Sep 022009
birds of the night

Image by Adam Foster | Codefor via Flickr

Column for 26/08

It’s getting darker noticeably earlier in the evenings again.

This is proper dark — not the "light obscured by banks of horrible black cloud" that has been the hallmark of a summer that simply never happened. We had one week of nice weather towards the end of June, and then the heavens opened. I know Ireland’s famous for being green, but this summer has been ridiculous.

No wonder the travel agents are seeing a surge in business. It’s enough to make anyone want to hop on a plane.

But back to the darkness…. it’s getting properly dark much earlier. Yet another reminder that we’re running out of summer with just the occasional glimpse of sunshine.

Perched out beyond the western edge of the time zone we tend to enjoy a little bit more light than our neighbours to the east (when the clouds don’t obscure it, that is). In midsummer I can be outside at 11pm and there’s still a glow in the sky to the west. It’s not light, but it’s not quite dark either — more of an elongated twilight. But despite a daylight extension courtesy of our peripheral geography, the nights are definitely starting to draw in.

Like everything else that life throws up this presents yet another dilemma for parents. With the school term literally around the corner, do you start to re-establish school-time routine and get the kids to bed earlier, or do you let them stay up later to wring every ounce of potential out of the rapidly evaporating holidays?

Sunday morning was yet another West Cork wash-out. We decided not to venture out to watch the Tour of Ireland cyclist passing through the local village as they headed for Cork, and were pretty much resigned to staying indoors. But contrary to expectations it brightened up in the afternoon, so we headed for Galley Head and the Whale Watch Ireland event that’s held towards the end of August every year. As we approached the lighthouse we almost missed a small, handwritten sign informing us that the watch had been cancelled due to the weather… yet another casualty of the summer that never was. For once though the sun was shining out of one of the bluest skies I’ve seen all year. It was glorious, if a little breezy, so we decided to head up to the headland anyway to see if we could spot anything.

Galley head is an amazing place — elevated above the sea it offers panoramic views across the Atlantic and up and down the West Cork coastline. It’s the ideal place for some shore-based whale watching. With luck, timing and a decent pair of binoculars or a spotting scope you can see a wide variety of dolphin and whale species from Galley Head. As it happens we didn’t see any of them on Sunday — just a slew of sea birds, but none actively feeding, which suggested an absence of fish, and no fish means no whales. Still, the anticipation was exciting for the children, and when they got tired of looking they had a great time playing on the grass with their friends, enjoying the sunshine and spectacular views.

As we left Galley Head head it was getting late, but the weather was holding, and so the perennial dilemma reared its head. Should we head for home, tea and an early night for the children, or make the most of the break in the weather to stay outdoors? In the end there wasn’t much hand-wringing involved. We’ve seen so little sun this summer that we decided to make the most of it and headed for the nearby forest walk up Carrigfadda Hill. We figured that this could be the last bit of sun we see before they go back to school, and that tired kids, in theory at least, would go to bed easier.

For more information on whales and dolphins in Ireland visit the Irish Whale and Dolphin group’s website (

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