A tiny harbour cradled by green hills, sunlight glittering on soft-blue waters, seagulls swirling in the air above. I wasn’t sure what to expect with Cape Clear, a little island that sits in Roaringwater Bay off the shores of West Cork. Like all of the islands scattered around Ireland’s coast, it seems wrapped in an air of mystery. Here, life can be hard but life can be beautiful, too.
But as I sail in to North Harbour on a calm summer’s day, the scene I am met with feels like a snapshot of perfection, from the delicate puffs of cloud drifting across a blue sky to the rugged beauty of the landscape. The ferry journey has taken only 45 minutes from the coastal village of Baltimore in County Cork, but the sense of isolation, of far-flung romance, of island secrets and maritime drama hits me as soon as I step onto the pier. Cape Clear’s relative remoteness on the southwest coast of Ireland (it can be shut off completely in poor weather) has allowed traditions to continue unchanged.
As I walk around the island, I discover an undulating landscape of dry-stone walls and wildflowers. I hear traditional music and the Irish language. I enjoy fascinating tales of life as a local – no surprise that the island’s annual International Storytelling Festival at the end of August presents the best of this most ancient of artforms to an enthusiastic audience. I enjoy the silence of car-free country lanes. The 21st century isn’t absent here – my mobile phone works fine, white-sailed yachts sit motionless in the waters of South Harbour, and the chunky stone hostel is buzzing with students. Yet the island makes you feel like you’re in another world.
Maybe it’s the green hills rising against the vast blue ocean, or the crystalline tones of the light, but Cape Clear’s wild beauty is hypnotic. I follow the quiet An Gleann trail up to a high spot where I can see Fastnet Rock, a notorious lighthouse known as “Ireland’s Teardrop”, shimmering in the distance – and make a promise to myself: one day, one day soon, I’ll come back.