Jutting out into the Atlantic between Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay, the Sheep’s Head peninsula lies well off the beaten track and sees only few tourists. Its stunning natural beauty is still one of the best kept secrets in Ireland. A wild and boggy chain of hills cloaked in heathland rises from sweet green pastures where sheep graze peacefully. Fuschias and honeysuckle scramble over crumbling stone walls, yellow gorse dots the landscape and there are breathtaking vistas across the sea the neighbouring peninsulas.
Durrus is a charming village with a post office, a couple of pubs and a shop. It is located at the mouth of Four Mile Water (Ballycommane River) where the valley opens into Dunmanus Bay. Durrus is home to Dunbeacon Pottery, Durrus Farmhouse Cheese and Carraig Abhainn Gardens, all of which can be visited.
People are often wondering where the river takes its name Four Mile Water. It has nothing to do with the length of the river which is in fact much longer. The shortest distance between Bantry House and the course of the river is 4 miles, hence the name. The Earl of Bantry had the exclusive fishing rights for the river. He had to travel four miles on the N71 until he reached the bridge crossing the river in the townland of Parkana.
Enchanting Ahakista is a mere scattering of mostly old houses around the pier and nearby Ahakista House, home to Graham Norton. During the summer you can take a sailing trip on Carbery Sailing’s luxury yacht from the pier. The Tin, or Ahakista bar, is a traditional pub along with a lush beergarden that runs right down to the water’s edge, overlooking Dunmanus Bay (shown above). Opposite the small fishing harbour, there is another bar: Arundel’s by the Pier... a quiet old place where you can sit outside and enjoy the view overlooking the small harbour (shown below) while sipping your freshly draft Murphey’s. (Don’t ask for Guinness since you are in County Cork!)
Kilcrohane is the next village enroute, where there is O’Mahony’s shop/café (definitely worth a stop!), a couple of pubs and the Old Creamery Café. At the Sheep’s Head Producers’ Market & Shop you’ll find artisan food (like seaweed) as well as the work of local craftspeople.
Exploring the Sheep’s Head peninsula
Walk the Sheep’s Head Way, one of the best walks in Ireland. It passes just 1km from Ballycommane House. This 200km walking route runs along the Sheep’s Head peninsula and leads you out to the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula. Thanks to the narrowness of the peninsula, the Atlantic Ocean is never far away (see photo below). The route leads you through spectacular unspoilt scenery, with magnificent seascapes and stunning views all along. It can easily be split up into many short and long loop walks. Detailed information including maps and routes is found at the official website of The Sheep’s Head Way. Further information on the Sheep’s Head peninsula including crafts, culture, gardens, food, accomodation and an event calendar is found at Living the Sheep’s Head Way.
Sheep’s Head Way: From the summit of Seefin, there is a spectacular view over Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay to the neighbouring peninsulas, Mizen and Beara
If touring by car, there is a rewarding “ring” drive starting at Durrus all the way down along the south coast to the tip of the peninsula and back along the north coast to Bantry. From Durrus, follow the scenic coastal road along Dunmanus Bay to Ahakista. Continue on the coastal road. Short detours to the left will take you down to Reenmore Strand and Farranamagh Lake (shown below), where there is a lovely beach.
View across Dunmanus Bay to the Mizen peninsula
Reaching Kilcrohane, continue straight ahead on the coastal road at the junction by the village church, past the Goat’s Path turning right. Beyond Kilcrohane, houses are scarce and scattered. New and magic seascapes unfold at every twist of the road as you drive along the south coast and there are sweeping views across Dunmanus Bay to the Mizen peninsula. Continue straight ahead when you reach the road junction at Black Gate. There is the Alice West Centre here on your left by the roadside, which was originally an old butter house building. It is now used as a café, art gallery, museum and for local events.
O’Mahony’s shop/café, Kilcrohane
Caherurlagh Marriage Stone near the Black Gate
The road narrows and winds its way further down to the headland where it ends at the car park. There is Bernie’s Cupán Tae here, serving hot and cold snacks. Bernie’s salmon sandwiches are legendary! From the car park, take the iconic walk (a 2hr loop) to the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula.
Walking the Sheep’s Head Way to the lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula
Drive back the same way to Kilcrohane and turn left at the village church, following the sign "Goats Path". Wind your way up the hill and go through a gap across the ridge that affords beautiful views over Dunmanus Bay to the south and Bantry Bay to the north. Follow the main road past all turnings along the northern side of the Sheep's Head peninsula. You are heading east through a rather desolate and wind-swept countryside; some white-washed houses dot the landscape. There are fine views over the deep, churning blue waters of Bantry Bay to the wild Caha Mountains of the Beara peninsula. Meet the N71 and turn left towards Bantry or right in the direction of Cork.
Andy commented on the photo above: ‘It was one of those smashing days when I did the iconic lighthouse walk on Sheep's Head. I have done it many times before, but this day was special. I had the breathtaking seascape all for myself. The serenity of the landscape was incredible and it was so calm I could hear distant seabirds calling. Enjoying the sweeping vista out over Bantry Bay to Beara and the open Atlantic I felt like on top of the world. On my return to the car park, a fresh homemade sandwich and a chat at Bernie's Cupan Tae was the perfect finish to this outing.’