Beara, West Cork - Ireland’s most beautiful landscape? - PHOTOS
Spellbound by the wild Atlantic, rugged mountains and spectacular coastline
Beara is intricately connected to its history; even if today the signs of modernity, with the mobile phone masts, the satellite TVs, and the luxurious ROVs are visible all around, the continual survival of the old customs gives this place a unique charm and a bond with its past. We’ll take the stress and strain of the modern life, seems to be the mood, provided we can return home to the wilds of Beara at the close.
There is no insularity here and every stranger will get a greeting. The old habit of leaving the front door unlocked survives as if the people have no fear from the unexpected caller. An old fashioned evening of gossip with a bit of ‘craic’ around the fireside is preferable to a session with the sports channel. When a local is married, bonfires are lit in the hills around the church. The ‘station mass’ is still held in the houses in the country. This custom survives from penal times when public mass was banned by the foreign Crown. Nowadays, the priest will join the neighbours in the front room for a cup of tea, a feast of ham and cheese sandwiches and maybe a drop or two of the demon whiskey.
Winter nights are still whiled away sitting in playing cards. The favourite game is 31. Only in Beara do they score the trump card as 11 (the game is known everywhere else as 25 or 45), and the prize for the winners is often a basket of goodies and some home baking.
The Irish language survives as well, in a fashion. Although no longer spoken daily on the peninsula, some of the original Gaelic place names and expressions are kept alive more than in other parts of English speaking Ireland. An old disused bridge in the townland of Coulagh for instance is still known today as Droichead na Gadai (the ‘thiefs bridge’-where, as the story goes, a rogue cattle thief once drove his stolen cows until he was met by a monk doing his penance by standing all night in the stream). The cliff where the young woman fell to her death while bringing milk to the miners in Allihies in the nineteenth century is called ‘faill a bhainne’ (the cliff of milk).
It’s not unusual too to hear a sheannfhocail or two as a matter of course during the course of a visit. ‘Is ghoirre cabhair De na an doras’, (God‘s help is nearer than the door) I hear a woman say to her child. ‘Youre looking a bit craite (fretful) today ’ I hear someone else say. ‘Its fanach (pointless) to be doing that” says another.
The legacy of the great famine is ever present and as with other counties in Ireland, the population was decimated. The legacy of those scandalous times lives with us today and as we all know, the forced emigration of the millions of Irish to foreign shores, in particular to America, has had a profound political and sociological effect far beyond the shores of Erin.