If you fancy an adventure on the high seas, take a trip out to Cape Clear Island. These are waters haunted by the ghosts of pirates from the sixteen hundreds, principal among them O’Mahony whose clan ravaged vessels along this coastline. The sad remains of his castle sit grimly at the water’s edge of Hare Island while he paid the ultimate price for piracy in Cork Gaol.
Cape Clear Island is beyond the jurisdiction of the mainland as far as road tax and traffic regulations go. The result of this is a motley assortment of noisy vehicles in various stages of decay but still driving. Those that have succumbed to the inevitable lie around the island. These silent testimonies to abandonment are the most appalling eyesores on an island that is one of the most beautiful
on the south west coast.
Cape Clear lies just 8 miles off the West Cork mainland and can be reached by a 45 minutes boat journey from Schull.
O’Reagen’s pub is worth a visit. Dark, dingy and a toilet that is only to be used in desperation. But they do a great pint of Guinness. Slowly pulled, watched carefully, topped up - it’s a work of art. This is a tiny bar to be comfortable in. Other customers come in and greet you. “Hwarya?” or “Hwzitgoin?” Like old friends and by the end of the night they are.
If you’re feeling hungry, get some fresh hake or John Dory from the boats in the harbour, stuffed with lemons, limes and local butter. Wrapped in the Irish Times, soaked in spring water and twenty minutes on the barbecue, they’re served with soda bread from the village and spuds freshly dug from over the road. A veritable feast.
The Sheep's Head peninsula lies about 6 miles west of Bantry.
Bantry House sits on a hill at the edge of Bantry looking across the bay. One of the best preserved in Ireland, it provides an hour or two of cultural heritage on a grand scale.
Mosaics on the floor culled from Pompeii provide a classical reference which is further developed by the marble Ionic pillars. Much of the furnishing is English but there are examples of Irish workmanship. Evidence of the Grand Tour is everywhere. An ivory chess set from China, a ginger jar from Japan or a French prayer stool.
The gardens continue the classical theme with a formal design of dwarf hedging and velvet lawns at the front of the house while an Oriental theme permeates the estate at the rear. And Bantry itself is a most pleasant town.
Tel: +353 27 50047
Mizen Head is west of Schull and is Ireland’s most south-westerly point. To reach the visitor centre (built in 1905) walk over the chasm on the famous arched bridge.
There are plenty of boat trips ranging from a 10 minute one from Baltimore to Sheare Island, or a two and a half hour one out to the Fastnet Lighthouse. Nine miles out in the Atlantic, this lonely outpost has warned approaching shipping for over a hundred years but since 1989 is fully automatic.
From Schull, travel west down the bog road which takes you to Mizen Head.
There are several planned walks which have been mapped out in a delightful little visitors’ guide. These range from a two mile walk over fields and fences among disgruntled ewes to a ring fort, to a five hour one across the rocky hillside of Mount Gabriel which broods menacingly over the landscape with its twin radar domes.
In and around Schull
Down at the harbour a modern stainless steel and glass building sells freshly caught fish (hake, plaice, sole, turbot, John Dory, etc) at a third of the price in supermarkets. They also serve fish and chips from five o’clock every evening.
A Sunday market flourishes on the foreshore, selling mainly crafts, plants and food. Breads of every kind fill baskets beside cheeses of every flavour. Especially good are the local blue cheeses made from goats’ milk. And of course the famous Durrus cheese from the town of the same name a few miles up the road.
They specialise in fresh local fish, shellfish and oysters and make a geat effort to use fish from sustainable waters (very tasty!)
They also have seven guest bedrooms which are great value for the centre of town.
Tel: 00353 (0) 6441589
This wonderful restaurant and hotel is a big old house where they source the food locally with fish from Ballycotton, superb beef from Cloyne, vegetables from their own gardens and cheese from local indepedent cheesemakers. If you have the time do visit Ballymaloe Cookery School. Their cookbook is well worth buying.
Ballymaloe House and Ballymaloe Cookery School, Shanagarry, Midleton, Co Cork.
Tel: +353 (0) 21 464 6785.
Ballymaloe is about 20 miles east of Cork.
Jam is a great cafe in the centre of Kenmare, serving sandwiches, soup, salads, some hot meals, and a multitude of gorgeous cakes. It also has a small bakery.
The service is really friendly and there's a great atmosphere.
Killarney Riding Stables runs horseriding trips into Killarney National Park for 1-3 hours daily. They cater for all levels, from complete beginner to advanced riders. This is a wonderful way to see the beautiful countryside around Killarney and the stables have an excellent reputation.
They also run trail rides of two days or five days.
Killarney Riding Stables, Ballydowney, Killarney, Co. Kerry.
One mile west of Killarney on the Ring of Kerry road to Killorgin.
This seafood restaurant is about fifteen miles from Galway. It's in a wonderful location and is a superb place on summer evenings for a pint and some smoked salmon.
Moran's Oyster Cottage, The Weir, Kilcogan, Co. Galway.
Tel : +353 91 796 113.
The biggest summer horseracing festival in Ireland has a magical atmosphere. There are loads of horses, music, candyfloss and excitement. And entry to the near side of the racecourse is free.
Galway Racecourse, Ballybrit, Galway.
Tel : +353 91 753 870.
It's a pub in Dublin. My friend John tells me it is the oldest pub in Ireland. The music is so good and the ambience is priceless. What shall I say about the drinks? Guinness as usual.
The Brazen Head, 20 Bridge Street, Dublin 8.
Tel : 00 353 1677 9549
The Galway City Museum can be found behind the Spanish Arch overlooking Galway Bay and the Claddagh. The view of the Claddagh, the oldest part of Galway, and the River Corrib flowing into the Bay is excellent.
The original folk museum that was opened in 1976 was replaced by a light airy glass, concrete and stone building that provides a place to relax and view artefacts, paintings and sculpture. And it's only five minutes stroll to Tigh Neachtain and The Quays, two excellent local bars.
Opening Hours: Summer (June to September), Monday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm
Winter (October to May), Tuesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm
Telephone: (091) 532 460 or from outside Ireland + 353 91 532 460
It’s not signposted and its existence is denied by the locals, but this impossibly large beach is the most beautiful strand in Ireland and no-one else seems to know about it. The water is warm and the sand hot, while cattle graze the fringe of grass on the sand dunes. A little graveyard sits uneasily on the weather-worn shore.
The town of Clifden, famous for the first Trans-Atlantic flight having landed there, is a thriving cosmopolitan town with new apartments being built and the pubs and restaurants full.
The old railway station has been carefully incorporated into apartment blocks next to the station hotel. Remnants of the old platform have been kept as part of the walkway, and the old lines, sleepers and signal switches are embedded into the pedestrian area. The locomotive shed and stationmaster’s house are part of the development and even the new block of shops has been sensitively dealt with in the design process. The whole effect works well with vernacular references to the railway, which played a significant part in Clifden’s development.
The area has walks for all abilities in the Connemara National Park.
Going to Clifden is worth it, not only because of the town, but the actual journey is so spectacular with the barren rock landscape surrounded by drowned peat hags fringed with reeds.
A secret gem in Phoenix Park where they hold events over the summer; you can go and wander round the the grounds, the sunken garden, the walled garden, eat in the stunning boathouse restarant (12:30-5pm) overlooking the fish pond. They have outdoor concerts there too, and a farmers market. A one stop shop for a dry Sunday.
See www.farmleigh.ie/ for more details and opening times.
Beautiful Brazilian restaurant in Dublin's south city centre. If you've never had a Brazilian meal, try the BBQ. Some of the nicest meat to be found in Ireland (apparently straight from Brazil though!). Have a light lunch as you get loads of food, and don't forget to try one or two caipirinhas!
17 Upper Stephen Street, Dublin 2;
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