Bantry Bay Area

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Bantry Bay is one of the world’s largest natural harbours and varies between 9.5 and 13 kilometres in width. It lies between Sheep’s Head Peninsula to the south and the Beara Peninsula to the north. In 1796, the French attempted to land 14,000 troops here – Ireland long being seen as a backdoor into any potential invasion of England – but poor weather and equally miserable navigating meant that the expedition was a failure.

Bantry, the main market town in the far west of Cork, lies at the head of Bantry Bay.

Bantry

Bantry is centred on a large seaside square where street performers, artisans, and craftspeople congregate to sell their wares every Friday morning during the summer. Entering the town on the seaside road from the west, you’ll pass by the visitor’s entrance and car park of the region’s top attraction: Bantry House and Gardens.

How to Get Here

Bantry is located on the N71 between Skibbereen and Kenmare. The journey takes an hour and a half from Cork and an hour from Killarney. Free street parking is available around the main square. There are buses from Parnell Place station in Cork to Bantry which head on to Glengarriff but that’s the extent of the town’s public transport options. There are no train services.

Visitor Information –Bantry Tourist Office

Location: New Street, Bantry, County Cork

Top Reasons to Visit

Bantry House and Gardens –Bantry House is one of Ireland’s most noted estates and overlooks Bantry Bay from a hilltop on the southern shore. A series of stepped gardens lead up to the house, from there, you can see the bay spreading out below you and the Caha Mountains in the distance.

The house is the ancestral home of the White family and was built in the early 18th century before being expanded on later. Richard White, the first earl of Bantry, is principally responsible for the building of the house and its interior design. Richard had travelled across Europe and returned home with the stunning Aubusson tapestries which adorn the walls of the Rose Drawing Room – they’re said to have been commissioned by King Louis XV of France – and some antiques which are believed to have once been the property of Marie Antoinette.

Richard also picked up state portraits of King George III and Queen Charlotte which hang ornate glided frames in the gold and blue dining room.

The terraces are filled with marble statues and stone balustrades which separate the many species of floors and trees you’ll find there.

During the summer, the house’s library plays host to music recitals and concerts, particularly performances held during the West Cork Chamber Music Festival which is held in early July.

There’s a tearoom on the premises which serves local artisan foods and light lunches.

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Location: Seafront, Bantry, County Cork

Where to Eat

O’Connor’s Seafood Restaurant – This restaurant serves fish freshly caught from the sea just a stone’s throw away. The interior décor is welcoming and comfortable while the model yachts and bronze shop front speaks to the ambition of owner-chef Pat Kiely.

Monkfish with smoked venison risotto, grilled local mussels served with Thai coconut sauce, a garlic and herb breadcrumb and a la marinara are examples of the interesting twists you can expect to find on this menu. For something more traditional, try the seafood pie with a mashed potato gratin.

Meat and vegetarian options are also available.

Typical main: €24

Location: Wolfe Tone Square, Bantry, County Cork

Other dining options – The Maritime includes a bustling bar and restaurant area and caters to children while the Seaview House allows you to indulge in a relaxed meal surrounded by fancy décor.

Accommodation

Bantry House – There are six bedrooms in the house where you’ll enjoy an authentic heritage stay where you can bask in dreams of being lord and lady for a night. The house also boasts a unique setting and it’s not quite as expensive as you might expect. However, it’s a fairly long walk or a quick drive into town.

Rates: €169

Location: Seafront, Bantry, County Cork

The Maritime Hotel – The hotel features a custom built boat-shaped reception desk and black marble floors with contemporary chandeliers hanging from the ceiling which recall the excesses of the Celtic Tiger years.

It’s a great location at the centre of town and features comfortable rooms for good value rates. The interior corridors are long and poorly lit while some rooms require two elevators to reach.

Rates: €150

Location: The Quay, Bantry, County Cork

Seaview House Hotel –Set on a wooded, private estate which overlooks the bay, the Seaview House Hotel – a three story Victorian country house – offers guests comfort, fine food, and unfussy, pleasant service. There’s little to entertain you at the hotel however, and the nearby village has only one pub. It’s a bit of a commute into town, too.

Rates: €150

Location: Ballylickey, County Cork

Shopping

Dunbeacon Pottery – This pottery store is to be found on the R591 as part of the scenic Durrus to Mizen Head road near Bantry. Ceramic tableware in numerous glazes is the main point of sale.

Location: Bantry, County Cork

Manning’s Emporium – A great place to put together a picnic, you’ll find salamis, pates, and local farmhouse cheeses. Manning’s is located on the road from Bantry to Glengarriff.

Location: Ballylickey, County Cork

Glengariff – The writers William Thackeray and Walter Scott both fell in love with Glengarriff and it’s no surprise – as you drive in from Bantry across the cliff tops, you’ll see some of Ireland’s best scenery as you look towards the islands in Glengarriff bay and the mountains which protect. Not to mention the sheltered woodlands where the Gulf Stream has allowed normally tropical plants to thrive alongside native Irish flowers.

Though it’s a small town, really only a one street affair with a few pubs, it’s on the main road and very much a tourist centre which is crammed with craft shops and tour buses.

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How to Get Here

Glengarriff is 14 kilometres from Bantry and the journey should take only 10 minutes on the N71. You’ll find a car park at Quill’s Woollen Mills and there’s usually plenty of on-street parking as well. Buses from Cork stop here, and some continue onto the Beara Peninsula but there are no local public transport options and no trains.

Boats from the harbour will take you seal watching and to Garnish Island, home of one of Ireland’s best gardens.  Services are operated by the Blue Pool Ferry Company which is located behind Quill’s Woollen Mills. A short trail leads to a scenic hidden harbour where boats leave for Seal Island – you don’t get off there but make sure your camera’s ready – and then to Garnish and the Ilnacullin Gardens. The journey to Garnish from Glengarriff takes 10 minutes.

Top Reasons to Visit

Garnish Island/Ilnaculin – Many visitors come to Glengarriff specifically because of these gardens which were created by a Belfast business man named John Annan Bryce in 1910. When Bryce purchased Garnish, it was just a rocky island but with the help of Scottish gardener Murdo Mackenzie and the English architect Howard Peto, the isle was utterly transformed into what has been called Ireland’s Eden.

The half-shed, half-mansion casita which overlooks the sunken Italian garden is the primary showpiece but you’ll also find a Greek-style temple as well as a climbable Martello tower. Of course, there are also many plants, trees, shrubs, and strange tropical flowers too. Just be careful you don’t find the island to be too inviting and miss the last boat back to the mainland.

There’s a small café selling sandwiches and ice creams and so on.

Ring of Beara –Glengarriff is the starting point of the Ring of Beara, a 137 kilometre drive along the R572 around the Beara Peninsula. If you’re a walker, the 196 kilometre Beara Way features sites of historic interest but no matter whether you choose to hike Beara or drive it, you’ll experience breath-taking scenery.

Dursey Island, home to only six permanent residents, is accessible by Ireland’s only cable car which is one of the only cable cars in Europe to traverse water. The cable car can be closed at times however, and there are no warning signs or information provided until you arrive. Dursey has no accommodation, pubs, or shops. The main reason to visit is for the walks and the massive seafowl colony on the island.

Once back on the mainland, head for the small village of Allihies where a museum commemorates the town’s former copper mine. It’s now home to several artists who sometimes welcome studio visits – roadside signs will alert you to any opportunities.

From there, continue along the stunning coast road to the village of Eyeries which overlooks Coulagh Bay before continuing along the southern bank of the Kenmare River to the town of Kenmare and County Kerry.

Location: Beara Peninsula, County Cork

Accommodation

Glengarriff Eccles Built in the 19th century, this hotel most obvious feature is the wrought iron balcony out front. You’re right beside the sea and the hotel has a bar that’s as popular with locals as it is with visitors. You are a five minute walk from Glengarriff, however.

Rates: €130

Location: Glengarriff Harbour, Glengarriff, County Cork

Glengarriff Park Hotel – This family operated hotel is located right at the heart of the village alongside its sister establishments, McCarthy’s Bar and The Pink Bistro. The hotel is popular with Irish visitors to the area on short breaks but can be crowded with international tourists during the summer and the bedroom views are nothing to write home about. It is great value, however.

Rates: €80

Location: Village Centre, Glengarriff, County Cork

Shopping

Gift2 – This renowned contemporary art gallery on Glengarriff’s main street also features a gift shop which sells unique items as well as ceramics and glass for reasonable rates.

Location: Main Street, Glengarriff, County Cork

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