June through August, Cape Clear Island, West Cork is festive. Over 200 Irish Summer College students come to perfect their Irish and participate in outdoor games and activities. Day-trippers stroll to the lake, to the Old Lighthouse, to the Heritage Centre. Yachts ply in and out of the two main harbours, colourfully crowding them during regatta days. Holiday-making families arrive with windsurfers, canoes, fishing gear. Scuba divers prowl old wrecks and precipitous reefs. The lively pubs have frequent formal and informal sessions and many aficionados bringing their instruments. We recommend that in order to avoid any disappointment, accommodation should be booked in advance.
After the summer rush of activity, autumn is a suddenly rich quiet season. The island ferry cuts back on trips to the mainland. The bracken slowly turns deep russet. Now -- and in the spring -- is an ideal time not only for those seeking tranquillity off-the-beaten-track but also for transition-year students to come for special classes in archaeology, writing, outdoor adventure, the Irish language; and, most important, to give students a taste of island living. October brings more rare birds -- and more birdwatchers -- than any other month.
November through February is, normally, our gale season. Mountainous waves and "the draw" (undertow) can prevent the ferry from sailing. Surf explodes high against the cliffs, covering the island with salt spray. With winds often in excess of Force 9, walking itself can become an adventure. The reeds in the bogs turn soft orange. Self-catering prices fall to half high season rates. Love of hard weather, reading and writing and storytelling before a cosy fire, make these wild, introspective times enjoyable. The community plans activities to which visitors are welcome: a visiting drama group; dance, music or first-aid classes; community socials; Irish lessons. . . .
March through May the island awakes from its winter slumber and returns outdoors. Farmers plant and plough and fishermen return to the sea. April is thought to be the second best month for sighting rare birds. Many believe May is the loveliest month for wild flowers. By early June islanders anticipate the excitement of summer, though, paradoxically, by early August they yearn for the peace and tranquillity of autumn.