West Cork laden with brilliant snow is a thing of glory

The beauty of west Cork under snow is a rare and lovely sight, writes Damien Enright

I listened to the RTÉ nine o’clock news this morning, February 28, and wished I was in Ireland. Yes, I can imagine my readers thinking I’d finally blown a head gasket, here I am, on a sub-tropical island and wanting to be at home in the cold, cold snow.

The beauty of west Cork under snow is a rare and lovely sight, its hills, dales and copses all mantled in a soft, white gown, the landscape to the horizon an unbroken plain meeting the white sky and, in nearer view, white fields spilling headlong down to a broken, gunmetal sea.

(Wife’s comment upon eyeing that paragraph: “Now, they’ll definitely think you’ve lost it!” But I’ll go on; they’re my ‘Home thoughts from abroad’, as Browning’s poem put it . . .)

At home, in the early morning, after a recent fall has covered the tracks of the dawn commuters, all village sound is absent and no movement is to be seen the length of the single street. Not a soul abroad, not a footprint on the pavement — a world which has always been as it is now. The houses stand in a neat row facing the bay, snow fattening the window sills, snow thickening the roofs. If the tide is out, the bay may be reduced to one channel, a river of cobalt meandering across a vast, salt-white plain.

If the sun breaks though, the plain will sparkle, and the colours of the birds, roosting, preening and sleeping head-under-wing along the river banks, will never be more vivid or sharper, chestnut and red, yellow, iridescent blue and green. When the tide is full in, mist may hang over the water beyond the white gardens opposite the houses. Perhaps it’s because the sea is warmer than the air.

The Beacon, Baltimore, West Cork looks very picturesque after a snowfall. Picture: Youen Jacob/Provision

Courtmacsherry is a quiet village at any time, and for much of the year, there’s not a soul in the street with its one shop, community-owned, its two teashops, two restaurants, three pubs, and hotel. There are always sounds, though; a boat straining at its moorings, the clink of a steel cable against a steel yacht mast at the pier, a dog barking. In this weather, it’s mute. With the snow, it’s magic.

Meanwhile, here, on La Gomera, I am marooned on a lava rock with no ferries or planes to anywhere. Even the big ferries to Tenerife can’t put to sea, so violent are the storms, one following the other. The waves are spectacular. I pity the short-stay holidaymakers. On some days, the weather is so wild — and cold, and wet — that there’s little they can do but sit in a bar-restaurant, or huddle in towels and plastic sheets on the shore and watch the waves take all the beach sand away. Three days ago, the strand was fifty metres wide; now, the waves have stripped it down to black stones, rolling up and down the surf line with each new assault of white water.

Extreme weather here, too.

Forecasters say clouds and storms until Sunday, but now, in the garden outside the cabin in which I write, banks of flowers climbing taller than the nearby house, bask flamboyant in the sun. Plains tiger butterflies, hummingbird hawkmoths and chiffchaffs swoop, hover and flit over them. For the sake of all Gomera visitors, and especially the Irish who’ve recently arrived in groups, I hope it lasts. I should, myself, go out and grab a dose of sunlight while it’s there.

Yesterday evening , we had a Barbary partridge for dinner – road kill. Actually, not for dinner, but for starters, one partridge between four, a pick each, and spaghetti to follow.

It was a plump little bird, slightly bigger than a wood pigeon and heavier of breast (which was tender, although the legs were chewy – they do a lot of running). Hardly worthwhile, they were eaten by the dog. My father used to shoot wood pigeons with an ancient, non-automatic Mauser rifle and, to save the trouble of plucking them, simply take the skin, with feathers attached, off the small, bun-like meats on either side of the breastbone, and grill these to eat on toast.

The little partridge was a creature of beauty. We quite often see them here on the high plateau above the valleys, not in the forests but in the scrubby, rocky land on the forest edges, a parade of partridges.

It was my son and his wife who came across this dead bird, still warm and stirring slightly, as they were driving across the island. It would have been a shame to leave it for the ravens or buzzards; there are no foxes or other animal predators here.

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