THE Wild Atlantic Way tourism initiative is obviously a success, well planned and executed, paying dividends to the geographically marginalised communities through which it passes, writes Damien Enright.
However, in laying out the West Cork route from Timoleague to Clonakilty, an emblematic piece of coastline was overlooked. This oversight was brought to national attention on the RTÉ news two Mondays ago, and on TG4. Clearly, this coastal route should be signposted as an option to the present section. The latter offers an excellent camping-caravan site, and a privately-run Michael Collins Heritage Centre, but follows the entirely inland R600 road.
The proposed optional route showcases everything a visitor following an Atlantic coastal itinerary would expect — Atlantic scenery, cliffs and beaches, history, legend and traditional coastal communities. It is unfortunate that it has been bypassed rather than signposted as an outstanding feature of the route.
The Wild Atlantic Way starts at Kinsale and heads west. After the spectacular Old Head and Garretstown and Garafeen strands, it follows the north shore of Courtmacsherry Bay with constant views of a romantic, picture-postcard village across the water.
After viewing the outstanding ruined abbey on the bay shore at Timoleague, visitors surely expect to be directed across the bridge to follow the bayside road to the romantic village — signposted Courtmacsherry — of which they have had tantalising views. The option should be offered. This route takes the visitor to Clonakilty via the Seven Heads, Butlerstown, Lislevane and Ring.
It is a quiet road with world-class views, internationally-relevant history and top-class amenities. Some require short diversions but this is the case with attractions all along the Wild Atlantic Way, from Kinsale to Donegal.
Courtmacsherry is a single street of mixed Georgian and Victorian houses, population around 400. It has a community shop, pretty tea rooms in Georgian drawing rooms and gardens, gracious accommodation at an award-winning guesthouse, a hotel previously the summer residence of the Earl of Shannon. It has a lifeboat, a village beach and sandy coves, a bay full of migrant birds from October to April, a few yachts in summer, a few fishing boats. Walking paths passing through beech woods, bluebell-carpeted in spring, lead to lonely cliffs and broad and empty beaches. Sailing dingies can be hired, sea-anglers can rent boats or join deep-sea fishing expeditions. It has good pubs and sophisticated pub fare.
The optional Atlantic Way would, after Courtmac, continue past elegant Lislee Temple, a small, rural church. Visitors might divert a mile to Coolbaun (Blind Strand) passing the memorial statue of Patrick Keohane, heroic member of Scott’s ill-fated 1912 South Pole expedition, born 1895 at Barry’s Point, the headland extending east from Coolbaun beach. The house nearest the tip was the old lifeboat station. On May 7, 1915, after the Lusitania sunk, local volunteers, fishermen and farmers, rowed the heavy lifeboat for three hours to lift drowned victims from the sea.
At Narry’s Cross, on this optional route, the panorama is breathtaking. Below, between the crossroad and the Atlantic, lie the many-coloured fields of Barryroe farmland.
Beyond them, the ocean is laid out from the Old Head of Kinsale to Dunowen, south of Clonakilty. Sometimes, the blows of fin and humpback whales can be seen rising white against the sea as they pass in stately migration.
Shanagh, a village that starved to death during the Great Famine, is southward, some ruined houses recently renovated. Lonely Travara Cove, site of a noted shipwreck, lies below it. The anchor of the ship is in Butlerstown, a one-street, brightly-painted village with a good pub and panoramic views over farmland, fields and sea.
Next, the Atlantic Way passes through Barryroe, with a large farmers’ co-op and supermarket, and a 19th century church with a modernistic interior. Then, Lislevane village, with neat street, fine street furniture and a cherished post office.
From here, a diversion south to the Dunworley beaches offers Wild Atlantic seas in winter and, in summer, white wave caps and sparking blue water. With rock pools and shellfish, sea-pinks on the black rocks in spring, golden trefoil strewn like golden shawls over the cliffs in summer, it is a favourite of locals, as is nearby Moloney’s Strand, broad and shallow, and very safe for children.
The Grange, a traditional crossroads pub is a venue for local people. South, lies Ballinglanna, a small beach and boat slip. Soon, we reach seaside Ring village, with historic ruins, a pub and noted restaurant. The wide, golden back-beaches of Inchydoney Island almost extend across the channel to the small fishing hamlet of South Ring.
From Ring, famous Clonakilty town is approached by a bayside road, the sea on its shoulder. The optional Wild Atlantic Way is, indeed, a charming round!
For me, and so many others, Dick Warner, who died suddenly last week, will be a great loss to this page. He was a man one could learn a lot from. He was always generous to me, inviting me on his radio programmes and endorsing my books. I owe him great gratitude. May he rest in peace.
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