Gougane Barra is famous for many reasons. The source of the mighty river Lee is found here as you ascend the slopes of its impressive hills. The cool green calm forests here cocoon you in a gentle embrace as the grind of life falls away. It is here that Saint Patrick is said to have banished the snakes from Ireland, one so large it gouged the valley of Gougane itself.
One of the most beautiful, ancient churches in the land sits on the lake not far from where the sinister serpent was banished. It now has a far more benign function, purveying blessings on newlyweds and curious travellers from near and far. The forest here was originally farm land which was purchased by the State in the late 1930’s. It has since been reforested with over 20 different types of trees, predominantly coniferous.
A very famous couple lived in the area in the early to mid part of the 1900’s. The husband, Tim Buckley was known as a great storyteller and tailor. He was 9 years younger than his wife, Ansty. He had a crippled leg from childhood so as they aged, visitors became increasingly important to them. His vivid tales drew people from near and far, including a journalist called Eric Cross who regularly visited the couple in the 1930’s. Unbeknownst to them, Cross wrote a series of articles on their lives which later became a book and a play. The book was banned by the Censorship board in 1942 for supposed indecent subject matter. A huge furore played out over the book and was even brought to Senate!
Gougane Barra also has the auspicious honour of the loveliest latrine in Ireland, and with a thatched roof to boot!
It is no wonder that saints and scholars from all over the world have ventured to this magical place. Nowadays couples exchange vows in its natural splendour.
Many visit Mizen Head down the southerly reaches of Ireland but don’t realise that the nearby headland, Brow Head is 9 m further south! We explored this dramatic headland,wild seas and sky. Its beauty and majesty were filmed earlier this year to be featured in the upcoming Star Wars movie.
This area can easily outclass its rival of Mizen Head which sits across the water from Brow Head. The sheer chasm of cliff and coastline below with the jagged rocks are vertigo inducing, but wildly beautiful.This area was pivotal in the birth of 21st century telecommunication. Marconi came here in 1901 and used the derelict signal tower to experiment with radio communication across the Atlantic. He was successful in his endeavours, sending the first message to St John’s, Newfoundland in Dec 1901.
The area was also manned by British forces from Napoleonic era through to the late 19th century. They had a system of flags and boat signals to communicate with any potential French or Spanish who they deemed as a threat. The views from the headland span from Mizen to Cape Clear and also Fastnet lighthouse, dubbed the ‘Teardrop of Ireland’ as it was often the last place Irish emigrants saw before leaving for America.
Our day was far from done after this epic walk. We sunned ourselves on the glorious Barleycove Beach. This beach was formed after a tidal wave hit the coast in 1755. It was the result of a tsunami caused after an earthquake in Lisbon. The area is also notable for its Special Area of Conservation as the dunes are important habita for nesting birds and insects.
Allihies is a picturesque coastal village nestled in the hills of the Beara peninsula. It’s colourful cottages and characters along with its glorious scenery draws people in like bees to nectar.
Our walk took us from the village along the coast to explore the wild ruggedness of its coastline. We walked towards the hills, past the old copper mines which were very important for the community. The mines are still very much intact and have even heavily influenced the local beach. The spoils from the mine used to run dow the hill to the sea and the crushed remnants now make up the sand on the beach.
Our walk was moderate and will took us approximately 3 hours at a leisurely pace. There is so much stunning scenery, particularly when you reach higher ground. The combination of stark stone, and wild Atlantic below is quite the sight.
The more of Beara you see, the more it imprints itself upon your consciousness. It’s dark and troubled history from the mining times and famine, where people lived sometimes up to 25 in a house. Today it serves as a success story and testament to the enduring people who live here. We at MOPTOG, cannot get enough.
The Sheeps Head in West Cork is one of only a few locations in Ireland which has been designated the European Destination of Excellence. The lighthouse here is on the the tip of the peninsula and this gorgeous loop walk brought us past Lough, farmland and bog, to see stunning views from the lighthouse out onto the Atlantic ocean.
This location is drenched in history and we discovered some of this as we wended our way along. The walk took approx. 2.5 hours and terrain was uneven and a wee bit boggy in parts. The wild beauty and ruggedness was obvious was we ambled along in the glorious sunshine.
The lighthouse stood out like a beacon of hope on its rocky promonotory, overlooking the wild Atlantic ocean. It was built in 1986 to guide the tankers between Bantry and Whiddy Bay terminal. Due to its remote location, all of the equipment and supplies required to build the lighthouse had to be choppered in. It took 250 helicopter trips to bring all of the components necessary to build the lighthouse!
Walking through the valley we passed blanket bog which harbours the carnivorous plant, Sundew. This plant grows in nitrogen poor soils and it has devised a nifty solution to this conundrum. Its sticky leaves trap the unwitting flies that it seduces and as they struggle, the become more trapped in its sticky hair, which then digest the failing fly.
Sometimes the shy common lizard can be seen basking on the rocks here on a sunny day. We were unable to find it on this occasion, most probably due to the many tourists and hikers that were here today. It is the only reptile in Ireland and only reaches 4-6 inches in length. The chough which is a corvid could be seen sweeping above us. According to legend, when King Arthur died his soul migrated into this bird. Its red beak and legs are supposed to indicate the blood that covered the Kings body when he died in battle. Gannets could also be seen plunge diving offshore. They hurtle into the water at speeds of up to 125km per hour to spear their prey. Their heads are filled with air bubbles like a crash helmet to protect them on their aquatic impact.
A haven for man and beast, heaven on earth!
Baltimore is not just a beautiful village. It hides many secrets, some in the ancient buildings it accomodates, some in the deep blue sea beyond.
It’s history is one of intrigue and drama. In the 17th century it was home to the high kings of Tara and many pirates. All the women of the day were said to be either the wives or mistresses of pirates. In 1631 the village was devastated by the ‘Sack of Baltimore’ where Barbary pirates from Algiers kidnapped over 100 people and sold them into slavery. Only 2 or 3 of these ever saw Ireland again.
Despite its dark history it has thrived in recent times and has become one of the premier spots in Europe to see burgeoning whale and dolphin populations. Minke, fin and humpback whales are seen with increasing regularity. Large pods of common dolphins are also seen frolicking in front of boats, surfing off the bow waves to the delight of all.
Barleycove is a golden sandy beach which is overlooked by Ireland’s most South westerly point, Mizen Head. The dunes around Barleycove were formed in 1755 after an earthquake in Lisbon. Portugal caused a tsunami. The sand that was displaced by this formed Barleycove!
The dunes are listed as a Special Area of Conservation (SAC) as they provide habitat and shelter for various vulnerable and interesting plant and animal species. A floating was placed across the river to allow public access to the beach. Walking on it feels like floating mid air.
Blarney is famous for its castle and for its ability to confer the gift of the gab on whomever may kiss its fabled stone. Besides its magic powers its gardens are a gardeners dream with a wide variety of plants from near and far. The poison garden is filled with lethal plants for both man and beast. Other sections have lakes, waterfalls and ruins. On a balmy day the gardens by the waterfall feel like a tropical oasis with their tribal carvings and lush. foreign plants.
Allihies is a stunning coastal village which straddles the Cork-Kerry border. Its unique position nestled beneath imposing rock faces, looking out onto the wild Atlantic ocean. The village is dotted with cheery multicoloured houses and watering holes and eateries. Numerous coastal and hill walks can be found for the outdoor enthusiast.
It was an important mining source in the 18th and 19th century and remnants of its history can be seen in the hillsides above. According to the legend ‘The Children of Lir’, the children are buried in Allihies.
Ahakista is a wooded coastal village on the road to the Sheeps Head peninsula in West Cork. Besides its beauty it is also known for its famous summer resident, Graham Norton. Originally a sleepy fishing village, it has become more prominent as a tourist destination for its fabled walks and history.
One of the loveliest pubs in Ireland, The Tin Pub is located in Ahakista. It has welcomed musicians from all over the world. Its glorious gardens overlook Dunmanus Bay. With music, a pint in hand and breathtaking beauty, where else would you want to be?
Annascaul was home to one of Ireland’s greatest explorers. Tom Crean. His epic voyages of discovery to Antarctica with Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton have left an indelible mark on the psyche of many. Despite risking life and limb on numerous occasions, this brave but private and modest man, bought a wee pub in his home which he called The South Pole Inn.
The dramatic landscape which encompasses Annascaul includes brooding mountains, thunderous waterfalls and pounding coastline. The scenery, sensations and solitude is sure to set your heart beating anew!
Glengarriff is quite possibly one of the prettiest villages in Ireland and is surrounded by ocean, lakes, forests and mountains. It’s old world charm, lush greenery and stunning water vistas make it a walkers dream.
Our day trip took us on the loop walk of Seal Harbour to Bocarnagh. The walk brought us along over 3km of stunning seascape. We made our way through the greenery as the sea kept us company to our right side. We made our way to a secluded cove where we basked on rocks like the local seals and ate our lunch in the sun.
The beautiful woodland reserve in Glengarriff was next on our agenda to see this ancient oak forest. One of the last remaining tracts of oak forest is found here and it is a sessile, oceanic forest which makes it even more special. Oak trees support up to 280 different species of insects so are incredibly important to the biodiversity and environmental health of the area.
Much of Glengarriff has been overrun with the encroachment of rhododendron plants which were brought in as ornamental plants in the 1800’s. They have spread at a prodigious rate, smothering out other native plants and wreaking havoc on the landscape. The National Parks and Wildlife Service are eradicating large tracts of this plant with varied success.
We ended our day with a well deserved feed then crossed the road to check out the Blue Pool. Despite visiting Glengarriff on countless occasions I somehow missed out on this gem. It epitomises the effect of halcyon days as the evening sun blazed down on us as we melted into the grass. Children laughed and jumped off the jetty into the dark waters as swans glided passed, eyeing them coolly. I felt like I was in a movie scene of incomparable perfection.
What better way to end the weekend then to go for a paddle under a summer sky as it fades to black? We are going night kayaking at Reen Pier, Union Hall. This trip has been voted by Trip Advisor as one of the worlds top ten trips!
Quoting from the company :
”One of our most magical and popular kayaking experiences, a moonlight / starlight paddle starts one hour before darkness. This gives you a little time to get used to the kayak. We use a mix of singles and doubles. This is a very atmospheric trip and we do not travel a great distance, so it is suitable for everyone.
There is always something to make you gasp on the moonlight / starlight kayak trip, whether it be the silhouette of the seabirds on the bank, the red sunset, the whole panoply of stars overhead, the moonlight reflected on the water, or, at certain times of year, the astonishing bio-luminescence. This is a light emitted by marine life, which, from the paddler’s point of view, causes the water to light up around your paddle in 1,000 tiny lights”
Trip duration: 2.5 hours. All equipment provided. Suitable for beginners.
Car pooling: Please post to event to let us know if you want a lift or can provide one.
What to bring: Warm clothes, camera (waterproof), hat, snacks and drinks.
We hired a private charter last Sunday to go whale watching with Cork Whale Watch. We lucked out with incredible weather, warm sun, calm seas and excellent visibility. Within minutes of leaving shore, a huge dark fin was evident in the water, a basking shark, and the first one most of us have ever seen.
These gentle giants can reach up to 40 feet but feed on krill and small fish. They sift the soupy water to extract their food and drink a swimming pools worth of water in a day! Over the next half hour we saw 7 more of these magnificent fish, hard to imagine that they really are. One cruised past the boat and its body kept on going and going, it was larger than our trusty steed. They disappear like submarines, gently lowering themselves down out of sight. Sometimes we could see the gaping chasm of their huge white mouth as they skimmed their dinners with grace.
As we headed to more open water an energetic pod of common dolphins sped towards us. They leaped around the bow and jostled for space at the front to surf the waves our boat provided. All the while gannets dove around us at breakneck speed, hitting the water with the accuracy of a master archer.
Then the minke whales arrived. These are the 2nd smallest baleen whale in the world. They feed on much the same food as their cartilaginous compadre, the basking shark. They are solo travellers generally and are more interested in food than us. We watched them bolt through the water after their quarry and after a time we were definitely surrounded.
Over the course of the charter we saw at least 20 minkes (we even experienced minke breath which has a pretty gnarly stench).
More common dolphins came back to bow ride and all round as far as the eye could see, were hundreds more dolphins, many more whales and birds skimming the ocean. Just glorious.
When you live far from home for a long time you oft forget the many wonderful places that encompass Ireland. Lough Hyne is a gorgeous lake, fed by sea water near Baltimore. It is the only lake in Ireland to experience this and it has thus created an unusual for aquatic creatures and plants.
It was believed to be a freshwater lake approximately four millenia ago but was flooded as a result of rising sea levels. The Lough now regularly receives Atlantic water streaming in through Barloge creek. The water here is a combination of warm, highly oxygenated water which makes it a very attractive prospect to many plants and aquatic creatures.
It is one of the most studied lakes in the world due to its unique aquatic disposition. The purple sea urchin, Paracentrotus lividus was first discovered here in 1886. It is also the only place in Ireland where a seahorse was found in the 1980’s. It is popular with kayakers and has spectacular phosphoresence which fills the Lough with otherworldly stars in its waters at night.
It was established as the first Marine reserve in Europe in 1981 and University College Cork opened a research station here to study the impressive array of plants and animals that call this Lough home.
The combination of marine magnificence, lush forestry clustered protectively around the Lough and ancient,druidic remains have created a bewitching place for all. Eoghan Harris summed up this magical place wonderfully in his book ‘Lough Hyne – From Prehistory to the Present’:
“Lough Hyne is a sacred place, a natural amphitheatre with perfect acoustics, where we can guess our pre-Christian ancestors gathered to worship the lost gods of the Druids.’