Serendipity on the Beara Peninsula

On Monday August 6th, I left the memorable Bere Island, County Cork to make the three and half hour drive home back to Limerick. The cloudy day was clearing up nicely and I decided to take the ‘scenic’ route home along the beautiful Beara Peninsula. And what a great decision that was! I spent many hours discovering beautiful places, enjoying fantastic scenery, and happening on wonderful surprises. Serendipity at its best!

Bantry Bay

I headed west from Castletownbearhaven, County Cork, and began the ascent of the Slieve Miskish Mountains I took a last look back at the deep natural harbour of Bantry Bay. The tip of Bere Island is in the middle distance to the right, and the cloud-capped mountain to the left is Hungry Hill, highest of the Caha Mountains. (The novelist Daphne Du Maurier borrowed the name, Hungry Hill, for one of her very successful novels, later a film, set in this area). Travelling on, astonishing views tempted but as the road was narrow and twisting  it was not safe to stop the car to capture a scene. A fabulous Martello Tower appeared and then disappeared on the twists and turns of the road. Likewise, a beautiful arrangement of flowers outside a stone cottage, swept past – as did many fabulous seascapes. This is no place for a lone driver with a camera taking snaps!

Allihies Village lies above Ballydonegan Bay

This is Ballydonegan Bay with Allihies tucked in under the Slieve Miskish Mountains behind. Allihies is reputedly the furthest village in Ireland from Ireland’s capital city, Dublin.

The mountains of the Ring of Kerry in the far distance on the approach to Allihies.

A Kerry Cow (living in Cork!)

The Beara Peninsula lies south of the magnificent and world famous Ring of Kerry and all along the route there are magnificent views of the peaks of the Kerry Mountains. At a welcome stopping and viewing area I met a black Kerry cow, grazing peacefully in the field below the road. Kerry cows are a native Irish breed, now relatively rare and probably the oldest breed of cattle in Europe.

Dropping down into Allihies

The road winds down into Allihies. The coffee shop in the Allihies Museum is not to be missed! It is housed in an old Methodist Church, erected to accommodate the Cornish miners who came to live in this area in the 19th Century. These people had traveled from Cornwall in the south-west of England to bring their mining ability to the Copper mines of Allihies between 1812 and 1844. At one time over 1,500 people worked in this area. Following the closure of the mines, many emigrated to the USA, most notably to Butte, Montana, an area also noted for mining. The poached salmon wrap and deep apple tart pie from the coffee shop are highly recommended and when enjoyed from a window seat overlooking Ballydonegan Bay, are just priceless!

The area surrounding Allihies is rich in industrial heritage and ideal for walking. Climbing away from the village, the old Engine House, used I understand for pumping water away from the mining area underground, stands in testimony to times gone by and as a memorial to those who lost their lives during that mining period.

An old Engine House stands sentinel over the abandoned mining area

From here the drive becomes literally breathtaking – steep climbs, sharp bends, stone walls around every corner, at the brow of every hill is a wonderful view of sheltered cottages, of geology in all its glory, of vast seascapes, of sheltered coves.

The road drops towards the edge of the sea

The road winds down towards the edge of the land, as in this case. It is not always clear where the road actually goes!   However, this road winds between the pink house and the white–washed wall and it really is difficult to keep the eyes off the wonderful scenery!

The pink house marks the turn in the road

Hugging the coast now, the blue-ness of the sea is astonishing. Colourfully marked sheep  are more interested in their lush grass than in the spectacular views!

Colourful sheep may safely graze

The deep blue sea between Beara and the Ring of Kerry is spectacular indeed!

The deep blue sea

The sea here is the deepest blue I have seen in a long time, reflecting the blue skies above! Further along, I get a chance to stop and look back from whence I had come – at the carefully nurtured green fields surrounding  the pink house and the white-washed wall of earlier pictures. Ancient stone walls edge the roadway as another vehicle approaches.

Looking back along the road

The rocky hills behind and the lovely clumps of purple heather in the foreground, behind the dry stone wall make a lovely scene. The vehicle in this picture was to be the last vehicle I would see driving on the road for the next three-quarters of an hour!

I wind my way on into the picturesque village of Eyeries, with its brightly coloured street  and  take a few minutes to stroll along the street. The local shop looks welcoming and I get a postcard to send to Australia. Such a friendly welcome in the local shop , so I enjoy the added luxury of an ice cream while I write my postcard and mail it from the local post office!

The Pink House

I think this house may once have been pink, or perhaps it is owned by the Pink family?

Keeping to the coast road, I came upon what was surely the most memorable place for me along the entire route of the Beara Peninsula on that day. Sun blazing from the blue sky, I notice a small ruined church perched on a corner, bounded by lovely old stone walls.

A sign entices me to the churchyard

Here on the bend of the road, overlooking Ardgroom harbour and bounded by a magnificent stone wall, is the ruined Kilcatherine church or abbey,possibly dating to the 7th Century. The surrounding graveyard was having its midsummer grass trim and I was fortunate in being able to see some of the detail in the graveyard where the grass had already been cut.

Looking out from the inside of the ruin

A beautiful glimpse of the sea through the openings of the building and outside, the spectacular final resting place of the people of this area.

Gravemarkers

This lonely and beautiful  graveyard has a particular poignancy for me because of the large number of small grave markers intermingled with the larger headstones.

A peaceful graveyard overlooking the sea

It typifies the social history of dying in Ireland – well-marked graves among the anonymous ones, or indeed no markers at all. These  may be anonymous graves, but at least they are marked graves, albeit of unknown people.

Grave markers of unknown dozens

This expanse of  grave markers is particularly poignant and probably represents the most memorable image of my trip around Beara.  I fancy that for every marker there are many other people laid to rest without any such marker. There is much emphasis today on cataloguing named gravestones, but many of us –  perhaps the majority of us-   are descended from people who did not merit or could not afford to have their burial-place marked with their names. In my family, the graves of my paternal great grandparents are unmarked and unknown as are the graves of my maternal great grandparents. Many of us are descended from victims of the Famine and the majority of those millions are also in unmarked graves.

At Kilcatherine, among the long still uncut grass,  there are even more such grave markers.  I have only once before seen these markers in a graveyard, and that was at Ardmore Cathedral, in County Waterford, but they may be common in Ireland.

A cow gazes over the wall at the long grass still concealing many more gravemarkers in this graveyard

This place then to me, beautifully located in a coastal location, is a great symbol of all those who died and  whose last resting place in unknown. May they all rest in peace.

A peaceful setting for generations that have gone before

The Kilcatherine ruins and graveyard are enclosed by beautiful stone walls that follow the contour of the road.  Dry stone walls  are a fascinating part of the heritage of Ireland, and are a particular passion of this writer .. meriting a post all by themselves soon!

And so onward, where the  road less travelled  gets even narrower as this  picture shows.

Onward on the Ring of Beara

The views continue to amaze and the landscape begins to change to one of country lanes with no traffic at all.

Cattle enjoying the view!

The road is twisty and very narrow now, but with great views of Kenmare Bay at every turn.

The views are still stunning on this very narrow part of the Ring

I am almost at the end, and in a little while I am surrounded by the fabulous Fuchsia  hedging that flourishes along the Atlantic seaboard but especially in this part of Ireland.  The red blossoms are full of nectar and the bees hum noisily among the beautiful flowers.

Beautiful Fuchsia hedging lines the lane ways of the Beara Peninsula

A truly lovely image to  end my serendipitous tour of the Beara Peninsula.  Béidh mé arais arís!

I hope you enjoy looking at my ‘snaps’ and that they may entice you to visit this remote but wonderful gem in the south-west of Ireland!

Further reading

Beara Tourism

Allihies Copper Mine Museum – from  The Irish Times

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20 Comments

Filed under Ireland, Irish Culture, Irish Heritage, Irish History, Irish Traditions, Living in Ireland

20 responses to “Serendipity on the Beara Peninsula

  1. If ever you are looking for a new pathway in life, you would make a wonderful guide/travel writer.
    Thank you for taking me along with you on a fascinating and beautiful collection of memories… I learnt so much and wrapped myself in the wondrous tapestry that is Ireland…
    I could taste the crisp apple pie in the former church, cried at the unnamed markers, drew in my breath at the narrow winding roads, loved the blue pink house and enjoy the postcard that found found it’s way to my desk, so I see it every day. Can’t wait till the next tour!

  2. Alison

    Thank you so much for such a beautiful post, the images together with your descriptions are breath taking. Believe or not, I am an Australian mother with her two children both lCurrently iving in Ireland, unusual at the moment as so many young Irish are over here and not the other way around! Our son is on exchange program with the University of Limmerick (he is returning to Aus soon) and our daughter met her Irish partner here in Australia and has spent the last 18 months in his home village, Rostrevor (Nth Ireland) . She has fallen in love with Ireland, his family and the village. We visited both of them in May and spent a week in Rostrevor and had a very small glimpse of this beautiful place. I am so glad to find your blog, it makes me feel closer to both of them. Cheers Alison

    • Alison. I am so glad you enjoyed reading my Beara Peninsula post. I am just few miles from your son at UL and I know Rostervor – a very beautiful spot indeed. If you look back on my posts you will see that I was in Australia in February last visiting my daughter and grandchildren who left us in June 2010 for a new life in WA. It is indeed a long way away! I am sure you are looking forward to having your son home ( and he will be glad to see less rain! ) and I do so hope you get to come to Ireland soon! Thanks for visiting. Angela

  3. What a lovely post Angela and a reflection of a beatiful day’s drive. I think the scenery is just gorgeous in that part of Cork and have a similar photo of Allihies, though I missed the coffee spot in the church 😉 I’ll be keeping this post in mind for future touring opportunities. Thanks so much.

  4. Thanks for sharing your drive with us! Beautiful photos and descriptions.

  5. My favorite photo is the one captioned “The deep blue sea”. Is there any reason the sheep have the colors on them?

    • I love that picture too.My camera is one where I point it in the right direction and press the button so what you are seeing is exactly as I saw it!
      The sheep are first of all colour marked by the owner so in the case of my Beara sheep the blue colour on their backs indicates that they belong to a particular individual as each color is unique to each farmer. The red mark on the rump is a sign that they have been mated by the ram. Farmers apply a dye harness to the ram so that they know when the females have been impregnated. ( I cannot explain the red mark on the neck of one of the sheep in my picture so I will PASS on that one – but any suggestions welcome! 🙂 Thanks for visiting and reading my post. Angela

  6. Thank you so much for loving, seeing, appreciating and sharing the country we share. I’ve never been down, and now I know I have to! Please find the miracle of a good day and do the same amazing post for beautiful Mayo 🙂

    • Thank you for such a lovely comment! Mayo! Such a beautiful place and one I am not overly familiar with! Mayo is a county I drive through when travelling Limerick to Donegal. It is really on my MUST DO list! I will try to arrange the weather ! Thanks again! Angela

  7. Thank you for taking us along on this beautiful trip!

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