30 years ago today: Skibbereen, Baltimore and our last days in the Irish countryside.

Tullagh church ruins near Baltimore.

Previously: 30 years ago today: Wonderful countryside and birthday pints while in Kenmare.

Irish time was moving fast.

Day 110 … Monday, August 3
Kenmare → Skibbereen. Walk through park around bay, leave afternoon, in Skibbereen, O’Dwyer, steak & kidney pie

Day 111 … Tuesday, August 4
Skibbereen → Baltimore. In morning to old abbey, then to Baltimore, walk to Beacon, to Casey’s for dinner

Day 112 … Wednesday. August 5
Baltimore. To tower, to top of other hill — confusing return trip. Dinner: Lyster’s. A few more pints.

Day 113 … Thursday, August 6
Baltimore. Final night at Rolf’s Hostel. More pub crawling.

From Kenmare, Barrie and I were headed toward the small port town of Baltimore, which had been suggested to us by our Cork contact, Tommy Barker.

Undoubtedly groggy from my 30-pint birthday celebration on the 2nd, we got a late start on Monday morning.

Baltimore is a village of some 400 permanent inhabitants whose numbers are greatly increased by visitors in the summer months. It lies about 100 km (60 miles) west of Cork city in the region known as West Cork, one of the most beautiful parts of Ireland and the final stop on the 2,500 km (1,500 mile) Wild Atlantic Way. Here in the extreme south of the Irish mainland the climate is mild, thanks to the nearby Atlantic and the dying embers of the Gulf Stream. The large natural harbour is partly formed by members of Carbery’s Hundred Isles. Around the piers in one corner charter boats and pleasure craft jostle with fishing boats and ferries serving the main islands. The oldest part of the village with the castle and rows of fishermen’s cottages is spread along the eastern shore of the harbour. At its heart is the village ‘Square’ (more a triangle really), around which are clustered bars and restaurants looking west over sea and islands towards Mizen Head, the ‘land’s end’ of Ireland.

To get to Baltimore from Kenmare, we had to change buses in Skibbereen, a centrally located market town and crossroads southwest of Cork City. It is a beautiful area, though the town itself has a melancholy claim to fame.

When the Irish Famine took its toll in the mid 1800’s, the town of Skibbereen was one of the worst affected in all of Ireland, a fact testified by the mass graves at Abbeystrewry, where almost 10,000 are buried. This era is remembered in The Great Famine Exhibition at Skibbereen Heritage Centre.

“Dear Old Skibbereen” is a staple in the Irish songbook. The Dubliners perform this version, with vocals by Ronnie Drew.

Unfortunately, in 1987 the Skibbereen Heritage Centre still was 13 years away from opening, and upon arriving from Kenmare, we learned there’d be no more buses to Baltimore until the following day.

My own cryptic notes mention “O’Dwyer” — probably a formal or informal bed and breakfast — and steak & kidney pie. It must have been my first encounter with the latter.

Of the James Joyce character Leopold Bloom: “(He) ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls; he liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faint scented urine.”

It’s strange to me. I’ve had steak & kidney pie on numerous occasions since, and can’t recall experiencing an adverse reaction borne of faintly scented urine.

I also can’t recall much of anything from our evening in Skibbereen. My notes say we visited an old abbey the following morning, prior to catching the bus to Baltimore. It is unclear what I meant by this reference.

There is an Abbeystrewny church off Bridge Street near the center of town, as well as a graveyard called Abbeystrowny about a mile to the west, by the river. My guess? It was the graveyard, a site that includes mass graves of famine victims, although obviously I don’t remember these, or much of anything else.

By afternoon of the 4th, we’d arrived in Baltimore and proceeded directly to Rolf’s Hostel, a stiff uphill walk from the harbor to a farm owned by Norwegian immigrants who’d branched out into housing wayward youthful travelers fitting our general description.

As it was explained to us, the indoors sleeping rooms were booked, but we could sleep in the barn at a ridiculously low price, with bedding, blankets and breakfast included. Bathrooms with showers were available to us, and of course there was always the back of the barn for nocturnal needs. The summer weather on Ireland’s southern coast was temperate, and all we needed to do was pick a haystack.

I’m pleased to learn that the son and daughter of the original owners now operate the rebranded and gentrified Rolf’s Country House, complete with suites and a restaurant. Recently Rolf’s received an award for all-around excellence. It was excellent in 1987, too, just in a slightly different, offbeat and quirky way.

We began our examination of Baltimore on Tuesday with a 25-minute walk from Rolf’s to the landmark known as the Beacon, a stone column atop a promontory at the entrance to the harbor.

The beacon is locally known as “Lot’s Wife”, after the Biblical woman turned into a pillar of salt.


These two photos of mine set the scene. It was lovely.

Our evening meal was at Casey’s, then a roadside pub another healthy walk from Rolf’s, and now a roadside pub with an upscale hotel attached to the rear of the structure, with a fine view of the water. The lane next to the pub leads to the Tullagh church ruins pictured above.

Hats off to Google maps and street view for helping me to remember these routes, and to remind me that everywhere we went in Baltimore in 1987 involved at least a mile’s walk each way from Rolf’s.

Wednesday was to be the big hiking day. We’d be walking from Rolf’s to the structure known as the Spain Tower, with commanding ocean views as the reward.

I’m not sure what I meant by a “confusing return trip,” though it probably implies a failed shortcut. You can look at the map and see what this means.

The Spain Tower was a 19th-century coastal defense lookout point, repurposed for similar uses during World War II, and long since a ruin. We picked a brilliant day for such a hike.

Wednesday evening’s dining and drinking was done near the harbor, at a pub then known as Lyster’s. Shortly after our visit, it became McCarthy’s Bar, and evidently enjoyed a long run as a traditional music venue. These days it appears to have been incorporated into a hotel.

Thirty years is a long time in the food and drink business. At least in 2017, craft brewing has come to Baltimore.

Thursday’s seems to have involved more resting than exertion, with our pub crawl ending again at Casey’s. The reason I know this is because the very last photo I took in Cork was of the Tullagh church ruin — and I know we didn’t walk all the way there without pints of Guinness as a reward.

I’m left with stray memory from Rolf’s, where the barn housed escalating numbers of lodgers as the week progressed. There wasn’t much light, and Barrie and I had returned feeling very little pain.

We had just gotten settled in atop our patch of hay for our final night’s sleep in Baltimore when two of our barn mates boisterously arrived. They didn’t know we were there, and began a hilarious dialogue on a theme of “what are two Jewish gals from New York City doing in a barn in Ireland.” They’d obviously been drinking, too, and the ensuing conversation in pitch black surroundings was absolutely hilarious.

The four of us had breakfast together the following morning, then Barrie and I set out for the bus stop and our planned rendezvous with Tommy back in Cork.

Next: It was about Cork, the Irish experience and U2 — and the craic was lovely.