Uncovering the hidden legends along Ireland’s southern coast

Waves whip off the Celtic Sea, crashing towards rock and bringing a robust hit of brine to the wild Garrarus Seashore on Ireland’s Copper Coast. Uncovered by the tide, the shore is webbed with seaweeds, which, to the untrained eye, all seem similar. 

“Look,” my foraging information, Marie Energy, whispers. “It’s like a miniature world; a sea backyard.” A slim flashlight beam illuminates the frills and fronds of emerald sea lettuce, gold-green wrack, purple-red dillisk (also referred to as dulse) and thick, amber ribbons of kelp. She has been a seaweed evangelist in these components for the previous 20 years, reviving the age-old Irish custom of gathering, cooking, and consuming the slimy stuff, which she swears is the key to residing to be 100.

The results of volcanic exercise that began on the ocean flooring 460 million years in the past, this spectacularly buckled and contorted shoreline seems like a window onto the daybreak of creation. Each rock, sea stack, and pleat within the strata exposes one other layer of geological historical past.

(Ancient secrets lie beneath this Irish bog.)

“This coast has fascinating geology and industrial heritage,” says geologist Robbie Galvin once we meet on the Copper Coast UNESCO Global Geopark’s customer heart, set in a former church. “At Ballydowane Bay, you may see the remnants of an 18th-century silver mine in a sea stack. At Knockmahon, you’ll discover the Pipes of Baidhb.” The latter are polygonal columns of rhyolite—the coast’s very personal Giant’s Causeway, minus the crowds. “Prehistory is in every single place: in passage tombs, dolmens, and one of many world’s highest concentrations of promontory forts.” 

We cease on the Geological Backyard, in Bunmahon, the place a pair of ogham stones stand, their runic inscriptions redolent of the early Christian language utilized by Celtic saints. “That’s the cursing stone,” says Robbie, nodding in direction of a modest-looking lump of basalt. “Legend has it your curses come true if you happen to stroll round it counterclockwise.”

Within the southern criminal of Dungarvan Bay, just a few trawlers clank within the harbor, the place I discover Sólás Na Mara (that means “solace of the ocean”), a former fish public sale home reborn as an intimate, family-run spa upholding the centuries-old Irish custom of seaweed baths. Serrated wrack and different seaweeds are harvested regionally, then tossed into nice cast-iron tubs stuffed with heat seawater pumped instantly in at excessive tide.

“Seaweed has come a great distance because it was used as animal fodder and potato fertilizer,” explains proprietor Éimhín Ní Chonchúir. “It may well work wonders on many circumstances, from arthritis to eczema. Folks arrive not sure and go away shocked and energized.”

At Ferrypoint, the place the River Blackwater empties into the Celtic Sea, the day dawns as shiny as a brand new penny.

(How masked singers are carrying on an Irish tradition.)

“Right here, style this,” says Andrew Malcolm, one other native forager. I dip my finger right into a wood field. “Dried hogweed seeds,” he grins. “It may be used as a cardamom substitute. And this feisty one right here: water pepper.”

Buoyed by my journey alongside the Copper Coast, I’m eager to see extra of what this neglected stretch of southern Eire has to supply. I’ve linked up with Malcolm, who’s combed these shores—and scoured its waters for marine-life sightings—for the previous 30 years. 

“That is my grocery store. Every little thing I want is correct right here, simply meters aside,” he says, handing me sandwort, a tiny perennial that tastes of broad bean and cucumber. “Attempt some sea radish pods,” he urges. “They’re good and peppery.” “Like wasabi?” I enterprise. “We’ll do wasabi in a minute,” he provides, speeding over to a rock. “There’s your wasabi! Scurvy-grass. It’s filled with vitamin C and is available in all completely different heats, like chili.” 

Again on the automotive, Malcolm flings open the trunk and the scent of apricots wafts up as he reveals a basket brimming with chanterelles he’s delivering to the Cliff House Hotel’s Michelin-starred The House Restaurant in Ardmore, 5 miles east. 

Ardmore is my subsequent vacation spot, too. Along with its meals credentials, the village is the endpoint of a brand new mountain climbing route. St. Declan’s Approach—stretching round 70 miles inland to Cashel, in County Tipperary—follows within the saint’s footsteps, treading the now legend-steeped path he took to fulfill St. Patrick, and subsequently set up a monastery, within the fifth century.  

On a golden autumn day, the shoreline close to Ardmore appears touched by a godly hand. Selecting up the path on its remaining leg, I wind my well past gorse and bramble to St. Declan’s Stone—miraculously carried throughout on the waves from Wales, or so the legend goes—and St. Declan’s Effectively, which provides allegedly miracle-working holy water.

The path ends at Ardmore Cathedral, the place St. Declan’s monastery as soon as stood. Fallen into damage, the cathedral harbors the oratory the place St. Declan supposedly lies buried. Above it stands a particular spherical tower, the place monks sought refuge and hid their treasures from raiders within the Center Ages. 

To the lighthouse

A brief drive the next morning takes me to Dungarvan, a coastal city and harbor to the west of the Copper Coast, the place sea mirrors sky and the scent of wooden smoke fills the air. A fortress guards the harbor and store facades look freeze-framed within the Nineteen Fifties. However its attraction comes largely from its pleasant folks.

Due to this, it takes me an hour to discover simply half a dozen stalls on market day. I purchase Knockalara sheep’s cheese, made with milk from the cheesemaker’s personal flock, and tender, floury, white Waterford blaa rolls, a throwback to the bread launched by Seventeenth-century Huguenots (“blaa” being a corruption of the French “petit blanc”). Everybody desires to talk, however then hospitality has at all times been Dungarvan’s forte: legend has it that Oliver Cromwell spared the city in 1649 as a result of a woman supplied him a goblet of wine.

On clear days, the Comeragh Mountains are seen north of Dungarvan. I’m sure for the Magic Street, close to the Mahon Falls, the place, it’s claimed drivers discover their automobiles mysteriously rolling uphill after they take their handbrake off. Fairies and magnetic fields are the 2 explanations which have most captured the favored creativeness; the true cause (an optical phantasm) is slightly extra prosaic.

Leaving the fairies to their tips, I observe the observe that zigzags to the trailhead for the Mahon Falls, a brief stomp away over bathroom and bracken. The plateau is rugged, whittled into type by glacial erosion. When the fog attracts again like a theater curtain, I fleetingly see peaks rising ragged above moraine-streaked slopes and the wildest of waterfalls. Columns and spires of rock punch above boulders that lie scattered throughout the land like an enormous’s marbles. This, maybe, is the true magic. 

(Look inside the Irish ‘hell caves’ where Halloween was born.)

Eire’s oldest metropolis, based by Vikings in 914, Waterford stands 11 miles to the east of the Copper Coast. Its dashing Georgian coronary heart—constructed on the flicker of its crystal trade—is positioned inside its revamped Viking Triangle cultural quarter. That is one cause the Irish Occasions voted town Greatest Place to Stay in Eire in 2021; the Waterford Greenway is the opposite. It’s a 29-mile ramble alongside a former railway line, this off-road biking and strolling path swings—by way of viaduct, fortress, and tunnel—by way of the foothills of the Comeragh Mountains, rising on the seaside city of Dungarvan.

Guarding the southern entrance to Waterford, the Hook Lighthouse has witnessed ferocious storms and waves of invaders and fortune-seekers over centuries, amongst them Oliver Cromwell, who is believed to have coined the phrase “by some means” to explain how he meant to take Waterford in the course of the 1649 siege. They name these boiling seas the “graveyard of a thousand ships.” because it appears you may’t dip your finger into them with out pulling up a wreck.

Hook Lighthouse was based at Hook Head 800 years in the past, making it one of many oldest still-operational lighthouses on the planet. I climb all 115 steps to the highest of the lighthouse for a view out to sea, however fog rolls in, draping itself throughout the coast. After descending, I stroll alongside the shore, its black shale thumped by the Atlantic and veined with fossils 300 million years within the making.

Kerry Walker is a journey author primarily based in Wales. You could find her on Twitter.

This text is tailored from a story printed within the March 2022 difficulty of Nationwide Geographic Traveller (U.Ok.).

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