Is this the next place you’ll add to your must-visit list? Words: Kitty Corrigan Photographs: Deirdre Fitzgerald
West Cork is renowned for its rugged coastline, artisan foods and thriving arts scene. The journey from Kinsale to Bantry is an opportunity to enjoy all three.
This is a short stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way, a spectacular driving route that totals 1,500 miles along Ireland’s western seaboard from Cork in the south-west to Donegal in the north-west.
Just 13 miles south from Cork Airport on the R600, the harbour town of Kinsale hosts international sailing events throughout the season – a great spectator sport. If you’re keen for some hands-on activity, you can book solo or guided sailing, kayaking and scuba diving, and, of course, swim in the ever-so-invigorating Atlantic ocean.
Carry on to Clonakilty with its traditionally Irish, brightly coloured shop-fronts. Severe flooding in 2014 necessitated major works on the high street, which has re-emerged with all of its former character and additional continental touches such as pavement seating for people-watching and espresso sipping. Nearby is one of the most beautiful sandy beaches in Ireland: for families, walkers, surfers and bathers, Inchydoney has it all.
All along this coast are dotted award-winning food producers who are making the most of natural resources. The fresh sea air will whet your appetite for Gubbeen Cheese, Woodcock Smokery Wild Salmon and Glenmar Shellfish. Skibbereen hosts an annual food festival (this year from 9-18 September), with a mix of food markets and demonstrations, cookery competitions, tastings and talks, not forgetting children's events. The town's name means ‘little boat harbour’ and whale and dolphin watching trips can be booked there.
When you reach the southern tip of Ireland, take a break in the attractive fishing village of Baltimore. From there you can catch a ferry (45 minutes) to Cape Clear Island, where you will hear Gaelic spoken. There are refreshments available to enjoy on a circular walk (when English will suffice if you get lost). The Irish are famous for their gift of the gab, and where better to hold an annual storytelling festival than on the island? (This year’s dates are 2- 4 September.)
And so to Bantry, where you can sip a Guinness as you watch the tide advance. Book in advance to sample the catch of the day at The Fish Kitchen, then head to Ma Murphy’s for traditional music. Bantry has held on to its independent shops, including an excellent book store and a craft shop (in Glengarriff Road) promoting local painters, potters, jewellers, and designers in copper, leather and wood. A few doors down is the excellent Organico café – bigger than ever with an extensive wholefood shop next door. Try the Polenta cake with coffee mid-morning and a risotto burger with quinoa salad for lunch.
Bantry is the setting for a string of summer festivals: a Chamber Music Festival in July followed by the West Cork Literary Festival, which draws writers and readers from far and wide. Talks, readings, and workshops by novelists, poets, historians and film-makers are held in a variety of venues, from the town library to the Maritime Hotel and Bantry House – an elegant 18th-century mansion surrounded by tranquil gardens. There is an impressive children’s festival, too, and a Big Swim when you can join other literary revellers.
August welcomes followers of traditional Irish music to Bantry, featuring the best in their field, headlined by Martin Hayes, a fiddler from East Clare, who is also artistic director of Masters of Tradition (this year from 17-21 August).