Day Three: The Beauty of Beara

By Graham Wade and Mikayla Cree

Sunday was a very exciting day on the Beara Peninsula!  After a couple of days enjoying the more urban setting of the city of Cork, this rural gem in the West of County Cork offered us a natural beauty steeped in ancient history.  Beara actually has the most ancient architecture and ruin sites of the whole country!  Our knowledgeable guide, Barry, gave us an incredible tour of many of these sites.  Though the guides of our first few days joked that we brought our California weather with us, the highlands of Beara finally gave us a small taste of the bitter, wet cold, we had prepared for.

Our first stop was the Derreenataggart West Stone Circle, which has been standing for two to three thousand years.   They were most likely built for ritual and ceremonial purposes and might have aligned with the sun on certain dates, however many of the stones are broken and 3 of them are missing from the original 15.  You may be familiar with Stonehenge in England, which is the most famous stone circle.

Next, we visited Dunboy Castle, or at least what remains of it!  The castle was built by the powerful O’Sullivan family, which controlled the area at the time.  After the Battle of Kinsale, in which the protestant English conquered the Irish Catholics, the Catholic families of Ireland lost power in their territories.  So, the O’Sullivan family lost their castle in 1602 and the English protestant Puxley family took over in their place.  Dunboy Castle was destroyed in the process and has been a ruin ever since.  The Puxley family then built their own mansion, and they remained in power until the early 1900s, when the Irish revolutionaries burned down their mansion.  How the tables turned!

Our 3rd stop was the Hag of Beara, a large coastal stone with a fascinating origin story!  Legend has it, an Irish goddess, the Hag of Beara, felt threatened by Naomh (Saint) Caitiarin, who was spreading Christianity throughout the area.  After the Saint caught her trying to steal his prayer book, he turned her into the stone which sits on the Beara coast today.

Our guide, Barry, shared a different origin story, in which the Hag was the wife of the Sea God, and her stone sat on the coast, watching the sea and waiting for him to come home.  This version of her tale parallels the struggle which couples of the Beara peninsula would have faced—women of this coastal region, just like the Hag, would have anxiously awaited the safe return of their husbands fishing at sea.  Barry explained that in reality, the rock of the Hag of Beara was likely dropped in its place when the glaciers of the ice age melted.

Later, we took a short hike up to a Mass Rock.  When the Catholics of Ireland were banned from publicly practicing their faith, they began to hold mass privately at “Mass Rocks,” which can be found all over the country today.  The Mass Rock we visited has an especially beautiful view of the ocean, which we all enjoyed very much!

Our final stop on the tour was an old copper mine by the town of Allihies.  The copper source was discovered in 1813, and it was mined with man power alone until 1862, when an engine house was built to enable deeper mining and improve efficiency.  This engine house also could lower and lift men in and out of the mine, and it is the only one-man engine house in Ireland.  The mine eventually closed in 1882 after reaching its depth of 421 meters below the surface.

Interestingly, we learned that many miners from this area relocated to Montana, where there were copper mines for them to find work in their trade.  We read the poetry book, “The Mining Road,” in preparation for our trip, and the authors’ inspiration for the book and its poems came from her roots on the Beara Peninsula.

We were fortunate enough to meet the author, Leanne O’Sullivan, when she visited us last semester, and having met her and read her poetry made the experience at the mine and on the peninsula in its entirety all the more surreal and special.

Our day concluded with the warmest hospitality from John Murphy at Murphy’s Restaurant, close to our hotel in Castletownbere.   He was so happy to host us, share history, and chat about own Irish backgrounds.  He even took a photo with us outside his restaurant!  He is pictured second from the bottom right in the white shirt.

Beara’s beauty, stories, and rich history surely left its mark on us all.  We left with a new appreciation for the natural beauty and undying tradition to be found in humble places outside the hustle and bustle of urban Ireland.  A good time was had by all! 

5 thoughts on “Day Three: The Beauty of Beara

  1. The Beara Peninsula was a great way for us to see firsthand how the past and present intersect in Irish culture today. I especially liked being able to learn more about the mythology connected to the sites like the Hag of Beara and see sites like the Allihies Copper Mine that have shaped not only the town around them, but the lives of the people who have grown up in that area over the years.

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  2. This has been one of my favorite days so far! The weather, although was cold and windy, made me experience the Irish weather we always imagined! All the sites had incredible stories and history behind it. The Dunboy castle Puxley house were amazing sites, even though they were on the same land. It is interesting to see that the Puxley House will soon become something modernized, as people are able to purchase it, and develop on it.

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    1. Another fascinating thing about the sights was how close they were to each other. It was interesting to see how the Puxley house was just a few steps away from the portal stones from Irish antiquity, which was totally awesome ! Seeing how the modern times bookmark themselves in the timeline of the peninsula would be interesting to look out for in the future.

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  3. I loved learning about all the different places we visited (6 in total). My favorite place was the Hag of Beara. It was interesting and fun to hear about the mythology behind the rock, but also somber to learn women would come and wait for their loved ones. I tried to put myself in those women’s shoes while I was there. The mass rock was also an amazing place we visited today. The view from the side of the hill were breath taking and knowing that people came up the same trail to hear mass no matter the weather really gave me another insight to how resilient the Irish people can be.

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  4. Great job covering our trip to Beara! We saw so much in one day. I loved seeing the copper mine ruins that inspired the cover of Leanne O’Sullivan’s book of poetry and thinking about the poems throughout the day. Although the weather was not the best, it was worth it to bundle up and hop out of the bus to explore the sites!

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