The magnificent coastline of Cork, the largest county in Ireland, extends all the way from Youghal to the tip of Beara Peninsula. Scattered all along are historic towns and quaint old villages that add to the scenic splendour. Aptly named The Irish Riviera, the coastline south of Cork city is the mildest region in Ireland. The warm waters of the Gulf Stream sustain an almost subtropical climate. Exotic plants and trees abound in sheltered gardens, and on a sunny day there is definitely a Mediterranean feel to these seascapes. A lovely car tour would take you from Kinsale along the coast to Baltimore. Beyond Roaring Water Bay, the most southwesterly peninsulas in Ireland jut into the Atlantic, beginning with Mizen Head and Sheep’s Head. From their cliffs and headlands you enjoy splendid views over the deeply indented coastline.
Exploring Ireland’s South Coast
from Kinsale to Ballydehob
Once one of the main ports of the British Navy, Kinsale (Cionn tSáile "Tide Head") has preserved much of its old-world charm. Keep left on the main road at the junction in town and turn right in front of the harbour, following signs for Bandon and Garretstown. Leave Kinsale and soon turn left across a bridge to follow the Coast Road West R600. Keep right at the junction just beyond the bridge. Reach a crossroads and turn left on the R604 for a detour to a lovely beach. Swing right with the main R604 at a junction where the Scenic Route continues ahead. Soon pass Garretstown Strand on the left. Fork left at the end of the long sandy beach and follow the road through Ballinspittle Forest. Turn left at a T-junction to rejoin the R600. Now stay ahead past any turnings. Meet a T-junction and go left across the causeway.
Turn left again immediately after crossing the Argidene River to reach Timoleague Abbey, an impressive ruin of a 14th century Franciscan friary at Timoleague (Tigh Molaige "House of Molaga"). Keep straight ahead at the junction past the abbey, ignoring the left turn across another causeway. Take the right turn into Timoleague, signposted for Clonakilty, and turn left at the next T-junction to rejoin the R600. Meet the N71 and turn left, soon reaching a roundabout. Turn right and follow the signs into the town centre of Clonakilty (Cloich na Coillte "O'Keelty's Clan"). Head west on the N71 to continue. Pass Ross Carbery off to the right and leave the N71 immediately by forking left on the R597 signposted to Glandore. Go over an old stone bridge across the Roury River and continue for 1.0mi/1.6km before taking the signposted left turn to the Drumbeg Stone Circle. Fork right at another sign to reach the car park at the site. Follow the footpath past the kissing gate to the Drumbeg Stone Circle. Dating back to the Celtic era, the circle consists of 17 symmetrically arranged stones.
Return to the main R597 and turn left to continue. Pass through the peaceful little village of Glandore, overlooking the waters of Glandore Harbour. Pass the pier on the left and keep left immediately, following the main road along the coast. Turn left shortly across Poulgorm Bridge to Unionhall. Turn right at a T-junction to pass through this quaint village. Keep right on the main road for Castletownshend at a junction overlooked by a church on the left. Pass through Rinneen Forest. Keep left at a junction that is signposted to Skibbereen. Turn left when you meet the main R595 at a crossroads for a detour to the attractive village of Castletownshend. Return on the R595 in the direction of Skibbereen. Pass the entrance gate to Liss Ard Experience on the left, a contemporary landscaped garden made to create awareness of the Irish nature and environment. Reach a crossroads on the outskirts of Skibbereen and turn left to continue on the R595.
Baltimore’s famous Beacon
Take the signposted left turn to Lough Ine (or Hyne), a land-locked inlet enclosed by wooded hillsides. Turn right alongside the shore before keeping right at a junction to leave the lake. Turn left at the next junction before turning right again at the following junction. Now ignore any turnings until you meet the main R595. Turn left into the fishing village of Baltimore. Return on the R595 to the crossroads on the outskirts of Skibbereen that you passed earlier and turn left. Reach the town centre of Skibbereen (Sciobairín "Little Boat Harbour") where you turn left onto the N71 west. Cross the River Ilen and keep left at a junction on the N71 to Ballydehob. Leave the N71 when it bends right and go ahead across a bridge into Ballydehob (Béal an dhá Chab "Ford at the Mouth of Two Rivers"). Note the Twelve Arched Bridge on the left just before entering the village, a remnant of the old West Cork railway system.