Ireland’s first official long-distance equestrian trail, the Beara Bridleway, has emerged in West Cork’s Beara Peninsula, with exploration of the local Wild Atlantic Way now possible on horseback, with the permission and co-operation of several local farmers and landowners.
Following private and public tracks along the Sliabh Miskish Mountains, a large section of the bridleway was already historically a horse trail when, during a local industrial age, it first opened in 1824 to facilitate copper mining at Allihies.
The 23km trail, which links the townland of Clounglaskin (a few miles west of Castletownbere) to the historic village of Allihies, and then onward to the coastal townland of Urhan, overlooks stunning seascapes and views to Beara’s sister peninsulas.
Hugging the flanks of the Sliabh Miskish Mountains, it includes optional detours and climbs.
It was developed in a partnership between Beara Tourism and Cork County Council, with landowners and farmers entering into an agreement whereby they allow riders access to the track, taking responsibility for removal of overhanging vegetation and the erection of stiles and gates.
Ireland’s first bridleway necessitated a variety of infrastructural works, including the installation of special gates which can be opened and closed while remaining on horseback.
There were negotiations with landowners to solve issues such as insurance, income, and access to private property.
Not only does the horse trail offer an up-close-and-personal opportunity to see rural Irish life and nature, the rider meanwhile enjoys panoramic views of both the Kenmare and Bantry bays, from the Bull Rock to the Skelligs in the distance.
From the forestry at Clounglaskin to old mining pathways, once you leave Allihies behind, the bridleway joins an old copper mining road, looping past the industrial architecture of the mine engine house of the old Berehaven Copper Mines, finally descending to Urhan where, at the Urhan Inn, there is a welcome for both horse and rider in the form of refreshments and food.
Funding of €53,000 was awarded from the REDZ (Rural Economic Development Zones) scheme, with the Department of Rural and Community Development’s Local Improvement Scheme awarding a further €96,000 to erect a bridge at the section of the trail at Caminches, Allhies.
Landowners John Terry O’Sullivan and Sam Beshoff are very encouraged by the scheme.
Farmer Paul Harrington told the Irish Examiner: “It’s definitely a useful source of income, that’s the clincher.
“Each shareholder gets paid, and the money is a great incentive.
“The bridleway was already there, people always coming down, but this has formalised the use of the path through our commonage.
“There are definitely more people using the track.
“Sometimes you’d be moving sheep and there’d be someone standing in the way! You go mad in your head for a minute, but you get over these things, in a while, it’s gone away.”
Michelle Welsh helped to kickstart the bridleway idea, in memory of her mother and horse enthusiast, Angela Welsh of Allihies, and was involved in the initial stages before Beara Tourism, West Cork Development Partnership, and Cork County Council got involved.
The British Horse Society carried out assessments, as certain criteria had to be met in order to have official bridleway recognition.
Local farmers Irene and Ger Harrington of Beach View B&B are happy to participate in the project by providing a tie-up and rest stop.
In a corralled paddock by the side of their house, horses have access to a water trough, and riders can use the toilet or can have a cup of tea, coffee or a sandwich, if they book in advance.
‘The bridleway is passing our door.
“It’s a distinctive tourist attraction, an added bonus for Allihies and the local economy.
“The riders might be going on a long trip from Castletownbere to Eyeries.
“If they want, they can even bring their own snacks and sit on a bench in our lawn.”
Irene adds: “Most family farms today need a second income.
“Rural tourism is helping overcome challenges being faced, as farming isn’t what it was.
“That’s why we’re happy to be tapping into it.
“I had people staying from Co Meath during the summer. Our neighbour Teddy Kelly housed the horses.
“Our cattle would be in too long, into May, to get sheds ready to keep horses.
“What we’re offering is a stop-off, water, toilet and a cup of coffee.”
Partnership has been key in development of the bridleway, trying to make sure everyone is brought to the table, and that there something in it for everybody.
Paul Harrington said, on the erection of the bridge at Caminches: “We needed something, as I have land over there, and I take silage from it.
“Years ago, my dad made a crossing over it with gravel, but the flood was taking the gravel away bit by bit.
“Now the bridge is put there, it’s handy to access.
“We had to pay a bit towards it, but that was fine.”
Praising the officials involved, Paul says: “Patricia Bevan, West Cork Development Partnership, oversees it all, and she’s very helpful.
“Jim O’Sullivan of Beara Tourism is our main man on the ground.
“The contract is currently for five years. If there’s any issue, you can get out of it.
“You’re not giving up any rights, if it doesn’t work out, it doesn’t work out.’
Following official approval and endorsement from both the British Horse Society and Sports Ireland, the terrain offers riding for all levels of experience, which can be undertaken at any pace.
Local equestrian services are also keen.
Sheehan’s farm in Allihies is excited at the advent of the local bridleway, providing livery at their newly named Allihies Wild Atlantic Bridle Way facility at Sea View Stables.
It is where Blayne Sheehan runs barn-type stabling, with tack room, wash bay, feed room and tack up area, which can accommodate up to 10 horses in stables and grazing.
Other local riding establishments include mother and daughter team Lios Lara Riding Stables at Clounglaskin, providing equestrian activity all year round.
Once Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, the further attraction of a bridleway can help tourism recovery in West Cork, while helping to build vibrant and sustainable communities in rural Ireland.