Friday, October 14, 2011

Bantry and Baltimore

The drive, last Saturday, from The Burren, County Clare, to Coomhola near Bantry, West Cork, was largely through mist and cloud, the base of which was, as often as not, at or near ground level; consequently, although I knew I was driving through some of Europe’s finest scenery, I saw very little of it.  These madid conditions which, I understand, are typical here throughout the year, persisted until late on Wednesday afternoon when a low westering sun cleared the obscuring mist and cloud to reveal and illuminate views of awe-inspiring beauty.

Although a pretty enough small port at the head of the bay that takes the town’s name, I did not find much to inspire interest at Bantry but, in mitigation of it, few places are, when visited on gloomy, drizzly days, at their most inspiring.

On another day, under slightly better conditions, I explored the peninsular that stretches west of Baltimore, a village a little to the south of my temporary home here at Coomhola, into the Atlantic at Mizzen Head.  The peninsular is a delightful succession of sandy bays between rocky, weed-draped headlands and and pretty polychrome villages.

Unlike its American namesake, Baltimore in West Cork is yet but a small village, an ancient anchorage that has expanded around an attractive fishing-boat harbour overlooked by a Norman castle.  For me Baltimore will remain, above all else, memorable for the crab sandwich I enjoyed at Bushe’s Pub above the harbour.

Baltimore; site of the Barbary Pirate raid 
Baltimore got onto my itinerary because of the chance purchase, in Scotland, of a book; “The Stolen Village”, by Des Ekin.  This book tells the true story of the 1631 sack of Baltimore when Barbary Coast pirates kidnapped practically the entire english population of Baltimore, 107 souls, and sold them into slavery in Algiers.  The author’s research brings the story to the amazing conclusion that the raid was the denouement of a complex plot led by a local landowner to get atonement for wrongs suffered by him.  An extraordinary conclusion for which Ekin presents convincing evidence.

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