Southern comfort in West Cork for the whole family

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Have you ever seen the video for The Cures song “Close to Me”, in which the band is locked in a closet and then thrown over a cliff? The cable car to Dursey Island on the edge of the Beara Peninsula seems a bit like that to me.

But not for my two children.

We were in a small wooden box on wires high above the sea. My three year old son and six year old daughter were enchanted, staring at the sea crashing into the jagged rocks below. I was shocked.

Even so, the journey didn’t take long – eight minutes at the most – and it was worth the horror when we arrived alive to explore this remote and magical island off the south-west coast of Ireland by bus.

Dursey Island is 6.5 km long and 1.5 km wide and has only two residents. We saw sheep eating high up on the cliffs, and abandoned houses, whose roofs had long since disappeared, littered the slope. It was a scene from another time.

I felt that timelessness again when I told the bus driver I had no cash with me to pay for a tour of Dursey. He said to leave it at O’Neill’s Pub in Allihies – seven miles away and possibly the most remote village in the country. The next church is literally America.

When we dropped the bus tickets in the pub that evening, we discovered a small holy place just outside the village, which was dedicated to the children of Lír.

I remembered the legend from school: the four children of Lír who were turned into swans to wander for 900 years. One night they heard a bell ringing by a monk living in Allihies and were put back into human form. Not long after, they died and were buried under the large white boulders. It is also spoken of by the Hag of Beara, which they say lived seven lives before being turned to stone on the hill.

We stayed in a self-catering cottage on the north coast of the peninsula in Coulagh Bay, 5 miles from Allihies. 8km doesn’t sound like much now, but if you’re driving on mountain roads that seem to hang over the Atlantic, it can take a while to get to anywhere.

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The cable car to Dursey Island

The cable car to Dursey Island

But it’s such an incredibly beautiful, albeit bleak, part of the world that you want to take it slow – the rugged landscape can look like the surface of the moon. And in places this part of Beara can appear just as cut off.

One night we were having a picnic in our back yard on Coulagh Bay and watched the sun sink into the sea. The mountains of Slieve Miskish were behind us and Kerry’s summit of Carrauntoohil loomed ahead of us in the distance.

The silence was all-encompassing, just the popping of a cork as my wife opened a bottle of wine – a sound that goes a long way. It’s a place so remote that I couldn’t help but switch off, aided by the fact that there is little or no internet connection. You can’t help but stay in the moment.

It became part of our routine to go swimming every morning at Ballydonegan Beach, 9 miles further west, before setting off to explore the day.

One day we drove the hour to Glengarriff in Bantry Bay and took the ferry past the seals to Garnish Island, a 37 acre horticultural wonder with a beautiful Italian garden that would make your heart beat faster.

On another day we drove the 10km to Castletownbere and made a stop for cake and lemonade in the Buddhist Retreat Center, Dzogchen Beara (dzogchenbeara.org). It has the most spectacular views over the ocean and I felt more like I was on a Greek island than Cork as the white walls of the retreat glistened in the sunshine.

On the way back to our cabin, we drove on roads that were barely big enough for a single car. In the surprising heat wave we had a cooling night swim in the crystal clear water of Ballydonegan. And I had a pint at O’Neill’s.

It was a wrench to go, but after a week on the Beara we drove back to Cork City. I had forgotten how wonderful the second capital was. We took a lunch stroll around the UCC campus and absorbed the beauty of the neo-Gothic architecture of the square.

In the afternoon we visited Rumley’s open farm (rumleysfarm.de) in Waterfall, just outside of Bishopstown. The kids loved petting the ponies and lambs, the tractor trailer ride, and the JCB backhoe ride where they could dig and move earth. My wife and I played table tennis but were interrupted by a lamb and his mom who came into our room to gently push us out with their noses. An experience straight out of a Disney movie.

As it was another roasting day, it was a blessing that we could all cool off in our hotel’s pool, the Kingsley, followed by a drink on the deck overlooking the River Lee where people were swimming and kayaking.

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The culinary capital of Kinsale


The culinary capital of Kinsale

The culinary capital of Kinsale

The next day we drove the short distance to Blarney Castle (blarneycastle.de) where we took off our shoes and socks and strolled along the river bank. The children fed a handful of grass to the nearby horses and we ate a delicious picnic made from local produce.

The children played hide and seek in the old trees before we climbed the castle walls, where my wife kissed the famous stone (in 1314 Robert the Bruce of Scotland gave the King of Munster the Stone of Destiny as a reward for the 5,000 soldiers who helped him defeat King Edward II Bannockbrand).

We explored the castle gardens and marveled at their poison garden, which is planted with flowers that are so poisonous that they could kill you.

The next day it was planned to go to Cobh to visit the Titanic Experience, but the kids ruined that idea. It was one of the hottest days of the heat wave. So instead of sightseeing, we lolled around Kinsale, built sandcastles, and swam all morning on Dock Beach – a lovely spot on one side of the Bandon River – before indulging in an al fresco lunch at The Blue Haven.

We had to refuel the kids as they were visiting the Kinsale Equestrian Center (kinsale-equestrian.at). They had a two hour trip and it was so much fun that it was said that they would be going to camp there next summer. My son was fascinated by the state-of-the-art excavator that picked up huge bales of hay. He watched the performance as if it were a Broadway show. After that we all boarded the Kinsale Harbor Cruise (kinsaleharbourcruises.com). It was more of a magical mystery tour into history as a mere boat trip.

On our last day, we went to the beach in Myrtleville for a swim – but the ocean was full of seaweed and it felt like we were wading in cabbage soup.

Our last night was at a fair in nearby Crosshaven and it was impossible to keep the kids off the bouncy castle. It was equally impossible to keep her – and her mother and father – from jumping into the river for a bath at the end of the night. It had to be done.

If this long hot summer had a title it would be: “Come in, the water is wonderful.”

Barry was a guest at the Kingsley Hotel, Sundays Well, Cork, 021 480 0500; thekingsley.ie


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