The Kilbrittain Whale

Small rivalries

So Kilbrittain bagged the whale, said I, foolishly, to the elderly man in the bar.

Bastards, he hissed in reply, tongue in cheek, I think.

We’re still waiting for a talented scribe to pen the nautical version of John B Keane’s The Field in West Cork. All the ingredients are there – a 66ft whale, claim and counter claim, bitter divisions between neighbours, and chainsaw-wielding Captain Ahab’s in the dead of night.

Two years back a mighty Balaenoptera physalus swam up Courtmacsherry Bay.  Tragically, the magnificent fin whale, weighing in at 50 tonnes, became disorientated when the tide started to turn.  She died despite frantic attempts to tow her back out to sea.

(Some might claim that the disorientation began when she realised that because she was in Irish waters and that she belonged, technically, to then then minister for the environment John Gormley, enough to disorientate any creature, even the second largest animal on the planet after its cousin, the Blue Whale.)

Courtmacsherry, meanwhile, is one of the most picturesque parts of Ireland. If the weather is right the place looks so stunning a postcard wouldn’t do it justice. A fishing village, it prides itself on its maritime heritage.

A number of plaques commemorate nautical events on its main street, including the sinking of the Lusitania about eleven miles off the coast of Kinsale, which is about 25 minutes drive from Courtmacsherry. The ship went down on 7 May 1915 after it was torpedoed by a German U-boat, killing 1,198 of the 1959 passengers.

The village itself, correctly deciding that all the rest is propaganda, has three pubs and one shop. The tide, according my non-shiver-me-timbers-opinion, appears to sweep in and out of the massive bay with alarming regularity.

Courtmac, incidentally, is not far from Baltimore, where on June 20, 1631 an invasion force from North Africa, led by the notorious pirate admiral, Morat Rais, described as the most ruthless and daring of the Barbery brigands, abducted almost the entire Irish village and spirited 107 men, women and children off to a life of slavery on the other side of the world.

They shipped an ancestor of Senator Eoghan Harris home after a week – there’s only so much bollocks a pirate can endure about the Protestants of West Cork before hitting the grog and descending into a watery grave.

Des Ekin, author of The Stolen Village: Baltimore and the Barbery Pirates, writes that when we think of slavery, most of us think of European slave traders hauling African prisoners off to a life of bondage. But this was a time when the opposite happened – with slave traders from Africa sailing north to seize Paddy.  No wonder Guinness is so popular on the Dark Continent.

Meantime, Kilbrittain is on the other side of the Courtmacsherry bay.  Situated about a mile inland, it has little or no maritime history, according to my friend at the bar, who added that they were also bastards.

It was into this environ that our tragic whale swam on its final journey in January 2009 before drawing its last breath on the Kilbrittain side of the harbour. Shortly after it died two men from Courtmacsherry, also known as a drinking village with a fishing problem, approached with a chainsaw. Their plan was to saw off its head and mount the jaw bones in the village.

However, they were confronted by Kilbrittain residents who told them they were claiming the carcass. Later that night, according to reports, the whale’s jaw was removed by a stealthy group of Kilbrittain volunteers.

They also got the rest of the skeleton as it was displayed in the village’s Harvest Festival last year.

So the Rorqual belongs to them?


Are you on talking terms with them?


Behind the bar the owner is wearing a faded T-Shirt inscribed with the pyrrhic boast; Courtmacsherry, Having a Whale of a Time.

Kilbrittain would want to keep an eye on that skeleton, I reckon.  Possession tends to be nine-tenths of the law in these cases. And where’s the next John B Keane when you need him, or Herman Melville?

9 thoughts on “The Kilbrittain Whale

  1. Good piece about a lovely part of West Cork about which someone once said – “Its not so much a geographical area as a state of mind”. Are you familiar with Dunworley Bay near Courtmac?

  2. Was there yes. Fishing is very popular here and bird watching – there’s some fine looking birds down here an all, all foreigners. Stunning views in Courtmac.

  3. Completely off topic. I spotted a Hen Harrier pair in Clare over the weekend. swooped around the house like jet planes. Absolutely beautiful birds. Apparently there are only 150 breeding pairs in the whole of the Island.

  4. Great sight LJS, there’s all sorts of exotic birds down here also, haven’t a club what they are. I’ve never seen any of them before that’s for sure.

    What do you make of the admiral pirate Rais, a former Shannon RFC out -half, and he making off with an entire Irish village. He was some man for one man.

  5. Morat Rais was actually an english man who had settled in North Africa following a dubious career on the high seas. His captives were english settlers in Ireland, originally from Cornwall. The book is worth a read alright.

  6. “following a dubious career on the high seas”, love it. So he was a Saxon, hmmm, sure he was still a great man, and they were half Paddy.

  7. Brilliant LJS – “pieces of bate, pieces of bate” his parrot (according to legen same is your parrot by the way) used shriek in relation to the Bateman Cup

  8. I haven’t read ‘The Stolen Village’ so don’t know what nationality the author ascribes to Morat Rais but it appears that there were more Morat Rais’s than people claiming to be Spartacus. There was one called Jan Janszoon from Haarlem who fits the same timeline. He was originally captured in the Canaries by Barbarys and had a long career as a pirate and occasional slave trader.
    So it may have been an Orangeman what done for the proddies in Baltimore, not English or an ex-Shannon out half.

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