Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Oy! The Tales of an Eyeries Christmas

The Day of the Wren

I don't know about you, but the day after Christmas is usually spent sleeping off the Christmas Dinner of the day before. In Ireland, that day - that 26th of December - is a celebration in and of itself. Saint Stephen's Day marks the celebration of St Stephen, apparently Christianity's first martyr. Betrayed by the worrisome presence of a wren - a small bird of wondering heritage - the poor Saint was stoned to death by invading Vikings.
It's no wonder that wrens have a bad name in this part of the world. Which is why on St Stephen's Day - and if you're very lucky - the Wren Boys (usually a bunch of local neighbours intent on making a few bob) will knock on the door on this day to sing magically (or drunkenly, depending on the time of day) regarding the poor bird. To whit:

The wren the wren the king of all birds
St Stephens Day was caught in the Furze
Up with the kettle and down with the pan
And give us a penny to bury the wren.

Often, the small group will be dressed in costume and whatever comes to hand: old Santy hats, Irish football jerseys, and mad wigs. All I know is that the lazy day after Christmas is made brighter with the appearance of the Wren Boys.

In Eyeries, we have more than our share of crazed human beings who delight in giving their neighbours a spot of almost free entertainment. Constant knocks on the door all the morning gave me much pleasure. Next year I think I'll try it myself, if they'll have me.
Crazed Christmas Swimmers

Ah, but if you think performing in wild costumes on what had to be one of the coldest days of the year is nuts, how about taking a swim in Coulagh Bay? Sounds crazy? You're right. But that's exactly what some of the more crazed residents of Eyeries did on this St Stephen's Day. My God, but it must have been well below freezing. The wind was howling. Snow glistened in the surrounding fields. Combers pounded the rocky coastline tossing spume high into the air. But did that stop the erstwhile swimmers from Eyeries, County Cork?

You guessed it. It didn't.
Fortified with mugs of hot mulled wine (for adults only, naturally), male, female, young and old plunged into the cold sea apparently to provide exceptional entertainment to those who refused to join them.

Did I go swimming on St Stephen's Day? Not on your life. Not even next year. And that's a promise.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Monday, December 20, 2010

Songs of the Sea

It's a poor picture taken with a lousy camera, but it gives you the idea...

Five miles from where I sit are the Skellig Islands. Pushing up from the floor of the Altantic, one of the most westerly bits of land in Ireland, and home Centuries ago to a group of Monks who sought solitude, the Skelligs - and Skellig Michael in particular - are some of the most beautiful, and most magical, islands to dot the Irish coastline.

The geographic glory of this area is startling. Coastal roads twist and turn, yielding stunning and breathtaking views. Seabirds hunt and play in the often stormy Atlantic. Those same storms drive mountainous waves against rocky shores and hidden snags that have sunk many a local trawler.

The Skelligs are often inaccessible due to the weather, as if ocean jewels just out of reach, teasing many with their isolated beauty.

It's as if God has created a small corner of heaven in this place, dotting the landscape with beckoning mysteries. As the weather improves, I intend to visit many of these wonders, which seem so impossibly out of reach just now.

And when I do I'll bring you along. That's a promise.

Monday, December 13, 2010

65 Souls Here - Oh, make that 66

Ever wonder what it's like to live in a small village? Don't know about you, but I've always lived in the Suburbs. First in Chicago. Then in...Seattle, New Jersey, Miami, Chicago again, Ann Arbor Michigan, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Long Island, San Francisco again (Dublin California, actually)....then Ireland...Navan, Kentstown, Trim and Dunshaughlin, all in County Meath. And all of them (except Kentstown which could be best described as a wide spot in the road) were Suburbs.

Well, there are no Suburbs in Eyeries. Located on the Beara Peninsula in the very southwest of County Cork (and the island of Ireland), and the next stop west being northeastern Canada, Eyeries is a village of only 65 (make that 66 as of a few weeks ago) souls.

The village has a main street. A Catholic Church. Two pubs. One very good upmarket restaurant. No fast food restaurants. One petrol station which also acts as the village's only hardware store and also one of three food stores. A post office (in which another food store is also located). A small tea shop owned by Evie, a wonderful older woman who makes scrumptious Scones, but only during the Summer months. An old Dance Hall that is closed now but used to be a true Ballroom of Romance.

And that's it.

And yet...the village isn't isolated. It's only 10 minutes from Castletownbere (one of Ireland's largest fishing ports), 30 minutes from Glengariff (where Maureen O'Hara of The Quiet Man now resides), 50 minutes from the bustling town of Bantry, and 2.5 hours from Cork, Ireland's second capitol (or first capitol, if you believe anyone from County Cork).

Eyeries is small. The coastline which you've seen is beautiful. Miles of coastal walks along the Ring of Beara eminate from this small village. An 18th Century English Coast Guard station - now in ruins - rests near. Older ruins, the site of many Irish legends, dot the landscape. From my back window I have a view of Coulagh Bay. Across the Bay, and at night, I can see the lights of the equally small village of Kilkatherine. Beyond that - the Atlantic. And jutting up around the Bay, holding it in great stoney arms, are the Kerry Mountains.

It's wonderful. It's unknown. Only a few hundred tourists, mostly walkers from Continental Europe, visit every year. They come for the views and for the silence and the peace. Yet they seem to keep the location of Eyeries to themselves. Eyeries seems to be an unknown paradise. Perhaps another Bali Hai or Shangri-La.

I hope it stays that way.