With pandemic anxiety resulting in many people making enquiries about moving permanently out of cities, New Yorker Bill Hoffmann explains why our little corner of the world continues to woo him.
I love the warm and welcoming lines on the Ballydehob.ie website.
‘Béal Átha an Dá Chab is your gateway to the Mizen Peninsula. Rural charms, rich heritage, and rustic beauty complimented by a small yet diverse population, eclectic music and festival culture, and abundant artistic community. Nestled on Roaringwater Bay along the Wild Atlantic Way. Ballydehob – Find Yourself Here!’
Man, oh, man, how I wish I could!
Because I truly feel lost without Ballydehob, and all of West Cork for that matter. I, like thousands of others of Americans captivated by Ireland’s south west coast and her abundance of beauty and charm, are in limbo.
Like in most of the world, the coronavirus pandemic has made us prisoners in our own homes, unable to travel much further than the local market or chemist.
In my hometown of New York City, I’m minutes from two international airports that fly to Shannon, but powerless to use either because of the strong health warnings against travel, the greatly-reduced flight schedule and the mandatory (and wise) 14-day quarantine on arrival.
The bottom line: I can’t get to the place I love so deeply, and I’m heartbroken.
What is so special about Ballydehob, the Mizen, the Wild Atlantic Way? As a journalist, I make my living with words, but putting together the right ones to explain it without sounding like a cliché is tough.
The Mizen is like a powerful narcotic — experience it once and you are hooked. But the addiction is a healthy one, revitalising and restorative. Its beauty is so panoramic, so endless, it doesn’t seem real.
My love affair with Ireland began in 1978. Fresh out of college, I hopped on a Freddie Laker jet to London, backpacked around England and Wales, and ferried to Rosslare, where I hitched to Cork city and west to the Mizen.
I had no itinerary, but when I was randomly dropped off in Bantry, the sight of Bantry Bay blew me away, and over pints of Beamish at Ma Murphy’s — ‘Drink local!’ I was urged — the locals convinced me to stay put and explore the Mizen and I did just that.
I became obsessed with West Cork, but with my career taking off Stateside, that’s all it could be, an obsession. I finally returned in 1996 and bought a lovely old farmhouse with a stunning view of Mount Gabriel. I began coming every year, with Julia and Nell Levis greeting me with ‘Welcome home!’ when I walked into their sweet pub.
Even when work or family prevented me from coming over, just thinking about Ballydehob was a spiritual boost, kind of like free psychotherapy.
The coronavirus has made all of us realise how precious, how fleeting, life can be.
Just as your pubs, restaurants and summer tourism are in a desperate struggle to survive, New York City is mired in crisis. Countless businesses have failed and residents are fleeing to the suburbs for cheaper, roomier housing.
My West Cork friends, you are blessed to be living in a little slice of heaven — and I’m sorry that I can’t be sharing it with you right now.
The other day, I thought about Steve Redmond, the great Ballydehob distance swimmer who has never met a body of water he won’t cross. I thought, boy, if I could just borrow his aquatic stamina, I’d hop into the drink and try to breast stroke it over!
Seriously, I look forward to the day my partner Bernadette, a New York-born Irish girl, and I can toast our friends and neighbours at Rosie’s, The Irish Whip and Levis Corner House, where the spirits of Nell and Julia loom large, then order a pizza at Antonio’s or the Duggan family’s brilliant takeaway chips.
The next day it’ll be off to Barleycove beach for a dip in the brisk Atlantic, followed by a bowl of chowder at O’Sullivan’s in Crookhaven.
Maybe I can’t be there now, but I sure can dream.
See you soon, West Cork!