Saturday, January 4, 2014

Traveling to Ireland?

If So, Visit an Unspoiled Corner of the Country - the Beara Peninsula


Spectacular aftermath of gales along the Beara Way
How many people have I met (Americans in particular, for some reason) who dream of visiting Ireland. When I run into these folks (most often through the Internet of course), many ask the same questions: Where should I visit? When should I go? What's interesting?

When I virtually chat with these good people, I find that most are naturally influenced by what they've read and heard. So invariably, their possible itinerary leaves them stuck on the tourist trail, herded like cattle among the obvious destinations: Dublin, The Ring of Kerry, Galway, perhaps Cork City. While these locations have much to offer (Dublin can be fascinating, the Ring of Kerry spectacular though often loaded with tourists, Galway a fabulous city, and also the oldest chartered city in Ireland), they aren't for everyone. Which brings me to my point:

If you're considering a visit to Ireland in 2014, I hope you'll consider visiting the Beara Peninsula and Eyeries Village in particular.

The Beara is one of the best kept secrets in the country. Few know about it. Often, tourists (either from abroad or from Ireland) stumble upon this little corner of the world by complete accident. I know I did. About ten years ago, and looking to get away from it all, I visited Anam Cara, an Artists Retreat located about a mile from Eyeries, owned and managed by fellow American Sue Forbes-Booth. I stayed for a week to work on a screenplay. Struck by the overwhelming beauty of this area, I dreamed that one day I would live here. Now I do.

The Beara Peninsula is located way, way down in the far South West of County Cork. Bantry, the gateway to Beara and a wonderful seaside town, is at the far east of the area. Drive to Bantry (a 5 hour journey from Dublin by car, 2 hours from Cork), head due west, and you'll enter an area of magic.

Beara sticks out into the Atlantic like a lost finger pointing west. A series of high craggy hills forms a spine all the way down the peninsula. These great blocks of granite and basalt thrust up into the sky, their balding sacred forms blasted by wind and rain. In the summer, the Irish sun casts them in a golden glow of wonder. In winter, many are peaked with white blankets of snow. During all seasons, wisping fog can curl between valleys, turning them into ancient lands where the spirits of the long dead just might still wander.

But while the peaks of these hills are fantastic, it is the sea that makes the journey magical. Drive down the coastal road, still heading east toward Glengarrif and you'll behold the Wild Atlantic in all of its might. Islands dot the sea near the coast. And if you're lucky, a setting sun will transform the sea into sparkling diamonds.

Stop for a bit when you get to Glengarriff. Until recently, famed actress Maureen O'Hara called the place her home. If you have some time take a local boat out to Garinish island and walk in the magnificent gardens. Then grab a cup of tea and a bun, visit the many woolen shops you'll find there, climb back in the car and keep heading west.

Forty minutes or so later you'll reach Castletownbere, one of Ireland's largest fishing ports. Maybe stop for a meal or talk a walk along the pier and watch local fishermen off-load white fish catches from a row of huge trawlers. Finished with Castletownbere, keep going west. Stop in the Buddhist Centre (Dzogchen Beara) for an hour of meditation in stunning rooms that look directly out over the Atlantic, or have a cuppa in their wonderful tea room. When you're spiritually replenished, continue west: next stop Allihies. This village - one of the most westerly in the country, is home to an old copper mine. When the mine closed almost 100 years ago, many of the miners emigrated to Butte, Montana, not only helping America to become a powerhouse of industry, but also adding the distinctive cultural heritage of West Cork to the local melting pot of immigrants.

Allihies has one of the best beaches around, as well as some of the nicest pubs, many serving an amazing selection of local foods, in the area. So stop awhile and enjoy yourself.

Then proceed to what is, in my opinion, the crown jewel of the area: Eyeries Village. To get there, all you have to do is keep following the coastal road around the tip of the Beara. Stop for a minute as you drive over the rugged hills to look back on the breathtaking view of the Skellig Islands riding like tall ships on the Atlantic. Keep on driving and 15 minutes later you'll enter the village of Eyeries.

Eyeries Village is one of the best-kept secrets of the lot. The village, a picturesque collection of early-20th Century terraced houses all painted in a variety of pastels, is perched above Coulagh Bay like sanctuary. It is so pretty that Bord Failte (Ireland's tourism organization) uses photos of it in many of its brochures. And it is so clean that over the years Eyeries has won a variety of Tidy Town awards.

I live here, so I'm biased. But I'm convinced that there's magic in this place. When I walk down to the sea I could swear that older residents - now long gone - watch me with a mixture of approval and horror at an American blow-in.sauntering along. There's a tranquility here that I've found no where else. The breeze blowing gently onto the village carrying the musky smell of the sea with it. The occasional surprise of walking along the coast's Beara Way, turning a corner, and finding a seal swimming in the gentle waves. Yell to him and he'll return a stare of nasty contempt. In poor weather, sit in the local pub with a pint at your elbow, watching the Bay turned to broiling whitewater that smash waves against the rocky shore below, hurtling salt spray heavenwards.

And at night in clear weather, walk out into the back garden and gaze at the carpet of stars and the Milky Way that sweeps unobstructed and unperturbed above this coastal sanctuary.

If you're thinking of a visit to Ireland, I hope you'll consider the Beara Peninsula and Eyeries. It's a secret corner of Ireland that you're sure to enjoy. But please - don't tell any of your friends about it. Otherwise my local friends and neighbors will get annoyed at me because the secret of the area will no longer be a secret.

Want to learn more about living in Ireland? Are you thinking of traveling to Ireland or moving to Ireland? If so, you might consider the purchase of the 2014 Kindle ebook edition of A Survivor's Guide to Living in Ireland. Now 80,000+ words long, and having sold over 10,000 copies in its various editions, it could make the perfect gift for those interested in this wonderful country. Simply click on any of the links above to purchase this new Kindle version. You can also download various free aps to read this Kindle version on any PC or Mac. 


3 comments:

  1. Eyeries sounds just wonderful, I loved your description of it and hope to see it soon, when we move to West Cork in 2015, I'd like to thoroughly explore the Beara peninsula.

    My husband and I have dual citizenship and have been to Ireland many times-- but the economic problems have us a bit concerned, everyone we 've spoken with in Ireland seems incredulous that we're considering it.

    I have scoured the internet for blogs by Americans who have relocated there...what a relief to find your, which is so full of useful information.

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  2. Good morning Melissa and what fine words you write! If I can ever be of help just let me know. In the meantime, you could help me! If you can think of anything you'd like to see me cover, a particular focus for a Post or two, let me know. I want to make this Blog as relevant to you and other as possible. And if you have a Facebook page, I'd be so very grateful if you could put the blog URL (http://survivingireland.blogspot.com on it so that I can better spread the word. Thanks so very much! Right here for you if you need me - and do let me know how your plans for moving here move along. My very best - Tom

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