Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Gearagh Days

Staying in an artist’s retreat outside Macroom for a few days -peace at last: no TV, no computer, plenty of music and reading and the odd canter across the coutryside.

The cottage is across from the Gearagh. This is a strange nature reserve that owes its existence to the flooding of the Lee Valley for the Inniscara hydroelectric scheme back in the Fifties. Many acres of ancient alluvial forest were disgracefully hacked down - this has resulted in the surreal sight of thousands of stumps sticking out of the water like seals' heads. The overall effect seems eerie rather than beautiful. Although about half the original area has been destroyed, the Gearagh still represents the only extensive alluvial woodland in Ireland or Britain - and it's a wonderful place to roam. There are miles of absolutely deserted paths through the reserve where you can get Wordsworthian with nature – and there are many thoughtfully provided benches along the way. An ideal place to murder your spouse - and plenty of watery grave options.

Macroom itself has little to offer the visitor apart from Golden’s (or "Gerard's" as the locals call it) – an Aladin’s cave of an old pub with decent music and an amiable clientele – and Quinlan’s classy design and craft store on the way to Killarney. It’s a market town serving its hinterland and has no interest in tourists – and it shows. The Cork Killarney traffic hurtles through the town making no concessions to pedestrians and one spot in the town centre (Murphy’s Corner) where the road narrows to one and a half lanes is a veritable death trap. There’s also a venerable old Protestant church near the River Sullane that has been left to rot and crumble – its grave stones lying at crazy angles. It differs dramatically from towns like Schull and Kenmare that are designed to grip the tourist buck. And there isn’t a decent restaurant in sight – join the lost souls in the Castle Hotel for shoe leather roast beef or industrial battered fish. Compare and contrast with the variety on offer in Kenmare where we retreated for a suberb meal – served in some style - in Mulcahy’s on the main drag. However, head out of Macroom towards Cork and about 10 miles away you’ll find the Thady Inn - a modest looking establishment that serves the best steaks in the world – and nothing else: no vegetarian option, no fish, no pasta – just steak and chips and onions and a simple salad. Perfection.

Out of town heading towards Coachford we pay a visit to Con Kelleher, art enthusiast (I remember him urging me to buy Kingerlee about 10 years ago), superb photographer, framer, Trad lover and man of very strong views. On the way in we meet Bill Crozier on the way out – still active and alert at 77. He was arranging some framing with Con and was now off with his rather bossy (and much younger) wife to buy oatmeal. Con works on the top floor of a restored mill. The purpose of our visit was to see his art collection – and very impressive it was. A lot of Shinnors going way back, a few McSweeney’s, three Tyrrell’s including a gem on metal and lots more besides.