Forming one of the long peninsulas in Ireland's magnificent southwest, the Beara peninsula projects for over 48km (30 miles) into the Atlantic Ocean. The rocky Caha and Slieve Miskish ranges form the mountainous backbone of the peninsula that is famous for its unspoilt scenery and wild ruggedness.
Exploring the Beara peninsula - The Ring of Beara
Overlooking Glanmore Lake from the road up Healy Pass
Start out at Glengarriff (Gleann Garbh "Rugged Glen"), a pleasant holiday resort at the head of Glengarriff Harbour that is surrounded by thickly wooded hillsides. The entrance to the estuary is guarded by the island of Ilnacullin (Garinish Island, or Garnish). Bathed in the warm waters of the Gulf Stream, it is a garden island of exceptional beauty that supports a luxuriant Mediterranean vegetation. Ilnacullin can easily be reached by boat (Harbour Queen Ferry or Blue Pool Ferry) from Glengarriff and is definitely worth the trip. Fork left at the main junction in Glengarriff on the R572 to Castletown-Bearhaven. This road out onto the Beara peninsula skirts Bantry Bay and follows the rocky coastal strip beneath the Caha Mountains, with Sugarloaf Mountain rising prominently on your right.
Garinish Island (Ilnacullin)
Seal sunbathing in Glengarriff Bay
Turn left after crossing the Adrigole Bridge (turning right here on the R574 would take you on a scenic drive up to the Healy Pass and down to Lauragh). Continue along the coast to Castletown-Bearhaven. Leave your car at the harbour or in the centre to stretch your legs. Opposite the town is Bear Island. Between the island and the mainland is the sheltered port of Bear Haven where dreadnought battleships of the British navy were kept until as late as 1938. Continuing ahead on the R572 along the coastal strip beneath the Slieve Miskish Mountains. Take a left turn at the signposted junction for a detour to the Dursey cable car, thus staying on the R572 (straight ahead is the R575 to Allihies). There is a stile on the left and a sign "Wegde grave" at this turning. You can see this megalithic tomb or dolmen down in the meadow close to an electricity pole. Pass a lay-by on the left and note a sign for the Lehanore Ring fort after another 150yds/m. This prehistoric enclosure down on the hillside to the left is in a strategic position overlooking the sea. Follow the main road through the steep-sided Firkeel Gap until it ends at Dursey Sound. A cable car operates across Dursey Sound to opposite Dursey Island.
The tip of Beara peninsula
Looking across Dursey Sound to Dursey Island
Now return to the junction passed earlier and turn left on the R575 for Allihies. Just beyond Bealbarnish Gap there is a lay-by on the right affording glorious views out over the seascape around Allihies Point and the Slieve Miskish Mountains rising further inland. Reach a three-way junction where you could turn left to make a short detour to Ballydonegan Beach. On reaching Allihies you will find the Allihies Copper Mine Museum on your right at the entrance to the village. It is well worth a visit, with an interesting documentation on 3500 years of mining history. The Copper Café offers a full lunch menu and a wine list. Continue through Allihies and keep left for Eyeries where the road forks at the end of the village. Stop after about 1.0mi/1.6km at a lay-by to see the disused copper mines with its eerie ruins from a safe distance. Don't venture into the hills; the old mineshafts are liably to subsidence. Have a close look at the stones by the roadside; if you are lucky you'll not only find red iron ores but also a piece containing greenish copper oxides.
Left: Garinish Point; right: White Strand near Garinish Point
The road continues to snake up and down through the hills; following this winding roller-coaster drive you are bound to loose your sense of orientation. Notice a signposted mass rock on the right shortly before swinging round to the right on the main road through Cahirkeen. Cross the Kealincha River by the Drehidawillaun Bridge and keep left at the junction just beyond it. Meet the main R571 almost immediately and turn left to Eyeries. Reach a junction at the entrance to the village and keep left, following the "Ring of Beara". Now pass through Eyeries where there is a marvelous 2hr coast walk.
Atlantic coast near Eyeries. There is a magnificent loop walk from the village along the coast, with spectacular views across Coulagh Bay.
Keep left at a junction ("Ring of Beara") and notice the standing stone on the left almost immediately. Take the next left turn across a bridge to visit Ballycrovane Ogham Stone, the largest of its kind. A signposted footpath leads past a cottage where you have to pay admission to this standing stone. Return to the bridge and turn left to continue on the coast road as it winds up and down through the rocky landscape. Pass Kilcatherine on the right, a ruined church with an old graveyard. Derryvegal Lough appears down on the left before the inlet of Cleanderry Harbour with its mussel beds opens up before you. Keep left at a junction, still following the Ring of Beara. Keep left again at a signposted junction to follow the coast road to the pier at Pallas Harbour, another inlet with mussel beds.
Follow the coastline along the bay of Ardgroom Harbour and cross Cappul Bridge to reach Ardgroom. Turn left on the R571 at the petrol station. The bay of Kilmakilloge Harbour with its mussel beds opens up before you. A sign on the right pointing to Cashelkeelty stone circle gives you an opportunity to stretch your legs, so leave your car by the roadside and follow the footpath to this megalithic monument that dates back to the Celtic era.
Continuing the tour, soon cross the Croanshagh Bridge and pass the quaint Lauragh post office on your right. Fork left on the R573 after 800m/yds and watch for the sudden left turn to Derreen Garden after another 250m. Take your time for a visit to this magnificent botanical garden with its exotic plants and huge fern trees.
Continuing on the R573, pass the lovely Keeper's Cottage on the right. Proceed along the main coast road past Kilmakillogue Pier. Pass a Crucifixion on the right at Tuosist shortly before meeting a T-junction and turn left on the R571 for Kenmare. Lower Cloonee Lough soon comes into view on the right just before you cross Ardea Bridge over the Clonnee River. Now watch for a right turn that comes up after 0.9mi/1.4km, signposted to Inchiquin Lake, Waterfall, Uragh stone circle. Take it for a short but rewarding detour.
Follow this small tarmac lane past the Middle and Upper Cloonee Lough hidden on your right. Ignore a track to the right, signposted to the Uragh stone circle, and continue along the tarmac lane to Lough Inchaquin by keeping right at a fork near the lakeshore. The road ends at Gleninchaquin Park. This breathtaking landscape provides a scenery that is reminescent of an alpine valley. A waterfall tumbles down the sheer rock face at the head of the valley, sheep graze peacefully in the green valley, and some scattered houses dot the slopes.
Return the same way to the main R571 and turn right to continue. Pass some nice estates before meeting a T-junction. Turn left on the N71 and drive across the bridge into Kenmare (Neidín "Little Nest"), a charming town with excellent pubs and restaurants.