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
As night falls we paddle in almost perfect silence. The water is warm, the night clouds appear luminous, a heron glides from a forest of trees that dip and bend into the water. Otters slip into the drink from the black shore, phosphorescence dripping from our quiet oars.
It seems risible to explore this coast over a single weekend, almost a crime. This is terrain that deserves a lifetime.
Bay watch: from Union Hall to Ring
The stretch of coastline from the fishing village of Union Hall on the west side of Glandore Harbour, to Ring Head, overlooking Clonakilty Bay, measures 20km in length in a straight line.
The coastline was reformed when a tsunami hit Lisbon in the mid-18th century, depositing sand and shale along the west Cork coastline and helping give it the shape we see today. It’s a coastline dotted with picturesque fishing villages, long stretches of beach, and pretty inland country towns and villages, with a sizeable sprinkling of islands, such as Rabbit Island, Adam and Eve Island and Inchydoney Island.
Notable bays include Castlehaven Bay, Clonakilty Bay and Rosscarbery Bay, and one of the most striking man-made interventions on the coastline is the Galley Head Lighthouse (below), which can be rented through the Irish Landmark Trust (irishlandmark.com). Inchydoney Strand, a long Blue Flag beach near the town of Clonakilty, is rightly rated as one of Ireland’s best, while the nearby hotel and spa have been sensitively developed.
Attractions and activities
The sheltered bays and historical inlets dotted along this coastline make kayaking an ideal way to explore the area, and Jim Kennedy at Atlantic Sea Kayaking offers a range of tours and services, from marine safaris to coastal walks, whale watching to seaweed foraging.
Artist Geraldine O’Sullivan hosts an exhibition of new work at her Castlefreke home this Saturday and Sunday.
On the music front, Liss Ard Estate in Castletownshend hosted low-key music festivals in the 1990s, but it has now been renovated and opened up to guest accommodation. A big draw is James Turrell’s sky garden, which has an admission charge and guided tours.
For live music, the best spot is probably De Barra’s Folk Club in Clonakilty, which recently celebrated 30 years of hosting music from the likes of John Spillane, who plays monthly. As Christy Moore put it: “There’s Carnegie Hall, the Royal Albert, Sydney Opera House, and then there’s De Barra’s.”
There are good food options along the coast, with seafood and local produce a particular draw. Deasy’s Harbour Bar and Seafood Restaurant in Ring, which overlooks the water, serves dinner Wednesday to Saturday, 6pm to 9.30pm, while the Glandore Inn is a good spot to watch boats sail into the harbour.