Sometimes I take a step back and think about of how much West Cork has changed since I first visited in 1990. Looking around, remembering what it used to look like, is like a Pokemon Go augmented reality experience with the new superimposed on the old. Inchydoney, Clonakilty, Schull, the view from my window, the drive into town have all changed. There are still potholes on our road, but the traffic has increased from nearly non-existent to a safety concern for small children walking alone – which is something I don’t see any more. When we moved into the village, most children walked or biked up our road to school. These days, the only people I see walking on the road are either jogging or taking their dogs out. No one walks to actually go somewhere.
The allure of West Cork has changed radically over the last twenty-five years. The increase in population and popularity, the traffic, shops, entertainment, and the wide spread availability of avocados have made it unrecognisable from the sleepy backwater I settled into in the early nineties.
West Cork has become a brand synonymous with a certain middle class, organic, gogi-berry, raw chocolate, gourmet lifestyle. I had to laugh when I heard the story of a little girl asking her auntie in Cork city if a cake was gluten-free: “Yer not in West Cork now, girleen,” replied her Auntie.
Don’t get me wrong. I welcome the diversity of food, the choice and comfort that West Cork offers today. The romantic notions that old blown-ins like myself came with when we moved to Ireland often turned out to be cold, damp and uncomfortable. Having a choice of vegetables in the winter that comprised of potatoes, carrots and swede was boring. I love cheap asparagus to go with my duck. Other changes like a swimming pool, a cinema, and cafe terraces serving delicious varieties of coffee have made my life more enjoyable. Being a foodie and a lover of creature comforts I cannot but applaud the banishing of mild instant coffee as my only option for a caffeine fix.
It has been really interesting to see a community evolve, adapt and change. It is incredible to see what an impact three new bungalows on a mile long stretch of road can have on traffic, flooding, and light pollution at night. I used to look out in front of my house and not see a light for miles. Now the night landscape is dotted with outdoor lighting. Just up the road is a yellow strip of street lights around the school and five new houses. Walking up to the village in the dark has been changed forever. Not that I ever walk up to the village anymore.
Though I appreciate that where I live is now as cosmopolitan as other European regions I can’t help but sometimes feel that it has lost some of its magic. Lines of traffic feel very urban. Anonymous neighbours make one feel bizarrely both less and more isolated. A Sunday walk on the beach in crowds of people, and a cafe offering dairy free hot chocolate seems as adventurous as a stroll down Brighton pier. Thanks to GPS no one gets caught in the miscaen mara that used to regularly make visitors drive around in circles. I worry that the faeries have all upped and left, pushed out by the growth of suburbia.
So it was lovely to be totally flummoxed last week when a car parked outside vanished only to be found stuck in the ditch in the far corner of the front field, about an acre away. It was one of those days so soft and grey that it felt rinsed in old conditioner. The air was saturated with humidity: creeping rain at its best. Our lodger had just popped back home for something and parked his car on the flat bit along the house between two other cars. While upstairs he heard the dogs going mad and thought it must be the postman. Looking out the window he saw no postman. He also saw an empty space where he’d parked the car. Following the dogs barking he spied the car at the bottom of the field. It had rolled very slowly backwards across the yard and down the field where it had gently got stuck in a ditch. The only proof of its route were some slightly flattened daffs on the edge of the drive. The sensible explanation was a forgotten handbrake, but it was far more delightful to blame the inexplicable ways of the landscape. “Must be the faeries” I told our lodger, as we stood laughing in a sudden downpour, gazing down at his car. “Or maybe the trees had a good stretch now that it’s Spring, and that started the car rolling.” He shook his head in disbelief, but looked rather delighted all the same. “Welcome to West Cork,” I concluded before going off to find someone with a tractor to pull it out. Three hours later it was sorted.