The magic of West Cork

When Covid-19 restrictions were announced, our physical and social communities shrank. During uncertain times, we’re forced to look around and ask ourselves: ‘Who, where and what do we cherish?' Over the next few months, we'll be hearing from our selfless volunteers about the places they treasure - first up is West Cork.

Please take care by following official government guidance and remember to check our water safety tips before heading to the coast. 

Walkers exploring the Skelligs in Ireland, a film location in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Photo: Shutterstock

Exploring the Skelligs - a film location in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Crepuscular rays and craft beers. Atlantic swells and artisan bakeries. West Cork has always been known for its wild beauty, and in recent years it has also become a hotspot for food, culture and the arts.

With buzzy, bustling towns like Skibbereen and Clonakilty, countless inlets and islands to explore, lots of on-the-water action, and incredible wildlife to meet, there’s no finer part of our coastline to explore.

A fine fáilte (welcome)

Lawrence Cove Marina on Bere Island is a popular choice for the visiting sailor, with water, electricity, diesel, showers, toilets, a launderette and (this being West Cork) a craft shop. It’s a 10-minute walk to the shop and pub in the village of Rerrin, and there’s a ferry to Castletownbere on the mainland. There’s another marina in Bantry, and lots of safe anchorage in Castletownbere and Baltimore Harbours.

Castletownbere RNLI Coxswain Dean Hegarty recommends a stay close to his home town to anyone who enjoys life on the water. ‘One of my friends has a RIB, and we get some good fishing by the harbour – you’d catch mackerel and pollock. If I’m off duty for a full day, I’ll go down to Bantry, or if the weather is nice you could get as far as the Skelligs.’

A yacht in breaking seas

Photo: Andrew Parish

Enthusiastic sailors should head for Lawrence Cove Marina

Jutting out of the Atlantic at the end of the Iveragh Peninsula, the Skelligs were the site of an ancient monastic settlement, but are perhaps better known these days around the world as a film location in Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

If you’d rather let someone else take the helm for a while, Dean recommends a boat trip to the Bull Rock Lighthouse with Dursey Boat Tours – something he will often do with visiting family or friends.

Island life

From the Irish-speaking idyll of Cape Clear to the seal colonies of Garnish, there’s an island (or 10) for everyone here. The poetically named Roaringwater Bay, between Schull and Baltimore, claims 100 islands. Rianne Smith is Winch Operator at Baltimore Lifeboat Station, and the organiser of a couple of local walking groups. ‘For the tourist, Cape Clear and Sherkin Island have plenty of loop walks, taking from just half an hour to 2 hours. There are easy, well-signed rambling trails with great views for people just passing through with a pair of trainers.’ 

Of course, with mountains and wilderness galore, there are also more challenging outings for the serious hiker. Visit explorewestcork.ie/walking for more information on the Beara Way, the Sheep’s Head Way and the Great Glengarriff Horseshoe. And see our coastal walking tips for the first steps in keeping yourself safe.

Coastal walkers exploring Skellig Michael

Photo: Shutterstock

Coastal walkers exploring Skellig Michael

Under the sea

Rianne’s husband, Jerry Smith, is Baltimore RNLI’s Second Mechanic, and the owner of the Aquaventures diving company. It seems there’s a lot going on under the surface. ‘There’s a fair number of wrecks to dive, between our proximity to the Fastnet and the amount of traffic over the years to and from the US,’ Jerry says.

One of the most impressive wrecks is the Kowloon Bridge, a 900-foot oil carrier that ran aground in 1986, causing a devastating oil spill, and sank in 1987. Jerry says things are looking better for nearby wildlife these days: ‘As a big wreck, she breeds big life. You see 6-foot congers, and there’s often a huge crowd of lobster wandering around.’

Fishing boats in Castletownbere Harbour

Photo: Shutterstock

Fishing boats in Castletownbere Harbour

The wreck of the Alondra is also noteworthy. The ship ran aground in rough weather in 1916, with the loss of 17 lives. A crew of volunteers from Baltimore helped rescue the 23 remaining men onboard – on their third attempt. This rescue helped demonstrate the need for a lifeboat station at Baltimore, which opened in 1919.

Don’t miss: Transcendent Lough Hyne

Freshwater and saltwater meet at Lough Hyne, a lake with a narrow harbour entrance. On some special autumn nights, a particular breed of phytoplankton causes the lake to glow with bioluminescence. And even if they’re not putting on a show, the stars will be. Atlantic Sea Kayaking organise well-regarded trips.

Ready for summer

We’re all excited for summer – but, with so many of us seeking coastal escapes, RNLI volunteers are expecting our busiest summer season yet. With a small donation, you can prepare your lifesavers with the kit, training and equipment they need to be ready for any emergency, all summer long. And you’ll be a lifesaver, too. 

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