- Breaking News
- Today's Paper
- Crime in Ireland
- Text Only
- Family Notices
Monday, July 16, 2012
IN June, I wrote about the Aran islands, and the extraordinary landscapes my wife and I encountered there.
Now, we are visiting Italian and French islands.
We haven’t yet reached the latter but will take the regular ferry from the small, somewhat tourisised town of Santa Teresa di Gallura in Sardinia, to Bonifacio in Corsica, which comprises two departments of France.
Some Sardinian landscapes are not unlike those of Inis Mór as seen on those sweltering days of late May. In Inis Mór it was grey limestone between patches of green; here it is grey granite, often weathered into extraordinary shapes.
Last week, we visited two small islands off Sardinia’s northern coast, Isola La Maddalena and Isola Caprera, Garibaldi’s island — the name translates as Goat Island, but Garibaldi, champion of the unification of Italy, agrarian reform and the emancipation of women, set up a commune there where he and his extended family could be self-supporting on the land he bought in 1856.
Caprera is now a national park, very rugged and unspoiled. The Garabaldi’s farm buildings house a museum exhibiting the hero’s memorabilia. His grave and those of his children are nearby and there is a cove named for him, a pristine beach uncrowded even at this time of year. In August, Sardinia is overrun by vacationers and every accessible beach is packed with sun-worshippers, the sea crowded with swimmers.
We were drawn to Sardinia by an old friend’s invitation, and an air fare of €125 each, return; we were encouraged to travel by the diabolical weather at home. The trip offers the opportunity of seeing two island cultures, Italian and then French, for little more than the price of one. We had never been on either Sardinia or Corsica, and I had always, since boyhood, wanted to visit these mountainous redoubts of brigands and bandits set in the blue Mediterranean Sea.
Wildlife is plentiful in the remote mountains in the interior, black and bearded vultures tour the skies and one may see, through binoculars, the mouflon, wild mountain sheep. So far, I have seen only flocks of grey crows and big, shiny ravens: I can see both species from my domestic windows at home in west Cork. A beautiful little lizard, with striking yellow and black markings and a brilliant, emerald green tail roosts on the doorstep and gorgeous Cleopatra butterflies, pale or dark lemon-coloured, skim over the bougainvellea. We occasionally have Brimstone butterflies at home, somewhat similar.
One evening we enjoyed the rare treat of watching both cinema and wildlife simultaneously. The Artist, a much-acclaimed, black-and-white ‘silent’ film, made in the old style, was showing locally. No knowledge of Italian was required to enjoy it. Entering the cinema we were amazed to find ourselves in a roofless space, like a huge handball alley, with draperies of creeper falling down the side walls and the screen at the business end. Bats flitted and spiralled overhead against the cobalt sky and as the movie began and the night grew darker, they would sometimes pass through the light of the projector and flash across the screen.
It is strange to wake up to blue skies each morning. The days are very hot, over 30 degrees, but there is a breeze and one can stroll in the shade of the umbrella pines which climb the hills in groves until naked rock, burning to the touch, takes over. And, there is the sea. Snorkelling in waist high water, one can count a dozen fish varieties, along with sea cucumbers and sea slugs.
The rocks support mossy algaes and small plants with heads like tiny satellite dishes, supported on thread-thin stems.
At the seaside in Ireland, a few days before leaving home, I took two groups of 30 young people from the Ballinhassig Summer School, boys and girls, aged 6 to 12, on a seashore exploration at Garretstown Strand not far from the Old Head of Kinsale.
Their enthusiasm was impressive. Rain bucketed down at times but they swarmed over the rocks undeterred and seemed to know much of what I could tell them — the names of creatures we found, the importance of not disturbing the habitat of the rock pools, of replacing stones as one found them, and so on.
The volunteers who marshalled the groups !were as dedicated to the venture as the children themselves. We all enjoyed ourselves immensely, despite the rain.
© Irish Examiner Ltd, City Quarter, Lapps Quay, Cork. Registered in Ireland: 523712.