Bantry House and Gardens
Bantry House and Gardens were built for the Earl of Bantry, who was given his title as a reward for warning the English that the United Irishmen were attempting to bring in a French force at Bantry Bay to aid their 1798 rebellion. The house is open to the public and has lovely gardens, which stretch down to the sea and an exhibition centre with displays about the 1798 rebellion.
Beaches in County Cork
The lovely deserted Barley Cove beach near Crookhaven on the Mizen Peninsula is probably Corks best beach. There are other nice beaches which are safe for swimming near Youghal in East Cork, a pretty beach at Inchydoney near Clonakilty which is not safe for swimming and sandy safe beaches on Sherkin Island (boats from Baltimore).
The most westerly of Cork’s peninsulas, the Beara Peninsula has beautiful rugged coastal scenery which can be seen by driving around the Ring of Beara coast road. Another scenic drive is the Healy Pass, which cuts across the peninsula from Adrigole to Lauragh on the Kerry side. The peninsula has many prehistoric remains dotted about including standing stones, tombs and stone circles. Glengariff Woods forest park is a popular spot for walking and the Sugarloaf Mountain and Hungry Hill have good views over the Peninsula.
Boats to Bere Island run from Castletownbere on the Beara Peninsula (cost IR15 return). There are two pubs and a few shops on the island.
Blarney Castle is hugely popular and in consequence crowded in summer, but it is an impressive sight in a scenic location and well worth a visit, even if you don’t want to kiss the Blarney Stone. The castle contains a labyrinth of many rooms and chambers, great halls, two spiral staircases and dark caves lead intriguingly underneath it.
There was a wooden fort on the limestone outcrop where the Blarney Castle stands, dating back to the 10th century. The Norman style keep, guards towers and part of the perimeter wall of the fortress which are still standing were built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, after the MacCarthys moved from the Rock of Cashel to Cork. The family changed allegiances frequently during the politically turbulent 17th and 18th centuries. They fought on the side of the English against the Irish chieftains, Hugh O’Neill and Hugh O’Donnell when Spanish soldiers landed at Kinsale harbour, Cork, in 1601. However, when Cromwell reached Cork in 1646, the MacCarthys stood against the English armies. They were blasted out of Blarney Castle with cannon after Cromwell’s forces led by Lord Broghill held the castle under siege. However, the MacCarthys were able to retake the castle in 1661 when King Charles II was restored to power. The MacCarthy’s good fortune was short lived, however, when they again stood with the Irish Chieftains in support of the deposed King James who decided to use Ireland as his battle ground to try to get his throne back from King William of Orange.
The Lord of Blarney Castle and now Earl of Clancarty, welcomed James to Cork, in 1689, but the King’s forces were defeated at the Battle of the Boyne by William of Orange in 1690 and the MacCarthys were forced to flee Blarney Castle. The castle was sold by the English and had such owners as the Hollow Sword Blades Company of London until it was bought by Sir James Jeffreyes, Governor of Cork in 1703, who was instrumental in building 13 textile mills and Blarney village to accommodate the workers. The myth of Blarney, attached to the kissing the Blarney stone, which is lodged in a precarious position at the top of the castle battlements of the castle, came from an expostulation by Queen Elizabeth I.
She was trying to control the Irish chiefs by making them agree to possess their lands under tenure from her. However Cormac Teige MacCarthy kept replying to her demands by writing letters professing his loyalty and devotion, but not conceding to her demand. After receiving another letter from McCarthy the Queen exclaimed in fury: “This is all Blarney, he never means what he says, he never does what he promises.” From then on kissing the Blarney stone became renowned for giving people the gift of the gab, or as the French Consul in Dublin, Charles Montbret put it in 1789, the ability to lie for seven years. The Blarney stone is reputed to have been brought back from the Crusades and also to be a part of the royal Stone of Scone which Robert the Bruce of Scotland gave to Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, in gratitude for the Irish army of 4,000 men which was sent to back him at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Castle Salem near Rosscarbery was built in the 15th century but was converted for more comfortable use by its eccentric 17th century owner, an English Major, Apollo Morris, who was given the building by Cromwell.
The huge bastioned Charles Fort, which overlooks Kinsale harbour, is one of the best preserved 17th century star forts in Europe. Kinsale was one of Ireland’s most important southern trading ports by the 15th century, and the first forts built to defend it were earthworks on the sites of Charles Fort and James Fort across the harbour. Charles fort saw its first action in 1601 when Spanish forces came to support the Irish chieftains and prevented the English fleet from entering Kinsale harbour. However, both forts fell to the English under artillery fire during the Battle of Kinsale and Cromwell ordered the fort to be destroyed in 1656. The fort was however strengthened in 1667 when England feared attack from the French, Dutch and Danes. In 1672 Royal assent was given for the stone fortification to be built and it was named Charles Fort by the Earl of Ormond, in honour of King Charles II.
In 1689 Charles Fort and James fort fought on the side of King James even after he lost the Battle of the Boyne to William of Orange in 1690. The Williamite forces under the command of Marlborough and Wurtemburg attacked and took James Fort after killing many of the defenders by exploding a barrel of gunpowder. And after a 13 day siege the English forces which had been positioned on high ground above Charles Fort broke through the ramparts with cannon and the defenders surrendered. The fort was in continuous use during the 19th century and continued to be used for training until 1921 when the British Army withdrew from the newly created Irish Free State. Many of the buildings were damaged during the following civil war and what remains inside the huge ramparts today is a curious mixture of different period buildings as well as a small exhibition. The Irish National Monuments service is currently carrying out reconstruction work on the fort.
Clear Island off the West Cork coast is the second most southwesterly rock off Ireland after the nearby Fastnet Rock. Boats to the island, which is only about three miles long and one mile wide, run from Baltimore. The island is a popular bird watching centre as thousands of shearwaters, fulmars, gannets and kittiwakes can be seen flying past its southerly point heading out to fish in the mornings in July and August and returning at night. Guillemots also nest on the island. It is a Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) area and has one shop, three pubs, b&b accommodation, self catering cottages for rent, a campsite and one restaurant. It also has great views along the Cork coast to the Mizen Head Peninsula.
Creagh Gardens near Baltimore are beautifully planted with rhododendrons and have pretty riverside walks.
Drombeg Stone Circle
The Drombeg Stone Circle near Glandore and Rosscarbery is one of the best preserved of a considerable number of stone circles, standing stones and cairns in West Cork. The ancient Stone Age circle is sited in a sheltered hollow with a panoramic view over the countryside (now rolling farmland) to the sea. There are sixteen upright stones and an oblong axial stone. The axial stone which has two carved hollows top, which are now very worn, is aligned with the winter solstice sunset (on December 21). Drombeg stone circle was excavated by E M Fahy in 1957, who found that a gravel floor had been laid in the circle. When Fahy excavated the floor he found a central pit containing a pottery vessel containing the cremated remains of a youth. On the site there are also the remains of a cairn and a well preserved stone cooking pit. Cooking pits were used by Neolithic people to cook meat which was wrapped in straw and then heated in water by throwing in stones heated over a fire. Other stone circles near Drombeg include the Timoleague Stone circle, and the Templebryan Stone circle. All of these are signposted. (Unlimited access).
Ruined Dunboy Castle near Castletownbere was the stronghold of the leading O’Sullivan family until it fell to the English in 1602. The nearby ruin of Puxley Mansion was the home of the Anglo-Irish Puxley family who owned lucrative local copper mines. Their house was burnt down by the old IRA in 1921.
Dursey Island is connected to the end of the Beara Peninsula by cable car.
Fishing in County Cork
The area around the River Blackwater in North Cork is popular with anglers. The main fishing bases at Fermoy and Mallow. Sea fishing trips run from Baltimore.
Garnish Island’s main attraction is an Italian Garden full of exotic plants created by the English architect Harold Peto in the early 1900s. Boats to Garnish Island run from Glengariff on the Beara Peninsula. The return trip to Garnish usually costs around IR5. Entry to the garden is IR2.50.
Gougane Barra Forest Park
The Gougane Barra Forest Park near Ballingeary contains the scenic Lough an Ghugain on which Saint Finbar founded a monastery in the 6th century.
Jameson Whiskey Heritage Centre
The Jameson Whiskey Heritage Centre in Midleton runs interesting tours of the old Jameson distillery .
Lisnagun Ring Fort
The Lisnagun Ring Fort near Clonakilty has been reconstructed to look as it would have done around the 10th century. The small fortified settlement has wooden defensive wall, a souterrain (underground passage) and a small farmstead hut.
Liss Ard Experience
The Liss Ard Experience near Skibbereen is a large innovatively landscaped park of ‘natural gardens’ created by a German, Veith Turske on the shore of Lough Aisdeasly.
Michael Collins Birthplace
There isn’t much to see at the birthplace of Michael Collins, one of Ireland’s most revered leaders, also known as The Big Fella, but for anybody with an interest in Irish history, the ruined house near Rosscarbery is worth a short stop. Collins was born west of Clonakilty into a family of eight children, and lived in the small cottage, which is now the Michael Collins Memorial Centre, for 10 years. His family then built a larger house, which was burnt down by the Black and Tans in 1921, the base of which can be seen beside the cottage. Collins attended Clonakilty National School and then went to London to work in a bank just before his 16th birthday. Aged 26, he came back to Ireland to take part in the Irish republican 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin. During the Irish War of Independence from 1919-21 Collins led a fierce campaign of guerrilla warfare against the British in Ireland. He was a master of intelligence, successfully infiltrating British installations and organising strategic assassinations, without detection. He became a living legend and was known to cycle freely around Dublin because the British authorities did not have his picture.
Eamon de Valera forced Collins to give up his anonymity by going to London to negotiate a truce with British Prime Minister Lloyd George. Collins signed the treaty, which partitioned Ireland, turning the south into a free state, but leaving the six northern countries under British rule. While he himself said he had signed his own death warrant, he believed that he had negotiated the best deal possible: a ‘stepping stone’ to ‘freedom to achieve the country’s ultimate freedom.’ But when he returned to Dublin he found he had been tricked into going to London to negotiate an impossible position by De Valera, who rejected the treaty. During the Irish Civil War which followed, half the country fell in behind De Valera and half behind Michael Collins. Collins was Commander in Chief of Ireland’s new national army and was killed in an ambush by anti-treaty forces on August 22 1922 at Beal Na mBlath near his birthplace aged 31. The cottage where Collins was born was restored by his nephew Liam Collins in 1990 and is now owned by the Office of Public Works. Apart from the buildings the other thing on the site is a mounted carved likeness of Collin’s head.
Mizen Vision Signal Station
The Mizen Vision signal station clings to the sheer cliffs of Mizen Head at Ireland’s most southwesterly point, where the last piece of land you’ll hit before reaching America is the inhospitable Fastnet rock, called the tear drop by Irish emigrants. The Mizen Vision is still a working signal station, which locally corrects the error in the global positioning satellite system used by shipping to navigate (The Americans installed the system with an error because the satellite is a military installation). The Mizen Vision was opened to the public in 1993 when all of the navigational equipment was automated. Interesting tours take you around the station through exhibitions about the history of how the lighthouse was built on Fastnet by the Irish Lights Board in 1854 after the American liner, the Stephen Whitney, sank off the Cork coast with the loss of 92 lives.
The Mizen Head Fog Station was then built on the Mizen Head in 1909 and in foggy conditions the keeper would manually set off explosive charges to warn shipping at seven and a half minute intervals. The amazing concrete suspension bridge, which takes you across the Mizen Vision was built in 1910. With advances in navigational equipment a radio beacon was installed at the station in 1931, a light was added in 1959 and Radar Transponder systems were installed. The visitors centre is in the former keeper’s house and his kitchen and bedroom have been left as they would traditionally have looked, decorated by the items made by keepers while they kept 28 day watches alone on the rock. The centre also has engineering and map rooms, 3D exhibitions about the many seabirds which live and fish around the Mizen Head, models of wrecks under the sea, a model of the Fastnet lighthouse as seen at night, and a video show about the history of Irish lighthouses. There are great views along the Cork coastline to the Beara Peninsula from the Mizen Vision. The centre also has a bird and sea watch viewing room, from which you can see birds including puffins, cormorants and gannets and cetaceans including porpoises, dolphins, Fin whales, Orcas, Minke whales and Pilot whales.
The Planetarium in Schull runs a 45 minute Star Show at peak season times.
Sheeps Head Peninsula
The Sheeps Head Peninsula between the Mizen Peninsula and the Beara Peninsula has pretty coastal scenery along its Goats Path Scenic Route. The peninsula has two small villages, Ahakista and Kilocrane, which have pubs and places to eat.
Boats run from Baltimore to Sherkin Island, which is around three miles long and one mile wide. The island has three sandy beaches which are safe for swimming, the Trabawn, Silver and Cow Strands, two pubs (which serve food) and some B&B accommodation.
Three Castle Head
Three Castle Head, the westerly headland on the Mizen Peninsula has wonderful views up the coast to Sheep’s Head and beyond and a ruined 13th century castle built by the leading O’Mahony family.
Timoleague Castle Gardens
The Timoleague Castle Gardens are planted with exotic and native plants and trees and have a very ruined 13th century castle in the grounds.
Timoleague Friary was founded around the 13th century and is still quite well preserved despite being sacked by Cromwell’s English forces in 1642.