There is something truly magical and unique about West Cork and the gorgeous, three-mile-long island of Sherkin is the perfect example of that. This is one of seven inhabited islands in West Cork which are strung out like jewels along the coastline. The others are Heir, Bere, Whiddy, Dursey, Long and Garnish. All are shaped by the Atlantic Ocean and they all have unique histories and characters.

Sherkin, a tiny island, has its own special character and, it is said, that residents live off their skills as artists, craftsmen, painters and writers, all inspired by the tranquil surroundings of the island. It’s hard to deny that there’s something special about the island when you’re walking through the countryside with banks of red Fuschia, bright orange montbretia and rocky fields hemmed in by dry stone walls.

Just a ten-minute ferry trip from Baltimore, the island has a population of just 106 – a school, two pubs, a hotel, bed and breakfast, community center, coffee shop and a church – but during the summer months, this island is a hive of activity. It is known for its spectacular flora and fauna and while it is often hit by gales from the Ocean, it’s said that it’s far warmer on the island than in Baltimore. The island rises to 112 meters on its hilly backbone, Slievemore.

The island is easy to explore, with tarmac roads leading from the ferry at Abbey Strand to the southwest end of the island and another road running past the ruins of a 15th-century castle to the northeastern corner. To the west of Kinish Harbour, another good road runs to Cow and Silver Strands which are ideal for bathing. You might also be in luck and spot some seals, otters, or schools of dolphins or porpoises.

Sherkin Island, off West Cork.

Sherkin Island, off West Cork.

As well as the main roads, a series of footpaths and tracks leads to the west coast, to Horseshoe Harbour and the lighthouse. However, much of Slievemore, including the bay of Foardree and the peninsula of Farranacoush are quite difficult to access.

Once up a time the island had a population of around 1,000 but this declined from the time of the Great Hunger and afterward. Today about 100 people call the island home during the off-peak season. Inhabitants of the island range in nationality and their occupations vary from artists and writers to fishermen and biologists. A number of artists live on the island and Sherkin is unique in running a Fine Arts degree course.

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The island is steeped in history dating back to the 600 BC. Just up the hill from the ferry pier is the 15th-century friary, the Mainster Inis Arcain, The Abbey was destroyed in 1537 by angry seafarers from Waterford in retaliation for the seizure and speedy consumption of 100 tons of their wine by the local O'Driscoll clan.

Dún na Long (the Fort of the Ships) is the ruined O'Driscoll castle just north of the pier, a perfect spot to appreciate the beauty of Baltimore Harbour.

The oldest archaeological site on the island is the promontory fort, which dates back to the Iron Age, between 600 BC and 400 AD.

Sherkin Island, West Cork.

Sherkin Island, West Cork.

Another notable spot on the island is the automated lighthouse, which is maintained by the locals. It is located at Barrack Point and dates back to 1835. This lighthouse marks the southern entrance to Baltimore Harbour.

The ferry boat which travels from Baltimore is called “Mystic Waters” and during the summer it makes ten trips daily. While on the island it’s easiest to walk or cycle around the or even ride a horse if the opportunity arises. Visitors should also consider taking a sea safari trip around the islands. Walking tours leave from the pier and visit the Franciscan Friary, the Baltimore Beacon and more.

The busiest day of the year on the island is the annual Sherkin Regatta Festival, a rowing competition usually head on the third weekend in July. On this weekend every year, weather permitting, the island is filled with sportsmen and their supporters all enjoying children’s activities, music and food. Music festivals are also occasionally held on the island.

Evenings on the island are something special. With hearty food served at the two pubs and live music during the summer months, the informal nightlife on Sherkin is legendary. It’s little wonder that it remains a favorite retreat for the Irish and visitors alike.

* Originally published in 2016, updated in Dec 2023.