Life

A great West Cork day out | Sherkin Island

September 14th, 2022 8:30 AM

By Elaine Desmond

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Catch a ferry across Baltimore Harbour to a great West Cork day out. This island is away from it all though only a short way away. Take your walking shoes, swimsuit, easel, camera, sketchbook, picnic basket, rent-a-bike, kayak, bring a book — plenty of island activity or simply saunter and sit at each perfect Sherkin vista. This island is a poem to itself.

The ferry thrums away from Baltimore village, eyes roam over trawlers and yachts. The street and hill recedes, houses around the Cove pass with a Malibu-style glint and the Castle loses its dominance with distance. Across the harbour a great West Cork day out awaits.

Heads begin to turn away from Baltimore, the stone Beacon casts its stark white shape closer. We pass the blue-green steel Loo Bouy marking rocks and the shape of Sherkin becomes itself.

We are away. The mainland lets go.

We turn ourselves towards our destination, compassed to a different magnetic point. Island.

The Baltimore Beacon, with Sherkin Island in the background.

 

As we thrum closer Sherkin Abbey holds our gaze. On arrival we spill on to the pier, large labels flutter from the railings like mini Buddhist prayer flags —  haiku poems (3 lines, 17 syllables) by the Sherkin Island haiku group. We are in a special place.

A short uphill curve leads to the full ta daaaa of the Abbey ruins.

Built in the 1460s, a Franciscan friary for much of its life and a pilchard palace by the 1700s. It still houses the island graveyard.

The Abbey is the main man-made wonder of Sherkin, all others are the island itself. Prepare the abbey whispers, prepare for what’s around the corner. A swallow zips out from the ruins.

The island deserves to be walked and explored at leisure, however if you have less time or prefer a speedier motion, bikes are available for rent at Seán’s Shop just beyond the Abbey.

Information boards detail the walking trails around the island. Here too you can read about the battle of the wine barrels and the fabulous tale of the Fearless Frogman, Paul Boyton.

Haiku hang from wire fences.

Mainistir Inis Arcáin, the Sherkin Abbey.

 

The yellow walking trail (3km return) is the first right turn after the Abbey, pass (if you can) the Jolly Roger pub with the full sliver of Baltimore Harbour unfurling over your right shoulder.For nature and wild flower enthusiasts Sherkin Island provides a great West Cork day out.

Purple loosestrife and pink willow herb splash out from ditches vying with orange montbretia for colour-me-beautiful chaos.

Hedge bindweed, hemp agrimony, meadowsweet, water mint, cow vetch, knapweed and yarrow all dazzle this roadside.

Grasshoppers click from the undergrowth, Carmen Miranda-like.

Haiku hang from furze.

There’s a Ukrainian sky backdrop to this shimmery hot hay-cut day — yellow ragwort blazes against blue splashed skies in homage to the Ukrainian flag.

You expect to see people sitting by haycocks drinking Heaney’s “milk in a bottle corked sloppily with paper.”

The road ends at Dock Pier with bull thistle framing views of Sandy Island and dollops of rocks.

Return to the crossroads by Seán’s Shop and take the Horseshoe Loop away from the main road.

This is probably Ireland’s most perfect short loop trek, it is ludicrously beautiful. Clamber over the gate ahead of you overlooking Horseshoe Harbour.

Follow the brown-earthen path to your left through a head-height arch of ferns — for a few wonderful metres you are green-bound.

Children will transport themselves much further afield.

The old Sherkin lighthouse.

 

Climb the short hill to reach Sherkin’s redundant lighthouse perched directly across from Baltimore’s Beacon.

Inheriting the task from his father, islander Mark O’Neill was the last keeper of the light here and in May his own light quenched.

Before returning to the path by the gate, stop, choose a patch of grass above the water. The only sounds are birdsong, tide slurping off rocks and the odd gnaw of an outboard motor passing.

There is a mighty peacefulness here, an ash scattering location. Nothing else stirs, until in the middle of the harbour a seal curves the water.

Continue on the Horseshoe Loop which connects with the main road (red trail 5km return) turning left towards the main beaches, turning right will take you back to the Abbey, Jo Ashby’s studio and  the community centre.

Haiku hang from trees.

The old schoolhouse on Sherkin Island.

 

The red trail becomes a shady lane, trees arching overhead create filigree shadows on the road. Sean O’Neill’s gallery is a branch away. His paintings are pure light and blended light lightly, all alive-alight-o.

Besides Ashby and O’Neill there’s Majella O’Neill Collins, John Simpson, Mona O’Driscoll, Robbie Murphy, Bernadette Burns, Nigel Towse, Tina Reed, Terry Farnell and more, many more artists. Each one captures something extra special. Light hangs over ditches bounces off greens and ocean into their art making Sherkin a natural location for the island based B.A. in Visual Arts.

The red trail forks, a hefty decision faces swimmers...which beach to stroke your stuff?

Come early enough and you could include all main three — Cow, Silver and Trá Bán.

The latter, less-visited lies towards the end of the left fork which also leads past St. Mona’s church.

A plaque on a telegraph pole advertises the speed limit —  25 km per hour.

Haiku hang from gates.

Even though the morning ferry was extremely busy and it is summer season, somehow everybody disperses and nowhere is busy.

There are about 30 people on Silver, less than 20 on Cow and almost 10 on Trá Bán.

A nearby van selling natural ice cream seals the Cow choice.

At high tide the inlet enclosed by two small rocky hillsides and a sandy landfall is an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Slosh after slosh of wave swells us well to shore, Cape Clear shimmers ahead in a haze of heat.

The road stops just beyond Cow and Silver strands at Café Bruno.

Over your cafetière steams another impossibly perfect view. The west side of Heir Island overlooks a glittery sea with lucky boats sliding between isles.

You can easily join them  —  the base for H2O kayak tours is located beside Café Bruno, half day, bespoke tours or three day safaris are available.

Return along the red trail back towards the main pier. This time do not bypass the Jolly Roger, you deserve more than a while in the island’s only pub and what a pub.

The view from one of the walks around the island.

 

Food, drink, books, boardgames and salty tales will cap this great West Cork day out. You will want to linger until the ferry requires a run-for-it, but the possibility of a longer stay shines from the bar counter.

Tickets are for sale here with a wonderful array of West Cork island prizes . . . including Sherkin holidays.

On the downhill curve to the pier a late foxglove perks out from a ditch, one of its pink thimbles dropped on the road like a teardrop. Yes, we are sad to leave this extra special place but will return again and again.

A haiku hangs from a car hitch.

Sherkin Island will resound in memory like a tuning fork imprinted with how good things can be.

The good life is a short ferry ride away. Take the thrum.

“The ferry’s engine thrum this life this life this life” - Andrew Greig

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