It started, as many things do in Ireland, at the pub on a Saturday night.
The next morning, Pat and I set out from our home in Courtmacsherry. Since it was a sunny, mid-50s January day, we decided to go “the long way”–through the woods and out to the point which juts into the Atlantic. I always pause to see if the Old Head Lighthouse is visible. It was.
We turned, following the coastline, and climbed up and over crude wooden steps as we crossed from one pasture to the next and the next. Eventually, we turned inland on the fuchsia trail which led to a road that cut back to Broad Strand beach.
There, a family frolicked in the surf with their dog. The winter sun is never very high which creates a Golden Hour effect all day. As a consequence, an undulating row of stones that the surf has tossed onto the beach glistened the way it would at sunset.
I looked at my watch; it was noon.
We cut across the beach to the far end where the path resumed, heading straight up the side of a cliff. Pat repeated the directions from memory, “Cross Broad Strand, climb the steps, pass the statue, hop over the gate, cut across the field,” then he frowned, “From there it gets hazy.”
We found the statue but decided to forego the gate jumping part of the instructions and instead followed the dirt road around to Blind Strand. “I think it’s near there,” Pat said.
This area is the Seven Heads region of West Cork which sticks into the Atlantic like a seven fingered hand.
The fingertips are headlands, and some are among the highest in Ireland. The fingers themselves are cow pastures, verdant and more often than not dotted with black and white dairy cows, although beef steer are not unheard of. The fleshy bits between each finger are sandy beaches (strands) or rocky coves. They have names like Broad, Blind, Cooltraw and Dunworley.
The roads that course through the Seven Heads are narrow, winding and often unpaved. If I continue the hand analogy, they are the squiggles of veins on the back of my hand. The structure is less evident than the purpose. Children go to school on these roads. Cows make the twice-a-day journey from field to barn on these roads. Occasionally, cars drive on these roads.
Above Blind Strand we rounded the bend past a white stone farmhouse. At this point, we’d been walking for five miles. “Let’s turn home,” I suggested.
Then I heard it.
“Pat, make your big ears.” We both cupped our hands behind our ears mimicking a pair of German Shepherds on high alert, “I hear something. It’s up the dirt road.”
I use the word “road” generously: ruts worn through mud and manure, straw poking out of the muck. Yet as we crested the hill, ten or more cars had made their way up and were parked willy-nilly near the field.
A lone spectator told us the lads from Clonakilty were up 3-1 over the boys from Courtmacsherry. A yellow-shirted ref blew the whistle, and the soccer match paused.
We waived to our friend as he walked off the field. He is also our publican. And our landlord. It was in the pub the night before that he invited us to the game. I greeted him and he scowled in reply, “It’s not a good day, Julie. Not when we’re losing to Clon.”
In the absence of big problems, I have learned that folks from small villages sweat the little things.
Not that the Barryroe Parish championship game is a little thing.
I looked around: emerald-green pastures, grazing cows, miles of rocky shoreline, Broad Strand, an old shipping container which served as a locker room. A strong wind blew in my face. I smelled the brininess of the sea.
The game resumed. It was just another Sunday afternoon.
Categories: Western Europe