We spent our first few days in Castletownshend getting back into the work and homeschool routine and learning the area. We’re now pretty familiar with Skibbereen and its surrounding rural roads, and we’ve learned a lot about this corner of Ireland and its history. When Saturday rolled around we decided to go a bit outside our locale and head for the southernmost tip of the country, known as Mizen Head. It was recommended by Mary, the owner of Lill McCarthy’s pub, and two fun guys we’d met there on Friday night, Paddy and Moritz. We really had no idea what to expect other than it had something to do with a lighthouse.
Mizen Head was a little over an hour away on hilly rural roads lined with thick hedgerows and green cow pastures. Ireland’s roads make for some very scenic, relaxing drives, although Brian and I have a periodic difference of opinion on the most appropriate speed required for traveling them. (It’s a speed limit, not a speed minimum, honey.) We pulled up into Mizen Head Visitor Center parking lot with its beautiful view of the coastline and went into the Mizen Cafe for a really good lunch of fish n’ chips and seafood chowder.
After lunch, we followed the path out past the visitor center and onto the peninsula. We crossed the Mizen pedestrian bridge, originally built in 1905 to allow men working in the lighthouse easy access over the rocks and crashing waves. The lighthouse was one of Marconi’s first telegraph stations and is now home to historical displays on sea safety and coastal wildlife. While it’s certainly educational, Mizen Head is also downright gorgeous.
After leaving Mizen Head, we stopped at Barleycove Beach, a beautiful area of sand dunes and sea grass. It served as a stark contrast to the massive rocky cliffs we’d just seen. Our time there actually did start off a little rocky (pun intended) when Liv fell down on the walk out to the beach and landed her knee in a big pile of dog poop. After a brief period of freaking out, she eventually shook it off, rolled up the offending pant leg so she didn’t have see or smell it, and was soon looking for shells and running through the water.
After getting home and having dinner, we figured we could pack one more thing into this very full day. Our new friends Paddy and Moritz from the pub had suggested we see the bioluminescence in Lough Hyne, a nearby coastal lake fed daily by the ocean tides. With a recent new moon, this was apparently the time to go since the dark sky would make viewing the glowing plankton easier.
As a side note here, the Irish have a saying they put with information as a little disclaimer. It goes something like “Now, I did hear it from a guy in a pub.” It’s kind of their way of saying “Okay, so this may or may not be true but….” Needless to say, we didn’t know what to expect from the whole bioluminescence thing and our information about it had literally come “from a guy in a pub.” We figured there was a chance we’d drag the kids out on this late night escapade and it would be a bust, but we had to give it a try. And we are so glad we did.
It was nothing short of amazing. It’s impossible to capture photos of it, but if you haven’t seen the “glowing ocean” found in many places around the world trust me when I say it’s like watching Fantasia in real life. We walked through puddles and left trails of glowing wake. The girls threw pebbles into the water and the splashes looked like miniature fireworks. We put our hands in and when we pulled them out they sparkled blue. (Yes, that meant our hands were covered with microscopic organisms but we didn’t care.) It was an awesome experience and one we will never forget.
So that was our first Saturday in West Cork. It was definitely a fun one. Even a poop-covered knee couldn’t put a damper on this great day.