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Cape Clear on the Wild Atlantic Way

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Our third leg of the Wild Atlantic Way brought us to Cape Clear island – off the coast of West Cork. The islands of West Cork are the place to go if you want to slow down to a STOP! There is a different rhythm on these islands – the islands of Cape Clear, Sherkin and Heir – the quality of the sea air is intoxicating, and definitely adds an extra hour to your sleep each night.

We left the pier in Baltimore (sharing a name and a link with Baltimore city in the USA) at 10.30am and headed off to Cape Clear across a gentle swell. Cape Clear has about 130 people living there permanently – all speaking Irish to varying degrees. That had dropped from a pre-famine population of over a thousand. In the 1901 census, there were still 1131 people listed for the island.

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Arriving in North Harbour on Cape Clear

Coming into the protected North Harbour we noticed that the harbour did not provide much protection to the recent winter storms. Whole sections of the piers were torn up and were slowly being replaced. As soon as the boat stops and the engine turns off – complete silence!

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Which Way? Castle left – everything else to the right!

One of the first places we wanted to visit when we went to the island were the ruins of the O’Driscoll castle – magnificently perched on a rocky outcrop. There is nobody about – probably because the sign above shows everything to the left, but the castle is to the right!

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The magnificent ruins of the O’Driscoll castle.

A short trek across some farmland (a right of way) brings up to this magnificent sight – the O’Driscoll castle of Dún an Óir (Golden fort) .  The O’Driscolls were the leading family of the Corcu Loíghde tribe for many centuries. They based themselves in latter years around the waters and islands of Roaring Water Bay. The first mention of the surname O’Driscoll (Ó hÉidirsceoil in Irish) was in 1103 AD. The castle was started in the 13th century and destroyed by 1601 AD.

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A busy island road.

I remember this road as a young fellow – staying at the local youth hostel and heading to the all-night craic at Club Chléire in the north harbour. Our time were somewhat incompatible with the hostel closing time of 11.00pm – so all six of us moved into a two-man tent in a field above that road.

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Time for a picnic with a view.

There are now some nice paths cutting through the island which lead you to outstanding viewing points such as this one – with Schull, Mount Gabriel and the Mizen Peninsula in the background.

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Are you tempted?

Plenty of holiday homes changing hands on the sheltered north side of the island. I wonder how much this one is going for? I can just about make out the telephone number.

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Down the hill and back to the boat!

It’s a hilly island – one for walkers, not for bikes. Always appreciate a downward slope!

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Across the old Mass Path to the Church.

Through the heather and the gorse – following the old mass path that joined the south of the island to the social hub for many years – otherwise known as the church.

If you look back over the census for the islands at the beginning of the last century, you will find many familiar Cork names – and one or two peculiar to this area. And lots of Driscolls/O’Driscolls!

Family surnames associated with the island down through the centuries include:

Barry, Beamish, Bushe, Cadogan, Collins, Connolly, Cotter, Curtin, Daley, Donovan, Driscoll, Leonard, Mahony, McCarthy, Minihane, Nolan, O’Neill, Regan, Roche, Salter, Shea, Sheehan, Sullivan, Sweeney, Walsh and Young.

Are any the Irish surnames in your family tree here?

Join us on the next leg of the Wild Atlantic way when we’ll be travelling from Skibbereen to Mizen Head.

And – do feel free to leave any comments or questions below!

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

  • Alice O'Connor says:

    Traveling to Ireland in July. My husbands family is from County Kerry. His grandfather Michael Joseph O’Connor was born in Caherciveen and his grandmother Norah (Nonnie) Fitzgerald was born in Killarney or Tralee. How can I locate possible family there?

  • Dawn Lawry says:

    Hi Mike,

    Loved the Blog and the photos, thank you. Is there the possibility of another Book featuring your travels around the Wild Atlantic Way? I’d certainly buy it if you ever decide to write it!

    I trust that you and Carina will continue to enjoy your trip, and the magnificent scenery.

    Dawn

  • Mary O. Leidner says:

    Hi Mike and Carina
    Loved the photos as the look at the Wild Atlantic. I see there are some O’Neills from the Island. It seems that many of the sites you visit have had or still have O’Neill’s residing there. Hope your trip is relaxing and fun for both of you
    Mary O Leidner

    • Mike says:

      Hi Mary – great to hear from you! The O’Neills were in West Cork in some quantity alright – I must check to see which branch they originated from. Mike.

  • Nick McGuire says:

    Hi, Mike!

    Glad to see you’re enjoying your holiday! I’m off on my own adventure in Minnesota visiting a college friend at the moment, but I do plan on making The Wild Atlantic Way a beloved memory of mine someday. Also, very interesting hook you caught me with in regards to that cottage for sale. I’d love to pursue that! I wonder if they would allow renting it for a few weeks, hmm…

    Have a grand trip, with many more photos and stories to share!

    Nick

    • Mike says:

      Hi Nick – sounds like a real road trip over there! The WAW is now the longest defined road trip in the world so you might want to allow a couple of months. On the cottage – I’m tempted to get a few of the best together and feature them for their owners …….. Mike.

  • Sheryl Hamer says:

    You listed quite a few of my family names: Connolly, Daly, O’Neill (Neil?) & Heir (Hare)! The SW peninsulas make me feel that I am FINALLY home. Thank you.

  • Robert Daly says:

    We used to take foreign exchange students there every summer in the mid 80’s. The weather was always sunny with clear skies as the clouds only formed over Baltimore. We had some great weekends there, late night revelry in O’Driscoll’s “Lobster Pot”(?) and fresh hot donuts and coffee the following morning in the South Harbour at the hostel , or was it a small coffee shop?
    Stunning scenery and great walks through heather topped hills from the South Harbour to the old lighthouse and back to our “campsite” high on the hillside over the junction above the north harbour. We always spoke of fishing in the lake but never got around to it.
    The water in both harbours was always crystal clear but felt about 10 degrees colder on the south side of the island.
    We had students from as far away as USA, Finland, Sweden, Venezuela and India and every one of them fell in love with Cape Clear. If I ever win the lotto I’d try and buy a place on Cape Clear and willingly spend the summers there.
    Congrats on a lovely blog that brought back fond memories of my college days in a truly beautiful part of the world.

  • Theresa Maguire nee O'Driscoll says:

    The land of my ancestors Theresa Maguire nee O’Driscoll. Cape Clear definitely on our bucket list to visit.

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