Tuesday, June 24th, 2008
With about 300 people living here, Baltimore is not a huge place. But it is stunningly beautiful, fun and friendly. First of all there are pictures of the Schooner Pride of Baltimore everywhere. Not just in the pubs but on peoples houses and worked in iron on their garden fences. But I get ahead of myself.
Once ashore the Harbour Master looked after all our formalities with cheery dispatch and soon we got the crew of the free watch off at their first port of call after weeks at sea. With a passing front on top of us rain was coming down in steady streams and so it seems that they found the pub. This is Bushes Public house. Plenty pictures of the Schooner Pride and they all know her good Captain. We stood in good stead calling him a friend. The tourist info brochures all refer to the Pride of Baltimore as if she were their own, perhaps she is.
Soon we were meeting folks left and right all very keen to welcome us. And there is lots to see; the 1215 castle of the O’Driscoll clan overlooking the harbour. The current Chieftain of the O’Driscolls is a Canadian. Not really clear on what a clan chieftain does these days but it is a title of some distinction. A gathering of the clan from all over the world is under way next weekend here. A village center with two pubs and two restaurants right there at the top of the harbour where all seem to congregate in the afternoons.
In the late afternoon, drizzle and clouds vanished almost in an instant. One moment all was drab muted shades of grey and the next the sun burst forth and we quickly saw why Ireland is called the “Emerald Isle”. The rolling hills are simply emerald, not just green but dazzling emerald green. Framed by a high sky of rich blue with swirling white confectionary clouds; we were just amazed by the sight. Now the poking about must begin. A few clean, friendly free range dogs working the crowd and plenty of free range children too, pretty nice to see life unfettered. Now, what to do here in Baltimore?
Well, first just walk about the village – perched on the slope and top of a round hill and sloping into warm pleasant coves by the shore of this almost completely enclosed circular bay. One and two story houses from another age all cheek by jowl. Lots of small cozy looking cottages built of stone. On the edges of the village fields and paddocks soon appear with pretty gardens everywhere and a play ground for kids that looks like lots of fun with a jungle-gym in the shape of a sailing ship.
Then, walk out to the beacon at the entrance to the bay; a large white washed tower built of brick standing upon cliffs high, high above the narrow entrance to Baltimore Bay with stunning views every few paces. Looks a lot like Pitcairn Island out there with high jagged rock cliffs sloping steeply down to seas crashing on the rocks below.
Take the ferry over the one mile across the bay to Innisherkin, or Sherkin Island, and see the ruined abbey destroyed in a raid by some cranky rivals from Waterford in 1537, it seems that the lads from Baltimore made off with some of their wine at some point which annoyed the lads from Waterford so they rolled around and burned the place down. It turns out that the folks in Waterford still have the bell from the abbey. Some folks are still a bit sore about this, occasional talk of making a raid on Waterford in order to retrieve the old gong.
Visit the Baltimore Lifeboat Boat house and meet the gang which puts out to sea when every one else is trying to get in – 218 lives saved so far since 1916 and plenty of “assists” including one for the Picton Castle in 1954.
Check out the palm trees. Yup, regular palm trees grow right here in south-west Ireland. The water temperature here is ten degrees higher than off Nova Scotia. The Gulf Stream, though much diffused, warms these rocky shores and verdant fields. The last time it snowed was 15 years ago.
Then get together with your guitar, fiddle, recorder, drum or penny whistle and lend a hand crafting some home made music in a session at the Algiers Inn or Bushes on the Square.
If you have the time, take a stay in a lovely B&B (like Fastnet House with hosts Ronnie and Sandra), built of stone two or three hundred years ago and have yourself a big Irish fry up breakfast in the morning.
Take a bus over to Skibbereen and check out the big city of 2,000.
But what ever you do, do it slowly and relax.