cork in 2.5 hours – a lingering disbelief a legacy of family summer holidays, treks where the journey felt epic and each town a milestone.
“Keep the sea on the left and you can’t miss it” were the directions for the Galley Head Lighthouse from Clonakilty. There she stood proudly on the headland, a lonely sentinel over the Atlantic Ocean since the 1870s. There’s history and geography here.
We were met by Gerrard the trusted guardian of the lighthouse, who was born into a family of 15 children and raised in Galley Head where his father was the lighthouse keeper. Gerrard followed in his father’s footsteps including time spent on Fastnet Rock. A tough, inspiring place.
“You have to be comfortable in your own company,” he told us. We were privileged to discover many great stories of the lighthouse heritage and the formidable men and women who provided this vital, unselfish service. Gerrard’s own mother having raised a family of 15 children, got a degree in geology from UCC and went on a trek to Iceland with her fellow geologists in her 80’s, ”Keep looking forward” was her motto.
We were staying at the lighthouse keeper’s cottages which were restored by the Irish Landmark Trust and have been available as holiday rentals since 2000. The accommodation is decorated in period style and impeccably maintained with scrubbed floors, whitewash walls, polished brass and is deeply comfortable. You can feel the quiet pride in the legacy of the lighthouse tradition. There are vast views over the Atlantic Ocean from every aspect, there’s even “a room with two views”.
The lighthouse is now fully automated and sends 5 powerful beams of light every 20 seconds sweeping over 30 miles out to sea. Although less needed now due to on-board electronic and satellite navigation, how comforting it must be for sailors to see those 5 rays of light.
Dinner that evening was in Richy’s in Clonakilty. A famous award-winning restaurant with cooking of the highest standard utilising local ingredients and drawing inspiration from the chef’s Mauritian heritage.
As if to spoil us the stars put on a full display that night. The heavenly sweep of the Milky Way, the melancholy of shooting stars, the slumbering vastness of the ocean. The pulse of 5 beams, Fastnet and Old Head lighthouses blinking back in reply. A scene no photograph could capture, trusted only to memory.
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