Thursday, 29 September 2016

Island 354 - Cape Clear, County Cork

Cape Clear or Oilean Chleire in Irish, is Ireland's most south westerly island.  The north east tip of the island is located 4 miles to the south west of Baltimore with Sherkin Island in between the two points. In 1841, shortly before the Great Famine of 1845-49, Cape Clear had a population of 1052.  This dropped to 601 by 1901 and 124 in 2011.

A ferry runs from Baltimore to Cape Clear 4 times a day in the summer months and twice a day in the winter months.

Cape Clear didn't live up to its name on the day I visited, well not after the first hour.  As we arrived the cloud was covering the top of the island but everything below about 120 metres was visible.  However the fog soon descended almost to sea level. 

There is a Tourist Information Office/Craft Shop at North Harbour and the lady staffing it gave me a useful leaflet with a map of the island.  There is also a public library, Sean Rua's Restaurant and Cotter's Bar at North Harbour.  Cotter's Bar was closed when I visited but Sean Rua's Restaurant, which also has a small grocery shop in it, was open. The man in charge on the day I visited was very friendly, despite my attempts to break his self-service coffee machine and we had a chat about geocaching.  There is a social club called Club Cleire, which I think is located on the floor above Sean Rua's Restaurant.

There is a Heritage Centre in the centre of the island but it is only open June to August, so I was unable to visit it, as it was the beginning of September when I visited.  There is a Goat Farm, which is open to the public near the Heritage Centre, which sells goats' milk ice cream and cheese.   I did visit the public library, which is very small.  The member of staff was too busy having a chat to someone to say hello but I did find a book about wildflowers and so was able to identify a plant I had seen on this and several other nearby islands but didn't know the name of.  It turned out to be goldenrod.  I would have stayed longer in the library, as I had done enough walking for the day and the ferry wasn't due for over an hour, but there were only 2 or 3 seats in the library and they were all occupied.

North Harbour is also the location for the Holy Well of St Ciaran, a grotto, a ruined chapel and adjoining graveyard. St Ciaran is the patron saint of the island and he is said to have been born on the island in the 4th-6th centuries AD. He heard about Christianity from visiting fisherman, converted and lived the life of a hermit before eventually visiting Rome.  On his return he met St Patrick and founded an abbey at Birr in County Offaly.

A lighthouse was built on the cliff top to the east of South Harbour in 1818. However its cliff top location meant that it was often obscured by cloud.  Following the sinking of a ship called the Stephen Whitney on a day in 1847 when cloud obscured Cape Clear Lighthouse, a cast iron lighthouse was built on the Fastnet Rock, which is located about 4.5 miles to the south west of Cape Clear, in 1854.  The lighthouse on Cape Clear was then decommissioned and at some point since then the top floor was removed.  I didn't walk up to look at it, as I wouldn't have been able to see it in the fog.  A plaque, which used to be on the lighthouse, is now located on a wall by the roadside on the way down to North Harbour.  I did come across this.  The lighthouse on Fastnet Rock was replaced with a sturdier stone lighthouse 1899-1904.

There are a couple of waymarked trails around parts of the island. I did the Glen Walk, which is so well waymarked that it would be impossible to lose your way, even in the thick fog.  Sadly I couldn't see the wonderful views of the cliffs and the sea due to the fog.

There are a number of self-catering properties on the island and a Youth Hostel in the old coastguard station at South Harbour.

The one thing I wasn't expecting to find on Cape Clear was a memorial to one of my distant relatives: William Le Fevre.  He died in the 1979 Fastnet Yacht Race Disaster when Ariadne, the yacht he was sailing on got into difficulties.  Cape Clear is the island closest to the Fastnet Rock and so is an appropriate place for the memorial.

A Storytelling Festival is held on Cape Clear each year the first weekend of September.  The island also has an Irish language college.

Cape Clear is an Irish speaking island

1979 Fastnet Yacht Race Memorial
Public Library
Old Chapel and Memorial
I don't know what the plaque commemorates, as the writing is entirely in Irish
Harbour from the Old Chapel
Grotto - Bernadette gazes up at the Virgin Mary
It is a replica of the grotto at Lourdes in France
Pillar Stone in front of the Grotto
It is inscribed with several crosses
Loch Ioral
Signpost giving distances to places around the world
Youth Hostel at South Harbour
South Harbour
Glen Walk
Grey dry stone wall covered in white lichen

Old Pump
Jetty at the north east end of the island
Heritage Centre on a foggy day - closed
Plaque commemorating the Cape Clear and Fastnet Lighthouses
Cotter's Bar - closed
 Murals outside Club Cleire

Holy well of St Ciaran at North Harbour
Club Cleire & Sean Rua's Restaurant, North Harbour
Stone Mermaid at North Harbour
Ferry at Cape Clear

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