The eponymous mill, wherever it was, is long gone. There are no recognisable remains here, save an anonymous ruin by the track down to the cove, too far from flowing water to have been part of any mill: possibly a fish ‘palace’, for the curing of pilchards. ‘Mill Cove’ sounds very English; no memory survives of an Irish name for this spot, where the tumbling waters of Cummeeranassig slow down as they approach the sea.
But, although the mill is gone, the cove is far from abandoned. The shallows, stony-bottomed but commonly calm, are popular with those hardy neighbours who swim the year round. Above the beach, the links provide Castletownbere with its golf course, gloriously placed on one of the low headlands which enclose the cove, and boasting a quay as well as a clubhouse. And then there is the art gallery, at the discreetly wooded Mill Cove House.
The expectation of the Atlantic seaboard is of ruggedness, modified where practicable for the purposes of the farmer and the fisherman; occasionally we find more exotic wildernesses of rhododendron and bamboo, the legacy of the great landlords, botanically curious; and there are—sometimes but not always—ordinary gardens around ordinary houses and bungalows. But here and there are the gardens—not grand, but not routinely domestic—of the old genteel classes (like the mill, long gone); anglophile if not demonstrably English, which probably accounts for the Englishness of the name. Around Mill Cove House are relics of the old formal gardens: the retaining boundary wall against the sea shore, and handsome rusting gates that never close. Within the boundaries, informally elegant lawns and woodland are natural and agreeable successors to the artful designs of which they are reminiscent, and provide a sympathetic setting for the gallery and its sculptures.
In moonlight these more formal landscapes become surreal. The untampered—or less obviously tampered—crags and loughs and forests of Beara have their own dreamlike quality at night; with hints of nightmares, too, because the tales of the sídhe, the ancient and dangerous fairy-folk, seem to come alive in the soughing of the wind. But at least the night is their own; the wildness is as natural at night as by day. These cut lawns and carefully placed shrubs and subtleties of garden architecture, however, are different; their ambivalent contrast of the natural and the artificial, the real and the imagined, at full moon paints a surreal fantasy dreamscape after Chirico or Delvaux—a dreamscape which is both of Beara and something beyond.