Cork: Rambling around magical Heir Island

HEIR Island in Roaring Water Bay is a magical place.

Cork: Rambling around magical Heir Island

There is the sense that the everyday world is a country we have left behind. Views are delightful in every direction. There is much history, and good bathing beaches.

2.5km long by 1.5km wide, the island topography is gentle. Residents number about 25, a third of them native islanders, the rest ‘blow-ins’ who have made their home here. Today, there is a restaurant, B&B accommodation, a public phone box, a sailing school and a shop on the island.

Because of the name, visitors sometimes think the island will be overrun by the long-legged Irish hare. In fact, it was named for a long-ago heir to the leadership of O’Driscoll clan, although nobody of that name lives there now.

Starting at the pier, we will walk the length of the island along the main island road, with spurs to north and south. The total absence of traffic and the silence immediately defines this as a place apart. We pass through cuttings capped with a carpet of golden gorse and purple heather in summer. Clear Island, with its two hills, is off to the left. To the right is the islet of Skeam East, abandoned in 1958. On the mainland, the twin domes of the radar tracking station on Mt Gabriel catch the sun.

Orange montbretia lights up the road verges in July and August. 10km north east, we see Kilcoe Castle, home of the actor, Jeremy Irons.

We take a left turn, heading south. The road winds down to the sea, with views over nearby Sherkin Island to the signal tower above Baltimore, erected in 1804, part of an early-warning against a French invasion. Signal fire lit on one would alert those nearest, and thus along the chain.

The northern side of Trá Mór, a white sand beach ahead, is known as the Dog of the Stray because a phantom dog was often seen here, sometimes the size of a cow. Beyond are Trá an Uisce and Trá Báirneach. Mallard cruise the nearby lake, and herons hunt in the shallows. Returning to the dorsal road, we turn left, soon passing the national school, built in 1900. We ignore the ‘green lane’ going down to the right. The road rises slightly.

In a field on the right, a wooden cross marks a cilín where unbaptised children, bodies washed in by the sea and the bodies of those who took their own lives were buried.

Downhill, now, towards a pretty inlet, spanned by a humpback bridge, with a hamlet of small houses beyond, and a few boats drawn up on the shore. This is Paris, called for a ‘fish pallace’ built there in the 18th century when pilchards arrived in their millions each summer and were harvested by locals and pressed to extract ‘train oil’, for lamps and for tanning leather.

After the bridge, the road climbs gently revealing a near view of Clear Island. We pass through a style onto the headland, An Dún probably the site of a pre-Celtic promontory fort. Steep cliffs enclose a pebble beach with crystal clear water; one needs to watch one’s step.

Returning the way we came, at the top of the hill we take the ‘green lane’ going left down to a pebbly strand opposite the small island of Illaungowna. Swinging right here, we meet a tarred lane taking us back to the dorsal road, where we turn left for the pier.

* Damien Enright’s regular Outdoors column will appear on County from August 14.


Start point: The shortest crossing (5 mins) is from Cunnamore Pier, reached via the N71, Skibbereen-Ballydehob road, turning left approx. 7km went of Skibbereen.

Ferry crossings 8am to 6pm: 086-8092447 for details. Ferries also from Baltimore: 028-22001 or 086-888 7799 for schedule and prices.

Time: 8 km. (5 mls); allow at least 2 hours to walk the whole route.


Easy going on island roads.

Map: OSi Discovery Series 88



Aug 12: Walk of Bennaunmore (Grade B)

Details: Meet O’Donovan Hotel 8.30am/ Cruiscín Lawn, Ballyvourney 9.45am


Aug 12: Walk to Knockbarron Woods (Grade C)

Details: Two hours. Meet Kinnity Community Centre 1400 hrs.


Aug 12: Walk at Lake Curra.

Details: Meet at Clydagh Bridge, 7pm.

* Map Copyright: Ordnance Survey Ireland/Government of Ireland. Copyright Permit No. MP 0006512

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