16 January 2010

Dursey Island

Just before Christmas, after an eventful day involving boats, trailers and ferries – which I’m still too traumatised to talk about – I spent a night in a lovely B&B in Castletownbere. The B&B was Sea Breeze, the wireless internet access was free and breakfast was delicious!
9am on a sparkling sunny Thursday saw me driving West Cork’s quiet winding country roads right down to Ireland’s most south westerly point – Dursey.

I parked at the cable car and stepped into the crisp refreshing winter air. Ireland’s only cable car has recently been replaced and is now a shiny blue and silver box. The original cable car, which has been in existence for as long as most people can remember, is now used as a hen coop in a near-by farm. The five min journey across Dursey Sound, from the mainland to the easterly tip of Dursey Island, is a couple of hundred metres, suspended on cables high above the Sound.

Today the tide was rushing through the Sound, erupting in boils, crashing against the wet black cliffs. I’ve kayaked through this stretch of water once, escorted by dolphins, but in much calmer conditions than today...

Paddy squints across the water at me, making sure I’ve disembarked, before recalling the cable car, leaving me, Darragh and Cara the dog alone on this rugged windswept piece of land.

We climb steadily uphill, following the rugged spine of Dursey Island across Knockaree, Kilmichael and up to the old crumbling signal tower on Dursey’s highest point; standing at 252 metres above the grey restless ocean.

It’s possible to shelter from the fresh breeze within the signal tower buildings, although there’s no easy way into the tower itself. The tower is thought to date back to the Napoleonic wars and was part of a system of similar towers lining the Irish coastline. I’ve been here on misty, damp days and it’s possible to imagine people waiting and watching within the thick walls as the wind batters the island, the rain pelts upon the walls and darkness drives in through the draughty cracks...

From the signal tower three kilometres of gentle downhill hiking brings us past one of just a few occupied houses and down to where Dursey tapers to meet the Atlantic; although defiant to its environment – like its inhabitants – the tip rears up into a little hill, before plunging vertically into the water.

On the dry, heathery ground we stretch out, surrounded by the sounds of surf, wind and birds, to enjoy some delicious and unusual food bought from Andy at the Truffle Pig in Kenmare.

Just beyond our feet, swirling in breaking waves, protrude Cuckoo Rock and Lea Rock. Further beyond that are The Bull, The Cow and The Calf. The Calf has a lighthouse perched upon it, warning sailors of the treacherous waters within.

After lunch we return along the Beara Way, then the rutted road, along bleak open landscape, with fantastic views over Dursey Harbour and Crow Head. Sparing dwelling houses, mostly abandoned and ruined, speckle the road on either side. The occasional house is still lived in, or used as a holiday home during the summer, and these small, squat buildings look like beautiful but tough homes. About one hundred people lived here once, now only twelve remain...

Closer to the cable car we pass a neglected graveyard and roofless church, called St. Mary’s Abbey. The graveyard shelters the family vault of the O’Sullivan Beara clan. Nearby is a field called ‘Pairc an Air’ meaning 'Massacre Field'. Here a large number of the O’Sullivan family and followers were murdered by British Forces, during the 1500's/1600's.

After a short wait we returned by cable car to the mainland, windblown, hungry and having experienced one of Ireland’s little hidden gems…

To get there take the R572 from Castletown Bere, for Dursey.
It’s about a 35 minute drive and you’ll need to check with your local tourist office regarding cable car timings.

Nathan Kingerlee
Outdoors Ireland

No comments:

Post a Comment