Want to know a secret? Cork’s Gougane Barra Forest Park is hiding the prettiest little church you will ever see. Right by a lake sits St Finbarr’s Oratory, close to a former 6th century monastery. Unsurprisingly, this little church is a popular wedding location. Just look at those views…and think of the wedding album.
This quirky structure was built in 1743. Its purpose? Proprietor Katherine Conolly (wealthy widow of William ‘Speaker’ Conolly) commissioned the oddity to create employment for the local community. Approximately 22m/72ft high, the barn has a tapering cone, encircled by a cantilevered staircase with a crow’s nest viewing gallery.
If the Blasket Islands weren’t glorious enough, they’re accessed via this remarkable spot. Once a natural harbour from which the Blasket Islanders would launch their currachs (traditional boats), Dunquin provided a life-giving link to the mainland. Since those days Dunquin’s harbour has been remodelled and its winding path juts starkly out of the cliff face. Nearby beaches featured in the film Ryan’s Daughter, and famed Irish language author Peig Sayers was a native of the village.
This curious Clapper Bridge was built for pedestrians and is the largest complete clapper bridge in Ireland at 50m/164ft long. The design dates back to prehistoric times, however, this example is not so old. It’s thought the recently settled Church of Ireland community created Bunlahinch’s version in the 1840s.
There’s magic in the air between Mayo and Clare – stony bridges and unusual churches are just two of the curiosities on this part of the Wild Atlantic Way. Listen up: these counties have some of the greatest stories to tell on the island…
West of the town of Louisburgh in the rural heart of County Mayo is a curious bridge that was made to bring walkers over a wide, shallow river. Using a design called “clapper”, which is thought to be Roman in origin, the bridge is made up of 37 arches with a flat slab of limestone resting on smaller stony piers. While it may look ancient, Mayo’s bridge – which is the largest of its kind in Ireland at 130 metres/50ft long – was created around the 1840s by a local Church of Ireland community.
Cnoc Suain (meaning “quiet hill”) is a restored 17th century village in Spiddal set in 200 acres of Connemara’s rolling bogland. Here you’ll find an ancient patch of ground, where perfectly preserved bog bodies have been found. It is also currently home to the wonder plant, sphagnum moss, which can hold over 20 times its own body weight in water.
No Man’s Land at the Church of the Little Ark
It’s 1839 in a small parish in West Clare and the local population is suffering with a cholera outbreak. A priest called Father Michael Meehan is sent to attend to dying victims, but finds himself without a church as local landlords refuse to allow one to be built on their lands. Father Meehan’s response? In 1852, the determined priest arranges for a local carpenter to build a wooden box on wheels, which is rolled on to the beach at low tide to give mass to the locals. Eventually in 1857, a solid church is built, known as the Church of the Little Ark. The original “Little Ark” has lasted all this time, and can be visited in it new home within the church – a testament to Father Meehan’s fortitude.
Counties Kerry and Cork are two of Ireland’s largest – and they really pack the sights in. From the tiniest churches to the highest mountain, this part of the Wild Atlantic Way is simply enchanting.
Take a very crooked road to Dunquin Harbor
The beautiful Blasket Islands – which were abandoned in the 1950s – are accessed by what has to be one of the most picturesque harbors in Ireland, Dunquin. Blasket Islanders would arrive here having crossed the turbulent Atlantic Ocean in their wooden currachs (traditional boats), making the harbor a vital access point for supplies. Times have changed, however – and while you can now catch a ferry to the island from Dunquin, the harbor has been remodelled and its (very) crooked path juts starkly out of the cliff face. This is a place that has a real edge-of-the-world feel, with the ocean swirling below and the cliffs soaring above. Afterwards, take shelter in The Blasket Centre in Dunquin village, where you can find out more about the life of the islanders.
A hidden gem in West Cork’s Gougane Barra
Want to know a secret? Cork’s idyllic Gougane Barra Forest Park shelters the prettiest little church you will ever see. Right by a lake sits St Finbarr’s Oratory, close to a former 6th century monastery. Unsurprisingly, this little church is a popular wedding location. Just look at those views…and think of the wedding album.
Sway gently over the waves at Dursey Island
Do you want to head way off the grid on this adventure? Congratulations, we’ve found you the right spot. Head to Dursey Island off the coast of County Cork, accessible by Ireland’s only cable car – and one of the few cable cars in Europe that traverses open sea. The car is a lifeline for Dursey’s handful of inhabitants, who use it to cross over to the rest of the world. If you can handle looking down, you may spot dolphins and whales playing amongst the waves!
Going off the beaten track in Ireland is worth it. There’s a whole host of special places to discover, from impossibly beautiful little harbors to vast, undiscovered peninsulas, iconic castle ruins to ancient bog bodies. There’s even what locals call a magic road…
Go exploring, though, and you’ll find plenty more treasures just off the beaten track.