Tag Archives: Ireland

A Further Shore – III – The Harbour

Instead of a beach, shadows loomed over me and the water went from gold to black in sudden deep shade.

A wall of dressed stone met my fingertips and loomed two metres over me. It was a pier, stone mooring bollards along the edge. There was another pier twenty or thirty metres away to my left, like the coast had projected horizontal crenellations into the sea.

There are no stone piers on the Copper Coast. Even concrete slipways are rare on our exposed shore which lacks any suitable bays as harbours.  The Copper Coast rocks are primarily Old Red Sandstone and soft limestone. Why was I thinking about stone? I sought rationality, logic. The type of stone didn’t help. No, wait, the lee side of Tramore Pier behind the concrete is dressed stone. That’s a stone pier. But Tramore pier is how many kilometres away? Eight, nine? Away from where? I’ve swum the Copper Coast, every metre. I did not know this place and Tramore is just a single angled pier. Logic didn’t help.

There were steps near me built into the pier. In the shadows in the water the light became a type of dusk. Tarzan-style, head up, two strokes and I reached the stairs. I gingerly got a foot under me, then the second, and I stood and I climbed up. The pier edges were a charcoal grey, with the main mass a slightly lighter grey. Dark grey stone mooring bollards. The surface seemed almost swept clean except a dusting of bleached sand with faint mother-of-pearl sparkles. The rock was warm and the sand very fine under my bare feet. An ever-so-slight breeze had returned, a whisper that quickly dried my bare skin as I looked around me.from this vantage I could see other piers projecting out into sea.

A harbour. But no stacks of pots. No boats, no coils of gaudy nylon rope, no hauled out punts or moored tenders. No detritus of a working harbour.

The piers were fronted with low stone buildings, one or two stories, also stone, with slate roofs. All orderly, well maintained and pretty in the austere way of coastal communities, especially in the soft light.  No electricity poles. No diesel tanks, no mechanics.

This could not be. But it was. I was just a swimmer. You can’t accidentally swim to France or to somewhere you’ve never seen, never been. Arms are too weak against the Sea, despite our desire to prove otherwise.

We swim in part because it human-scales the world. Swimming makes the world both bigger and smaller. It becomes immense against the strength of our shoulders. But it becomes small and intimate and local, limited also by our shoulders. Driving a road a thousand times is not like walking it once. Sitting on the beach a thousand times is not like swimming out to the horizon once. We remember the scale of the world we’ve forgotten in the rest of our lives, we remember the absolute importance of the horizon.

What was this place?

Where was this place?

 

Previous parts

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

A Further Shore – II – The Golden Light

I’d swum a double handful of strokes on one breath, and seen so little and yet so much. Only water, rocks, kelp, light? You don’t understand.

Time to breath and navigate, I lifted my head. Golden sunlight dazzled me, washed over me. I know it had been months, the previous autumn since I’d last swum Kilfarassey, but surely the arch only dog-legged slightly? The mid-day Sun should have been to my left, instead it was ahead. I filled my lungs and swam on, out past the surrounding reefs for a few metres, until I could swing right, to the north, back toward the beach.

Out past the rocks I swam, so that I could see past Burke’s Island to the coast almost a kilometre away. The beach. Where was the beach and the cliffs? I kicked and sat up, threading water, my hands sculling as I peered right. Was the glare on the fogged and smeared goggles, which seemed so clear underwater now deceiving me? I couldn’t see the beach. Where’s the beach? I didn’t think anything. Involuntarily my head whipped around and as it did, mere fractions of a second, I saw the dark line of the coast ahead of me.

Wait. Wait. The Sun was ahead of me and the coast was ahead of me. What? That can’t. That can’t. This wasn’t just forgetting details from last summer. This Copper Coast is in my blood, no-one, no-one knows it like I do.

Don’t panic. Everything I know about the Sea kicked in. Everything learned, every time I risked a rock or a tunnel or a cave or a sketchy entrance or dangerous exit, every time in rough water, big water, unknown water, when I was by myself, testing myself, everything clamped down inside into “stay calm, you know this, stay calm“.

I felt it in my gut. My stomach twisted but I stayed calm. The reefs looked the same. The gaps were where I expected, the reefs all lined up in relation with each other. I looked behind. The Keyhole Arch was there, of course. The raucous guillemots still wheeled and the herring gulls still cried. But when I looked again, the coast was still in front, the  green of the fields and cliffs blackened and flattened by the back-light of the Sun overhead. This was not possible.

Nothing else happened. I looked around. I felt the clamp inside my gut, controlling me, my own internal governor. The light breeze had slackened and I noticed that the surface has glassed off to an oily silken sheen, inviting me forward. A swimmer’s version of bubble-wrap waiting to be popped, the water pleading to be pierced by my arms.

Swim, it’s what I do. Just swim in, figure it out later. I’d only been in the water twenty-five minutes or so, I’d passed two-thirds of the distance already. In the ten degree water, I wasn’t more than lightly chilled as I hadn’t stopped until now.  I couldn’t be severely hypothermic, I had none of the signs. Twelve to fifteen minutes swim, and a packet of jelly dinosaurs waiting in the glove compartment. The clamp relaxed just a fraction. Stay calm and swim.

I stroked ahead. Okay, swim in. Don’t think about it. Things happen in your head when you’re alone in the water. Things you don’t tell anyone. Things you will never tell anyone. Things they would never understand.

The water was glorious. I felt the edge, the finest sharpest molecular blade-edge of cold. That perfect feeling that cold water swimmers know, and can’t understand that others don’t appreciate. Like a fire on your skin, like when you have exhaled all your air, you can purse your lips and get that fraction more out. Like a drug or a mystery. Use everything and the cold gives you that tiny bit extra. Take a surgical scalpel, and draw the back of the blade down the inside of your forearm for a hint of that edge of cold.

Under the water the water was green suffused with argent, rich like ripe avocado. I was bathing in glory and brine, swimming in light as well as water. The light poured over me and basted my skin. I could taste the light in the water, in my mouth, like salty caramel. I could hear it. I could hear the golden light. Not with my ears, but with my proprioception. When I lifted my eyes to navigate, the light blasted my goggles and made gemstones of the world, sapphire, onyx, emerald and turquoise. The light cascaded and boiled into my lungs and filled me up. Every sense, new senses, filled with the golden light.

We swimmers know how low twenty metre tall cliffs look from just a kilometre away.  How a coast become flat, every part the same distance away, three-dimensionality lost. We know both how close and how far a kilometre is. A kilometre is a short swim but twice the distance required for a swimmer to become invisible to others on the shore.

The coast closed quickly as I swam. The light gave me a grace I’d never known. I didn’t just cut through the water or slip through the light. I became the water and the golden light. I was water and light swimming in water and light.

But when I reached the coast, when I could finally see under the glare, there were no cliffs. There was no beach.

Golden light through a Copper Coast arch
Golden light

 

Previous part

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

A Further Shore – I – The Arch

Winter reduces my range. I swim at the Guillamenes, along the cliffs and shore of Tramore Bay.  Maybe, just maybe, I might get down to Sandycove for a lap. Days pass when I see no-one, arriving, swimming and leaving without a soul.

Spring comes with almost imperceptibly warming water and air and increase in the number of people. The winds slacken, swim time gradually extends. The rest of the Copper Coast calls out to me, to return and see what the winter has wrought, to find new experiences and new memories.

Burke's Island & reefs, Kilfarassey
Burke’s Island & reefs, Kilfarassey

Kilfarassey and Burke’s Island are always my first Copper Coast spring swim away from Tramore Bay. My playground of the island and reefs sits just a short swim away at high tide, a full circumnavigation of all takes only forty-five minutes, with optional paths around the reefs to lengthen any swim.

There was no-one else around, the tide was dropping and the sky was blue with a few actual white puffy clouds, not the usual grey-bottomed bringers of Atlantic rain usually visible. The water wasn’t quite calm, a light easterly Force Two breeze ruffling the surface and adding a nip to the air as I walked the hundred metres from the car down the slipway, crossed the stream and beach and left my sandals burdened under rocks on the sand. I lined up the zero triangle and minute-hand on my watch to indicate departure time and waded in, then dove into an incoming mushy wave.

The water was about ten degrees Celsius, according to my built-in skin thermometer. The cold shock associated with such a temperature dissipated within a minute or so as I swam out toward the windward east side of the island, stretching out my arms and shoulders.  Within a dozen minutes I’d reached the nearest shark-fin-shaped reef, and instead of a longer circumnavigation around the outside reefs, I turned west across the back of the main island. The water was a clear cool mint and jade in the cross-shore breeze, submarine reefs reaching up, old friends from previous years welcoming me back.

Another few minutes and I passed the main island and reached the inside end of the channel that divides the easterly and westerly reefs.  I was at the east side of the largest reef, a north-south ridge some seventy five metres long and reaching in places up to ten metres above the surface. Populated by birds and guillemots, mostly by Black Shags, who have always vocally disapproved of my unaccustomed irregular appearances, they threw themselves from the reef into the air, wheeling and dive-bombing and screaming their indignation at my arrival in their offshore haven.

I was swimming to The Keyhole, my nickname for the first rock arch I’d ever swum through. It’s an east-west narrow-waisted arch in the ridge, only ten metres long at the water’s surface, with a bare dogleg between the ends. There’s not much of a roof,  cut away as it is to the sides. When conditions are right, the arch, which is too narrow for most kayakers, compresses the flow and a swimmer can shoot through like a fairground water ride.

The easterly breeze wasn’t enough to shoot through at speed but the clear water gave me hope of seeing an anemone clinging to the rocks under the low tide mark, so I decided to swim through without breathing, to extend my underwater investigation.

With head underwater, I cruised west  through the arch, feeling the water flow keep me clear of the harsh sides. The quality of the sub-surface light changed, surely a cloud filtering the light entering the water, transforming it to a rich golden hue.

Under the surface was so crisp, so clear. The sand of the bottom, the encrustations of thousands of generations of barnacles on the rocks, this reef their universe, our air their outer space. The kelps and weeds waved in the backward and forward tidal stream. Ochre, umber, sienna. Jade, olive, phtalo green. Marl and charcoal. A merman’s palette of literal water colours. No fish were visible in the clear water this day, but here was every child’s daydream of swimming in an aquarium’s watery castle. No plastic scuba or treasure diver was required to perfect this idealized underwater scene.

All for me, just here, just now. All this time to see so little and yet so much. Only a double-handful of strokes on one held breath from arch end to end.

You can’t eat scenery, they say in Ireland. I was a child when I first heard that and I still knew they were wrong. Not with your mouth. But you can eat it with your eyes and your mind and your imagination. You can use it to create your soul, to fill your self.

The Atlantic – II

This is the second part of a three-part series of a pictorial exploration of the Atlantic Ocean as I know it, primarily on Ireland’s south and south-east coasts. As with the last time, these images are best viewed individually at a larger size. All will be added at full resolution to my Flickr account.

Atlantic Pulse

Atlantic Pulse

 

II -  Interface IMG_4757 USM rad 3.0.resized
Atlantic Assault

 

Evening with Groundswell
Evening At High Tide

 

Force Three
Force Three

 

Beach Ripple
Rippling Onto A Beach

 

Storm
Atlantic Storm

 

Anvil of Rock
Anvil of Rock

 

Force Two
Force Two
Force Ten
Force Ten

The Atlantic – I

The Atlantic Ocean is in me.

For almost 20 years since it got its hook into me, I’ve been haunting, (in a moderate non-weird way), the Irish Atlantic coast, primarily the west, south and my own Copper Coast in the south-east.

For many years, in the depths of grim nights, I have stared into the dark and summoned the ocean as a blanket. I can float on groundswell as it pulses and lifts and lowers me. Experience the ground vibrations from huge breakers. Smell the plankton. Feel the wind tighten my face. Taste the salt. The Atlantic became as much part of me as I become a miniscule part  of it.

It’s a grey ocean. Grey, not gray, my American friends. The word was surely invented for the Atlantic. Not a dull description of colour, it’s a dimension, a world, a universe, The Soulstealer Sea. The Grey Atlantic, not the Blue Pacific. It’s a metal ocean. Steel and iron, verdigris if you are lucky. Hard.  Complete.

Welcome to my ocean.

{The photographs of the Atlantic in this three-part series are the best I’ve  taken, over a two and half year period, of various representational of elements of the Atlantic. It’s a personal, creative and a continuing journey. It is as important to me as taking the photographs to let them be seen. I feel like a photographer for once. All are better on full screen for a more, well, immersive experience.}

A Wave
A Wave
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon I
Winter Horizon II
Winter Horizon II
Sky & Sea
Vast
I - Swell.resized
Visitors from Far Away
The Sky In The Sea
The Sky In The Sea
Squall
Squall
A Reef
A Reef
The Storm Will Pass
Storms Always Pass
Local
Local
Evening Sea With Two Islands
Evening Sea With Two Islands

 

Force Nine
Force Nine

Skellig Mór – Swimming over the edge of the World – Part 2

Part 1.

Magic that takes you out, far out, of this time and this world” – George Bernard Shaw on the Skelligs

It was still cloudy at Portmagee, and a few swimmers and yakkers assembled on the pier to load the boats. We were outward bound on a small fishing boat with two support yakkers and skipper Gearóid’s family out for a day trip, and left the pier at 11.15am, heading out through the calm channel.

Portmagee
Portmagee village

The first ever transatlantic cable came ashore at Valentia and for many years down at the extreme edge of Europe, Valentia Cable Station was centre of the communications world.

Bray Head reflected in the Channel at Portmagee
Bray Head reflected in the Channel at Portmagee earlier in the week

We passed Bray Head, moving out into the open ocean. With the kayaks the small fishing boat was cramped, and I, the only swimmer on board, had nowhere to sit as the yakkers claimed the seats, but I’m happy on a boat and the swim was due to be short.

Bray Head
Morning sunlight streaming over Bray Head – once again from earlier in the week -best viewed large

The sky was still cloudy, with no sign yet of the Sun breaking through. As we moved out west from the shelter of Puffin Island to the south, Bray Head to the north and away from the distant protective shelter of the Blaskett Islands, the swell increased. Along with the Force Two breeze, the water became choppy.  Many a breakfast has been lost overboard on the way to the Skelligs to those lacking sea-legs.

Closer to Heaven, part of the monastery at the peak- Skellig Beag and the coast in the backround
Closer to Heaven. Part of the monastery at the peak- Skellig Beag and the coast in the background

I can never steam out to the isolated crags of the Skelligs without thinking of those early monks. The Roman Empire had fallen, Europe had sunk into the Dark Ages, organised society and civilisation fragmented and hundreds of years of chaos lay ahead. Only on Ireland was the learning retained, the early Irish Christian church retaining the knowledge embedded in religion and the skills of writing, illustration and teaching. They founded the Irish monasteries, centres of learning, and then as their number grew they travelled to Scotland, down through Britain and on into Europe, carrying knowledge and artistry and the ideal of scholarship with them, many of their later European sites becoming the great European colleges. The author Thomas Cahill described this as the time when the Irish saved civilisation and it was a time of importance for the country, prior to being a nation, and the time that gave Ireland the appellation of Island of Saints and Scholars.

Some of those men though, looked west, saw a lofty peak out where there was nothing and somehow decided it would be a good place to pursue the ultimate ascetic life, the thought that the peak was already partway to heaven surely in their minds. Regardless of belief, something about the insanity and heroism of that has always struck a chord. Woollen robes, simple tools and a willingness to face the Utter Sea. Surely this resonance must strike any open water swimmer?

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Skellig Beag – (taken in 2006, when camera resolution and skill was less than now!)

Steaming out to the island took about 90 minutes. Heading for Skellig Mór, one passes the white guano-covered Skellig Beag, “small Skellig“. Skellig Beag is the second-largest gannet colony in the world after St. Kilda in Scotland, with about 30,000 breeding pairs, around 20% of the world population. Gannets, white with a yellow head and black wing-tips, are a large raucous seabird which feed by diving on fish from a height and can dive down to thirty metres. The repeated blows to the skull are the primary cause of their demise as they go eventually blind. They wheel and spin and cry in the air around the Skelligs and range far out over the sea in these very rich fishing waters.

Skellig Michael - approaching the East Landing from the South east, the new road to Lighthouse leading up left from the bottom of the picture. The huts are just below the right side peak.
Skellig Michael – approaching the East Landing from the South east, the new road to the Lighthouse leading up left from the bottom of the picture. The huts are just below the right side peak.

The rib carrying swimmers from Portmagee zipped past us before we reached the island on our slower boat, and the Ballinscelligs Inshore Rescue rib with the remaining swimmers, the charity for whom the swim was being carried out were seen arriving from Ballinscelligs Bay.

Start at Cross Cove IMG_7033.resized
Before the start at Cross Cove, the covered walkway over the cove is due to a continuous barrage of bird droppings. The steps to the top of the island run up the ridge .

Kayaks were quickly put in the water near the East Landing at Blind Man’s Cove, boats milled around for fifteen minutes while skipper Gearóid indicated the starting point would be to the west underneath the helicopter pad and in front of the covered walkway leading around Cross Cove.

The swimmers were split into two groups, a larger group of slower swimmers and few faster swimmers to start a couple of minutes later. Looking forward to getting in, I was first ready. As it turned out I was in togs for a good five minutes, but the slight breeze on this protected side of the island was warm and the Sun was finally breaking through as the clouds parted overhead so I wasn’t getting cold.

Liz and Padraig
Liz and Padraig

As I waited I heard a call of my name, but assumed there was another Donal out there, it being a name rarely heard outside Ireland but quite normal here, (by the way Donal is NOT Donald, as a name Donal goes back at least 2,000 years). But we soon noticed that a small inshore boat carried my friends Liz Buckley (no relation but we call her my fake half-sister) Chairwoman of the Sandycove Island Swim Club and her boyfriend Padraig Leahy, both strong and experienced open water swimmers.

The start IMG_7053.resized
The first wave in the distance being chased by Liz, Padraig, myself and a couple of others. Swim Organiser Tim Poulain-Patterson in the yellow kayak.

The first group was soon off, heading north-east to swim anti-clockwise around the island. And shortly thereafter I was off the boat into the water, turning to wave at Dee and then off. The calm protected water of the south-east of the island slipped past. Tim was nearby in his kayak, the other boats moving to the outside.

The Wailing Woman stone on Skellig Michael
The Wailing Woman stone on Skellig Michael

Underneath the water was deepening shades of grey-green. As we approached the northern-most point of the island, the waves of the open ocean swell were readily apparent even to a cursory sighting, crashing onto the reef.

I’d already caught a few of the slow group, and continuing my long tendency to skirt rocks closely, I moved in closer while the others moved out. Under the water as I approached the was filled with white foam. I don’t really understand why I like swimming near rocks, something subconscious from my surfing, something which I also rely on to tell me when it’s safe and when it’s not. I avoid the rocks on Sandycove first corner in a big a swell because there’s no safe close approach whereas I can skirt the second corner closely.

The north west corner of the island, calm to rough water in a few metres.
The north-east corner of the island, calm to rough water in a few metres.

I passed through the foam, an arm length from the reef, the water rising ahead of me as I swam up the hill of the swell. Then a left turn and along the north side. The boats moved a long way out, as did the large majority of the pack. Dee later told me it became very uncomfortable on the boat at that point as they were only bobbing along at swimming speed, the swell and chop buffeting the boat.

Just past the reef of the North west corner where the water became much rougher.
Just past the reef of the North east corner where the water became much rougher.

Along with the Sun directly south, and the distance out from me as I continued on ahead,any photography became very difficult. I sought a line along the north shore, against the tide also, where I would be in closer but not so close that I was caught in every wave reflected of the island, trying to find a balance that would mean I was in rough water that was combined from both sides, but not swimming too wide or close. I like rough water, as many experienced open water swimmers do, for a short swim like this.  It adds a certain frisson and liveliness to a swim.

Chris's Saddle, the Col between the two peaks.
Chris’s Saddle, the Col between the two peaks, from the North side of the island

This water was rough, certainly not for inexperienced swimmers.  I stopped to take a few photos from a borrowed waterproof camera. (Did I tell you I lost another camera to the Sea only a week ago, thanks to bloody shore anglers fishing into the swimming zone at the Guillamenes?).

The water on the north side was also colder, my internal thermometer again telling me that it was about twelve to twelve and half degrees. But the Sun was directly overhead in front of me and the shots were poor. I swam on, gradually south-west, passing the deep cut of North Cove, the older steps that were the original peak access line, visible far above in glimpses, now no-longer used. Occasional jellyfish of different types passed underneath.

The colour of the water was… rich. To just describe it as sea-green or grey-green is insufficient. In coastal waters, our water is mostly sea-green, dropping away to black from the ocean floor, which even when it’s not visible stop light. Out at the Skelligs the bottom is far below, the water dropped through shades of a grey-green. Artichoke, aquamarine and zomp, skobeloff, feldgrau and jade, malachite and viridian and midnight-green all blending and fading into each other, that conveyed the depth below us.

I remembered my first Skellig swim years ago, when the depth made me take a minute to pause and readjust mentally.  That adjustment was no longer necessary, though I don’t often get to swim in very deep water, like many other things of the Sea that people dislike, I find myself entranced by the idea of the abysm beneath, dragging myself over the watery surface by the power of my arms, the idea of the void sucking deep in my gut. Deep and rough water, what a joy.

I reached the north-west corner and along west side of the island, Washerwoman Rocks on the west outside,  the cliffs here rising sheer from the water. I know the geography of the island and stopped, because far above was a glimpse of the old disused Lighthouse. Two swimmers approached and stopped and I pointed out the Light and told them how back the 1950’s the windows had been broken out by a wave.

The old Lighthouse, jsut visible above the steep high cliffs of the sout west corner
The old Lighthouse, just visible above the steep high cliffs of the south-west corner

The old Lighthouse is over 110 metres high. Three hundred and sixty feet up. That was some wave, surely one of those rogues that we now know exist in deep water. As I crossed Seal Cove, beneath the new Lighthouse, the water calmed and as I rounded the south-west corner, it flattened out and ahead was Cross Cove.

I swung under the helipad and walkway for another picture and passed over a huge Compass jellyfish, less than a body length down. Then back to the Inshore Rib to indicate I’d finished. With stops I’d still taken only about 50 minutes, an easy fun swim. At this point it became apparent that the boat with Dee, and my clothes was far back, so rather than float and get cool, I swam back toward them, and at that point they caught up quickly.

Swimming back to the boat after finishing
Swimming back to the boat after finishing

It was a fun swim, a chance to finally swim fully around the island that I’d long wanted to complete. With the last finisher coming in after almost one hour and forty minutes swimming, it was probable that the location and conditions may have been too much for a few of the group. I doubt such a large group, 20 swimmers, will do this swim again, given the rough conditions, it was difficult for all the boats to watch everyone. Any future swims will likely and should be much reduced in number given the complexity  and safety cover needed but this one had went well and probably is a relief for Tim to have out of the way, as some swimmer’s unaware of the difficulty of running a swim in a location like this, were somewhat unreasonable in their expectations, and credit goes to him for finally getting it finished. And I’d like to thank Tim myself for allowing me to get this swim off my list.

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Support boats, ‘yakkers and swimmers

Skellig Mór – Swimming over the edge of the World – Part 1

A couple of years ago I carried a swim report of the third annual Beginish race, which due to inclement weather that year , was held in the Sound between Valentia Island and the mainland of the Kerry coast, at the extreme south-west of Ireland. I called that report racing on the edge of the world.  And if you’ve swum on the edge of the world, where else is next to swim, but over the edge.

12 miles out
The edge of the know world-  Skellig Beag on the left, Skellig Mor (Big Skellig) on the right. Best on large view.

This is a two-part post, not because it’s a long or complex swim, but because the islands and nearby coast are so spectacular and such a favourite of mine that the post deserves due photographic attention.

Caherciveen statue of the Skelligs monks
Caherciveen statue of the Skelligs monks

Dee and I are regular visitors to Kerry and in particular to that part known as The Ring of Kerry, a loop of spectacular scenery that runs around the Iveragh Peninsula.  Ireland has many problems but a lack of spectacular scenery is not amongst them and the Ring of Kerry is amongst the best, and the southern-most coastal area of The Ring is my favourite place in the world and the greatest jewel in the crown of Kerry is the World Heritage site of the Skellig Michael aka Skellig Mór,  the “Big Skellig” of the pair of islands.

Skelligs
The Skelligs from Bolus Head

It was first settled by hermetic Christian monks sometime around the 6th or 7th Century and lies 12 miles of the south west coast, at the nearest edge of the Continental shelf. The peak rises steeply from 100 metres depth to 218 metres ( over 700 feet) of sheer rock, not a square centimetre of which was then flat. It was reached by monks in woollen habits rowing the traditional tar and hide covered rowing boats called Acuras, still around today as traditional craft, right off what was then the edge of the world. Over decades they hewed steps into the rock face, built stone Beehive huts as habitation just underneath the peak, and hauled seaweed from the rocks to make a couple of fields  that are only the size of a medium car.

All that lay around and beyond was the terrible Atlantic and the fabled Land of Eternal Youth, Tir-na-nOg. Visiting the Skelligs is an extraordinary experience. Skellig Micheal is open to a limited number of  public visitors for about four hours a day, who get there through via a restricted and licensed number of boats that are often booked a week in advance. Its offshore exposed and deep location has it sitting right in the path of regular open Atlantic swell and even in good weather the island can be impossible to land on.

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Skellig Dream – (also best viewed on large)

Back in 2006 we were visiting the island, in the early days of my open water swimming, and I decided to swim off the rock (never travel anywhere without briefs, hat and goggles). It was fun, scary and made me want to swim around the island. I’d looked into organising it, but it would be complex and very expensive for a swim that was at most three kilometres long. The tide would have to be slack out at the island, with reasonable water and I’d need to pay a boat for the 24 mile round trip and waiting time, at whatever rate they might normally get for a charter.  I put it on the long finger. Beginish Island Swim co-organiser Tim Poullain-Patterson did organise a swim in 2011 for a local charity, but even for someone living locally, it was unable to go ahead for two years due to the aforementioned constraints.

Last week, while Observing a record-breaking swim in Kerry, on which Tim was support kayaker, I discovered he had finally found the weather window he needed to complete the swim and I blagged my way onto it and we arrived in Knightstown the evening before the swim at the tail-end of a spectacular week of Irish weather, the best in a decade, my second visit of the week to paradise.

Skellig from the World War II Bray head tower.
Skellig from the World War II Bray head tower.

We walked out the trail to the Second World War coastal watch-tower on Bray Head, strolled around the village, ate scallops at the scallop festival in the village and later watched the Sun sink into the Atlantic beyond the Blaskett Islands off the end of the Dingle Peninsula from the summit of Geokaun Mountain. Another day in paradise.

Vivid Blaskett sunset_MG_6881-resized
Sun setting behind the Blaskett islands, north of the Skelligs, (& uninhabited since the 1950s) from Valentia Island

Sunday dawned cloudy. Fog and cloud in coastal Kerry is ubiquitous, and we hoped it would burn off by swim start. The breeze was up from the previous  day and we drove to Cromwell Point lighthouse on the north side of Valentia Island to look at the water, which was displaying the occasional whitecaps of a light Force Three wind.

Portmagee to Valentia Bridge
Portmagee to Valentia Bridge

There would be more water movement out at the Skelligs. Departure time was 11 am at Portmagee, the village on the mainland that is linked by bridge to Valentia island and Dee and I, due to my late addition to the swim, would travel out on the support fishing boat carrying three kayaks, the rest of the twenty swimmers to travel out on large ribs from Portmagee and Ballinscelligs on the south side of the Iveragh peninsula.

Cromwell Point lighthouse
Cromwell Point lighthouse at sunset- north side of Valentia Island

On to Part Two and the actual swim.

Steve Redmond’s Homecoming

If you are in Ireland, you know Steve is getting pretty great coverage and reception here in Ireland, as it should be. Many interviewers don’t really get it, you can hear the bemusement in their voices. But in fairness to them, those of us who are swimmers have trouble wrapping our heads around it.

For most of the world, to swim ONE of those swims is only a dream. Only the tinyest percentage of people complete one or two.

Steve, for now, is the only person, ever, to complete all seven swims and will always be the first.

Just pause there for a moment: Three years, seven Channels, eleven swims.

Hundreds of people met Stephen and Noel Browne, one of Steve’s most trusted friends, Tsugaru crew and significant organiser and behind the scenes powerhouse, when they returned to Cork, the Rebel County, and the real capitol at Cork Airport last night. They had spent almost all the time from immediately after finishing Tsugaru on Sunday travelling home.

Media interviews

Many travelled in convoy back to West Cork through Clonakilty with car horns honking toward Ballydehob, with bonfires blazing on the hills, a Celtic tradition thousands of years old. “Home is the sailor, home from the sea”.

Stephen & Ann, Noel & partner

There were special greetings and homecomings in Cork. Steve’s wife Ann was at the airport, as were his two kids, little Stevie and Siadbh, family, friends, supporters and swimmers.

If you’ve read Steve’s previous accounts of swims here, you will know that his mantra while swimming is to repeat his children’s names, and as Ann said last night to Sandycove Island Swim Club Chairwoman Liz and myself, when things get tough he adds her name!

Stephen and the Lough Ine swimming & support Crew

Stephen was grabbed by national TV on exiting the gate to much cheering, but he moved to grab his family and close friends, including close friend and Lough Ine training partner and Sandycove Island Swimming pioneer and Channel swimmer Steven Black.

Stephen & Steven

We waited around, talked a lot of swimming, and then the man himself came over, lots of manly and womanly swim hugs and we got time to talk with him, and he shared some details of the Tsugaru swim, that made all us swimmers feel like we were there. As Liam said, that moment alone was special. Stephen said to me he’d already written up the Tsugaru swim report for me, and I hadn’t even asked this time, I figured he had more than enough professionals hanging on his time and every word. We were there because we are all open water swimmers and admirers and he is one, in fact right now he is The Swimmer.

We took a picture with the members of Sandycove Island Swim Club who were able to make it.

Back l-r : Lisa Cummins, Steven Black, Ciaran Byrne, Finbarr Hedderman, Liam Maher, Stephen Redmond, Owen O’Keeffe, Noel Browne, Liz Buckley
Front l-r: Ossi Schmidt, me, Gabor Molnar

Being an unashamed fanboy, I of course got his autograph, not for the first time.

Welcome home Steve. You make us all proud to be Irish, proud to be swimmers, and proud to know you. Arise Cork, and take your place among the nations of the world.

So, Stephen’s Tsugaru swim report, coming in two days!

Wales_to_Ireland

“It’s kind of fun to do the impossible”. Lisa Cummins officially announces her 2012 swim

I have waited a long time for this official announcement and am very proud and honoured that Lisa has chosen loneswimmer.com to announce her big swim for this year.

But before we get to that …

For those of you who don’t know, Lisa Cummins was the twentieth person to swim a two-way English Channel solo in September 2009. She was the first woman to so do WITHOUT having first done a solo, and she was quite regularly told it would be impossible, by some well-known people in the marathon swimming community. Her time was an astonishing 35 hours (exactly).

I shall never forget the night in February 2009, during a charity Swimathon in Source swimming pool organised by Coach Eilís, when I heard of the plan. And the thought that I had then has never left me, of the sheer audacity of Lisa’s vision. I was completely captivated. At that time Lisa and I hadn’t become friends, she wouldn’t have known me from any other swimmer and when we greeted her in Cork Airport on her triumphant return, I was a face amongst many. I told her she was an inspiration for all and in her typical self-effacing manner for those who know her, she dismissed the notion. But I hold to this assertion, and know many agree with me.

Lisa’s two-way English Channel chart

I have maintained that Lisa’s two-way English Channel swim was one of the greatest amateur Irish sporting achievements. Ever. (For me, it’s actually the greatest). But not just that, it was a world-class swimming achievement. Suzie Dods, a well-known US marathon swimmer, said of Lisa after her swim: “Shows you what the mind can imagine, the body can do”.

To have any chance of understanding Lisa you should know that her inscription in the White Horse in Dover says; “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible“.

Lisa’s White Horse Inscription

Lisa started training seriously while we were in Dover last September and has been training hard since, regularly swimming 75,000 metre weeks and has already done many multiple hour sea swims up to eight hours, under twelve degrees Celsius, done while many of the rest of us were struggling to get four hours done. It’s not for no reason that I call her (and Finbarr) two of the world’s greatest cold water swimmers.

She is already the Queen of Irish open water swimming and her next swim attempt will further decorate that crown.

Lisa recently, by the way, submitted her Computer Science Ph.D. Thesis, completed while doing the training! It’s an open secret among the Sandycove swimmers, that I’ve found it hard (but managed) to keep for two years. You have no idea how many times I’ve asked for a guest post, but in fairness, I’ve learned so much from her, that much of what appears here comes from her indirectly.

In September 2012, Lisa will attempt a swim never previously done, crossing the Irish Sea from Wales to Ireland. She estimates it will take a minimum of 40 hours with a minimum straight-line distance of 56 miles, (excluding tides, of which she will swim through many).

She will face unknown tidal currents, cold and clouds of stinging jellyfish (Lion’s Mane, Portuguese Man O’War, and our friendly Purple Stingers).

Her crew will once again be her mother Margaret, who was bedrock of calm and control on the two-way, and who will surely get even more knitting done on the next swim.

Her many friends, supporters and admirers have no doubts about her world-class tenacity, her ability to tolerate and endure, and while doing so, to even have fun doing the impossible.

Two heroes, Lisa and Capt. Webb.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter, and her New blog for this swim is http://lisaslongswims.wordpress.com

Unusually good weather

The weather in Ireland has been broken for the past five days. It didn’t operate as normal. It’s the end of March and instead of the usual dull cold grey, it’s been warm, bright and sunny. So like quite a few others I changed to a few days of sea swimming and even did a 5k, which is a first for me for March. Last year I didn’t do 5k open water until June, in 2010 it wasn’t until the middle of May.

My assertion is, despite belief to the contrary, Irish people are actually optimistic based on the single fact that whenever the weather the good, we believe it will last forever,  even though we’ve had entire summers without five consecutive days of any good weather.

I’ve recently purchased a Kodak Playsport camera, which is waterproof and shoots HD video, for a very reasonable price of about £80. So finally, finally, I’ve started taking some video of Tramore Bay and Newtown Head to share my playground with you all, instead of just the usual static images. The water is still only 10 degrees Celsius so I couldn’t spend too much time floating and getting cold, but I’m delighted to have made a start. A couple of these were shot on cold bright days a few weeks ago.

Don’t forget to select YouTube’s HD option for each.

Lowest low tide of the year. Shot with camera sitting on rocks underneath normal low tide mark.

Looking out to the Metalman and Newtown Head.

Looking up at the Guillamene.

Out further toward Newtown head

Suddenly … Gráinne!

Newtown Head. Wait for the underwater bit at the end, and see the colour of my dreams.

 

 

Eagle island lighthouse-ireland_6787_600x450

Exploring freak waves

We’ve all heard (at least in Ireland) the unfortunate announcements of people losing their lives at the coast due to “freak waves”. Freak waves and rogue waves are the same thing, and are generally not what take unsuspecting people at the coast, since those are more generally set waves, which I’ve written about before, and people just don’t seem to understand that all waves around the same time are not the same size.

By the way, I’ll take this opportunity to remind you of the surfer’s saying to help ensure safety at the coast: watch the sea for twice as long as the waves are high.

Freak or rogue waves are the monsters that happen out to sea, that were long reported but generally not believed until very recently even though reports seemed to occur around the world. In Ireland the old lighthouse high up on Skellig Michael had its windows broken back in the 1950’s by waves breaking up at about 30 metres. On the 11th March 1861 at midday the lighthouse on Eagle Island, off the West coast of Ireland was struck by the sea smashing 23 panes, washing some of the lamps down the stairs, and damaging the reflectors with broken glass beyond repair. In order to damage the uppermost portion of the lighthouse, water would have had to surmount a seaside cliff measuring 40 m (133 ft) and a further 26 m (87 ft) of lighthouse structure.

VLCCs (very large cargo carriers) are notoriously lost going around Cape Horn (in the Agulhas Current), the theory is, being so long and heavy the wave can cause both ends of the ship to be suspended, (or the ends to be raised) and they break under their own unsupported weight.

In one those weird coincidences, when I was writing this, the M4 Buoy off Ireland’s North West registered a waves height of over 20 metres, truly extraordinarily large. I have seen 11 metre waves off Clare on the west coast, and, no word of lie, I remember looking out to sea and thinking to myself, I don’t remember there being an island there, before I realised what I was actually looking at. And then I went surfing.

Now the scientific and the orbital evidence (even you ignore reading and visuals) supports the existence of rogue waves after the measurement of The Draupner Wave, in 1995, (below). Here’s a scientific paper explaining the causal factors. There are a few factors, primarily high winds and strong currents.

I’m not sure if yesterday’s wave would qualify as rogue, since there were significant size waves before and after it. The strict(-ish) definition is that the wave is more than twice the significant height of the waves in the wave train, which wasn’t the case yesterday. But directly contradicting myself above, what the buoy did show was the wind blowing from the prevailing south-south-west direction. Rogue waves may occur when one wave travels in the opposite direction of the others and occur more frequently in areas with strong currents, such as the Agulhas off South Africa, the Kuroshio off Japan, and the Gulf Stream off the eastern United States. In 2000 a ship encountered an open water wave height of over 29 metres.

A Freak Wave took out the whole forepeaktank of the Norwegian tanker "Wilstar", 1974

Location is also important. VLCCs, which were too large to go through the Suez Canal have long had to take the long route to Europe around the Cape of Good Hope and some were mysteriously lost in the Agulhas Current. As many as 200 supertankers have been lost in the past 25 years, and many are now estimated to have been caused by freak waves with the SS Munchen being the best known. It also seems that the famous Edmund Fitzgerald may have been sunk by a peculiar freak wave phenomenon in Lake Superior!

A (short) YouTube clip of a collection of very large waves breaking at sea.

One scientist estimated there may be up to 10 of these waves in existence worldwide at any time, and in an important part of science, it’s been possible to recreate them in wave tanks, validating the science.

Lewis Pugh

Introducing a precise open water swimming temperature scale

Next year’s Cork Distance Week will have a record number of attendees, many from outside Ireland. Some will be coming nervous or terrified about the potential temperatures especially if they heard any of 2011’s details.

They need a scale of reference for that fear and we need a common terminology!

Steve Munatones on Daily News of Open Water Swimming had a post recently on the temperatures at which people consider water cold.

I remember Finbarr once saying to me that; “10ºC is the point at which you can start to do some proper distance”. But that’s when the temperature is going up in the late spring. What about when it is dropping in the autumn and winter?

Jack Bright might have some input into this also. :-)

I think it would be fair to say that many, if not most (but not all), of the (serious) Irish and British swimmers would fall into the 7% category, it’s getting cold under 10° C.

So here’s my purely personal swimmer’s temperature scale:

Over 18°C (65°F): This temperature is entirely theoretical and only happens on TV and in the movies. The only conclusion I can come to about the 32% who said this is cold are that they are someone’s imaginary friends. Or maybe foetuses.

16°C to 18°C (61 to 64°F): This is paradise. This is the temperature range at which Irish and British swimmers bring soap into the sea. The most common exclamation heard at this stage is “it’s a bath”!!! Sunburn is common. Swimmers float on their backs and laugh and play gaily like children. They wear shorts and t-shirts after finally emerging. They actually feel a bit guilty about swimming in such warm water. Possible exposures times are above 40 hours for us. It’s a pity we have to get out to sleep and eat.

14°C to 16°C (57° to 61°F): Aaahhh, summerAll is well with the world, the sea and the swimmers. Exposure times are at least 20 to 40 hours. Sandycove Swimmers will swim 6 hour to 16 hour qualification swims, some just for the hell of it and because others might be doing so. Lisa Cummins will see no need to get out of the water at all and will just sleep while floating, to get a head start on the next day’s training.

13°C (55° to 56°F): GrandYou can do a 6 hour swim, and have a bit of fun. Daily long distance training is fine. Barbecues in Sandycove. The first Irish teenagers start to appear.

12°C (53/54°F): Well manageable! You can still do a 6 hour swim, it’ll hurt but it’s possible. Otherwise it’s fine for regular 2 to 4 hour swims. This the temperature of the North Channel.

11°C (51/52°F): Ah well (with a shrug). Distance training is well underway. Ned, Rob, Ciarán, Craig, Danny C., Imelda, Eddie, Jen Lane, Jen Hurley & myself, at the very least, have all recorded 6 hour qualification swims at this temperature. Lisa did 9 hours at this temperature. Swimmers chuckle and murmur quietly amongst themselves when they hear tourists running screaming in agony from the water, throwing children out of the way… 

10°C (50°F): Usually known as It’s Still Ok”. A key temperature. This is the one hour point, where one hour swims become a regular event when the temperature is rising. We start wearing hats after swims.

9°C (48/49°F):A Bit Nippy”No point trying to do more than an hour, it can be done, but you won’t gain much from it unless you are contemplating the Mouth of Hell swim. Christmas Day swim range. Someone might remember to bring a flask of tea. No milk for me, thanks.

8°C (46/48°F): The precise technical term is “Chilly”. Sub one-hour swims. Weather plays a huge role. Gloves after swims. Sandycove Swimmers scoff at the notion they might be hypothermic.

7°C (44/45°F): “Cold”. Yes, it exists. It’s here. The front door to Cold-Town is 7.9°C.

6°C (42/43°F): “Damn, that hurts”. You baby.

5°C (40/41°F): Holy F*ck!That’s a technical term. Swimmers like to remind people this is the same temperature as the inside of a quite cold domestic fridge. Don’t worry if you can’t remember actually swimming, getting out of the water or trying to talk. Memory loss is a fun game for all the family. This occurs usually around the middle to end of February.

Under 5°C (Under 40 °F). This is only for bragging rights.There are no adequate words for this. In fact speech is impossible.  It’s completely acceptable to measure exposure times in multiples of half minutes and temperatures in one-tenths of a degree. This is hard-core.  When you’ve done this, you can tell others to “Bite me, (’cause I won’t feel it)”. (4.8°C 1.4°C is mine, Feb. 2013). Carl Reynolds starts to get a bit nervous. Lisa make sure her suntan lotion is packed.

Ned Denison during the winter

2.5°C  to 5°C. South London Swimming Club and British Cold Water Swimming Championships live here. If you are enjoying this, please seek immediate psychological help. Lisa might zip up her hoodie.

1.5°C to 2.5°C: Lynn Coxian temperatures. You are officially a loon.

0°C to 1.5°C: Aka “Lewis Pughiantemperatures. Long duration nerve damage, probably death for the rest of us. Lisa considers putting on shoes instead of sandals. But probably she won’t.

*Grand is a purely Irish use that ranges from; “don’t mind me, I’ll be over here slowly bleeding to death, don’t put yourself out … Son“, to “ok” and “the best“, indicated entirely by context and tone.

Related articles

The Sea and the coast, it’s about waiting.

Some weeks ago I had an idea for a series of posts that led me to taking more video (with Dee´s video camera). The idea hasn´t worked but I ended up with a lot of video clips as a consequence.

At the start I was trying to capture some specifics, and I would talk as I was recording. I quickly decided that it was crap, that I was crap and that the idea wasn’t working, but being a sea lover I realised I liked filming the coast, so I started just recording the sea for a brief period every day that I was there, for a few weeks.

I could have filmed the sea itself but without reference points and with an ordinary (non-HD) camera I was limited also. I needed context, so the sea becomes the sea plus the coast, the picture needs the frame.

I hope you enjoy it, I’m very happy with it. I decided against a shorter movie of just a few minutes long, with lots of quick cuts through different clips. Modern media teaches us to be impatient, but the sea is about waiting.

I wanted longer segments just watching the waves and absorbing the movements so the result is 18 minutes long. I’m no film-maker but I enjoyed making this, which is all that counts. If some of you enjoy it, that is the icing on the cake. I have a question though. Can you sit and watch the sea for 18 minutes? And if you can’t, does that mean something? You decide.  We are taught that we have a place and that there are things we can’t do. I reject that imposition. We are all whatever we want to be. We just need to free ourselves. Sometimes we need to free ourselves to do nothing.

So that is what I started filming. Waves breaking on rocks and reefs and cliffs and promenades. Calm water. Birds. Big surge and small breakers. High, middle and low tide. Even occasional people who entered the frame or whose voices are captured, surfers, fishermen, teenagers and even a couple of swimmers. Wind and wave sounds. Clouds and sun.

We imagine the sea as much as we view it. Without a context the sea is the Abyss, we can´t really stare at it for a long time, we are too small to be able to let ourselves flow into it or let it flow into us. People call it boredom, but it’s not, it’s a clash of scale. And we wish to anthropomorphize the sea, to abrogate its alienness and yet we never can, the best we can do is call it home.

So here instead is a representation of the sea, in a way we can handle it, a series of clips of the Copper Coast, days of sea.

There’s a high-resolution version, I suggest you choose it. As far as I’m concerned, it’s Creative Commons Licensed, despite Google forcing a YouTube license on it, so you can do what you want with it (edits, cut, change, once you only acknowledge the source).

If you wish to download the 700mb original file to watch it on a TV or offline, here’s a Rapidshare link. I’ll add a Vimeo link later also.

Historical-Map-Great-Britain John Speed 1610

Map monsters, and explaining Ireland and Great Britain

The famous map of Great Britain we often see around the place is John Speed’s 1610 map.

Historical-Map-Great-Britain John Speed 1610

Have a look at the west coast of Ireland and the “sea monster” there.

In Irish mythology dragons were called peist (pronounced: pey-ssht) and were typically water monsters, whose abode was primarily lakes and rivers. I like that this one is holding a harp, the official and modern and ancient symbol of Ireland (not the shamrock) as each on the map is here used to indicate a country or region of Great Britain..

Sea monsters were added to maps to indicate mainly that these were unexplored areas or at least areas about which little was known, and it had stopped by about the 17th century. There’s a brief article on sea monsters on maps here. Here Be Monsters was apparently only ever used on one map, despite that we all know the phrase.

Now, before the Irish people castigate me for using the term Great Britain to reference all of Ireland and the United Kingdom in the first image above, let me say that was in the historical context.

For those of you overseas who are perpetually confused by the geographical boundaries and differences between Ireland, the United Kingdom and Great Britain, here’s a simple graphic.

Great Britain is three countries ONLY, England Scotland and Wales.

The United Kingdom … is Great Britain AND Northern Ireland.

Ireland is The Republic of Ireland AND Northern Ireland. It is NOT part of any political amalgamation that includes the United Kingdom or Great Britain.

The sovereign state of Ireland is called The Republic of Ireland (or Éire, or Éireann, not often used). Colloquially, Ireland is also used to refer to The Republic of Ireland.

People in Ireland DO NOT USE the term British Isles. The Irish State and Government do not acknowledge it. The preferred geographical term is the Atlantic Archipelago (which includes The Channel Islands and The Isle of Man), or even the Atlantic Isles, though these are rarely used.

Great Britain and Ireland, or The Islands of Ireland and Great Britain, are more commonly used. Except in Great Britain where they continue to call the region the British Isles. (And of course Dee, who will shortly argue with me about this article).

(The writing is more complex than the graphic, it’s easy).

Irish place names briefly explained

Entering Copper Coast roadsign

A lot of Irish places names have been appearing in my Project Copper posts and I said I’d do a brief overview.

Disclaimer: I’m not a native Irish speaker, but I have a few words like many people. If you are from overseas, we don’t call it Gaelic, by the way, but there’s a commonality to Irish place names such that certain essentials are easy to grasp.

First: Eveything in Ireland has a name. Everything. Fields, hills, beaches, rocks, apart from the bigger stuff. Every area in Ireland is divided in a province, then a county. Below that are townlands of which there are some 60,000. A townland might have only a few houses or even none. Maybe that feeds my desire to give my own names to some rocks when swimming past but when I am doing so, it’s always whilst wondering, “what is this really called or what was it first called?”.

Second: Some names are old. Really old. Names can come from pre-Celtic, Celtic, Viking, Norman, or Anglo/English origins or even portmanteau or european language origins. Some names can be over 2,000 years old and bear no relationship to why they are so-called.

Three: Old names get corrupted.

Four: Celtic names particularly tended to relate to the geographical features.

Fifth: Anglicisation of Irish names by British settlers or Crown representatives because the Irish spelling and broad syllables were difficult. (I have regularly difficulty with English people utterly unable to pronounce my name after they hear me say it, Evelyn in Varne still cannot handle it after 3 years of visiting Dover and her being half-Irish). -gh usually give an -f sound. -bh is a v sound. S- makes an -sh sound. The Irish language alphabet is only 18 letters and doesn’t  have  j, k, q, v, w, x, y, and z. Vowels with an accent overhead are long,  e.g. á is usually pronounced aw, ó is oh.

Some of the common repeating parts of Celtic names particularly can occur at the start or end of the name. Typically the noun is followed by the adjective like in the Irish language but it is often followed by a proper name of a person.

Some common examples:

The most common part name is Baile-. This is Irish for town OR townland. It was usually  Anglicised to Bally or Balli, followed by a description.

Kil- or Kill- are probably the other most common and comes from either of two Irish words. The first is cill, meaning church and the second is coill, meaning wood (forest). Sometimes it’s difficult to tell which was the original word.

Next is probably Dun- from dún meaning fortress. Carraig- or Carrick- comes from carraig, meaning rock or stone, common to a lot of the small skerries and reefs . Tra- comes from trá meaning beach or strandBun- means bottom, ard- means high or topBun- is usually used for estuaries, followed by the name of the river or stream. Inis- or -inish- is island.Cnoc becomes Knock-, usually meaning a small hill. -An- or -an- in the middle of a name means -of the-. Ceann becomes Kin- from head, either animal or geographic feature. Guil- is black or dark, Gar- is a field or a groveBeag is small and -Mór is -more or -mor which is big.  And so on and so on.

Of the names used here recently or on the sign above:

Bunmahon; the bottom or estuary of the Mahon river.

Dungarvan; Garbhán’s (a person) Fort.

Tramore; the big (or long) strand (strand is more common term than beach).

Kinsale: the head(land) of the salty water.

Helvick; a Viking name meaning rock-shelf.

Beginish: small island.

Stradbally; Street town.

Annestown, you’ll see has an Irish name with it which seems to bear no relationship. Not that unusual, Annestown was a Protestant/Anglo village, so the name given was not derived from the name used by the Irish themselves.

I don’t know what everything means, sometimes I’m not sure whether a trailing syllable(s) is an adjective or a proper name.

Fennor, apparently means the sunny side of the hill (all I could figure was “white” or “bright”).

Oh, my name: Donal in Irish is Domhnall. Buckley is Ó Buachalla (a name originally from the south of the country), Ó meaning of, so Donalson of the herdsman originally, or, as I always like to think in memory of my Dad, who loved Western movies and books, cowboy. Donal, the cowboy. :-)

Fun useless fact: Ireland has somewhere from 45,000 to 65,000 (Irish) family names.

On a related note, the Irish Central Statistics office has put the entire 1901 and 1911 census archives online in their original format. I thoroughly recommend a visit.

Landlocked Ireland

This is Tipperary town (about six kilometers out) and environ’s on yesterday’s hazy May afternoon, the town I’m from originally (yes, just like the song). The panorama was taken at a place called Bull Rock (Rock an Tarbh,  52°23’50.63″N,   8° 9’33.85″W) in the Galtee Mountains foothills, facing north-north-west toward Tipperary Town.

Tipperary is Ireland’s largest inland county. The picture is a big panorama, full size gives plenty of detail. But with the haze, the hills of east Limerick, and Clare and the Slieve Feilim hills aren’t visible except as vague outlines.

Tipperary is within a section of Ireland called the Golden Vale, because of its agricultural richness. Looking south from the same location is the Galtee Mountain range. Actually between the foothills where I took these photo’s from, and the mountain rang is the Glen of Aherlow, which is I think, one of Ireland’s great and most under-appreciated locations.

Galtee Mor

That’s Galtee Mór on the left, Ireland’s third highest mountain, just over 900 metres. Most mountain ranges in Ireland are near the coasts as you could see in last week’s big image of Ireland, with the centre of Ireland being very flat. You can see that Galtee Mór is very smooth, indicative of atmospheric aging and a stable geology, worn down by wind and rain and snow. Earthquakes are pretty unknown in Ireland, as we sit well inside the Atlantic plate. Yeah, all that green is nice, but it’s not the kind you can swim in.

Dee’s doglet says hello.

Home

From NASA. Click for bigger, as usual.

“It is easy to see from this true-color image why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. Intense green vegetation, primarily grassland, covers most of the country except for the exposed rock on mountaintops. Ireland owes its greenness to moderate temperatures and moist air. The Atlantic Ocean, particularly the warm currents in the North Atlantic Drift, gives the country a more temperate climate than most others at the same latitude.

Moist ocean air also contributes to abundant rainfall. Ireland receives between 750 and 2000 millimeters (29 and 78 inches) of rain per year, with more rain falling in the west and in the mountains. Most of the rain falls in light showers.

This moist climate means plenty of clouds and fog. According to the Irish Meteorological Service, the sky is entirely cloudy more than 50 percent of the time. There are more clouds during the day than at night, and fog is common.

The cloud-free view shown here is extremely rare. The Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA’s Aqua satellite captured the image on October 11, 2010, a time of year when Irish weather alternates between rainstorms from the west and cool, dry weather brought by high-pressure systems known as anticyclones.

Note to others. We don’t really use the Emerald Isle term here ourselves, that was a tourism/marketing creation in the 1950’s.  You may however be interested to know that Ireland goes by, and has gone by many names, amongst them:

Éireann, Éire, Ériu (antq.), Irish Republic, Irish Free State, Banba (antq), Scotia (antq.), Hibernia (antq. & semi-modern), Irlanda (antq.), Republic Of Ireland, Island of Woods (antq.), Land At The Limit Of The World (antq.), Inis Fail (antq., means Land of Destiny)),  Kathleen Ní Houlihán.

I’m down there toward the bottom right corner. The Mouth of Hell is top right.