A Letter from Ireland:

Beara Peninsula and Kenmare on the Wild Atlantic Way


For our next leg of our trip around Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way, we left the town of Bantry and started on a tour around the Beara Peninsula (you can see more about our last leg here). The Beara Peninsula is sometimes referred to as “Ireland’s forgotten peninsula” – which as a description is way out of date! This part of the world is very much on the minds and plans of many of the people I know (OK – some of them do want to keep it a secret.

So, let’s start our tour around the sights, history and family names of this wonderful part of the world.


Our first stop was in the town of Castletownbere. It’s one of Ireland’s main fishing ports and is a busy little town and the commercial hub of the Beara Peninsula. We had to stop for a quick drink at the famous McCarthy‘s Bar – made famous by appearing on the cover of a book by the same name by Pete McCarthy. One of the funniest books I have read – maybe you’ve read it already?

McCarthys Bar, Castletownbere

McCarthys Bar, Castletownbere

While McCarthy may feature over the top of the bar – this is an area of Ireland where you will find plenty of O’Sullivans! Just to the west of the town, we headed to see the remains of Dunboy Castle. This was one of the seats of Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beara – the clan leader of the Sullivan Beara in the late 16th century.

Ruin of the O'Sullivan Dunboy Castle

Ruin of the O’Sullivan Dunboy Castle

The O’Sullivans controlled the fisheries in the area and taxed all vessels sheltering in the haven.

In the summer of 1602 the O’Sullivans were rebelling against the English crown and George Carew was sent with a force of 5000 to suppress the rebels. Dunboy Castle was considered indestructible but after two weeks of bombardment, the castle was mostly destroyed.

Walking the Beara Way above Castletownbere

Walking the Beara Way above Castletownbere

One of the nicest parts of the Beara Peninsula can be seen from the long distance path known as The Beara Way. It has to be one of the most beautiful hiking trails in the world – never too far from the mountains and the sea. The Peninsula is also covered with many prehistoric remains and the trail wanders nearby many of them. One of our favourite activities is spending a day doing a loop on part of the Beara Way – you come back a new person!

View from Bere Island towards Hungry Hill

View from Bere Island towards Hungry Hill

The mouth of Berehaven harbour is protected by Bere Island – served by ferry from the town of Castletownbere. Well worth a visit for an afternoon or an overnight.

A meditative view from Dzogchen Beara

A meditative view from Dzogchen Beara

Just a few miles beyond the town lies the very peaceful Buddhist Meditation centre of Dzogchen Beara – I have always been a fan of dropping in here and just contemplating the magnificent views for an hour or so. Nice preparation for what comes next at the end of the Peninsula!

Dursey Island.

Dursey Island lies right at the end of the peninsula is the most southerly inhabited island in Ireland. As you can see, it is also serviced by a nicely exciting Cable Car – the only one in Europe to go over the open sea. Also, be aware that locals and their animals get to jump the queue of day tourists.

Crossing to Dursey Island

Crossing to Dursey Island

The full-time population of the island today is only six people – but there are plent of houses to rent in the summer. This is a walkers paradise – and the Beara Way stretches in a loop around the island. As you can see, on the day we were here it was a perfect day for both walking AND seeing everything. Somedays you may not be so lucky, with the rain and mist coming in from the south-west.

Rush Hour on Dursey

Rush Hour on Dursey Island

While there may only be a population of six today on this most peaceful of places – it was different in the past. For example, in 1602, it was place of final defence for the Beara O’Sullivans and a full three hundred of its inhabitants/soldiers were massacred on the island by English forces. By the end of that year, their chieftain Donal Cam O’Sullivan started a long march with many of the survivors to County Leitrim. Of the one thousand clan members that set out, only thirty five reached the final destination.

Walking above it all on Dursey

Walking above it all on Dursey


That evening we got the cable car back to the mainland and headed for our B and B before hitting the village of Allihies (or “Cluin” to give it it’s correct name). What a beauty! A pristine white beach – and a very colourful village set back up along the hill.

Driving down towards Allihies

Driving down towards Allihies

From 1812 to 1912 this whole area was the site of one of the largest copper mines in the country. This industry led to two specific outcomes after it declined: 1) the large number of ruined engine houses and mine shafts in the area and 2) the number of experienced miners that headed to other parts of the world for work – many headed for the town of Butte in Montana in the USA.

The beautiful white beach at Allihies

The beautiful white beach at Allihies

For example, seventy-seven various families of Sullivans left this area back to Castletownbere to go to Butte. Apparently, by 1908 Butte had 1,200 Sullivans inside it’s jurisdiction.

The Village of Allihies

The Village of Allihies

Settling down for the evening outside O'Neills

Settling down for the evening outside O’Neills

We ended up in O’Neills pub (and restaurant I might add) – but mostly spent our time out on the street in this lovely and lively village with an end-of-the-world (geographically) atmosphere. About as far as you can get from Cork city and still be in County Cork.

A view around every corner

A view around every corner

If you look at the 1901 census, you’ll see the following family names in quantity for Allihies and the surrounding area:

Cronin, Crowley, Dennehy, Downing, Dwyer, Goggin, Hanley, Harrington, Hodnett, Kelly, Leary, Lowney, Lynch, McCarthy, Murphy, Neill, Shea, Sheehan and Sullivan.

Eyeries and Ardgroom.

Eyeries - The most colourful village in Ireland?

Eyeries – The most colourful village in Ireland?

As we head to the north side of the peninsula – working our way slowly into County Kerry and towards the town of Kenmare, we managed plenty of lazy Sunday morning stops along the way. Sometimes just to take in the stunning scenery – and sometimes to wander around some of the most colourful villages on the planet.

Beara is the land of O'Sullivans

Beara is the land of O’Sullivans

Villages such as Eyeries and Ardgroom – perched at the bottom of Bearas mountains and on the edge of the sea.

Ardgroom Stone Circle

Ardgroom Stone Circle

The whole area is reknowned for the amount of prehistoric sites – one that is well worth the detour is Ardgroom Stone circle. The thing I like most about these circles in these locations is the way the view is so open all around them – you can see exactly what you were meant to see in all directions going back thousands of years. Yo ucan see just a small selection of the various megalithic sites in the area here.

Mountains, Sea and Sky

Mountains, Sea and Sky

Taking a rest before we hit "civilisation"

Taking a rest before we hit “civilisation”

If you look at the 1901 census, you’ll see the following family names in quantity for Eyeries, Ardgroom and the surrounding area:

Connor, Crowley, Donovan, Driscoll, Dwyer, Hanley, Harrington, Healy, Houlahan, Kelly, Leahy, Leary, Lynch, McCarthy, Moriarty, Murphy, O’Neill, O’Connell, O’Shea, Sheehan and Sullivan.



Time to hit the busy tourist metropolis (relatively!) of Kenmare. Kenmare manages to hold onto it’s charm while staying a top tourist destination on the start of the Ring of Kerry.

The town of Kenmare, County Kerry

The town of Kenmare, County Kerry

We are firmly in County Kerry when we arrive in Kenmare – but still in a place that feels part of the Beara Peninsula – just a tamer part!

The town gets its name from the Irish “Ceann Mhara” – head of the sea – and was laid out by William Petty in 1670.

If you look at the 1901 census, you’ll see the following family names in quantity for Kenmare and the surrounding area:

Brennan, Coffey, Connell, Connor, Courtenay, Cronin, Downing, Doyle, Foley, Gaine, Harrington, Healy, Hegarty, Holland, Horgan, Kissane, Leary, Lovett, Lynch, Mahony, Maybury, McCarthy, Morris, Murphy, O’Shea, O’Sullivan, O’Connor, Orpen, Palmer, Quinlan, Randles, Rice, Sheehan, Sweeney, Wade and Warren.

When we arrived in Kenmare, I must say we were exhausted! On a map, the Beara section of the Wild Atlantic Way looks quite doable in a day – and I’m sure it is if you just keep driving! However, this place is all about stopping. Stopping to take in the smells, the sights, the voices, the sea and the mountains. I think I could probably spend about a month going nice and slowly around this most beautiful part of the world.

Join us on the next leg of our journey around the Wild Atlantic Way as we travel around the “Ring of Kerry” from Kenmare to Killorglin.

Question: Have you travelled to this part of Ireland? Do any of the Irish names in your family tree come from here?

 Click for the full picture on our Wild Atlantic Way journey.

  • Mary Catherine Boyle says:

    My paternal grandmother was Catherine O’Sullivan, born in Kilgarvan, but my Aunt Delores (the youngest child) said we were O’Sullivan Bxxxa! My aunt always tried to pronounce things Irish, but was a Chicago-born American. Unfortunately she is no longer here to clarify, but from my research I believe she was referring to Beara. What is even more interesting is that Carew is a prominent name in my mother’s family, reportedly from Devonshire, England. The last male descendent in our line was a George Carew who died in the 1970’s! I actually came across a reference to the battle of the Carews against the O’Sullivans when I was in high school doing a research paper.

    • Mike says:

      Hi Mary Catherine – how interesting! So much history tied up together – thanks for sharing. Mike.

  • Susan Sullivan says:

    I just discovered your site and signed up for your letters – excited to see if your information will help me out. Thank you for this lovely trip through Beara. I hope one day to visit, though I despair of ever making the actual link back to Ireland. My line was here in the US as far back as 1767 and the records are tough in that time period. I know about Dursey and want to visit. Didn’t know you could rent on Dursey. Where do you find out about those?

    • Mike says:

      Hi Susan – thanks for your kind words – easy to write about such a lovely place. You will find listings for Dursey rentals on sites such as http://www.daft.ie under the rental section. Mike.

  • Hi, thank you for your wonderful description of our corner of ‘Heaven on Earth’. An excellent way of really enjoying the Beara Peninsula is to cycle it – a treat for all your senses.
    Regards, Vera.

  • Kay (Green) Mandersheid says:

    My great grandmother was Johanna Anatasia McCarthy, born nov 11, 1864 in Kill, waterford cnty. We don’t have any information about her family, except that at age 12, she traveled to the US with her grandmother, two brothers and mother, who died enroute. Came thru NewYork, to Michigan to meet up with her father. Some day we would like to travel Ireland, and will have to read McCarthys Bars. Thanks for all your information.

    • mjcollins44@gmail.com says:

      Hi Kay – thanks for sharing that. Reading McCarthy’s Bar should whet your appetite for a trip in the future! Mike.

  • Marie Shadden says:

    Some of my “clans”, from the Morrisroe, also went to Butte, Montana copper mines somewhere between 1910 and 1925. They established a farm and many remain there to this day. My grandfather (Carroll) got passage from Mayo through Liverpool to join them after working in English mines for some time. He was 19 when he left Ireland.

  • Avis Cawley says:

    Thank you for such a great article and photos! It reminds me of the glorious trip my husband and I took to Ireland in 2004. We were able to stay in Kenmare and get around to quite a bit of the Beara Penninsula, although your photos give me ideas about what I want to see should we ever get the chance to return. I especially loved the photo of Castle Dunboy. There’s a strange peace in that place for all the violence in the history. I was able to take my small harp and play a shaky rendition of “Holy God We Praise Thy Name” in the ruins there, in honor of my Dad’s singing it while holding me in the back pew of church when I was very small. It reminds me, further, to pray to Blessed Dominic Collins to watch over all the O’Sullivan descendants. Friar Dominic was the chaplain to the O’Sullivans at the time of the castle’s fall, and was martyred in Dublin afterward. He was beatified in 1992.

  • Patsy says:

    Your photos are so lovely, Mike. And such a beautiful subject, Lovely Ireland.
    Always pleasurable to the eyes!

  • Eleanor says:

    Talked about Sullivan’s not Harrington’s

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