Saturday, February 13, 2010

Jottings of a "Blow-in" Bookseller

Jottings of a "Blow-in" Bookseller in Ireland by Karen Millward

In days gone by the seaweed was cut at low tide with curved scythes. The people collected it and tied long strands into heaps and left it for the tide and wind to blow up the beach. This was a Blow-In- seaweed harvested and blown up on to the beaches of Ireland.

Why do people become "Blow-Ins", deciding to move from their native country? There are many reasons why non-Irish people live here in Ireland. A new life in a new country offers great attractions.

Naturally, Ireland is a beautiful country, where people are open and friendly and very welcoming to visitors. There are many famous and rich people who have made their homes here, they are never hassled by fans demanding their attention. West Cork is the home of many actors, entrepreneurs, musicians, film directors, who came here to enjoy the anonymity and tranquillity amongst people who had never even heard of them.

After much thought we decided to up sticks and move to live in Ireland. This done the panic began to set in, was this the right thing to be doing especially at our time of life. Once decided, house sold, books packed we were on the move and beginning to realise what an adventure we had embarked upon.

In September 2001 we sailed for our new life in Eire, we had owned a holiday home here since 1989 but this was the big move. For eight months we lived in our holiday cottage, very small and compact to say the least. Books were stored at our new home which was partially built with one room suitable for storage.

Computer was set up in a bedroom and every time I sold a book we had to get in the car and drive to new house only to find the book we needed was in a banana box at the bottom of a pile of six boxes.

We survived and in May 2002 we moved into our new spacious five bed roomed house, one room shelved out and books installed, the landing also shelved but the rest of the books stored in box’s. Our house is down an ‘Old Bog Road’ with mountains and a bog behind, it is in a peaceful and beautiful location.

At the top of the road you look across to the Sugar Loaf Mountain on the Beara Peninsular and the sea opens up on the lovely Bantry and Glengarriff Bay.

Sugar Loaf Mountain.

This is a very popular tourist area and next year it is hoped that it will become busier when the Cork-Swansea Ferry begins to run again.

Bantry is a bustling market town right on the edge of the harbour, every Friday there is a market in the town square with stall holders selling everything from fruit and vegetables to chickens and puppies, the first Friday of every month is usually the biggest market with more livestock and a vast variety of antiques and collectables, furniture, clothes, tools and even the fortune tellers are out in their caravans.

Glengarriff is a beautiful little village with the wonderful tropical Garnish Island just a short boat trip across the water, in the Summer it is packed out but around the end of September it becomes just a quiet little place once again.

A Peaceful Spot Glengarriff.

Selling books here is not so different as when I traded in the UK we were very lucky to begin with because our local village post office was just half a mile down our road but as with a lot of local village shops and post offices it closed down and so now we have to travel about six miles to post our parcels.

Speaking of post offices we have a very laid back postman named Pat and we get our post delivered to us wherever we happen to meet him be it at the local garage or at a road junction and some days even in the mail box, post reaches us with even the vaguest name and address on the envelope.

Life in Ireland did hold a few culture shocks but one just gets on from day to day and gradually settles into the everyday life of the local community. My biggest difficulty to begin with was the pace of life and the laid back attitude to things. On a Sunday night dancing commences at 10pm, this amazed me because most of the people have to work on Mondays. Most of the shops in town do not open until 10am and long lunches are frequent. Because we had been coming here for almost twenty years we did know many of the locals and so this made things much easier.

What we did find was that it was essential to get out into the community and as everyone knows the Irish love their music and dance and so we frequented the local hotel on Sunday evenings where they have live music and dance every week. As a keen dancer I soon was taught how to dance the Polka Set, Siege of Ennis, Two Step, Stack of Barley,Two Hand Reel, Irish Waltz and Quickstep (more skippy than the traditional).


The Irish love their music and dance, one famous local celebrity was Captain Francis O’Neill he was born near Bantry, West Cork in the Townland of Tralibane, in 1848 he was the youngest of seven children and is known to be the man who saved Irish music. It is said that he saved 3500 Irish songs for posterity. Every year at his home place in West Cork a festival is held to commemorate his birth. Captain O’ Neill later became the Chief of Police in Chicago. But it was the songs that he picked up from his parents and visiting musicians at the family home in West Cork that was to form the basis of one of the most remarkable collections of Irish music, published in the early years of the last century.


Another famous son of West Cork was Michael Collins (1890-1922), he was born at Woodfield, Clonakilty, Co. Cork 16th October 1890. He was an Irish Patriot and Revolutionary. When he signed the Anglo-Irish Treaty in December 1921, he remarked to Lord Birkenhead, ‘I may have signed my actual death warrant.‘ And on an August day in 1922 in the tiny hamlet of Béal na Bláth, that prophecy came true- Collins was shot and killed by a fellow Irishman in an ambush. So ended the life of the greatest of all Irish nationalists, but his vision and legacy lived on.

Myths and Legends

Many Myths and Legends abound in Ireland and the area where I live is no exception.
About a mile away is Priest’s Leap and anyone visiting Coomhola will be almost certain to hear of this site high up on the northern side of Cnoc Buí. The area is know as Cum na Leime " the mountain valley of the jump", or Léim a’tSagairt " the priest’s leap. Nowadays an iron cross marks the spot on the top of the mountain. During Penal Times, priests were perpetually hounded by English soldiers, as Roman Catholicism was outlawed, and on one occasion a miraculous jump was made by a priest in order to evade capture , there are many different versions of this legend. At Newtown on the outskirts of Bantry Town, a distance of nine miles away a stone plaque with the following inscription was erected.

Léim a’tSagairt Erected to perpetuate the memory of The Priest’s Leap
Tradition has it that a priest escaped his soldier pursuers by leaping on horseback across the Bay.

The marks on the adjacent rock indicate where horse and rider landed safely.

Erected June 1972.

This part of Ireland is steeped in history and everyday one learns more of local customs and events that have helped shape it. We consider ourselves most fortunate to have found this tranquil spot and appreciate each day spent here.

Karen Millward specialises in Irish books covering everything Irish and more. Also carried is a large general stock of quality books.

Or view Karen's books through the Ibooknet site here.

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