A stroll around the other Paris
As the sea sparkles in the west Cork sun, Tony Doherty plans his return to Heir Island
Mount Gabriel seen from the southern point of Heir Island
“A walk about Paris will provide
lessons in history, beauty and
in the point of Life”
Coming across this quotation recently reminded me of a long-term plan to visit Paris; not the capital of France, however, but Heir Island in west Cork, whose main hamlet is also called Paris.
While it is known locally as Heir Island, it is named on the Ordnance Survey map as Inish Uí Drisceoil or Hare Island, and indeed has been identified as Hare Island on maps as far back as 1654. I’ll play safe and go with the locals as I plan to go back.
There is a permanent population of 25 on the island, rising to 150 in summer. In the 19th century the island had a population of 400.
The island is low lying with its highest point being only 26m above sea level and so provides easy walking along a central spine which, like all the ridges in west Cork, runs from northeast to southwest as part of the Armorican Folding, the synclines of which have been flooded by the post-glacial rise in sea levels to create the great bays and island clusters that make this part of the country so special.
From the pier take the roadway up to the first crossroads, past the restaurant and turn right on to the road that takes you down on to the beach where the sailing school is located.
From the beach a grassy track runs along the edge of the water before turning up to join the main road.
More than 200 species of wild flowers grow on the island, but it was too early in the year. I must come back later when the island is awash with colour and the air is heady with scents of camomile and honeysuckle.
Crossing the bridge across a long inlet I came to Paris, a cluster of 17 houses, some 19th-century ruins while the inhabited houses date mainly from the 1920s. With the scent of a peat fire in my nostrils, I make my way to a narrow neck of land between two inlets bounded by tall precipices on to a small area of heathland known as An Dún (the Fort). There is no doubt that this rockbound headland would have made a good defensive position in times past.
With the sea sparkling in the spring sunshine it was time to sit by rocks bedecked in sea pinks and absorb the sea scape of islands from Cape Clear to Long Island with Mount Gabriel and the Mizen Peninsula forming an imposing backdrop.
This is a place to linger.
I think the serenity of Heir Island and Paris, west Cork, would have invoked the same musings from Jefferson as Paris, France inspired.