Mizen Head is the most south westerly point in Ireland. This claim to fame, combined with an excellent Interpretive Center and protected walkways makes it a key destination for visitors to the south west. However if you are a walker and have your boots in the back of the car there is a diversion you can take that will add an intriguing dimension to your day. So before heading for Mizen take the road for Three Castles Head.
Follow the track which leads up to the first farmhouse which is also home to Dunlough Café and Restaurant, a top class eatery open in the summer months. Half way up you will see a marker pointing the way across a field towards a gate in the fence on the far side. Once through this follow the indented cliff top up to Spot Height 109m. As you descend from here and turn a corner you come on the startling sight of a defensive wall linking a castle and two Mural Towers. This is Norman-style architecture and the only similar one I have come across in this country is on the Rinn Duin Peninsula on Lough Ree (Walks, March 14th, 2015).
The Normans didn’t penetrate this far into the south west but Milo de Cogan who received the lands of west Cork pushed the native families from their holdings. The O’Mahony Clan retreated to the furthest tip of the Mizen Peninsula and, having observed their effectiveness, built a Norman-style defensive position. There is no record of it having been attacked which is hardly surprising as the wall is bounded on one end by sheer sea cliffs and on the other by Dunlough Lake.
On the west side of the castles the land rises to the central ridge of a “hammerhead” peninsula, the south western tip of which is Three Castles Head. A circuit around the peninsula brings you through typical west Cork upland, with ridges of bare rock interspersed with boggy ground. You will find that you will have to back-track on occasion as the section of gently sloping rocky spine up which you are strolling may end in a steep cliff. It is a superb walk with broad views across Dunmanus and Bantry Bay to the Caha Mountains. While the north end of Dun Lough is still in view begin to work your way down to it. Here you will find another defensive wall plugging the gap between the edge of the lake and the cliffs. No towers here to shelter in so I would imagine that a spell on watch at this end would be pretty much a punishment posting.
While you can head back to the castles along the lake shore, you won’t be able follow it completely as the land drops steeply to the water at one point and you will have to take to higher ground to get past. As you retrace your steps I can guarantee that you will pause for a while to take one last look at this unique spot.
Three Castles Head, Mizen Peninsula, Co.Cork
Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 88
Start and Finish: The Car Park at Dunlough Bay. Grid Reference. 65 739
How to get there: Take the R591 from Scull to Goleen. At the southern end of the village turn right on to a third class road signposted for Mizen Head. Follow this road for six kilometres until you come to a T-junction signposted left for Mizen Head and straight on for Three Castles Head. After two Kilometres the road ends at a little car park at the northern corner of Dunlough Bay
Time: Two to three Hours.
Distance: 4 Km.
Total Ascent: 150mm
Suitability: Route is easy but take care on rough ground west of the castles.
Food and Accommodation: Dun Lough Café, Goleen, Crookhaven, Scull.