Visiting Cork: Five Lesser Known Places I Like
|St Mary's Youghal|
The major attractions for visitors in the County Cork, the largest county in Ireland, are well known. From the fishing village of Ballycotton and its island lighthouse in the east to the spectacular Sheep’s Head peninsula in the west, with the child friendly Fota Wildlife Park and the Clonakilty’s Model Railway Village in between, there is no shortage of places to visit.
But with such a richness, some little gems are overlooked and I have a few here for your consideration if you are thinking of visiting or indeed if you are going for a drive out of the city. And I’m sure there are more stars hidden away.
No 1: Let us start in the east, in Youghal, where you’ll find the historic Collegiatechurch of St Mary. This ancient place has been a site of continuous Christian witness, worship and prayer for over 1300 years, since the time of St. Declan.
It is impressive to see the full list of clergy that have officiated here since the early 13th century! The present church dates from the early 13th century. There is a great sense of history in this place, still in use by the Anglican community and now a National Monument of Ireland.
Youghal itself is a lovely place to visit or indeed to spend a few days in as you have the beaches and the mountains nearby and a host of other attractions, including terrific eating places in the town and in nearby Ballymaloe and West Waterford. There is the well known clock gate and, in the grounds of St Mary’s, the remains of the medieval walls.
|Game carousel in Fota House|
No 2: There is a fine dual carriageway linking Youghal and our next stop, which is Fota Island. No, not to visit the Wildlife Park or play golf at Fota Island Resort but to see the lovely Fota House Gardens and Arboretums.
And again, like St Mary’s, this is a free visit, no charge except for the 3 euro parking fee. Magnificent specimens of trees and shrubs from distant places, well laid walled gardens, a water garden, even an orangery, are some of the attractions here.
There is a cafe in the house and indeed, for a small fee, you may enjoy an excellent guided tour of the house itself. Cobh of course, with the emphasis this year very much on the Titanic commemorations, is an attractive visit and you may even find a liner in the port. Much to do in this area.
Now we are back on the road. We have a choice of routes though as our next destination is Crosshaven. You may take the main Cork road and then turn left under the tunnel or why not try the cross river ferry that will save you a few miles.
|The Bright Tunnel in Fort Camden|
No 3: The destination is Fort Camden. There is an admission fee to see this almost fully intact classic coastal artillery site. More of it is being opened to the public all the time as the local committee see the results of their hard work being enjoyed by more and more visitors.
Not alone do you see the impressive site, especially the fantastic tunnels (much of the place is underground), but you will have great views over Cork Harbour and you may also visit regular art exhibitions.
|Entrance to EWE|
No 4: Westward ho from here, almost all the way to the Kerry border where our destination is the fantastic Ewe Experience, a few miles west of Glengarriff on the Kenmare Road. You won’t miss the sculptured signs near the entrance. Lots of my photos from this enjoyable trip may be seen here.
There is a modest entrance fee to this strange site on the wooded side of a mountain. All kinds of quirky sculptures await you: a loo under a tree with a telephone at hand, a fish pedalling uphill, dinosaurs, a crowned baby on a rock, even games to play with shaped stones on a rock board. So much more, such skill and humour combined. This will bring out the child in you and you’ll all enjoy it.
Much else to visit in the area if you stay for a while. West Cork (and those magnificent sea views are at hand) and so too is South Kerry. If you like the big house, there is a brilliant example in Bantry House (photos here).
No 5: If you are heading home, don’t forget to stop in Macroom and visit the incredible Gearagh. It is the remains of the only ancient post glacial alluvial forest in Western Europe and here hundreds of tree stumps stand like sentries in a watery landscape.
Surreal, like the Ewe, and both are, to varying degrees, manmade. The area of the Gearagh was flooded during the 50s when the Inniscarra Dam was being constructed. It is easy now to walk across this strange landscape and I highly recommend it as I think this is one of Cork’s most under-rated treasures. Great for walking, for bird-watching, for photography.
But if you are not heading home and have some more time on your hands or are looking for a few more day trips, here are a few to add to your list. Let’s start with two castles, both in the care of the OPW. Barryscourt, near Carrigtwohill, is a favourite. Lovely gardens, including an orchard with really old apple varieties, a herb garden and, of course a free guided tour of the restored rooms.
The other castle is in Kinsale and that is the Desmond. Not as big as Barryscourt but an interesting visit nonetheless, not least because it holds a fantastic Wine Museum that details the involvement of many Irish people in the wine trade over the centuries.
Lots to do in Kinsale but why not continue in the historic vein and take the car, or maybe take a harbourside walk, up the hill to the magnificent Charlesfort. This star shaped fort is being restored. There is a tour and you will enjoy the stories and also the fantastic views over the town and the harbour.
I could go on and on... the lovely gardens at the Ballymaloe Cookery Schools, the Mizen Head Experience, Ballycotton and its cliffs, the Jameson Experience in Midleton...and I haven’t even mentioned the city!
So much to see and do. Now you’ll understand why I find it so hard to leave this county and see the undoubted attractions in the other counties! But I do have plans! Or at least a plan.