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A Beara Journey: Quaint Villages, Gorgeous Scenery

incharquin falls

Incharquin Falls - photo courtesy Tim Sullivan

by Suzanne Barrett

The Beara Peninsula is a thirty-mile tongue of land belonging to both Kerry and Cork whose isolation gives it a unique individuality. It is the middle of five fingers of land spreading out on Ireland's southwest coast, bordered on the southeast by Bantry Bay, and on the southwest by the large Kenmare River Estuary.

A journey around the peninsula could be accomplished in a few hours, but that would be such a shame to rush through the rich and rugged countryside, the villages which cling to the past.

AllihiesTo fully appreciate this region, one must spend time here. A luxury bed and breakfast accommodation in Castletownbere? Or perhaps something more remote in the countryside near Allihies?

Our Beara journey begins in Glengarriff, a colorful village tucked between Bantry Bay and the Caha Mountains. Springtime brings an abundance of blooming fuchsias in each hedgerow and the rhododendrons are ablaze with reds, pinks, and pale salmon. The plants were introduced to the region little more than one hundred years ago and have practically taken over much cultivated areas.

Glengarriff is the embarkation point for day trips to Garinish Island, where the famed Italian gardens attract visitors. Indeed, you'll have no difficulty finding your way--tour signs clearly mark the spot.

Glengarriff's name comes from "An Gleann Garbh" - the rugged glen - which is derived from the rugged beauty of the mountains and wooded valleys surrounding the village. Glengarriff is the summer home of film star Maureen O'Hara.

Caha MountainsThe Caha Mountains, along with Hungry Hill, Slieve Miskish, and Sugarloaf Mountain form the spine of the Beara Peninsula and divide Bantry Bay from the Kenmare River. Lower hills still hold traces of Neolithic settlements. The region is noted for hillwalking, particularly to the 1,887 ft. high Sugarloaf Mountain just west of Glengarriff. It is best approached from Castletownbere road at Furkeal Bridge.

Castletownbere (the Town of Bearra's Castle) is reached by a road that winds along a rocky coastal strip beneath the Caha Mountains. Bere Island is here, seven miles long and once a British naval base until it was handed back to Ireland in 1938. Two ferries operate year round.

Castletownbere' is the principal town and the largest whitefish port in Ireland. It is a safe anchorage for yachts and the 2nd largest natural harbor 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.

The village 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. All that remains today are the old and crumbling chimneys and the precarious mine shafts, which are dramatic, but unsafe.

Eyeries is another little hamlet, traditional and picturesque with quaint hostels and other guest accommodations. Eyeries is the center for a small farming community. Talented craftspeople live in the vicinity and market their products. Look for beautiful beaches, coastal walks and a fishing harbor.

Other points of interest include Ard na Cailleach, the height of the Hag. A jagged piece of rock below forms the shape of an old woman and is said to conjure up the black arts, fertility, sorcery, and other dark things.

Beara PeninsulaSouth of Castletownbere are two sets of Dunboy ruins. The smaller, and older, Dunboy Castle was the O'Sullivan stronghold until it fell to Sir George Carew in 1602. Nearby are the larger ruins of Puxley Hall, a Victorian estate burned by the IRA in 1921.

Copper was mined on Beara for thousands of years, and traces of the mines still exist at Allihies and near Eyeries. When the mines failed, many men emigrated to the copper mining country of Montana.

Fishing and farming also prevailed, however, the land was not rich enough to support farming in a big way, so many of the men became fishermen farmers. Today, a measure of prosperity has come to the Beara Peninsula evidenced by the bungalows built up along the shoreline.

Three hundred years ago, William Petty, a cartographer, acquired much of the O'Sullivan land and cut down most of the native forest oaks for charcoal. Today most of the mountains are bare, except for a piece of this ancient forest above Glengarriff. Petty's descendants have made amends, however, by planting large areas in ash, sycamore, beech trees and evergreen pines. These shelter a large garden of rhododendrons, azaleas, and tree ferns. Derrin gardens are one of the most tropical in Ireland and are open daily from May to September.

Traveling northeast from Eyeries, one eventually comes to Kenmare, the Neidín of song. Kenmare is marked by wide, rather than narrow, streets, the mark of a landlord's town. The Marquess of Lansdowne decided what he wanted, and the town was built to his specifications, creating a pleasing architectural harmony in the town center.

Bantry BayThe town's dubious claim to fame is the suggestion by William Petty who developed the ironworks, copper mines, and sea angling upon which the region's economy was based, that the ship 20,000 Irish girls to England and bring back the same number of English girls so that succeeding generations of local children would be raised as loyal "English" boys and girls.

There is more to see, numerous walks to take, spots to visit. We've just scratched the surface in this virtual tour. I hope it has inspired you to add this spectacular, if lesser known, peninsula to your travel itinerary on your next visit.

Do you have a question about Ireland? The Ireland for Visitors Forum is available with many helpful members.

Until next time.

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