What a weekend! I could modify that previous statement with a myriad of adjectives (fun, crazy, bittersweet, wacky, amazing, etc., etc.), but let’s just leave it simple and let the descriptions speak for themselves. Six of us went down to a place called Baltimore in West Cork, and unlike its more grungy counterpart in the U.S., this Baltimore is a picturesque coastal village on the southern tip of Ireland. It is also a popular holiday destination for both locals and tourists, and I can see why, as it has that quaint hole-in-the-wall appeal. Incidentally, Baltimore is an anglicization of the Irish name Baile an Tí Mhóir, meaning “town of the big house.” We were very fortunate that a friend of one of the students on the course generously allowed us to stay in his gorgeous cottage for the weekend. It wasn’t the big house for which Baltimore was named, but the house had such character and was perfect for our little getaway.
We drove down right after afternoon demonstration on Friday. Since it takes a couple of hours to drive to Baltimore from Shanagarry, we were hoping to be on the road before it got dark. Plus, the six of us were split into two cars, and with none of us being familiar with the area, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t get split up. I was nominated to be the navigator in the car that I was in and had to alternate between reading the map and paying attention to the road signs along the way, which, unfortunately, were either badly placed or counter-intuitive. Luckily, we only had to pull over twice on the way there to figure out where we were going! The trip down was amusing to say the least (with an eclectic soundtrack of Snoop Dogg, The Strokes, The Chemical Brothers, and Bill Withers tunes, amongst others), but we eventually made it to our home away from home for the weekend in one piece!
Our little cottage was christened “Creagh Halt,” as it was only a stone’s throw from the Creagh Burial Grounds and where a well-known clergyman and former professor of Irish at Trinity College named Canon Goodman is buried. Now I know that this all sounds a bit morbid, but I ended up strolling down to the cemetery on Saturday morning. There is an old church that overlooks a gorgeous lake dotted with swaying trees, and the graveyard is filled with old headstones and Celtic crosses – a beautiful and reverent final resting place indeed. Call me creepy, but strolling through the churchyard on that Saturday morning was an incredibly peaceful experience. Yet I digress…and should get back to telling you about Friday.
So we eventually arrived at the house on Friday evening. It was pretty late at this stage, and we were all famished. We decided to quickly throw our bags in the house, return to the cars to check out the area, and most importantly get something to eat. We had heard of a local place that served good pizza called La Jolie Brise, so we went off to find it. Since “downtown” Baltimore is about the size of a postage stamp, we came upon it in no time. We each devoured our own individual pizzas (mine had cheese, chorizo, and a fried egg on it – how could I say no?). We got back to the house, drank a ton of wine, played some random drinking games, plotted a fake horror movie plot (which included scaring the bejesus out of a certain someone by jumping out at them from behind a bush but failing to scare the bejesus out of another certain someone by leaning over their bedside with a huge cleaver…I am forbidden from mentioning any names here.), and read some shitty ghost stories out of a book that we found in the house. All in all, a great night.
Despite our hijinks the night before, we all awoke at a relatively decent hour on Saturday morning. Our plan was to head down to the farmer’s market in Skibbereen and pick up some items for dinner. We quickly showered and gave up on a bunch of ill-fated brioche bread that we had intended to make for breakfast. It was absolutely beautiful outside, so I ended up scabbing some leftover pizza and taking that stroll down to the graveyard that I mentioned earlier in my post. Then we hopped into our respective cars and went to the farmer’s market. We decided to do a tapas dinner that evening, so we purchased hummus and a feta cheese spread, various breads and cheeses, some salami and pâtés, and a butter bean salad. We even sourced some huge goose eggs to make omelettes for breakfast on Sunday. Afterwards, we had some lunch at a lovely spot aptly named The Church Restaurant, and as you can guess, it was inside an old church. Later on in the day, we decided to take a drive around Lough Hyne. I cannot even describe the beauty of this place, and with the weather being absolutely stunning, we were all quite taken with our surroundings. We then made a pit stop back into Baltimore for a drink at the well-known Bushes Bar. Over our drinks, we discussed heading up to a place called The Beacon, as we were told it was a ‘can’t-miss’ kind of a place. Once we got there, we immediately knew why. Nothing could have prepared us for it. Arising out of the rugged coastline and surrounded on all sides by cliffs is a shockingly white stone beacon, and we were completely surrounded by the most perfect landscape and ocean views that I have ever seen. The view with the sun setting in the distance was nothing short of breathtaking. It is the kind of place that renders even a poet speechless, and as a result, we all wandered around The Beacon in a collective pensive state. It was just that beautiful. It is difficult for me to even type this description now without getting a bit weepy-eyed at the incredible wonder of that place, and in my opinion, it was definitely the highlight of the trip for everyone. Suffice it to say and for fear of sounding overly sentimental, I will never forget experiencing that view or being in that particular moment for the rest of my life.
I cannot explain why, but for me, the consequences of experiencing such a moving moment that afternoon meant that everything that followed on Saturday evening was a bit of a let-down. Notwithstanding our delightful dinner of the tapas items that we had purchased at the farmer’s market and the copious amount of drinks that we imbibed, Saturday night in the local pub was totally inconsequential compared to earlier in the day. However, we tried to make the most of it but soon found ourselves wanting to spend our last evening in Baltimore back at the cottage sitting by the fire.
On Sunday, I’m not sure how everyone else felt, but I awoke feeling a bit groggy and hazy from the previous night. However, we were all quickly motivated by the thought of having mimosas and making goose egg omelettes for breakfast. Both were delicious and gave us the energy we needed to clean up the cottage in record time, and before we knew it, we were on the road heading back to Ballymaloe (this time with a soundtrack of tunes by The Beatles and some old school Radiohead). We decided to stop in Clonakilty to watch the the Six Nations rugby match. It was Ireland versus Wales, so you can imagine we were all rooting for the boys in green (and I was particularly rooting for one Rob Kearney, who just happens to be my favorite Irish rugby player…oh, and incredibly good-looking). Sadly, despite it being a very exciting match to watch, Wales prevailed in the end. Anyway, we got back on the road after the match and made it back to the school safe and sound.
Ultimately, I had a wonderful weekend, and I’ll forever look back on our trip to Baltimore with a particular fondness. In a way the trip was bittersweet as we round the corner of our final days here at Ballymaloe. I’m glad that I took a lot of photographs to capture the sheer beauty of where we were. I sometimes have a tendency to be incredibly nostalgic, and these pictures will be a reminder of that weekend and the people on this course to whom I have grown the closest…
A sampling of said photographs: