Having a whale of a time in Courtmac

MINKE whales galore off the Seven Heads, the Old Head of Kinsale and everywhere along the south coast.

“Galore” is, of course, a fine indeterminate colloquial term taken straight from the Irish, but Courtmacsherry Angling boat skippers tell me that they regularly count up to 10 minkes in view at one time. Sometimes, when whales “spout”, they can be seen from land; however, the spouts of minke whales are low and those seen probably belong to the “big” whales, the fins and humpbacks.

Last week, a minke whale, deceased, was mistaken for an upturned boat. Vigilant persons on the shore called the Courtmacsherry Lifeboat. It happened around noon and lifeboat volunteers were alerted on their pagers. Within seconds, the doughty crewmen, putting aside their lunch, sped to the pier. Minutes later, the Fredrick Storey Cockburn, as the lifeboat is called, was on the move, her powerful engines lifting her prow out of the water as she surged down the bay.

The “upturned boat” turned out to be the carcass of a dead minke, probably killed by a large vessel. Adult minkes average about 26ft. (approx 9m) and floating belly-up on the surface, the profile would be very much like that of a capsized craft. The animal, apparently unmarked, soon attracted the attention of anglers fishing for mackerel from small boats.

The Irish Whales and Dolphins website, (www.iwdg.ie) said the first confirmed 2013 sighting of a humpback whale in local waters was made on July 13 by a man called Pio Enright while angling near the Old Head of Kinsale.

Fin whales have also been seen. Shore watchers and ramblers on cliffs and headlands can provide useful records of sightings. Those who would like to gain discovery and identification skills can do so on one of the IWDG’s weekend courses on Cape Clear Island; the cost is €90, which includes a year’s IWDG membership — details on their website.

We had horse racing on the sand in Courtmacsherry village on Sunday, July 14. The tide was far out, the sand was dry and the eye of heaven gleamed on the suntanned arms, legs, bare shoulders and bald heads of the assembled punters. The men wore shorts, and sandals without socks. Farmers kept their caps on. Women wore fashion and plunging necklines, displaying (as indeed did some of the men) sun blest bosoms.

A great time (as they say) was had by all, and the scene was one to gladden the heart with the sun high in the sky and the horses and riders galloping, now into the heat-haze in the middle distance, now returning in a thunder of hooves (yes, yes, I know they were running on sand!) to round the corners in bunches of flying colour and then to string out again on the straights, the blue bay and the green hills behind them.

Evenings come down slowly; bats flit about the yard at twilight and rooks fly home across the reddening sky. The cattle in the field across the stream lie in the long grass, all various colours, some with horns, an exotic breed. We watch them from the balcony; now, the broad, wooden balconies of Ireland, set up in expectation but almost redundant in winter, at last come into their own.

The sycamore overlooking our yard wears elegant clusters of winged seeds, pink and pastel green, shaped like tiny clothes hangers. Sunlight filters through the transparent wings, which flutter and dance with every puff of breeze. They are not noiseless I’m sure, and if I had sharper ears, I’m sure I would hear them rattle.

These helicopter seeds of sycamore, maple, ash and other trees are called samaras, or double samaras. The sycamore stands over the yard which is bounded on another side by beeches, beeches with so many leaves that had I a one cent coin for each, I could pay off all of Ireland’s sovereign debt tomorrow.

What weather we are having! Was there ever a more beautiful place than Ireland when we have such days of unbroken sunshine! We who live by the sea are doubly fortunate — there is often a light breeze — but inland people have their own delights. Driving in Kildare recently, I saw swimmers in the shady River Liffey near Sallins and in a stream in the Wicklow Mountains near Glendalough.

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