WEST Cork is an interesting place. For decades, from the 1970’s onward many non-Irish natives have relocated there. Germans, Dutch, French and English settlers, among others, have helped breathe life into rundown old houses and villages, promoting new and alternative farming practices and food production methods. West Cork, and Cork in general, now celebrates a vibrant and exciting food culture, at least partly inspired by this culinary renaissance.
For us, however, the reasons we were able to come and live on Cape Clear were much more simple.
Firstly the island – known to the locals as Cape, or Oileán Chléire in Irish – had a primary school and available accommodation. Without this we would not have even begun to discuss the possibility of moving here.
There are no other islands anywhere else in West Cork that now have this combination, and not many left around the rest of Ireland, either. A school was open on the neighbouring Sherkin when we moved, but sadly that recently closed.
The quality of the education provided in island schools is generally excellent. Large numbers of island-schooled pupils from Cape have gone onto third level education, fortified and inspired by their unique formative years of education in Irish, with excellent pupil to teacher ratios. For our children, once they got over the surprise of the whole curriculum taught as Gaeilge (through Irish), they loved their first year in school. They also enjoyed going from 30-plus children in their class in Dublin, to thirteen in the entire school! Despite excellent teachers in their Dublin schools, classes were often a question of crowd control with so many to deal with.
Our first challenge was finding accommodation. The excellent island Co-op manages several properties on the island, primarily to accommodate the Irish teachers for the summer Irish colleges, such a formative part of so many people’s teenage school years.
Fortunately, during the rest of the year, these properties are free to rent. This was a key stepping stone for us. Like many other Irish islands and coastal areas, Cape suffers from a surfeit of holiday-only homes, sitting vacant the rest of the year. Landlords prefer to rent only during summer months, and often still consider themselves the main residents, albeit ones that have not been there in a while. Unfortunately this does mean a very low occupancy rate, relative to the number of occupiable houses on the island.
The recently opened Ludgate hub in Skibbereen, with lightning fast connectivity, and hot desk working options, also offers great potential for IT workers and other non location-specific businesses.
However, neither the food, nor high speed broadband connections were the reason we finally moved our entire family to the most southerly inhabited point of Ireland – Cape Clear island.
After securing a home on the island, the next challenge was to find a way to make a living. These days, it is becoming more and more possible to earn money working for clients that you may not ever meet. We also knew we would have to be pragmatic about taking whatever work we could find. Fortunately, as a freelance writer and photographer, there is a boom in demand for good content both online and offline.
This includes writing articles, providing ghost-written content, managing Twitter accounts, and my personal favourite – taking pictures and videos to capture the local beauty of the area to help promote it.
For many visitors to the island who discover we live here, one of the most common questions (after ‘why did you come?’) is ‘what is the broadband like?’
There are areas of the island where there is little to no mobile coverage. However, at our home, we are so lucky that our mobiles do work (mostly!) and the broadband coverage is good enough to write, edit, upload pictures and edit videos for the most part. It could be faster and it’s nothing like as quick as what they may have in the Ludgate.
But if you don’t want to be constantly streaming movies on Netflix, then it’s fine.
When it comes to answering their first question – there’s the famous scenery. But we’ve also discovered the great sense of security over here. The island children and their families quickly accepted us and as we were completely welcomed into the community.
There is more freedom to try things out and a sense that if you’re willing to be here for more than just the picturesque summer period, then you’re very welcome.
We’ve also been fortunate this summer to see whales, dolphins, basking sharks, otters and seals on a regular basis, as well as the bird life that Cape is famed for.
Looking out of my window as I write this article, I can see the sea on both sides of me. Need I say more?