Islands of Cork Coastmaire
The Islands of Ireland are many and varied and we have divided the information into 4 Blogs. IN this blog we concentrate on the many Islands of Co Cork, how to get there, and what experiences and activities you can do on each island.
- The Islands of Ireland
- Islands of the Wild Atlantic Way
- Islands of Cork Coast
- 10 Best Islands to Visit in Ireland
Fota Island and Great Island
Fota Island ( Oilean Fóite) and Great Island ( an t’Oileán Mór) to the east of Cork city are both linked to the mainland by a series of bridges. From Great Island, a cross-river ferry links to Passage on the south side of the Lee. Fota Island is home to Fota Wildlife Park and Fota House which is a restored Georgian mansion with guided tours. Fota House also has a well-regarded arboretum which can be visited in conjunction with the house. The island has 2 courses with a 4-star hotel adjacent.
The only bridge onto Great Island is overlooked by beautifully restored Belvelly Castle. The town of Cobh on Great Island was called Queenstown until independence and was the last port of call for the Titanic and Lusitania. Overlooking the sea beside the old railway station is a statue of Annie Moore, the first person onto Ellis Island in New York. The heritage center in the railway station tells the story of emigration. Look out over the water from the grounds of St Colman’s Catholic Cathedral which was completed in 1919 as a striking gothic limestone structure with a single spire and Ireland’s only Carillon bells. Take a boat trip around Cork Harbour from Cobh and maybe visit Spike Island. Walk through the arch in the center of town up by a famous row of houses called the ‘Deck of Cards’
Spike Island ( Inis Pic)
Spike Island in Cork Harbour near the town of Cobh is home to Fort Mitchell and was the winner of the European Leading Tourist Attraction title at the 2017 World Travel Awards. The island has been used as a monastery, a fortress to protect the harbor, a convict holding prison, and an army and naval base. The island is strategically in the middle of the second largest natural harbor in the world and is over 40 hectares in extent. The boat takes you from Kennedy Pier in Cobh for a guided tour of the island and fortress. Explore the history written in the stones of the fort.
Haulbowine Islan(Inis Sionnach)
Haulbowline Island The island of Haulbowline opposite Cobh on the south side of Cork harbor is accessed via a bridge from the mainland at Ringaskiddy. A recreational amenity park was opened in 2021 and covers 22 acres. The park has a 1km jogging circuit, playing pitches, seating areas, and 4km of fully accessible pathways. Parking is on the mainland side of the bridge to the left with limited parking on the island. The island is the home to the Irish naval base and training college, an area civilians are not allowed to enter. The island is the site of Cork’s Island Crematorium, tucked in under the bridge to the island.
Sherkin Island is 10 mins by ferry from Baltimore near Skibbereen, West Cork. It has a population of about 50 people, a hotel, and a lovely sandy beach. An ancient Franciscan Abbey stands at the tip of the pier. The island is known for its artists and is popular with visitors in the summer. Timetable for Sherkin ferry here.
What to Do
- Walk the lanes of Sherkin – there are a limited number of cars but it’s easy to walk the island.
- Swim from the sandy beach or off the pier at high tide. Silver Strand on the western side of the island has views towards Cape Clear.
- Nature Watch – lookout for rare birds, dolphins, whales, and other marine life from the headlands or the beaches.
Art Exhibitions – are held here thanks to the art degree course and the resident artists on the island.
Eat and Drink – The local Jolly Roger pub has food, music, and craic throughout the summer.
Sea Safari – Take a Sea Safari past Sherkin ISlands to see the marine wildlife including seals, dolphins, and the best place to see Whales off the Irish Coast.
Cape Clear Island (Oileán Cléire)
Cape Clear (Oilean Cléire) is an Irish-speaking island with a permeant population of about 100 people and in summer many students come to learn Irish. Access to the island is from Baltimore or Schull. The Island has a hostel, and a Storytelling Festival each September, and is a great place for walking the quiet lanes. The Marriage Stone attracts many couples. The old Lighthouse overlooking the Atlantic is a nice walk from the pier while Fastnet Lighthouse trips are linked from the island. Details of the ferry to the island here. It’s a very family-friendly island and you can easily push a buggy or wheelchair along most of the lanes apart from some steep hilly stretches. Magical Family Ferry to Cape Clear island each day and connecting to Fastnet Lighthouse tours on certain days of the week needs to be pre-booked.
What to Do
- Walk – take a loop walks to the Old Lighthouse on the cliff to the south of the island. Bring walking boots.
- Swim – jump off the old north harbor pier when the tide is in or at the south harbor swim from the stony beach or dive off the pier.
- Speak a few words of Irish – The language of the island is Irish/ Gaeilge and everyone will speak a few words to you.
- Fastnet Experience and Heritage Centre- The heritage center opened tells of life on Cape Clear in the past with a focus on farming, folklore, genealogy, and maritime history. Take the mini-bus from the pier to the center as the route is up Leacha Mhór, a steep hill. A visit will enhance a trip around Fastnet Lighthouse, to give an understanding of the lighthouse keepers’ Life. The O’Driscoll clan is from the island and there is a large genealogy resource at the center.
- Food Drink and Music – the island has two pubs serving food in the middle of the day and traditional music is often played in the pubs in the evening. There’s a cafe at the top of the pier.
- Birdwatching – There is a bird observatory (Tigh na nÉan) as the island attracts a lot of migratory birds to nest here. Bring your binoculars and we can organize a birdwatching guide
- Visit a Farm – Mara Farm is a heritage farm with Kerry bog ponies, Tamworth pigs, a farm shop, and a cafe serving home baking. A Goat Farm on the island makes cheese and ice cream from their milk.
- 3 Mile Gin– Taste is the only gin made on an Irish island in the local pub.
Heir Island (Oileán Uí Dhrisceoil)
Heir Island is west of Skibbereen town in Roaringwater Bay and is accessed from Cunnamore pier, off the N71 via a 5 min ferry crossing. It has about 20 permanent residents. This small island is more sheltered than Cape or Sherkin and has a sandy beach and lanes for walking but no pub or shop so bring your own snacks and drinks. There is a retreat center and all the houses are built in the old style, giving a traditional feel to the island. Details of ferry
What to Do
- Island Sailing Centre – learn to sail or kayak with evening family sessions and day or multi-day sailing courses for adults and children.
- Walking – The unspoiled island is flat and easily walkable. It’s great for nature photography and the buildings and walls are also ideal subject matter.
- Go to the Beach – Bring a picnic and take the family to a quiet sandy beach about 10 mins walk from the ferry. It’s safe for swimming and relaxing with a good book.
Whiddy Island (Óileán Faoide)
Whiddy Island is at the eastern end of Bantry Bay and is accessed from Bantry Pier. The island has a permanent population of about 30 people, no shops, 1 pub/restaurant, and a hostel. The boat trip takes 10 minutes from Bantry Pier. Ferry timetable here.
What to Do –
- Walk the Sheeps’ Head routes on the island along quiet lanes and through fields.
- Discover Whiddy’s Military History – During World War 2 Whiddy was a landing place for seaplanes. The Napoleonic Fort on the eastern side of the island shows the strategic importance of Whiddy during British rule. In more recent times the northwestern side of the island has been an oil storage site. In 1979 the Betelgeuse oil tanker exploded while docked at the Gulf Oil Terminal with over 50 fatalities. A cross commemorating the disaster is in Bantry cemetery overlooking the bay.
- Bantry Blueway – Ireland’s first marine Blueway where you can kayak from Bantry to Whiddy. If you sail into Bantry you can tie up overnight at Whiddy Pontoon or Bantry town by applying to the Harbourmaster at Bantry Bay Port.
- The Pub – Have a drink at the island’s only pub, the Bank.
- Guided Tour -Guided Tour of Whiddy Island can be organized by ActivityDays. organized
Garinish Island (Óileán Garinis)
Garinish Island is also called Ilnacullin, is on the eastern side of Bantry Bay, and is accessed by ferry from Glengarriff. The island has no residents as in the early 20th century it was redeveloped and landscaped as a garden by John Annan Bryce, an Edwardian plant collector, with garden designer Harold Peto. The warm Gulf Stream ocean current allows many sub-tropical plants to thrive in a magnificent series of spaces of which the Italian garden is the highlight.
Things to Do –
- Boat Trip – The boat crossing to Garinish brings you past basking seals and takes 15 minutes.
- Garden Tour – Self-guided tour of the gardens will take about 1.5 hours. Tour Bryce House to see …. There is a small cafe on the island or bring a picnic.
Bere Island (Oileán Mór)
Bere Island is at the western end of Bantry Bay and is accessed by 2 ferries, one from Pontoon (3 km east of Castletlownbere) and the other from opposite the supermarket in Castletownbere. Bere Island was one of the Treaty Ports which were the last parts of Ireland to be handed over by the British in 1938. The old Military Fort on the eastern side of the Island can be viewed (presently undergoing renovation). The ferry only carries a few cars so most visitors access the island on foot. You can bring bikes over and parking is free at Pontoon.
What to Do
- Walk the island – You can do a loop walk or you can access from one ferry and return on the other having walked the Fuchsia fringed lanes. A walking guide can be booked here.
- Sea Safari – A Sea Safari around Bere Island can be organized for individuals and groups – this is a thrilling one-hour trip.
- Village Pub– Enjoy the village shop and pub – an old-fashioned experience and an amazing hub for the village.
- Saturday Morning Parkrun – The island has hosted a Parkrun on Saturdays from 9.30 am – 10.45 am for the past few years, with a ferry from Pontoon to the race starting point.
- Sailing – Laurence Cove Marina is a fully serviced marina for yachts in a sheltered bay. It’s close to the village shop, pub, ferry to the mainland and has a repair/maintenance service for visiting yachts.
- Heritage Centre – the Centre tells the history and lifestyle of the island. It’s well worth visiting with toilets on site. Take a guided bus tour of the island’s heritage sites.
- Swimming – There is a beach but it is difficult to access so is not suited to small children. There are plenty of places to swim from the island piers.
- Farmers Market- on Sundays in summer a farmers’ market selling local produce is held at the Bere Island Hotel carpark
Dursey Island (Oileán Baoi)
Dursey Island is at the western end of the Beara Peninsula and has Ireland’s only cable car across the sound from the mainland. There are only 2 permanent residents and up to 20 part-time farmers who work on family land on the island.
What to do on Dursey Island
- Walk The Island -The Beara Way goes to the tip of this most westerly island on the peninsula. The island lanes access a patchwork of fields enclosed by stone walls. There are some boggy areas, high steep cliffs, and some of the wildest, most rugged landscapes of the Atlantic Way. A guide can be organized for a group of walkers for a half-day trip to hear the stories and history of the Island.
- Birdwatching – Like some other islands, Dursey is famous for its magnificent selection of bird species and is a birdwatcher’s heaven.
- Cable Car – Take Ireland’s only cable car to the island across the sound, which is difficult for boats to access. In 2022 the cable car is being repaired and the island is not accessible to visitors. A boat trip around the island can be taken in good weather from Garnish Pier, near the tip of the headland.
- Boat Trip – Take a Sea Safari around Dursey Island in the summer months in a rib for an adrenaline rush.