Boltholes: Jeremy Paxman on fine food and fishing in Co Cork
Broadcaster Jeremy Paxman and his family have frequently visited Cork, which he loves for its wild, natural beauty and food, but he is less enthralled by ugly boom buildings
Ballycotton, Co Cork
Fairly quickly into our interview, BBC journalist, broadcaster and author Jeremy Paxman picks apart my observation that west Cork seems to me, at least, a favourite holiday destination for a certain type of media savvy or arty British tourist.
“Oh dear, you’ve been reading the cuttings again,” Paxman says. “That viewpoint is rubbish. You’re going to tell me about Jeremy Irons and Lord Puttnam. There is a list of people that is periodically trotted out. It just so happens these people spend time in Cork. I wouldn’t have said there was any great particular feature about the place that attracts certain people. It is simply a fantastically beautiful part of the world if you wish to find wilderness.”
Paxman first visited the area when he was covering The Troubles in Northern Ireland in the 1970s. One local newspaper’s worldview had always intrigued him and he thinks one of the first places he visited was the harbour town of Schull.
“I was always taken with the rather apocryphal story about the Skibbereen Eagle newspaper keeping its eye on the Tsars. It is a fantastic place Skibbereen and a magical name. I loved it and thought it was the most extraordinary beautiful place. It is just a shame that Ireland’s planning laws are worse than the UK ones. I really don’t understand the way in which beautiful bits of Ireland have been ruined by unsightly buildings thrown up.”
Paxman and his family holidayed near Skibbereen from the 1970s onwards, but he says he hasn’t visited the area for several years. “The last time I was in west Cork was about five years ago and it was interesting looking at the car number plates of visitors. You could see what market the Irish tourist boards were spending money in. One year, you’d see a lot of Dutch cars, and then there might be Germans the next year, or French. I was really surprised the last time I was in west Cork to see how many tourists were there. I don’t think it has been completely over run, but something has changed about it. We used to rent in Skibbereen, and I do still have friends who live in Schull. There are some great local restaurants, like Mary Ann’s in Castletownshend and we used to go to Hare Island also. I remember having to get a dinghy out there.”
Following a holiday when it rained continuously for two weeks, Paxman and his family decided to take a break from west Cork, and when they resumed visiting the county, they switched to east Cork and began staying at Ballymaloe.
He says he resisted the temptation to enrol in cookery classes. “No, of course I didn’t take up classes. I was on holiday. I suppose I should have done. The food there is amazing, and Ballycotton down the road is great. One of my passions is fishing. I’ve been out many times sea fishing from Ballycotton, that is if you can still find any fish left in the sea.”
What Paxman views as overdevelopment in some parts of scenic Ireland is in contrast to the protection of Scotland’s Highlands, where large-scale development has mostly not been permitted.
“I very often go to the Highlands in Scotland and for good reason. I know we’re not comparing like with like, but I do think in Ireland it is a great shame the kind of development that has been allowed and the ill thought out buildings. Having said that, I still think west Cork is wonderful and nowhere are you going to get that combination of a wind off the Atlantic and a beautiful and often clear sea, along with the unique wilderness and food.”
Aside from the landscape, I ask Paxman whether he noticed any changes in the way Irish people welcomed tourists during the last decade? “I’m not competent to judge that,” Paxman says, expertly avoiding the question. “I think, by and large, we always found a wonderful welcome in Ireland and I wouldn’t wish to say anything that would give the slightest offence. I have no direct experience of anything other than a welcome.
“The whole tourist trade has become so much bigger. I remember Cork Airport, when I first used to go there it was a very small and rudimentary place. Now, having conned the EU into giving vast amounts of money to Ireland, it looks like something you’d expect to see in Charles De Gaulle in Paris!”
Paxman says he doesn’t know yet where he is going on holidays this summer.