Everyone has a happy place they escape to when the going gets tough. Some head to the well-stocked Ben & Jerry’s freezer, brandishing a shovel-sized spoon in one hand and a pre-emptive bib for the dribbles in the other. There are those who find solace at the bottom of a highly alcoholic concoction whilst dancing in Ibiza. For me, salvation is found in the back end of nowhere in the South West Coast of Ireland.
My first stop was Kilmackillogue, a tiny fishing village along the Beara Peninsula in Kerry. Sea legs still firmly attached to my torso thanks to a ferry crossing and a long drive from Dublin, I hobbled out of my car and surveyed the wonder that surrounded me. The view was beautiful; rugged mountains lined the horizon whilst the calm, deep blue sea lapped against the old stone walls of the harbour. It was as though I had staggered onto the set of the ‘Discover Ireland.com’ advert; whilst I watched the setting sun turn the mountains into a deep shade of red, I started to hum the pipes, drums and fiddles of the advert’s theme tune. I half expected to see Michael Flatley hopping and flailing around in front of me.
Kilmackillogue consists of a number of holiday homes, farms and most importantly, one pub, which is also the village’s B&B. Situated on the harbour (and conveniently for me, staggering distance from my accommodation), this little old fashioned haven with its constant stream of customers is the perfect watering hole after a day of sailing, boating, diving, hill walking, cycling or horse riding (information about these activities is available within the pub). Teddy O’Sullivan’s pub provides seating on the pier where one can relax with a pint (Guinness if you want to fit in, Cider for wimps like me who just cannot take it) and watch the local fishermen bring in their daily catch. When the need arises for the alcohol to be soaked up with food, the pub sells mussels and salmon from the local fishermen’s catch as well as normal pub food.
Baltimore, West Cork
After enjoying a few days of exploring the Beara Peninsula, walking amongst the historical Stone Circle and attempting kayaking (rat infested Birmingham canals cannot prepare you for the open sea) it was time to move on to my favourite place – Baltimore in West Cork. Driving from Kerry to Cork via the mountain road known as the Healy Pass is one exciting experience; the Healy Pass is 334 meters above sea level and takes you through two of the highest mountain peaks in the area. Once you reach the top, it is well worth parking in one of the viewpoints and taking the opportunity to look at the rugged landscape.
Baltimore has a younger and busier atmosphere and, like Kilmackillogue comes alive with tourists during the summer months. This fishing village, as well as hosting its own sailing schools, diving schools and regattas, has a number of ferries which allow you to explore the fuchsia filled surrounding islands. Visit Cape Clear in the first weekend of September for the annual Storytelling festival, Sherkin Island to see the old, historical ruins and finish exploring the island with a well-earned drink at the Jolly Roger pub overlooking Baltimore harbour.
Cross Roaring Water Bay to visit the unoccupied smaller islands with old crumbling houses on them, remnants of the days when these islands used to have communities living on them but are now homes to cattle. When you have had your fill of the smaller islands, hop onto the Baltimore Sea Safari and go out to open sea to visit the whale, dolphin, seal and basking shark filled waters.
If you wish to stay on shore, you can visit Baltimore’s 17th century castle, ‘Dún na Séad’ (meaning Fort of the Jewels) or take a walk along the cliff tops to Baltimore’s famous ‘Beacon’. If you wish to party at night (taxis are available from Baltimore) or just spend the day shopping, Skibbereen, the closest town, is merely a 20 minute drive away.
When you have finished having your fun at sea, end your day watching the breath taking sunset at one of the pubs overlooking the harbour- either Bushes Bar (my personal favourite, sample their local mussels or homemade soup) or Jacob’s bar (which is convenient if you wish to buy a larger meals such as pizza and steak).
If you decide to visit Baltimore, sit at the barrel tables outside Bushes Bar and, as the sun goes over the islands, relax with the drink of your choice and smile. You are in my happy place. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.
A few tips to discover Ireland:
The best places to visit outside of the main cities are easiest to find by car. If you are over 25, you will be able to rent a car should you choose to fly to any of the major airports. If you are under 25, you will not be able to rent a car or will have to pay an outrageous under 25 fee which is often makes renting not worth it. If this is the case, you can book a car ferry to Dun Laoghaire or Rosslare, Wexford. Arm yourself with a good sat nav, bikes should you wish to explore the countryside this way, water proofs should you wish to hop onto the ferries and a good pair of walking shoes. You are now ready to explore.
Be a bit daring- there are many small villages along the South West coast which are as beautiful as Baltimore and Kilmackillogue. Deviate from the map once in a while. Who knows what you might find.
During high season, Baltimore’s numerous holiday homes and B&Bs tend to fill quickly. Book accommodation in advance for both Kilmackillogue and Baltimore to avoid disappointment.
Words and Images: Danann Swanton