The village of Courtmacsherry–or Courtmac as it’s locally known–sits on the southern coast of Ireland in a region known as West Cork. It’s a small village: 600 residents, three pubs, two tearooms and one street. The mailman is an affable man named Billy who delivers the mail by name, not address; he finishes by lunch and paints houses in the afternoon. For the last two months, this has been our home.
Our family has vacationed in Courtmac for 15 years along with two other couples and their grown children. This year, a third generation joined us, including our 7-month old grandson: Jack Patrick Callahan.
Friends ask how we can stay in such a tiny place. I can’t explain it, but we do.
There’s also one grocery store in the village. Until last year, Rita ran it from the main floor of her home. There, we could buy most of our provisions for the week; think of it as a 7-Eleven crammed into a room the size of a small den. Last spring Rita retired and sold the building; the store reverted to a private residence creating a void in Courtmac.
As one local asked, “What’s a village without a store?”
For years, our first stop when we arrived in Courtmac was to run to Rita’s.
Our second stop was to head to the pub; after all, this is Ireland.
Our pub has rotated between The Pier House and The Anchor. The publicans at each live in their respective pubs. Keep in mind, “Pub” comes from “Public House” –a historical term for homes that were licensed to sell beer. These pubs served a dual role as the community meeting place.
Billy and Noel are brothers, both around 60, both single and both have lived over the Anchor since their birth when their father was the publican. Now Billy fills that role. Some nights, he and Noel watch sports in the den as their nephew tends the bar in the front room; patrons are welcome to join them.
One day last week, there was a sing-song at the Anchor. This one was planned, although I’ve seen them break out spontaneously as well. Someone comes forward and sings—often an Irish ballad, but Billy Joel isn’t out of bounds nor is Frank Sinatra. Then a second person sings, then another. The crowd may or may not join in, but they cheer for everyone, no matter how talented or off-key.
Last Wednesday, the singing started at 10:30 and went on until 3:30 in the morning. Pat and I left after midnight convinced that the night was winding down. We should have known it wasn’t.
While the pub legally closes at 1:00, once the publican locks the door, it reverts to his home and any subsequent drinking is viewed as a private party. Alcohol can be consumed, but not sold, after closing.
In the summer, the pub is rarely vacant at 1.
Earlier in the evening as dusk settled, Noel pulled the curtains closed over the front picture window. “Why did you do that, Noel?” I asked. In my mind, the curtains should stay opened to attract more customers.
“Don’t you close your curtains at home in the evening, Julie?” he replied.
For days, I have thought about his answer. Frequently, I describe the pub to my friends as the village living room. For Noel, this is literally his living room—and I am his guest. That’s very much how our relationship feels.
Often Pat and I stop by the pub at around six to catch up with the locals who gather to talk and gossip before heading home for dinner. One evening, the village co-op board was having drinks. Problems are solved in the pub, including the one created by the void when Rita’s store closed. A handful of locals formed the co-op board.
The co-op store opened the week before we arrived in Courtmac. Like Rita’s, the co-op was once a home. Locally made jams are stacked on the fireplace mantle; produce is piled on shelves in what was once the parlor. In addition to staples, there’s meat from the butcher in a neighboring village and cakes made from scratch at the tea room next door. A local woman delivers scones every morning.
The couple who own the house have moved to a new home a mile from town. The co-op can use the house whether or not they are profitable enough to pay rent. It’s staffed by rotating volunteers, all day, seven days a week–this from a village of 600 people.
A friend mentioned that for 50 euro, anyone can buy a share in the co-op.
“What do you get for that?” I asked.
He looked at me confused before replying, “Julie, you get to have a shop in the village.”
Keep in mind “co-op” comes from “co-operative”–a group of people who voluntarily ban together to meet the needs of a community though a jointly owned business.
We are fortunate to have found a community like this. Yet, I have learned that the smaller the place, the harder it can be to break in. Our commitment to spending time here helps. It demonstrates our commitment to this place which fosters our acceptance.
Courtmac reminds me of my hometown of Allenwood, New Jersey in the 1960s. When I come here, it’s as though I journeyed through both space and time. How amazing is that?
Categories: Western Europe