Local Knowledge: North Cork


Where should you go? We ask the locals

Cal McCarthy, retired farmer and keen walker from Kilbyrne, on the village of Doneraile

How would you describe the local area?

I suppose if I am honest, since the Celtic Tiger left, Doneraile village is not doing as good as it was. When I was growing up every house and every little premises in the town had a small business. There were bakers and butchers and local grocery shops. I think there were seven bakeries and 13 public houses and three or four grocery shops. We have no bakery left now, and just one butcher shop and three pubs left.

About four years ago all the wires were put underground. It is looking good though and has stayed true to its past appearance. We have a very committed tidy towns committee here.

What are your favourite places in the local area?

We have a monument to Canon Sheehan in the area that I think is worth visiting. He was a great writer at the turn of the century and he died in 1913, so his 100th anniversary is coming up next year. He wrote several books and the one we are interested in is called Glenanaar. He wrote all his books while he was here from 1895 to 1913 and his house and grave are here also. We put in a walkway about four or five miles north of Doneraile and called it the Canon Sheehan Loop Walk.

There’s a Mass rock on the route and we have mass there the first Monday night in July every year. It’s a lovely walk.

Where would you bring a visitor?

Springfort Hall (pictured) near Mallow is a big house and a great place for weddings and family celebrations. The food is very good there.

There is no place really in Doneraile even though they are trying to get one opened. I lead walks and it is the one thing people ask me – where can we get a cup of tea? I’d be ashamed to say we have no little restaurant in Doneraile.

People have tried it, but we are off the beaten track and there isn’t enough business. Thousands come, walk or play here and then they go home again. We must change that.

On a nice summer day, anywhere good for a swim?

As youngsters, we swam in the Awbeg river, and there were three or four places along it where you could swim safely. There was a place by the mill, on the northern side of the town. Further down the stream there were two or three more natural swimming pools. I haven’t seen anyone swim there in recent years, but there is some fishing on the river. If people want to go for a swim now, they go to the indoor pool in Mallow.

Tell us about your love of walking.

When I was younger we walked to the fairs, to Mass and later then we went by pony and traps. In the 1960s and 1970s, we didn’t walk at all because we had car transport. So, about 10 years ago, I started walking again purely for leisure and since 2003 I have been leading walks in the area. We have a lovely walk around Doneraile Park and it has become very popular in this area. I can see this as a growing attraction for us here.

Michael O’Sullivan, owner of Creagh House in Doneraile

My favourite place in north Cork is Doneraile Wildlife Park and Doneraile Court.

It is an almost complete inheritance of a Munster plantation estate. It has the country house, the walls, parklands and a river flowing through. From a recreational point of view, it is a safe place to go and has many walks, a new playground and picnic facilities.

In Ireland we had very entrenched views as to what visitors want. Certain locations have developed while others have not.

We have done a lot of work in the past year bringing people together to develop Doneraile Court.

About 100,000 people are coming here quietly without any real marketing, and we have 400 acres of parkland and gardens that go back to Charles II as well as Victorian gardens. We’re opening up a new tea room in about two weeks and that should help visitors remain a little longer.

Too often visitors pass through north Cork but it is a place that has got a lot of its own charm, with rolling hills. It has not been a tourist mecca, so it is still an area waiting to be explored.

I live in Creagh House ( creaghhouse.ie), which is a significant early 19th-century building in Doneraile.

It is classically designed and the family who lived here had close literary connections.

One of the daughters married the writer William Thackeray in Paris, the same year the house was finished.

We are part of the Hidden Ireland group so guests can now come and stay overnight.

Where to go,  see and stay

Visit:Annes Grove gardens. Mainly dating from the early 20th century and laid out with local and exotic flowers and plants, secret 19th-century paths and a walled garden, this lovely estate is situated a few miles along the road between Doneraile and Castletownroche. Some members of the Annesley family still live on site and are very knowledgable about the history of the gardens and the family’s connection with the area. Call ahead, as visits are by appointment. 022-26145, annesgrovegardens.com

See:Road bowling is very popular in north Cork and most Friday nights of the summer, you can witness it on the Castletownroche road out of Doneraile. The sport involves the throwing of a 28oz ball along country roads often with sizeable wagers on the outcome. Don’t arrive expecting comfy grandstands or on-site catering. Do expect to walk a few miles and bring warm clothes. It starts at 7pm. Keep an eye on local press for details.

Stay:Longeuville House. This 17th-century gem, based a few miles from Mallow, is a good base from which to explore north Cork, Limerick and Kerry. There are 20 rooms, and the hotel prides itself on locally sourced food. Chef William O’Callaghan, a descendant of the original 17th-century owners, trained under Raymond Blanc, so even if you’re not staying the night, it is worth visiting for dinner. The house brews its own brand of cider, and fishing is also available on the nearby Blackwater in June and July. A one night, dinner with bed breakfast package for two is currently on offer for €275. longeuvillehouse.ie

Twitter recommends

Glanworth is pretty too. Over the border Ballyhoura has loads. Not strictly north Cork though.


McCarthy’s of Kanturk – fabulous artisan butchers who have a black pudding knighthood. Hidden gem – no relation!


Glenseskin Wood in Kilworth is lovely and if the sun is shining Barnane Walk in Fermoy is stunning. The Old Reservoir in Knockananig is a gem too.


The donkey sanctuary (near Mallow) is well worth a look. If you are into donkeys that is.

@The Pavilion

Bridgetown Priory is worth exploring.


Ballyhoura Mountains (mountain biking, walking) Ballyhass Lakes (below, fishing, recreation), Springfort Hall for food


Next week

We will be looking at Co Clare. If you have recommendations, drop us a line before Friday.


Email:brianoconnell@ irishtimes.com