Fall in love with west Cork and you’re in for a long, tricky marriage
The Going Coastal series continues with a kayaking and walking trip along the shores of west Cork from Union Hall to Ring
Over the next two days we walk and kayak. Through prosperous Glandore, where SUVs choke the narrow roads and yachties in canvas trousers sip gin as the sun sets. On past Goat’s Head, Tralong Bay, Mill Cove, Castle Bay, and coves guarded by jagged rocks that pierce the coast like snarling teeth. At the Blue Flag beach on Rosscarbery Bay, overlooked by Downeen Tower, the vista opens out and we get our first view of Galley Head lighthouse.
This coast is studded with seaside farmhouses. O’Sullivan points out the iron buoys decorating pillar tops, the sea glass and shells decorating garden walls. These dwellings sit alongside newly built holiday homes. For the most part these new developments, largely owned by Irish and English families, are palatable enough.
At Owenahincha, however, a populous, caravan-dotted stretch of coast, we encounter a gated community, cowering under the gaze of inquisitive seagulls, its electronic entrance box dangling open, belching wires. It probably seemed like a good idea at the time.
O’Sullivan remembers when Owenahincha welcomed the Ford factory workers who used to holiday there in the 1960s and 1970s, before industrial closures and cheap flights.
We poke around the graffitied corpse of an old German-owned motel. Hunched chrome shoulders protrude from overgrowth: the ladder of the outdoor swimming pool. Net curtains cover cavernous windows and broken white crockery peppers the ground like snow. “Moira is bald,” reads a lonely scrawl by the old entrance.
We leave the ghosts and continue along the shore, taking in Long Strand, an unbroken stretch of coast beloved of surfers, onwards to Galley Head lighthouse and Red Strand, where families picnic and the sun carpets the sea like a runway.
All around Clonakilty Bay, the beaches have their own character: Sands Cove, home to an annual fishing festival, where fish is barbecued for the whole community; Dunnycove, the only safe anchorage between Glandore and Ring, where the copper-stained slipway is the same colour as the turquoise sea; Duneen strand, where miniature ponies and Shetlands canter on the spongy grass above the shore.
And then there’s the causeway over to Inchydoney Island, past White’s Marsh, where the American second World War B17 bomber Tain’t a Bird came down in 1943. The crew and their mascot, a monkey called Tojo, moved into O’Donovan’s Hotel in Clonakilty, where the monkey, having survived the attentions of the German Luftwaffe, caught a cold and died. He is buried underneath the floorboards of the dance hall.
As we cross Inchydoney Island, the sulky races are in full flight: horses pulling lightweight chariots and drivers race up the green hill and down again, while a man with a megaphone roars at the sun.
Eventually we reach Ring, a tidal harbour with two piers, our final destination. We walk the cliffs to a point where we can look out towards Simon’s Cove, Ballinglannon, Dunworley and, as far as the eye can see, the Seven Heads, and in the foreground, a series of elegant arches where the sea burrows into the cliff.
It is journey’s end, but Jim Kennedy and I have unfinished business. Kennedy’s knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, this landscape is boundless. There is so much more we could do: go foraging for seaweed, or head off in search of seals and whales and dolphins and basking sharks that come in to feed from this buffet where the wild Atlantic first meets land. In the end we retrace our steps, settling for a twilight kayak on Castlehaven Bay near the beautiful Castletownshend.