Part 1 - Route: (Cork Harbour to Innishannon)
Part 2 - Route: (Bandon to Union Hall)
Part 3 - Route: (Skibbereen to The Mizen)
Bantry - Bantry Area - Ballylickey - Glengarriff - The Beara Peninsula - Allihies - Eyeries
Near the head of magnificent Bantry Bay lies the town of Bantry, at one time a station of the British Atlantic Fleet, today a thriving Irish market town and touring centre. The town derives its name from one of the earliest chiefs of the district, Beannt (Mac Fariola). Bantry lies at the heart of a very ancient region which carries the remains of the greatest concentration of Megalithic and Neolithic monuments in Europe, pre-dating the Pyramids and ancient Greece. Visit Bantry Museum to get a picture of this rich history. According to the ancient Book of Invasions, the first people to come to Ireland are said to have landed at nearby Donemark, Dun na mBarc or Fort of the Ships (between Bantry and Ballylickey). Local folklore recounts the invasion of foreign peoples - the early Cesair, the Tuatha-da-Donan from Greece and the Milesians from the Nile Delta. The Celts arrived after 500 BC. Other local points of interest are Holy Trinity Church (1818), which contains some fine wood carvings; the Methodist Chapel (1842), now a medical centre, on Marino Street; St. Finbarr's Church (1846), with sculptures by Seamus Murphy; and Bantry Courthouse (1836), with memorials to Republican history. St Brendan's Statue in Wolfe Tone Square, representing the Saints legendary voyage to America in the 8th century.
Lough Bofinne, a clear water lake 3 miles east of Bantry, offers exceptional shore angling facilities. The lake is regularly stocked with adult trout. Occasional pike, perch eels and rudd are present. Boats are available if required.
Bantry House is one of Ireland's Great Houses, open to the public. Built by the 1st Earl of Bantry, it has been the home of the Shelswell-White family since 1739. The house and gardens are beautifully situated overlooking the Bay. Inside are many treasures which the various Earls of Bantry brought back from Europe aand further afield - chests from the Indies, urns from the orient, paintings by the great masters and various objets d'art. There are French and Dutch tapestries saved from the sack of Tuileries in the Revolution of 1830 and reputed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette. There are fireplaces from Versailles, period furniture and tapestries of the Duke d'Orleans.
Outside, the garden walks and views from Bantry House are inviting and rewarding. There is an excellent Craft Shop & Coffee Room, as well as a tastefully refurbished Guest House.
1796 Exhibition Centre
Newly opened in the delightful courtyard beside Bantry House is the 1796 French Armada Exhibition Centre where you can see displayed artifacts from the French frigate `La Surveillante', which was skuttled offshore in 1797 after damage in a storm. It was discovered in 1982 in surprisingly good condition, and in 1985 was declared an Irish National Monument. The exhibition vividly illustrates what life was like in the French Navy 200 years ago.
The story is as follows: ``In the winter of 1796 a formidable French armada, inspired by the Irish revolutionary Theobald Wolfe Tone and the United Irishmen, a liberation army set sail from the port of Brest in France. Almost 50 warships carried 15,000 French soldiers to the south west coast of Co. Cork. The fleet was dispersed in a terrible storm. Their intent was to invade Ireland and expel the British. Ten ships were lost. "Quel dommage !"
A centrepiece in the exhibition is a large-scale model (1:6) of the ship in cross-section, showing its construction and the various activities of the crew as the ship was being abandoned.
Standing over 2m high on a commanding site 1ml SW of Bantry, Kilnaruane Stone dates from the early Christian period. There is good Swimming at Rarour Strand near Bantry Community Centre, and also outside Bantry, near the road running down the northern side of Muntervary Head.
Between Bantry and Dunmanus Bay is Sheeps Head, an unspoiled peninsula untouched by tourism. At Ahakista there is a Memorial Garden & Sundial in memory of the victims of the Air India disaster. The sundial is by Cork sculptor Ken Thompson, and was donated by the people of Canada, India & Ireland.
Situated at the head of Bantry Bay, Ballylickey provides stunning views and easy access to the whole Bantry region and to the Beara Peninsula. Ballylickey is the main accommodation centre and touring base here, with hotels and guesthouses offering beautiful vistas over the sea and mountains. Near Ballylickey are the ruins of Reendesert Court, the fortified house/castle of the O'Sullivans destroyed at the time of Cromwell. An escape tunnel ran from the cellar under the road to the sea-front. Beyond Ballylickey and across from Snave Bay you can see the Whiddy Island Tank Farm and the jetty where the oil-tanker The Betelgeuse exploded in 1979 with the loss of 50 lives.
Glengarriff, opening to an inlet of Bantry Bay, is called the `Killarney of West Cork'. Its beauty, however, is unique. This deep, secluded valley in the Caha Mountains is a National State Forest, offering the visitor a variety of natural walks and retreats, craggy wooded glens, tangled pathways and secret beauty spots. The mild climate and sheltered location encourages luxuriant foliage, tropical shrubs and flowering plants that seem native to the place. Here you may find some of the last remaining vestiges of primeval native Irish Oak Forest. On every side there are elms, pines, arbutus, yew and holly trees against a backdrop of majestic and irregular mountain tops. A leaflet Lets Walk Around Glengarriff is available.
Outside Glengarriff there is good Swimming at Zeatland Pier & Strand, at Seal Harbour, Tragleahan, and at Poulgorm Point, left of the Blue Pool slipway (and diving board). The Blue Pool Amenity Area near the village is an area of woodland, fields and walks to be freely explored. There is lake fishing 2 miles SW of Glengarriff at Upper Lough Avoul, and Lower Lough Auval, beside the Castletownbere road. The lakes are stocked regularly and offer excellent angling returns. For permits and information on local lake, river and sea fishing, contact the Maple Leaf Bar. Fishing tackle is on sale at local shops.
The celebrated Garnish Island or Ilnacullin, in Glengarriff Harbour is a wonderful island paradise where once was only bare rock, holly and scrub. In 1910-13 it was planted by Harold Peto for John Bryce, who later willed it to the nation. It is noted for its magnolias, camelias, rhododendrons, azaleas, cultivars, climbing shrubs, herbacious perennials and rare conifers. The centrepiece is the Italian Garden, with its formal collanaded terraces and pools. Seals lolling on the seashore evidently find it paradise too! The gardens are open from March to October. Licensed boats operating from Glengarriff will take you across.
The Beara Peninsula
The Beara Peninsula is the wildest, most romantic and isolated of the peninsulas of the SW. There is a feeling of being on an island. This is a world apart, offering the discerning visitor solitude and tranquility, as well as incredible views over Kenmare Bay, Coulach Bay, Ballydonegan Bay, Bantry Bay, etc. Nature is master here, where you'll find golden beach and rugged cliff, bog and moor with rare heathland flowers and birds. The Caha Mountains form its backbone, with the Cork /Kerry border lying along the summit ridge.
The origins of the name Beara are very old, dating back to Eoin Mor, the 2nd century King of Munster who spent 9 years in Spain where he married Beara, the daughter of a Spanish King. On his return he landed in Bantry Bay and named the peninsula after his bride. The entire peninsula is very rich in antiquities, wedge tombs, stone circles, boulder burials, old church sites, ancient monuments and a legend Ogham Stone which is the tallest in the world.
The mythical figure of An Caileach Beara - or The Old Hag of Beara has its roots in pre-history. The Caileach was variously identified with the Great Mother and Corn Goddess, a personification of the forces of wild nature. She is still alive in local tradition, which holds that she changed herself into a large stone which now sits looking out to sea in Coola Bay, near Kilcatherin on the north side of the peninsula. This still attracts many visitors to the area.
Adrigole village is the gateway to the Ring of Beara. The highest waterfall in Ireland is located on this side of Hungry Hill. Like the `Ring of Kerry', The Ring of Beara Drive is a popular, well signposted route which, if starting at Bantry, takes in the following: Ballylickey - Glengarriff - Adrigole - Castletownbere - Dursey Island (Cable Car) - Ballydonegan - Allihies - Eyeries - Ardgroom harbour - The Healy Pass - Adrigole - and back again to Bantry. (150km approx). This wild, scenic route takes in the Healy Pass in Caha Mountains, named after Tim Healy, the 1st Governor General of the Irish Free State. From this height, you can look down on Glenmore Lake and Woodland, an area that has been compared to the lake district of England. The Beara Walk is a well-signposted walk which may be taken anywhere from Castletownbere to Eyeries.
Castletown Berehaven or `Castletownbere' is the principal town and the largest whitefish port in Ireland. It is a safe anchorage for yachts and the 2nd largest natural harbour in the world. Outside the town, beside the ruins of the older O'Sullivan Castle (destroyed 1602), are the impressive ruins of Dunboy Castle, a vast 19th century house built in a mixture of styles by the Puxley family, who made their fortunes from the Copper Mines at allihies. Following the defeat of the Gaelic Clans at Kinsale (1601), O'Sullivan Beare refused to surrender, and fought his way north from here with over 1000 kinsmen. However, only 100 made it to safety at O'Rourke's Castle in Leitrim. O'Sullivan then left for Spain, where he was later murdered while returning from Mass. Dunboy Woods are open to the public with picnic areas and walks.
Two miles from Castletownbere on the main Bantry Road, visitors may witness working Sheep Dog Demonstrations on the small hill farm of John Casey. Together with his dog Ben, John Casey won the BBC TV Trophy `One Man & His Dog.' Here the dogs display their skills - a result of training, handling, breeding and natural ability. (Tel 027-70287).
3 Miles from the village of Ardgroom in a wild remote scenic area on the southern shore of Kenmare Bay, lies Derryveggal Lake, stocked with trout for the angler and offering excellent shoreline and boat facilities.
Dursey Island at the end of the Beara Peninsula is accessible by cable car across a wild ocean sound- an exhilarating trip, if you have the courage! Bere Island is 7 miles long with a population of 200. The old fortifications and a Martello Tower remind us that this was once a British Naval Base. Glenans Sailing School is located here. There are two ferries operating all year.
Allihies & Eyeries
The village and community of Allihies near Ballydonegan Bay at the foothills of the Slieve Miskish Mountains was once a thriving mining location, where copper ore was extracted from the surrounding hills. The copper was discovered in 1810 and mined by the Puxley family until the 1930's, using local labour (including children). All that remains today are the old and crumbling chimneys and the precarious mine shafts, which are dramatic, but dangerous to approach.
Eyeries is an unspoilt picturesque traditional Irish village with some very homely hostels and guest accommodation. Eyeries is the centre for a small farming community and some talented crafts-people living locally. There are beautiful beaches, coastal walks and a fishing harbour.