Silver and gold in the hillsides of West Cork

ON these dulcet summer evenings, more often than not, sunlight streams down the west-facing bays of West Cork.

Even if the day’s weather has been cloudy, the sky brightens as evening arrives. With my erratic work hours, I don’t have to wait for it; I can go out early or late, so long as I get the work done. But it is hard to stay at it when the sun lights up the fields opposite my workroom. So, I try to get out for a walk then.

Looking west, the bay toward the village is a broad river of silver or golden light, so strong one has to narrow one’s eyes to look at it. The light floods the woodland paths and sets the orange montbretia flowers, now in full bloom, ablaze. The bluebells are gone; the seed capsules that top the stems drying out and dispersing their shiny, almost spherical. black seeds. There are millions of them. Now wonder the woods are carpeted in late spring.

Enchanter’s Nightshade now edges the woodside paths like low-lying mist. The flowers are small and white on thin stems rising from the dark green, deep-veined leaves. Why is it called Enchanter’s Nightshade?

We are familiar with the everyday name Deadly Nightshade for the plant Atropa belladonna. It is lethal indeed, a few of the shiny, black berries can be fatal to a child. It is not uncommon, a tall plant with bell-shaped purple-brown flowers small in proportion to its leaves. The belladonna soubriquet arose from some Italian botanist’s idea that women used a drug extracted from it to dilate their pupils and brighten their eyes. Alternatively, he may have given it the name because it was dark and seductive, like an Italian bella donna.

Enchanter’s nightshade — not in any way deadly — is of the potato family and has associations with magic reaching back to Roman times and the mystical sorceress, Circe. Its Linnaean name is Circaea lutetina. In Latin, this would mean Circe of Paris; the botanist who named it worked in Paris. The Anglo Saxons also connected it with magic. Pretty and innocuous, it is very much a woodland plant.

Surprisingly, some of the giant beeches that came crashing down in the force of the February gales are as verdant where they lie as their companions that were left standing. One can only assume that they are still nurtured by the earth attached to their giant, upended roots. Many are 200 years old. “Never say die!” seems to be the motto. I see trees that have slipped down eroded slopes into the sea still sprouting leaves for a springtime or two afterwards, before eventually succumbing to the salt water and the winter waves. Around the house, new birds are making their uncertain entrances to the real world beyond the nest. Young robins, all in brown, with speckled breasts, are innocent and pretty, with large eyes; they perch quite near. Young magpies are gormless, with fuzzy crowns and heads that are too thin; young blue tits are grey and numerous.

The angling boats return to the pier every evening with Dutch or Dublin fishermen — anglers from everywhere — and mackerel and pollock galore. I’ve often wondered why, during the summer dearth of mackerel, someone doesn’t set up a barbecue on the pier and sell them on biodegradable paper plates. In Moroccan and Asian ports stall after stall sells delicious, freshly barbecued fish of all kinds straight from the boats. I suppose Health and Safety would forbid it here.

Regarding cooking outdoors, The Food Depot, a “gourmet street kitchen” that opens every Sunday in Courtmacsherry and on Thursdays in Clonakilty Technical Park does what it says on the box, a smartly-painted truck with high-tech, stainless-steel interior. The chef, Diana Dodog was this year’s winner of Ireland’s MasterChef 2014 on RTÉ. This week’s menu included grilled salmon or sea bass with Mediterranean risotto and rocket salad, Cajun chicken with couscous, pickles, harisa and lime yoghurt. served on biodegradable plates with wooden forks. All ingredients are, whenever possible, sourced locally and prices average €7 a plate. They also do catering. Diana, a long-term West Corkonian from Hungary, set up the business with her husband, Michael O’Donovan, himself a dab hand with all things culinary. The queue grows longer by the weekend. What a great idea!


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