While it may not be everyone’s ideal destination, west Cork still contains its fair share of elusive Irish charm, writes Paul Fennessy
Admittedly Clonakilty, west Cork has no sight as beguiling as the Taj Mahal, no weather as incandescent as Alaska, or no culture as rich as Rome. Nonetheless, I can assure you it is home to the single greatest Chinese takeaway outlet in existence (the Sea Palace Restaurant).
Thankfully, the extent of its exotica does not end there. It is, after all, birthplace to an Irish hero, Michael Collins, and a statue of the renowned revolutionary leader was also recently erected in the town centre.
The town itself hardly brims with the ardour of New York or Paris, but its relative serenity ultimately constitutes part of its allure. There is nothing quite like skipping through its ghostly streets at night, observing its unique, brightly-coloured buildings, or sipping a glorious Guinness among the inveterately laid-back locals.
Clonakilty’s residents exude a level of amiability that gives new meaning to the name “land of a thousand welcomes”. Shopkeepers automatically endeavour to chat the minute you enter their premises, and consider it imperative to conceive of compliments for customers.
On a sad, nostalgia-tinged note, though, some people have bemoaned the increasing dissolution of the natives’ accents. Although a modicum of its musicality remains discernible (to my ears at least), sceptics claim that inhabitants’ gratuitous exposure to American TV programming, among other unsavoury anomalies, has rendered it less distinct.
One minor drawback of Clonakilty is its topography. The town is situated in a coastal area, leaving some areas prone to flooding from the heavy rainfall which arises sporadically. Furthermore, in the early part of the twentieth century, a freak wave from Inchydoney – a nearby island connected to the town by two causeways – allegedly caused many locals to spend a week confined to the upstairs areas of their homes.
Other potential hazards include the roads – unsafe, even by this country’s standards – and the ubiquity of seaweed, which makes swimming in Inchydoney a less than pleasant experience (not to mention the deathly cold water temperature).
Yet despite the annoyance of seaweed, Inchydoney arguably comprises the apex of west Cork’s resplendence. From the beatific hills that permeate its surrounds to the thunderous waves cascading against its cliffs on violent, storm-ridden evenings, there are doubtless few more naturally impressive locations in Europe.
Moreover, the five-star hotel overlooking its beaches offers an abundance of luxuries such as seaweed baths (if the sea itself is deemed inadequate) and boasts a number of notable clients, including George Clooney and the Liverpool football team.
A visit to West Cork, therefore, comes highly recommended for those who enjoy tranquillity, sausages and Chinese food. Just be sure to avoid its seaweed, roads and gigantic waves.