The Capital of the Carberies
It’s 30 years since our last jaunt but The West Cork Hotel has barely changed – it’s under new ownership (the latest generation of the Murphy family having retired) but there’s still the same relaxed country vibe. Seafood chowder and beer battered fish and chips are served with the obligatory West Coast Coolers in the bar overlooking the old railway bridge crossing the River Ilen. It is what it was.
In his comprehensive 2020 book The Buildings of Ireland: Cork City and County, Frank Keohane describes Skibbereen as, “A substantial market town, the southernmost in Ireland.” And The West Cork Hotel as, “A four storey, four bay Italianate block built alongside the bridge in 1902. Stuccoed, with string courses and a hipped roof. First floor windows with architraves and flat cornices. Upper floor windows with chamfered jambs. At street level the façade is articulated by pilasters and paired round arched windows.” At four storeys in height, the hotel is a skyscraper in West Cork terms, visible from the fields around. A cast iron balcony stretching across the first floor of the façade lends it a Deep South – America not Ireland – quality.
Why say three syllables when one will do. Skib has gone a tad hipsterish – more of that in a moment – but Dick Draper, the local optometrist who died a couple of years ago aged 104 would still recognise most of it. His friend and fellow Gospel Hall attendee Lillian Clerke is still around. Her very sweet shop (she sold the best clove rock in town) on Bridge Street may have closed but her surname is clear for all to see on the fascia. Our driver from Dolphin Taxis remembers Dick well. Chauffeuring us through the countryside as the hazy pink haloed golden circle of the sun sets, he recalls as a child having an accident and when he woke up in hospital, Dick was praying over him. “A very holy man. Did you know the Brethren have their own separate cemetery in Skib?”
On things hip, there’s a foodie farmers’ market on Saturday mornings in the town centre car park next to Abbeystrewey Church of Ireland. The Methodist Church is now a restaurant; architecturally it’s all show: a tall gabled red brick façade conceals a cement faced low pitched block behind. Trance music vibrates from The Mardyke Maggie antiques warehouse, a treasure trove of bygones ready to be revived. Then there’s the Antiquity Bookshop and Vegan Deli where you can have cruelty free edible treats while browsing for bestsellers. “Skib is the hub for small villages around like Baltimore,” confirms our driver.
Mona Best owns Bridge House, a long low two storey gaily painted bed and breakfast in the heart of Skib. She muses, “My perfect day is a day when I make other people happy; it’s in the giving that we receive. So when people come to stay with me I welcome them to a world full of magic as I like them to enjoy and experience something truly unique and memorable. My home is an installation representing my creative artistic temperament and eclectic bohemian taste for quirky Victorian objets d’art and antique furniture. This is my stage where I take people on a journey and transport them from the ordinary to the extraordinary. I’m a fun loving person: I love to entertain and bring happiness into people’s lives. It is not how much we give but how much love we put into giving. Every day is beautiful and it is our responsibility to ourselves to pursue and experience all that is magical and wonderful in our lives.”