Well, of course, we did have bears, but not on Bere Island. The island is named after the peninsula and is derived from the Spanish princess Bera who was married to the first king of Munster, Eogan More, writes Dan McCarthy.
The name was later Gaelicised to Béarra and Anglicised to Beare and also appears as Bear and Bere. Sorry zoologists, no furry ursines here. After all, we have Rabbit Island, Horse Island, Sheep Island, Calf Island and lots of others named after animals.
The island lies in the shadow of the famous Hungry Hill though with a high point of 267m at Knockallig is no mere pancake itself. Bere Island forms part of the 206km Beara Way and has some superb trails on and off-road. They vary from the 2km stroll of the Lonehort Heritage Trail to the 5km Doonbeg Loop, the 6km Rerrin Loop, the 11km Ardnakinna Lighthouse Loop, to the daddy of them all — the 19km Beara Way route itself going from pier to pier. The island is roughly 12km long and 5km wide. The view that rewards any summiteer is spectacular with a myriad of houses and bright green fields decorating the land to the shore. Across Kenmare River (Bay) is the Sheep’s Head peninsula, its empurpled heather hills echoing those of Bere Island.
Bere Island has two very sizeable island neighbours in Dursey to the west and Whiddy to the east and is an imposing presence for any ships entering Bantry Bay. For this reason it was of huge strategic importance and was not handed back to Ireland until 1938 along with bases at Spike Island and Lough Swilly, Co Donegal, following independence in 1922. A major fortification at Lonehort was erected by the British in 1898 to protect their battleships. It consisted of seven gun batteries, a signal tower, a barracks and a quay. At its peak, naval forces in the base numbered 13,000. The Bere Island Projects Group is currently developing the site to turn it into a major tourist attraction - along the lines of Fort Camden and Spike Island.
Bere Island is the second largest Irish island when islands connected by causeways or bridges are discounted. It is outranked only by Inishmore. In terms of population it is also the second ranked according to the same criterion with 216 people (2011 census). In common with other large islands it was once inhabited by over 1,00 people and peaked in 1926 with 1,182.
And where many islands have dwindling populations with few activities, the phenomenal community spirit of Bere Island binds the island together as well as bringing in many visitors for these events. A syndicate on the island recently won €500,000 in the lotto which must have further improved spirits.
The list of activities upcoming for 2018 would put many large towns to shame. Some of the events planned include a religious retreat at Easter, an islands’ festival in June, Children’s summer camp in July, A Heritage Week in August and the All-Island football tournament in September.
With hotels, B&Bs, Airbnbs, bars, cafes, restaurants and its Bakehouse Cafe with
its sizzling garlic prawns, the over-riding impression of Bere Island is of a thriving
How to get there:
Just some of the events planned for Bere Island in 2018.
For a full list see: www.bereisland.net