Forget the tour buses and the groups of chattering tourists, Beara Peninsula is the place to go if you wish to experience the true peace and tranquility of Ireland.
Located across the Kerry and Cork border, Beara is one of the best spots to witness the beauty of both counties, available to view along its 92-mile “Ring of Beara” car trail. Although still a popular tourist spot, the roads are too narrow for tour buses, meaning larger groups are rather restricted from including it in their Ireland tour. Starting off in Kenmare, the trail takes you across Healy Pass through Adrigole, passing through Castletownbere and Allihies before turning off to Dursey Island, Eyeries, and Ardgroom and ending in Glengarriff.
Two mountain ranges run down the center of the peninsula, the Caha Mountains and the Slieve Miskish Mountains, while the long-distance walking route the “Beara Way” takes in several historical and archaeological sites en route through the old the Beara-Breifne Way based on the march of O'Sullivan Beare in 1603.
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Traditionally, this area of the country was the seat of power of O’Sullivan Beare, also simply known as Sullivan, an old Irish clan (and also the third most numerous surname in Ireland) who held one of the last points of native Irish resistance after the Battle of Kinsale during the Nine Year’s War.
The scene of many battles and sieges during this period of Irish history, the ruins of Dunboy Castle and Puxley Mansion, the Copper Mines Museum in Allihies, Garnish Island by Glengarriff, and Derreen Gardens are rated among the best tourist attractions, but the jewel in the crown is from an earlier period of history. Located close to the Eyeries, the Ballycrovane Ogham Stone is the tallest ogham stone in Europe.
For those with a passion for seafood, be sure to spend at least a meal or two trying out what Castletownbere has to offer. The biggest white fish port in Ireland, Castletownbere has a fine selection of pubs and restaurants, most of which have fresh fish on the menu. And if fish doesn’t take your fancy, you can enjoy the coming and going of yachts into the second safest natural harbor in the world. Or you can try your own hand at catching your supper at one of the great shore angling locations dotted around the peninsula.
Another must-see while on your travels through Beara is the only cable car in Ireland, connecting the mainland to one of the three islands in the area. Stretching over a small stretch of water to Dursey Island, the cable car was built to ferry the people of Dursey and their animals safely across the water but also now allows you to take advantage of quiet country lanes almost completely devoid of cars.
While Dursey is a paradise island for walkers, Garnish Island is known the world over for its Italian gardens and Bere Island is also rich in historical importance. Once a base for the British Army and Navy, stroll from the Gallaun Stone, which marks the center of the island both longways and widthways, and carry on up to the restored Martello Tower, before visiting the collection of stones on the south side of the island marking the entrance to a wedge grave.
Back on the mainland, if you find yourself in Kilmackillogue, try to do it justice. You’ll need a place to lay your head for the night so head straight to Teddy O’Sullivan’s pub. Quietly perched right at the water’s edge, you can see the mussels that will be placed before you at dinnertime being brought in from the sea right in front of the pub. It’s also located just a ten-minute walk from the Derreen Gardens, which can boast of plants from all over the world and a stunning mountain backdrop.
With 92 miles to cover, don’t expect to take in all of Beara in one day. Take a few days to properly explore it and enjoy the food, the history, the country itself and most of all, the silence.
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*Originally published in May 2016. Updated in May 2023.