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Ferry Trip: West Cork Islands

Ferry Trip: West Cork Islands

Ferry Trip: Whiddy Island

Resting between peninsulas in Bantry Bay, Whiddy Island enjoys a superb strategic position in one of the world’s finest deep water harbours. The result is a lively and vibrant naval history.

During World War I, seaplanes from a US navy base on Whiddy patrolled Fastnet Rock. The island’s drinking fountain, known as the ‘Cup and Saucer’, was made by American naval officers. More recently, the island serves as a Gulf Oil terminal for berthing supertankers. It was here, in 1979, that the French tanker Betelgeuse exploded in what remains the biggest maritime disaster in Irish history.

Of course, there’s more to Whiddy than modern industry and warfare. At the Kilmore lakes, an early ecclesiastical enclosure features a holy well, church and graveyard dating from the 6th century. In the early 1500’s the great chieftain, Donal Cam O’Sullivan Bere, built Reenananig Castle on the island, which was bombarded during the Cromwellian Wars, and finally collapsed in a 1920 storm; however three magnificent forts have survived.

The result is a fascinating prospect – an island where walkers can absorb a landscape heaving as much with history as it is with red and purple fuchsia in the summer months; a hideaway where bird-watchers can break out the binoculars; an escape where everyone can grab a well-earned drink at the welcoming island pub. Whether you’re walking, boating or simply relaxing here, you’ll find an island of hidden depths.

Getting there: Ferries sail from Bantry, daily, year-round from the Bantry Pier. Sailings take 10-15 minutes.

Getting around: Visitors to Whiddy can hire bikes, take boat trips, or explore the island by foot.

Visit for further information and ferry timetables

Garnish Island 

Garnish Island (Ilnacullin Garinish or Garnish) is located in the sheltered harbour of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay, in Southwest Ireland. Garnish is world renowned for its gardens which are laid out in beautiful walks and it has some stunning specimen plants which are rare in this climate.

Take the Garnish Island Ferry from Glengarriff Pier to visit this amazing island garden. The very sheltered ferry trip includes a wonderful visit to seal island where you will visit the very tame seal colony.  Make sure to have your camera ready!

The Gardens are the result of the creative partnership of Annan Bryce and Harold Peto, architect and garden designer. The island was bequeathed to the Irish people in 1953 and was subsequently entrusted to the care of the Commissioners of Public Works.  For history buffs the Island also boasts a Martello tower on its southern shores which has been restored by the OPW. There is an amazing view of the bay from the battlements of the tower.

The alternative names Ilnacullin, or Illaunacullin (island of holly) and Garinish, also have a long history in the locality, and appear in early maps.

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Cape Clear Island

Cape Clear Island is Ireland’s most southerly island, and some would argue that it is also the most beautiful.  It is a leisurely, 45 minute boat trip from Baltimore or Schull.  The Island is 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide and has a population of approx 150.  It is a Gaeltacht Island – the first language is Irish.  Because of its Southerly position, the island’s climate is significantly milder than the mainland’s.  It is also a wonderfully rich and varied location for bird watchers (shearwaters, auks, skuas, cormorants, herons and osprey are commonly sighted) and boast’s Irelands only manned observatory (please see birdwatch Ireland’s website for a full list of species; and also for information about the excellent wildlife courses which are run from the Observatory beside North harbour).

Sherkin Island

Sherkin Island (from the Irish ‘Inis Earcáin’) lies southwest of County Cork alongside several other smaller islands ofSherkin Island Roaringwater Bay. It has an average population of 100 people, measures 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide (5 km by 3 km). The island has a primary school, two pubs with a hotel, a B&B, community centre and a church. Sherkin has its own special character, much of it imbued by the by the fact that so many people from so many parts of the globe have discovered, and consequently settled, on this remote, idyllic spot: Americans, Australians, Canadians, Polish, Danish, French, Germans, British and Russians.  The rugged, free-spirited and independent character of the island is further re-enforced by the fact that so many of Sherkin’s residents live off their art: sculpting, painting and writing are all pursued, intently, by many residents who claim to be inspired by Sherkin’s almost 19th Century tranquillity. It is not, however, always whisper-quiet: The busy season is initiated with the school holidays in early June when people with young families begin visiting. Busiest day of the year is the celebration of the ‘Sherkin Regatta’, usually held on the 3rd weekend in July (postponed to August if weather does not permit). On this day the island is crowded with rowers and fans. Children’s activities, music and food stalls are all part of this Sherkin fair; for holiday-makers this is an ideal time to visit, though we advise pre-booking of ferries to avoid disappointment.

We also recommend a trip to beautiful, peaceful Heir/Hare Island, located just 15km offshore from Skibbereen. Heir Island is rich in flora and fauna. The island is also ideal for boating, sailing, sail-boarding, swimming, diving, angling – and for bird photography as it boasts an unusually diverse population of indigenous and migratory birds. There are numerous diverting walks through the island as well as a children’s play area near the island’s main house.

Dursey Island 

Lying across a narrow sound off the tip of the Beara Peninsula, this is the dictionary definition of escape – no business, no traffic, no hassle. Just you, rugged nature and the awe-inspiring Atlantic Ocean.

There is one sign of civilisation, of course – Dursey’s unique and charismatic cable car. Hitched to the mainland above dolphin-strewn Dursey sound, this is Ireland’s only cable car, running 250 metres above the sea. With a capacity of carrying just six people at a time, the cable is a lifeline for the handful of inhabitants living in three small villages on the island.

Stepping onto the island, visitors can continue on foot along a stretch of the Beara Way. Highlights on Dursey include the ruins of O’Sullivan Beara’s castle, a 200-year-old signal tower with views stretching to the Skelligs and Mizen Head, and several standing stones. The indented coastline, open bog and wild winds leave you in no doubt – you’re far from the madding crowd.

Location: 219m off the Beara Peninsula. By road, Dursey Island is roughly 64km (1hr 50 mins) from Kenmare and 73km (1hr 55mins) from Bantry.

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