Monday 20 January 2020

Campers on Cool Mountain and burkinis at Lough Hyne

Illustration by Jim Cogan
Illustration by Jim Cogan
Eoghan Harris

Eoghan Harris

Dun Laoghaire did Annalise Murphy proud. But it will still be a pale shadow of the pandemonium that awaits Gary and Paul O'Donovan in West Cork tomorrow.

Lisheen is like a lit fuse burning towards the barrel of gunpowder that is Skibbereen. Last week, I could take no more of the tension and lit off most days for calmer towns.

My mission was the same as all of us who go out and about in provincial Ireland: to see who would "salute" me. Or not.

Last Sunday, I set out in the general direction of Gougane Barra. I don't have sat-nav as it spoils the surprise of new places.

So I go up every interesting boreen in Iveleary and was soon enjoyably lost in Eoghan Rua O Suilleabhain country.

Coming back down from a farm cul-de-sac on a track where two small cars might pass with a few scratches I find myself facing a big, battered caravan.

Reluctantly, I back up two hundred yards. As it passed me slowly, I rolled down the window to receive some thanks.

A gingery gentleman of native mien with weathered face stares out stonily at me. But I can't back away a second time.

Me: You know this boreen is not suitable for a big caravan like that?

Driver: It's not a fugging caravan, boss, it's a camper van.

Me: Well, it's not suitable for a camper van either.

Driver: We're payin' the same motor tax as you, boss.

Me: But you don't HAVE a tax disc.

Driver: And your fugging NCT is out.

Me: You're just guessing.

Driver: No, wan look at the cut of yer car, boss.

Me: Well, it's just out.

Driver: That's my story too, boss.

Me: Well I'll let ye go so.


Monday. Gwen, who goes stir crazy from too much scenery, suggests a trip to Cork city. An hour later, she is ensconced in the English Market, while I sit outside Le Chateau catching up with the papers.

Leo Varadkar is saying he shares the Taoiseach's vision of a united Ireland at some point in the future.

Naturally, he adds that unity could only come about by consent and not a crude majoritarian count. But it would be better if he had said nothing about a united Ireland at all, for two reasons.

First, the British government gives Northern Ireland a subsidy of €13bn-14bn a year. A united Ireland could cost every working household Republic roughly €14,000 a year.

Second, even talking about a united Ireland is breaking the spirit, if not the letter, of the Good Friday Agreement.

Basically, the GFA meant we agreed to stop nagging Northern Protestants about a united Ireland until they were ready to respond with a request to join us at some distant date.

In short, we agreed to stop vapid, verbal republicanism and let them relax so as to foster good fellowship as a first, small step to a future unity.

Sinn Fein is now the only party still stoking a tribal bonfire. We should stop helping it by hanging around as if we needed the heat.

But doing a deal to stop nagging Northern Protestants about a united Ireland and continually bringing it up is like making a deal to stop smoking in a shared flat while continually playing with a packet of cigarettes.


One of the great joys of Cork is that I am continually accosted by readers who want to chew the fat - or sometimes me - about the Sunday Independent.

This seldom happens in south county Dublin, where some nimbys regard an Irish Sunday paper with the same snobbery they reserve for new housing and apartment developments.

So I am not surprised when Daniel Murray (81), a retired bricklayer from Blarney Street, stops to call out, "I loves reading yeh".

Daniel deserved a receptive ear. I rejoice as he regales me with the story of his 13 successful children, all abroad, alas, but all in regular, loving contact.

As we part, Danny leans in confidentially, as if anxious not to alert agents from official Ireland.

Danny: Do you know who I never misses in the Sunday Independent?

Me: (smugly) Yes. Me.

Danny: Gene Kerrigan.


Wednesday morning, with few people around, I'm sitting on the lake wall at Lough Hyne when four Muslim young women, wearing hijabs, tunic and trousers, pull up in a car beside me and study the calm, green water.

Gregarious as ever, and anxious to advance immigrant integration, I greet them warmly. "Welcome to Lough Hyne. Going for a swim, girls?"

One grins at me mischievously. "Of course. We came prepared, too."

Lough Hyne leads the way. So I am not surprised when a burkini-clad Muslim girl is soon splashing happily in its all-embracing waters.

Katherine, a mature, local woman, looking on benignly, tells me she has black-and-white photos of her grandmother clad from head to toe in a bathing cap, stripey woollen top and long johns. "Handy out, too, if you've put on a bit of weight."

Possibly that might also be in the back of the mind of Irish women ordering burkinis online to protect their fair skin.

Mind you, I also have the weight issue in mind. After a few weeks' feeding at Annie Mays, I could do with a burkini myself.


Wednesday afternoon I drive Gwen, who has a dodgy knee, to Dunmanway to see Stephen Kearney, a physio who lives up to his fine reputation.

Councillor Joe Carroll, an old friend, constantly challenges my use of the phrase "Dunmanway Massacre" to describe the events of April 1922.

Joe extols the excellent ecumenical relations in the area. And I am happy to agree as Dunmanway produced the great hurler Darren Sweetnam, now alas lost to rugby.

But not everybody I encounter in Dunmanway is as civil as Joe. Relaxing after a robust encounter, I sit down, without looking, to draw breath outside An tSeamrog, a traditional pub.

When I get up the ass of my jeans is soaking wet because I had failed to notice it was a sponge seat. Dunmanway has dealt firmly with me.

Changing into shorts in the Aldi car park, I am greeted as a fellow camper by Jimmy O'Driscoll who has travelled down from Cool Mountain, in a trap drawn by a big cob, to make some liquid purchases.

Cool Mountain is famous for its alternative lifestyles, attracting both foreign and native persons who desire to live the life of the noble savage, which is an improvement on previous Irish experience of the Savage Nobles.

Good luck, Jimmy.

Sunday Independent

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