Beara, West Cork - Ireland’s most beautiful landscape? - PHOTOS
Spellbound by the wild Atlantic, rugged mountains and spectacular coastline
A winter’s night in Beara is like being in the heart of darkness itself. No stars, no moon, no light of any description. Poised on the edge of Europe with only the howling wind and the fierce crashing waves of the Atlantic ocean for company, it can be a mystical place that stands on the edge of an old world and looks out to the far-off promise of the new.
It is undoubtedly the wildest of Ireland’s peninsulas, with its rugged mountains and a spectacular coastline that stretches 30 long miles from Glengarriff down to Dursey Island at the South western corner of Ireland and around and back up again to Kenmare in South Kerry. In keeping with the its untamed spirit , it is commonly called ‘Wesht’ Cork to distinguish itself from its more sedate ‘West’ Cork neighbours.
The wildness of the terrain can be seen on any part of the walking tour that makes up the 125 mile long Beara Way. Scenic lakes lie in the bosom of the glorious mountains. The valleys are rich in archaeological sites such as stone circles, wedge graves and ancient relics juxtaposed alongside mythical landmarks like the huge footprint and stone remains of the Celtic goddess the Cailleach Bheara (the Hag of Bheara). She was the wise old woman called to mind by 1916 Easter Rising hero Padraig Pearse in his poems. Legend has it that she made a giant leap across the bay to Kilcatherine when she was chased out of Coulagh by the head of the supposedly celibate monks.
Indeed the origin of the name Beara is also derived from ancient mythology. Owen Mór was the king of Ireland when he was badly injured in a battle and he retreated to Spain. He met and married Beara, daughter of the King of Castille and then returned triumphantly to rename the scene of his landing in honour of his new wife. Later, in 1602, a real legendary figure, O’Sullivan Beara, the last Gaelic chieftain of Ireland, marched his army from Beara to Leitrim after his defeat by the English at the Battle of Dunboy; the route of his epic journey can still be traced through the countryside.
The Ring of Beara on the other hand, is a conventional tourist trail by road that conjures up a host of unforgettable sights such as the copper mine and its museum in Allihies, the cable car (the only one in Ireland) to Dursey island, the major fishing port of Castletownbere, Dunboy Castle, the magnificent Healy Pass, and the subtropical garden haven that is the starting off point at Glengarriff.