West Cork magic – Sian O’Gorman

By  |  0 Comments

By Sian O’Gorman

You know the idyllic childhood thing? The kind that most people when they look back seem to have had? Or maybe I spent too much time reading about the kind of families who lived in rackety houses and had adventures down the end of the garden and played charades as though the television had never been invented. Instead, mine was ordinary in the extreme. The kind spent watching Grange Hill or the Australian hospital soap The Young Doctors which was the only exotic thing I knew.♥

But for one week every year, we did have what seems now, quite idyllic. It was our annual camping trip to West Cork where we would pitch in famers’ fields across the south-western tip of Ireland, the bit where the land cranes towards the sweep of the Fastnet lighthouse.

Something happened in those summers, a time to reconnect with the father from who we were mostly separated, a chance to spend time in the country of our birth and enjoy a freedom from school and routine and terrible Australian soap operas.

We loved it, my sister and I. Not only was it a week to reconnect with our Dad – he lived in Ireland, we in Wales – but it was a whole week of adventure. Dressed in our jumpers and wellies (obligatory Irish summer wear), we would go for walks and picnics every day and over the week, we’d do the same things we’d done the previous year… and the one before that. Three Head’s Castle, up Mount Gabriel, down to Smugglers Cove, around the beacon in Baltimore.

We’d fry bacon for breakfast and my dad would make tinned salmon sandwiches for our walk and would invariably produce Starbars from his inside pocket. We never worked out how there was a seemingly endless supply of chocolate but put it down to West Cork magic which I really sparking in the air.

It’s a place of fields and sheep and rabbits and tiny villages, many of which we called ‘this is, that was’ places because by the time you managed to name them, they were already in the rear-view mirror. We spent all day on the golden sweep of Barleycove, or buying crab from the trawlers in Schull and then for a lemonade (a small glass bottle and a straw) in Hackett’s just above the harbour.

My Gran had grown up in the area, first of all in Baltimore and then in the big smoke of Skibbereen. She would sail a little dinghy over to the islands across Bantry Bay to collect eggs that an old woman wanted to send to her daughter in London. Covered in butter, they would be sent by train, ship and bus and would arrive in London the next day.

And the annual dose of West Cork magic seeped into our pores, much like Obelisk falling into the barrel of the magic potion as a baby, getting under our skin and creating adventures and memories that we’ve never forgotten. And in my latest book, Together Forever, I take my three characters for to West Cork for a dose of magic.

Tabitha is enduring a miserable marriage and realises she is still in love with her old boyfriend Red. Her daughter Rosie has suffering panic attacks from exam stress and her mother, the free sprit Nora, wants to reconnect with an old flame and return to West Cork. Life is teetering on the edge of something, like a log flume before it plunges, and West Cork gives them the space to think clearly, to reconnect with each other and to be soothed. By the time, they head back to Dublin, they are ready to face their lives again, emboldened and happier, and ready for anything.

I think it is impossible to go to West Cork and not feel its gentle magic, not to return to real life feeling soothed and nurtured. No wonder so many people go to live there to take up cheese making or market gardening. But the magic is exportable as once, back in school, months and months after the summer holidays, I opened my lunch box and instead of the usual cheese and HP sauce, there was a tinned salmon sandwich and as soon as I took a bite, I was transported, immediately and Proustianly, to a field in West Cork, my whole body tingling with magic.


Sian O’Gorman was born in Ireland, is an RTE radio producer and lives in the seaside suburb of Dalkey, Dublin with her seven-nearly-eight-year-old daughter, Ruby. Together Forever is out now.

Twitter: @msogorman

Leave a Reply