There is something magical about West Cork in Ireland’s southernmost county. It draws you in and once you’ve been there you’ll want to keep going back.
A landscape of contrasts
Perhaps it’s the contrast of colours in the landscape that make West Cork so appealing; the steel-blue sea, the grey rocks with patches of yellow lichen, the ever-changing skies – overcast one day, perfect blue the next – or the fields of every shade of green imaginable.
Parts of West Cork are quite rugged and not much grows on the rocky ground except bracken, pink heather and fragrant yellow gorse. Other parts are lush and green and you’ll find orange montbretia, red and purple fuchsia and scented honeysuckle there. Ancient standing stones, like Drombeg stone circle and Altar wedge tomb, dot the landscape.
On sunny days, the contrast of the blue sea, green countryside and blue sky is stunning.
On grey days, everything can look grey, especially if it is drizzling or misty, but that’s a good time to visit the colourful towns with their brightly painted shops and houses. You could also find a snug in a small pub and while away a couple of hours with a pint of the black stuff. Make sure you try a pint of Murphy’s stout, the Cork equivalent of Guinness.
The changing colours of the landscape provide plenty of inspiration for the many artists and craftspeople living in West Cork.
A celebrity hideaway
Artists are not the only people who flock to West Cork. The area provides a retreat for many celebrities including TV chat show host Graham Norton (who grew up in my home town of Bandon), actor Jeremy Irons and film producer Sir David Puttnam. They love the area for its peacefulness and for the fact that they can go about their lives freely without being accosted by fans all the time.
A food lover’s heaven
West Cork is a well known destination for food lovers and is also home to a fantastic array of farm produce.
Some of the pioneers of Irish farmhouse cheeses are Veronica Steele of Milleens, Jeffa Gill of Durrus and Giana Ferguson of Gubbeen – all are based in West Cork. The Fergusons’ children are now grown up and Fingal uses the farm’s pigs to make Gubbeen sausages, chorizo and salami, while Clovisse supplies her market garden’s vegetables and herbs to local restaurants.
Most restaurant and pub menus feature West Cork produce. As well as cheeses and pork products you’ll find Union Hall strawberries and smoked fish, Ummera smoked products, Bantry Bay mussels and Clonakilty black pudding.
If you’re cooking at home, head to the nearest farmers’ market to buy fresh, local food. Regular markets are held in the West Cork towns of Bandon, Clonakilty, Skibbereen and Bantry, and smaller towns like Schull have summer markets.
The farmers’ market movement in Ireland was started about 20 years ago by Darina Allen. Darina is Ireland’s answer to Stephanie Alexander and Maggie Beer, and she runs the hugely successful Ballymaloe Cookery School in East Cork.
Bandon, the gateway to West Cork, where I grew up, has always been a market town and I used to go to the weekly country market with Mum. It’s still going strong and a weekly farmers’ market was started there in 2006.
…the area has hardly changed since I was little.
From the age of eight, I spent a couple of weeks of my summer holidays every single year at a house at Rossbrin Cove, in between Ballydehob and Schull. Since moving to Melbourne in 2003, I don’t go there nearly as much as I’d like, but I went back last September after a three-year absence and, honestly, the area has hardly changed since I was little. It’s my magic place where I love to be. Well, who wouldn’t with views like these?
Hungering to see more of Ireland’s wonderful West Cork? Maybe these aerial videos by Tom Vaughan of Oakwood Aerial Photography will whet your appetite.