A Flight Over East Cork

The best present I got last Christmas, thanks to my children and son-in-law, was an Atlantic Flight Training Academy gift voucher. This entitled me to a 60 minutes flight from their base at Cork Airport. I’m a bit of an aircraft and flight nerd so this suited me perfectly.  Not that I was interested in flight training per se –  I just wanted a pleasure flight and an opportunity to take some photographs. Most recipients of such vouchers are probably in the same, er, boat.


I had never flown in a light aircraft. The nearest I came to it were trips on the Aer Arann/Aer Lingus Commuter ATR 72s  – twin-engine turboprops – and I was looking forward to the experience. When I phoned the company to make an appointment for the flight I was pleasantly surprised to be told they could accommodate me the following afternoon. This was perfect as the forecast was for a calm, bright day.

The formalities over – you have to complete a short form, get a visitor’s badge and a high-vis vest – I was led to the aircraft by my pilot for the trip, Alan Walsh, a fellow East Cork man. He asked me where I’d like to go and naturally I said the East Cork direction.


Then it was into the left-hand seat and Alan proceeded to carry out the pre-flight checks. This is something that aviators around the world do as a matter of course, whether they are flying a small aircraft like this or a jumbo jet, and it ensures that no risks are taken as far as safety is concerned.

We then donned our headsets, Alan started the engine, and communicated with Air Traffic Control giving details of our route and asking for permission for take off. Once this was given we headed out to runway 35, pointed the aircraft north, increased the throttle and in a few seconds we were airborne and flying over Cork City.

From there we made our way down to Carrigtwohill ( where he circled my house), Midleton, Castlemartyr and on to Capel Island. On the return leg we went along the coast to Garryvoe and Ballycotton and thence to Roche’s Point, Spike Island and on to Carrigaline before turning right to land at runway 35.

Alan checked with me throughout as to where I wanted to go (e.g. around Capel Island) and in turn he kept Cork ATC abreast of where we were headed.

Our speed was 100 knots – about 115 miles per hour – and we flew at 1500 feet. Conditions were perfect and ideal for photography. I was surprised at how calm the flight was; even though the day was fine I was expecting, given the size of the aircraft, some buffeting and turbulence but there was none. The headset kept noise to a minimum and it was a very pleasant experience overall.  It is something I would recommend anyone interested in planes or sightseeing from a height to do.  Christmas is coming and if you are stuck as to what present you should get for someone you should certainly consider an Atlantic Flight Training gift voucher.


Please click on any photo to see it in larger size. All photos were taken with a Canon 6D and a 24-105L lens. I was shooting through a window so there are invariably some glass reflections evident in some of the shots.


IMG_8156The cockpit.

IMG_8169Cork City looking north to the Galtee Mountains on the top right. 

IMG_8179The old city dump at Kinsale Road now an environmentally friendly landfill site and soon to be a major recreational area.

IMG_8190The Jack Lynch Tunnel.

IMG_8197The River Lee with the suburbs of Blackrock and Mahon in the foreground.

IMG_8203Fota Castle in the foreground with Carrigtwohill on the upper right.  

IMG_8221Fota Wildlife Park.


IMG_8364Lough Aderra near Castlemartyr.

IMG_8373Castlemartyr with the Castlemartyr Resort and Golf Course in the foreground. 


Youghal is in the middle distance and beyond that is West County Waterford. In the foreground, the River Womanagh flows into the sea. 


Ballymacoda. I was christened in that church in the foreground by a namesake of mine (but no relation).

IMG_8442Knockadoon Head and Capel Island.

IMG_8451Capel Island.

IMG_8466Capel Island.

IMG_8525Ballypherode, Ballymacoda. My father was born and raised in the house in the centre (with the single white van in front). First cousins of mine live in that house and the house directly above it. 


IMG_8578Ballycotton Island.

IMG_8609 Ballycotton Island.

IMG_8640Roche’s Point.

IMG_8665Roche’s Point.

IMG_8738Spike Island.

IMG_8733Spike Island.

IMG_8749The outer Cork Harbour. 

IMG_8789Heading in to land at Cork Airport’s runway 35.


A Fifties Memory

Into My Heart An Air That Kills

From Yon Far Country Blows

What Are Those Blue Remembered Hills

What Spires, What Farms Are Those?

Those words by that most melancholic of poets, A. E. Housman, always remind me of my early childhood in the Ireland of the 1950s, where we lived in a little cottage, near Ballymacoda, County Cork, in the townland of Warren, overlooking the sea, and Ballycotton Island.


The view from the back of the cottage – Ballycotton Island is in the distance

(Click on the photos to see them in larger size) 

It’s been more than 50 years since we lived there and yet the fields and houses, the boreens and pathways, the streams and seashore  have that special resonance for me that the landscapes of all our childhoods invariably have. Their imprint remains for the rest of our lives.

And so, whenever I drive the coast road from Mullins’ Cross to Knockadoon and back via Ballymacoda the past intrudes into the present around nearly every corner.

A few miles from Mullins’ Cross I pass Motherways’ house where my mother worked in the 30s and 40s. The Motherways were farmers and my mother worked as a domestic, doing household chores and looking after the young Motherway children. One of her abiding memories of her time there is of being told of the outbreak of war in September 1939.

A few miles further on I come to where our cottage once stood. It has long since been transformed into a modern bungalow but I can still see my grandfather Jamesy Pomphrett standing by the half-door and the rooms and their furnishings are still clear to me now: the slate tiles on the floor; the dresser with the good ware; the settle; the fireplace and the fire machine; the outside water pump with the large iron handle.


The cottage photographed circa 1974. Jamesy Pomphrett lived there until his death in 1976. 


The cottage as it is now (picture from Google Earth).


In the foreground is The Acre which I remember my grandfather ploughing with a couple of horses.  


My maternal grandfather Jamesy Pomphrett circa 1974. He died in 1976 at the age of 88. My mother, Nora, is still alive and very well at 97 (born on 28 Feb 1916).

Sometimes I park the car nearby and I take a stroll down the boreen towards what was Eamon Walsh’s house, uninhabited for decades and now used for storing feed for livestock.


The boreen to Walsh’s house which was just around the foreground corner to the right

I wander around the derelict house and farm buildings and I remember how I used to play here with the Walsh’s children.

There is no shouting and laughter to be heard here now, only the sound of the wind whistling around the walls and windows. I feel like a ghost as I explore what remains of the rooms.






Eamon Walsh’s house 

From Walsh’s I walk across the fields towards the cliffs and I look across at Ballycotton and the island. In my mind’s eye, the “Innisfallen” hoves into view from behind the island making its way from Cork to Fishguard. The boat used to hug the coastline back then. On board is my father returning to England, to Fords of Dagenham,  after a short holiday at home. We used to light a bonfire in this very place to signal our presence to him as the boat passed. In those days our emigrants went by sea.


The “M.V. Inisfallen”. It carried thousands of emigrants to England and many (most?) of them never returned.  My father did, in 1961, and we –  my parents and sisters and I (my grandfather stayed in the cottage) – moved to Youghal. My parents had contemplated moving the family to London.

I make my way down the cliffs to the strand, a place called The Cow. This is where I used to go with my mother as she picked perriwinkles and carrigeen moss to earn some money in those lean and austere years of the fifties. I would sit in the sun by the side of The Lios (a Fairy Fort) or explore the rockpools  as she worked.



“The Cow” – from the Irish “An Cabha” (cove). 


The wall, built in the 1940s, has successfully weathered the storms over the years with only minor portions breaking away.


At the Garryvoe end of The Cow, “The Tadorna”, a ship bound from from Rotterdam to Cork, ran aground in November 1911 with no loss of life and was deemed unsalvageable. Its general cargo found its way into houses in the locality.


Another photo of the Tadorna courtesy of Mr Toddy Lawton


All that’s left of “The Tadorna” today.    



The mound on which the timber house stands is known as “The Lios” – an Irish word for Fairy Fort. In 2004 local artist and writer Jools Gilson-Ellis staged an installation titled “The Lios” at the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork and at the Phoenix centre in Exeter . Part of the installation consisted of recordings of  local people, including my mother, reminiscing about the Lios and the area.  

From the shore I walk up the path towards Lawton’s old farmhouse. At the top of the path, on the left, is part of a field where a couple of  houses used to be. I vaguely remember them. Helen McCarthy, a childhood friend of my mother’s, was reared in one of those houses. She was a feisty and fun girl according to my mother who remembers her with great affection. She later went to America but returned and married Jimmy Mullins of the aforementioned Mullins’ Cross near Garryvoe. It is sad to think that people loved, lived and played in this very spot and nothing, not a brick nor a stone, remains to stand testament to it.

And as I near what was once Lawton’s house I imagine Tom and Molly coming out to greet me, Molly, as ever, with a cigarette dangling on her lip. There is where the dairy stood, where the cows used to be milked by hand and where the farmyard cats used to get a squirt of milk in the eyes if they greedily ventured too close to one of the milkers.

This is where I made Farmer’s Butter in a wooden tub under the expert eye of Molly. I can still feel the ache in my hand from turning the handle – easy at first and then more difficult as the cream thickened.

My sisters and myself were regular visitors at Lawtons. In those days before television, card playing was a regular occurrence in the evenings. And I remember once how my older sister and myself made our way home across the fields. It was a beautiful night in late summer, I took off my shoes and walked barefoot in the dewy grass, and as I looked up a full harvest moon was rising over the field above Eamon Walsh’s.


Lawton’s house was the second one on the right

One dark winter night my mother took me along a path through some fields until we came to an old iron gate. As I climbed up she told me to look to the northern sky and there we saw the dancing, glimmering lights of the Aurora Borealis. I often wondered if I’d imagined this until a friend of mine confirmed that in 1958 the Northern Lights were observed this far south.

Further up the road is Smiddy’s farmhouse, again, now, empty. Here in the haggard I remember the noise, the smell and the chaff, and the general hustle and bustle, as a threshing machine separated the grain from the stalks and husks of corn one harvest evening.

The threshing machine - Inchigeela, Ireland

A typical threshing scene in Ireland in the 1950s. This one was in Inchigeelagh, County Cork.  Photo by Aubrey Higgs (via Textlad)

Across the road is the boreen down which we travelled in a horse and trap to Ballymacoda for Sunday Mass.

Further on again is Kilmacdonagh School, now another storage space for a farmer. This is where I first went to school – by bicycle – and learned my lessons from an old, severe woman called the Col Aherne.


Kilmacdonagh National School photographed on film circa 2000


This used to be the playground of the school. 



An extract from the school’s roll book of 27/11/1958 showing my entry under the Irish version of my name – “Seán A. Ó Finn” 

Update 26th May, 2015: I returned to the school yesterday and with the kind permission of the owner I took the following photographs: IMG_5322














It’s all so long ago, and I think about time, and finitude, and the passing of time, and of the people who lived around us – Tom and Molly Lawton, Eamon and Chrissie Walsh, Dave Carty, John and May Smiddy, the Colberts – all of whom are now hidden amongst the stars – and the way of life that has disappeared, and the changes that time has wrought.

“Time”, said Marcus Aurelius,” is a river, and strong is its current; no sooner is a thing brought to sight than it is swept by and another takes its place, and this too will be swept away.”

As a small child I was too involved in experiencing the world to have such melancholic thoughts but, of course, I too was a prisoner of time. Dylan Thomas, ìn “Fern Hill”, expressed it well:

Oh as I was young and easy in the mercy of his means

Time held me green and dying

Though I sang in my chains like the sea.

David O’Riordan, Priest and Artist

David O’Riordan is an artist based in Ladysbridge in East Cork.  He is an accomplished iconographer  who will shortly have an exhibition of his work at the Cork County Library, County Hall, Cork (27th March – 26th April) with two Greek iconographers, Nikolaos Griniexakis and Eftychia Ilia. A native of nearby Midleton, he is also the Roman Catholic Parish Priest of Ladysbridge and Ballymacoda in the Diocese of Cloyne.


Fr David O’Riordan 

I became aware of his work while doing photography for the Ordination Service book of William Crean who became Bishop of Cloyne on 27th January. I was asked to photograph one of David’s icons– of Saint Colman – that is on the wall at Cloyne Church. I was so struck by the beauty and professionalism of the image that I texted David to say so. A few days afterwards he asked if I’d mind photographing some of his other icons at his home in Ladysbridge as they were required for the County Library exhibition.


The icon of Saint Colman as it appeared in the Ordination Book  

As I expected, the icon of Saint Colman was no fluke. Here was a collection of beautiful icons in various sizes and done to the highest standards of the genre. Icons are religious images more commonly associated with the Eastern Orthodox tradition than Western Christianity. The word iconography itself is from the Greek words for “image” and “to write”. The convention is to say that an icon has been written as opposed to painted as the artist, in producing an icon, is writing a religious story in picture form.

To those of us more familiar with traditional Western art icons can appear strange. They lack the three dimensional quality so familiar in paintings since the Renaissance. This is deliberate. They are not meant to be naturalistic. Instead they are replete with rich religious symbolism that has changed little in over 1,000 years. Colours, for example, are used to signify The Radiance of Heaven (gold), The Divine Life (red), Human Life (blue) and The Uncreated Light of God (white).

So, for example, Jesus is often depicted wearing a red garment underneath a blue one to symbolise God become Man whereas the garment colours are usually reversed for the Virgin Mary (a human gifted by God). Neither do they comply with the compositional conventions of more traditional art where the subject is usually off-centre: in icons the subject occupies the very centre of the frame in order to underline the centrality of the sacred presence.




The faces look odd to us too. This is also to do with symbolism. Eyes tend to be larger than natural, for example, in order to symbolise the spiritual eye looking beyond the material world. Likewise, the mouth is usually depicted much smaller than natural as it is often the source of empty or harmful words.


David working on an icon

They are painted – written – using another ancient method: egg tempera – a permanent fast-drying paint made with coloured pigment mixed with (free-range) egg yolk and purified water. This was the standard method of painting up until the 15th century when oils became the norm. Again, the very medium used underlines the traditional nature of the craft. And “craft” is used advisedly as there is little or no room for self-expression in iconography. Adherence to the tradition is paramount and icons are rarely if ever signed whereas our modern understanding of art is primarily one of the artist expressing himself or herself.


Preparing the egg tempera colours

In contradistinction to the formality and asceticism of his iconography David’s other art is abstract and wildly colourful and executed through the voluptuous medium of oils. It is hard to believe that it is the work of the same person who produced the icons. Here we are very much in the modern era with influences as diverse as Georgia O’Keeffe and Salvador Dali being evident.

One could say that his iconography and his modern-influenced art represents the sacred and the secular except that a religious sensitivity can also be detected in his modern paintings. Not in any conventional sense, of course, but a mystical reverence for the underlying nature of things can be detected in his work. Which, of course, given the man’s religious vocation, is not at all surprising.







Obviously, David O’Riordan is no mere Sunday painter. Which prompts the question: why haven’t the general public  been given greater opportunities  to see his work? Apart from the forthcoming County Library event the only other exhibition he has held (of icons) was in Ballyvourney years ago when he was curate in Macroom (he has also served in Castlelyons, Cobh and Clondrohid.) Certainly, his non-icon work  deserves to be seen as well and one hopes that he will consider an exhibition in due course.