Posts Tagged With: ruins

The Beara Peninsula, Co Cork. My New Favourite Place in Ireland.

I hope my blogs on Ireland aren’t getting too boring. Each time I discover or rediscover a new place I can’t stop scraping up the superlatives.  I’ve blogged recently on the magic of Glencolmcille and south west Donegal, on the spirit of Achill Island, on the beauty of Doughmore in West Clare and West Connemara and many places in between. Recently I visited the Beara Peninsula again for the first time in twenty years. And I’m sorry but I have to regale you with more resplendent words yet again.

The Beara Peninula is one of those wonderful headlands that define West Kerry and West Cork, jutting prominently into the Atlantic and adding a whole lot of extra kilometres to the Wild Atlantic Way.  Many have well known and evocative connotations. The Iveragh Peninsula, better known as the Dingle Peninsula,  and the famous Ring of Kerry are the prime destinations for visitors and do not fail to disappoint. Less well known are the Beara Peninsula, Sheep’s Head and the spectacular Mizen Head.

The attractions of the Beara Peninsula are however becoming better known and I am told by the locals that this summer it was crowded with visitors. I chose to visit in late October. The weather was good (in Irish-speak that translates to ‘no rain’) and it has to be the perfect time. At the western end, the roads are almost deserted and you feel you have this magnificent landscape to yourself.

An obvious draw of this place is that it is more compact than the Ring of Kerry but there is so much variety, so much of interest and so much to fill the shortening autumn days that it was hard to leave.

So what does this little treasure offer?  For a start magnificent vistas are around every corner. You can approach from the Northern Road or the Southern Road but my strong recommendation is you find time to do both.



And sometimes you see something that you know could not be replicated anywhere else in the world.  The patchwork quilt and stone walls that say Ireland, Ireland, Ireland.


There are a number of mountainous rocky passes. I explored the Caha Pass this time, which links Kenmare with Glengariff. Here there is stunning scenery and four remarkable tunnels (known as Turner’s Rock Tunnels) built in the 1840s when they decided to go through the rock rather than over it. Quite an engineering feat for its day and very unique for road construction as most tunnels in Ireland were built for railways. Indeed the railway construction boom did not start until the 1840s so these tunnels predate any rail tunnel in Ireland.   From this impressive road there are craggy mountains, magnificent pasture and grasslands, and sweeping panoramas. Next time I will do the Healy Pass.


Elsewhere you will see wild, coastal panoramas, verdant forests, jagged islands or houses perched on grassy knolls with staggering views or nestled into rugged rocky cliffs.





The drive to the end of the Peninsula and Dursey Island is not to be missed. But be prepared for perhaps a little disappointment. Ireland’s only cable car which links the island to the mainland and at this time of the year only runs between 9.30am and 11am was ‘fully booked’ and not operating for transport of people. It was being used for the day by the local farmers to transport hay across the narrow channel. Where else would tourists be turned away, some mind you who had travelled especially, in favour of bales of hay? Only in Ireland. But somehow it didn’t matter, there was so much else to do and it will be there (possibly) next time. You’ve got to admire the ingenuity of the farmers here. I saw an old ‘retired’ cable car in a yard being used as a chook house. Love it.  And love the little insect houses thoughtfully provided by one farmer.


Then there is the colourful palette of the charming village of Allihies, which single-handed may be responsible for keeping alive the paint pigment industry in Ireland. Purples, pinks, indigo and every other colour merged harmoniously into the greys, greens and reds of its rocky backdrop.



And towering over the town is the architectural masterpiece of the Engine House of the Mountain Copper Mine built around 1810. Maybe you think masterpiece too strong a word  but it is at least the equal from a heritage perspective of the megalithic ruins or the monastic abbeys that populate the tourist guide books.   This is the finest example of an historical mine building I have seen in this remarkable condition. It speaks of the confidence and wealth that the mine brought to this remote outpost as it became one of the jewels of European copper mining during its heyday from 1810 to its closure in the 1920s. There are plenty of reminders of the mining period; old shafts and adits, mine workings, two other engine house ruins, stone walls and in places the tell-tale green and blue staining of copper carbonates.


Mountain Mine engine house



Chasing the copper


There is a museum which gives a very good account of the mining story but unfortunately it is a bit expensive which turns some away. All aspects of the story are covered including the geology, mining technology and social impact.   As a geologist it was of course fascinating. And even more so for me having met the next generation of miner there, young J and his mum Frances, locals who had come to see if they could find any copper. As it happened I had seen some workings with strong copper on the way up the hill, so I offered to show them and took them there. J’s wide eyed fascination and enthusiasm was enough reward.  Maybe I have helped kick start another geologist’s career.


Still on copper, I stopped at Puxley Manor near Castletownbere. Actually the site of the mansion is right near the ruins of Dunboy Castle but more on that later. It would seem that the location is well cursed having witnessed a number of tragedies over the past 4oo+ years.


Puxley Manor around 1910

When I first saw the Puxley mansion it was 20 years ago it was a shell of a ruin. It had been the home of the Puxley family since the 1700s. They pretty much owned the copper mining industry here and ended up fabulously wealthy.  As the industry declined so did the Puxley wealth and when his wife died in childbirth Henry Puxley, the last owner, abandoned the castle. Worried that the British Army would take over the abandoned house, the IRA torched it in 1921, destroying it and its contents. The shell was sold at auction in 1927 but remained a forlorn ruin as this photo shows.


Puxley Manor in the 1990s

This is what it looked like when I saw it in 1996. It was sold to a developer in 1999 and the Celtic Tiger roared. It was to be transformed into a luxury 6-star resort hotel, the only one in Ireland. Massive restoration and conservation work was carried out and all progressed swimmingly with a soft opening in 2007. That was until the money dried up in 2008 with the GFC. By 2010 the project was abandoned and a mesh fence erected. The bats returned but not the visitors.  This is how it appears today. The rotting hull of a large boat sits in the harbour as if to reinforce the tragedy.  Such a grand vision. The restoration did not however extend to the gate house which stands impressively ruinous.


Puxley Manor.  restored but empty


Puxley Manor


Gatehouse.  Puxley Manor


I said earlier that Dunboy Castle remains were nearby. This was the ancestral home of Donal Cam O’Sullivan, last of the Gaelic chieftains and a thorn in the side of Elizabeth I during the nine years war which started in 1594.  In 1602 she sent a large battalion of troops to destroy O’Sullivan and the 143 men, who tried to defend the castle, could not withstand the British canon. Surrender was not an option after an emissary sent to discuss terms was hung in full view of the defenders. This ultimate fate awaited all those remaining once the British destroyed it and the castle was never lived in again.

The name O’Sullivan however is everywhere on the peninsula.  You can’t avoid it.


This little enclave of Cork is truly a gem and you could spend a week here or even a lifetime. There are plenty of stone circles, forts, monuments, holy places (such as the Mass Rock) and extraordinary natural wonders to explore and discover.  Oh, and sheep.  And there’s Dursey Island, if the cable car is running.  And if you’re up for it you can walk it all on the Beara Way.


Ring fort


Mass rock


The black sheep in the flock


There once was a church

The beauty though is not just in the grand vistas but in a host of other details for me that capture the personality of a place.  Here are a few photos that speak loudly about the struggle for life for both nature and man.


Abandoned bucket near a well.


Perfect bonsai tree growing wild.



Window treatment




Maintenance can be a problem


Fantastically fertile for funghi



Life hangs on



True love


Faded hope


Was this to avoid the window tax?

So that’s it.    I’ll be back and very soon.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland, Wild Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

A Visit to Ralahine, Co Clare. A Failed Experiment.

Ireland was a troubled country in the early part of the 19th century. Under the firm rule of the Crown, most Irish land at this time was owned by absentee landlords either in Britain or Dublin. The farms became a hotbed of discontent with tenants living in misery. This prompted organised groups such as the Ribbonmen, who launched deadly attacks on landlords and their tithes. Rural Ireland was not a happy place.

One man decided to try to change this. He believed he could bring peace to the land with a cooperative farm where he would rent the land to the labourers and they would work it under their own authority. This man was wealthy landowner John Vandeleur and a man of considerable influence in Clare.  He had been High Sherriff in 1823.  He found an estate of 638 acres at Ralahine near Newmarket-on-Fergus in County Clare and with socialist backer Englishman Edward Craig running it, started the colony with 40 farmers and their families. They had a school, a laundry and a pooled kitchen. All the capital (buildings, stock etc) was provided by Vandeleur and was communal property. There was no private ownership.  All 4 legged animals, even dogs, were the property of the group.  He charged rent in the form of farm produce.


Ralahine Estate as shown in the 1842 Survey map.  The location of buildings still standing is marked,

There were strict rules governing the running of the farm. It was no socialist Utopia. New members could only be admitted by ballot. Work was 12 hours per day. There was no gambling and no drinking.  There was however enshrined freedom of expression and religion.  If there was a proposed marriage to someone outside the colony, and the members did not approve, then both were excluded. There was no money. Labour was paid for in Labour Notes which could be exchanged for provisions.

It all seemed to work and the colony expanded after one year to 81. People came from all over the world to see the contented colonists. Then it all came crashing down.

Mr Vandeleur’s wealth was gone. He had lost his fortune, ironically through gambling and drinking. He fled from Ralahine. The arrangement with the members had no legal basis and all the assets were seized and the bold experiment came to an end after two years.

I wanted to see how much of Ralahine was left. It was easy to find; just a short drive out of Newmarket-on-Fergus. I met local farmer Niamh, who pointed out some of the original buildings from 1830 which are still standing. There is the old mill, very much intact and a long whitewashed building, which at first I thought was stables, was the old working mans’ cottages. Each “house” has a single room with a fireplace,  Probably very comfortable for its day. .


Rear view of the Old Mill


Front view of the Old Mill



Workmans’ Cottages


There are a number of other buildings and many walls which also appear to date from the same time but these mostly seem to now be used for storage. And of course looming over it all is the Rathlahine Castle, a previous home of one of the MacNamaras,  possibly looking a little worse for wear now than it did then.


Ralahine.  View to Rathlahine Castle.



Rathlahine Castle


The original house, the residence of Vandeleur,  was apparently demolished in the 1940s. Niamh said it was due to the windows tax, but this sounds a little fanciful as the window tax ended in the 1850s.


Ralahine.  The site of the original Rathlahine House.  Nothing remains. 


I found a few very old apple trees near the mill, laden with fruit and it would be nice to think that these date back to the days of the colony.  So maybe John Vandleleur, if he is looking down on his life’s work from his vantage point above, may take some solace in the fact that among the crumbling ruins of his dream apple trees, his farmers planted 185 years ago, are still bearing fruit.

Categories: My Journey, Real Ireland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A New Home?

It’s been so long since I blogged and so much has happened. The really big news for me which I got today is that I have approval to stay in Ireland for the next 12 months. The journey which I started three months ago is not over. I can now plan for the future. Buy a car and rent a house for starters. And see if Ireland is really for me. Everyone (and I mean everyone!) tells me I won’t be able to handle the winter. We’ll see.

In the last six weeks I have been on the Festival trail. A journey that has taken me through Clare (Willie Week, Tulla and Feakle Festivals and the Clare Fleadh at Kilaloe) to Galway (TradPhicnic at Spiddal), Sligo (Fleadh Cheoil and Tubercurry), Leitrim (Drumshanbo) and Mayo (Achill Island summer school). I have attended concerts, lectures, workshops, recitals and of course sessioned relentlessly. Indeed every day for the past 97 days! Is there a Guinness record for that?

It has been a wonderful experience but the festival season has come to an end. I haven’t dared look until I knew what my visa status was but I am sure there will be some fantastic events ahead of me. Perhaps more space in between them now!

It just occurred to me that the reason I have come here is to learn fiddle and while I have played fiddle every day, sometimes for 10 hours in a day I have not done any ‘practice’. Playing in sessions is not practice. I have hundreds of hours of recordings of workshops, sessions and concerts to sort. Great material for new tunes.

Of course I ’learnt’ heaps of new tunes at the Schools, from James Kelly, Paddy Ryan, John Daly, Liam O’Connor, Tola Custy, Siobhan Peoples, Martin Hayes, Eileen O’Brien and Yvonne Kane, but am having trouble recalling any of them. So there’s a lot of work there for me. Likewise I have literally thousands of photos to sort from the Festivals and from my travels through Mayo and Connemarra as well as here in Clare.

I have met some wonderful people and have some great stories to tell, so bear with me and I will start posting again when I can.

A quick thankyou to everyone who has supported me and encouraged me in what I am doing over here. I won’t name you all but you know who you are. I have been warmly accepted into the musical and broader community here in Clare and am really looking forward to the year(s) ahead.

In the meantime with my mind firmly on where I might live for the next year I have identified a few likely properties. The views can’t be faulted!

Stay Tuned…..


Castle near Mullaghmore, Sligo



House on Inishbiggle, Achill. Co Mayo



House in Connemarra



Benbulben, Sligo



Connemarra, Co Glaway



Keel, Achill Island. Co Mayo



Achill Island Co Mayo



Achill Island. Co Mayo



Co Sligo



Innisheer, Co Galway



Cottage, Connemarra, Co Galway



Connemarra, Co Mayo



Categories: My Journey | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Blog at