Further down, at The Square, Main Street becomes Bridge Street and the businesses are mainly small shops. To walk down Bridge Street is to take a trip down memory lane. Most West Cork towns still have a few ‘cottage’ businesses; nowhere are there so many as in Skibb. Happily, some of the shop fronts have changed little and add a charm to the town.
At a pub on a corner called Baby Hanna’s, we turn sharp left. The Cutting — the name describes the topography — is a sort of Hanging Gardens of Skibbereen, a chasm almost Amazonian in ambience, green, wet, glistening and exotic. A dozen varieties of wild fern and succulents root on the rock walls, down which small freshets flow.
Emerging from this man-made gorge, we keep left and soon reach the main Skibb-Baltimore R595 road. Here, we turn right and, after a few hundred yards, turn right again up a steep road signposted “Marguerite’s B&B”. This quiet byway, weaving uphill, is part of The Compass Ring, a time-honoured Skibbereen promenade. Topping the slope, we descend to the Ilen valley.
At the river, we turn right, along its bank. Skibbereen is said to have been founded by English settlers who moved inland, up the river from Baltimore, after Algerian pirates carried off 110 of their number in a raid in 1631.
Crossing the New Bridge, and the main N71 road to Ballydehob, we head up the lane opposite, but divert west after a few hundred yards into the graveyard and ruined church of Abbeystrowry. The terrible tragedy that befell Skibbereen in the1840s is here evidenced in the Famine Graves. Skibbereen suffered devastation in The Great Hunger; the population halved; and the streets were crowded with the dying destitute from all over West Cork. Meanwhile, grain, vegetables and other produce continued to arrive in the town from inland to be exported to Britain and America.
Trevelyan, of the British Treasury, decreed that this food should not be made available free for the dying Irish. Just as in the case of Third World handouts today, the maintenance of ‘market forces’ was paramount and took precedence over the sustenance of life.
There, in the Abbey graveyard, is a plot where some 9,000 famine dead were buried, sawdust scattered over them for want of coffins. They are poignantly commemorated in poetry and prose engraved on five limestone slabs — “Oh, God, that bread should be so dear, and human flesh so cheap!”. Of Abbeystrowry church itself, little remains.
We now retrace our steps to the junction above the bridge and turn left, uphill.
Below, to the right, the Ilen winds out of Skibb, golden between dark banks when the sun is from the west.
The town is laid out ahead, the cathedral dwarfing the buildings all around.
At the T-junction, we turn right. We are now on the ‘high’ road arriving in Skibbereen from Turkhead, and reach the low ground at the speed-limit sign at the edge of town. We go right at the next T-junction, and cross the Ilen via Kennedy Bridge.
After turning, we the corner, left, at another T-junction we take the left pavement of Bridge Street and, then, Main Street to reach our trailhead.
Start point: Skibbereen is 83km west of Cork City. Approaching from Bantry, take the N71 south, distance about 28km., crossing the Ilen River and passing the West Cork and Eldon hotels. Our trailhead is the Maid of Eireann statue, outside the Town Hall.
Distance/ time: 6km/2hrs.
Easy, mostly following a traditional Skibbereen walk, “The Compass Ring”. Two short climbs.
Map: OS Sheet 89
For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
Apr 13: Caher/Carrauntoohil, following the Hydro road, A, 6-7hrs, meet Ash Tree bar, Old Chapel, 8am.
Apr 11: Marlay Park walk, moderate, 2.5hrs, meet at main gate, 11.30am.
Apr 12: Sally Gap walk, moderate, meet Sydenham Villas, off Kilmacud Road Upper, 10am.
Apr 12: Maulin, moderate, meet Sydenham Villas, off Kilmacud Road Upper, 12 noon.
Apr 13: Church Mountain, moderate, meet Sydenham Villas, off Kilmacud Road Upper, 10am.
A weekend of walking with three walks on each day, of varying difficulties and lengths. See millstreet.ie for further details.
(galwaywalkingclub.wordpress.com) Apr 13: Short walk, Moycullen — Ballynahallia Area, meet St Oliver Plunkett Church, Renmore, 1.15pm for departure at 1.30pm.
Apr 13: Ben Choona, A and B options, meet Omniplex, Headford Rd, 9.15am.