Gougane Barra Revisited





Ah yes! The name has always been magic to me. So, after many years abroad I recently went with my husband to visit Gougane Barra again, back to remember the happy days our family spent there in the late spring on holidays. This was in the early 1940s. Mother enjoyed the rest, as we were six children, that is four O’Donoghues’ and two stepbrothers. I can still see her now sitting on the island knitting and reading. It always seemed to be sunny and warm.

We always stayed in the "old hotel", that is Cronin’s and it was wonderful. It was gay, old fashioned and wonderful and it was the only one for miles around. Dinny, the boss, was a character, the children were welcome everywhere, the kitchen especially where the locals came in the evening for a "pint" and to catch up on news of all sorts, "poteen finds and deaths". These small farmers had wonderful names. I remember so well Batty Kit, called after his mother.

Gougane in those days was wild and beautiful, no forestry like the present days, no tourists and few cars. The mountains enclosed the spot, and the silence.

We spent many evenings with The Tailor and Ansty, sometimes staying late. His stories were fantastic, his wife Ansty would wander around worrying about "the cow" and the "idleness of man". She was beautiful and "it was quiet a few years since her hair had seen a comb". We usually stayed later but we went home with candles as we were terrified by the bats flying into our hair.

One of the most wonderful days I ever spent in Gougane was the day my mother permitted me go to Bantry with Dinny by horse and cart to get supplies for the hotel. Up the Pass of Keimaneigh and down to Bantry, a day of excitement and rode home sitting in the middle of the supplies with a box of USA biscuits to keep me company and many stops to chat to neighbours. Dinny was a great hand with horse, he spoke to her and she was very obedient. I loved the farm animals as I had decided to become a veterinary doctor. I spent a lot of time watching the cows and the sheep and it interested me a lot to watch the birth of the calves and the butter put on the door of the stable against the evil eye.

At that time there were bets as to who would swim across the lake, organised by Fr. Tim Traynor who spent his holidays there. My sister tried but gave up half way as the water was freezing. Another bet was to ring the bell at midnight but we were too young for this.

My sister and I cycled to Gougane once, setting off long before the car and made our way along the twisty roads. Very little traffic in those days, our journey helped by various chocolate bars and drinks of water!

We always had a great time in Gougane Barra, the same people every year, all the children together to climb the hills or "up the valley", or down the Pass of Keimaneigh, the rowan trees abundant, the gorse of furze at its best.

Later on when we became young women we went to the dances in Inchigeela or Ballylickey. We spent some great evenings; we went on our bicycles and never seemed to get tired. I was very happy to return this year to Gougane Barra. It will always have so many happy memories for me.

Breda O’Donoghue-Lucci A.N.C.A.

Breda O’Donoghue-Lucci is an artist who now

lives in Rosscarbery, Co. Cork