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!
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!
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 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.
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.
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 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!
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!
The deep blue sea between Beara and the Ring of Kerry is spectacular indeed!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The views continue to amaze and the landscape begins to change to one of country lanes with no traffic at all.
The road is twisty and very narrow now, but with great views of Kenmare Bay at every turn.
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.
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!
Allihies Copper Mine Museum – from The Irish Times