Monday, 26 September 2016

Island 352 - Bere Island, County Cork

Bere Island or An t'Oilean Mor is located on the northern side of Bantry Bay a mile to the south of the town of Castletownbere.  It is served by two small vehicle ferries: Bere Island Ferries from Castletownbere to Derrycreeveen on the north west coast of the island and Murphy's Ferry from a pontoon two miles east of Castletownbere to Rerrin on the north coast and towards the eastern end of the island.  Bere Island is about 6 miles from east to west by 2 miles from north to south.  The highest point on the island is Knockanallig at 267 metres above sea level.  In 1841 before the Great Famine Bere Island was home to 2122 people.  In 2011 the population was 216.

There are more interesting things to see as a visitor at the eastern end of the island, than at the western end.  I had planned to spend a whole day on Bere Island.  However it was so foggy on Dursey Island that I only spent a morning there, which meant I could visit Bere Island on the afternoon of the same day.  However after studying the ferry times I realised that I could only do this by catching the 1.30pm ferry from Castletownbere, as the one from the pontoon left at 1pm and I couldn't get there in time from the Dursey Cable Car.

There is a large café called the Lookout at Derrycreeveen where I landed.  However it was closed.  Thankfully the blackberry bushes were well stocked, so I feasted on them instead.   There is another café, a bar and a shop at Rerrin.  There is a hotel in the middle of the island.

The cloud height on Bere Island was at about 80 metres, so the lower parts of the island were clearly visible.  I only had 2.5 hours, so only had time to walk along the road to the centre of the island and back. 

I visited the Heritage Centre at Ballinakilla, which is free, although donations are invited. It is housed in an old school, which was built in 1857 and burnt down in 1979.  It claimed to have a café but there was no sign of this inside the building.  There were two men at the entrance so deep in conversation that I don't think they noticed me.  The exhibition on the history of Bere Island is comprehensive, well illustrated and very clear and concise.  I could happily have spent an hour or two reading all the information but I was aware I didn't have that long to spare, so just skimmed through it and checked if there were any important historical sites in the vicinity of the Heritage Centre, which I had time to visit. 

I chose the 3 metre high Gallan Standing Stone, which is located in the centre of the island on the lower slopes of Knockanallig.  However it was so high up the hill that it was shrouded in thick fog.  I walked as far as the cairn with a plaque giving information about it on the road below it.  I could just about make out the standing stone in the fog. Oddly there didn't seem to be a route to the stone from the cairn and I decided it would be too foggy to take a decent photo of the stone anyway, so I turned back at this point.

Places of interest, which I didn't have time to visit include:

  • Two Martello Towers.  These were built by the British around 1805 at which time it was believed the French might try and invade.  There were originally 4 Martello Towers on Bere Island but only 2 are still standing at Ardagh and Cloughland.

  • Ardnakinna Lighthouse at the western end of the island.  This was built in 1965.  I would like to have seen it, as I love lighthouses.  However a couple I met on the island and chatted to on the ferry on the way back to Castletownbere said they had spent the day walking the Bere Island section of the Beara Way, which includes Ardnakinna Point and that they had only just been able to make out the lighthouse in the fog, so I was glad I hadn't bothered.

  • St Michael's Church and Graveyard on the north coast at Ballynakilla.  The church was built in 1843 and enlarged in 1900.  The graves are of both Catholics and Protestants, Irish and British.  There are some British military graves.

  • St Michael's Holy Well on the slopes of Coomastooka

  • Lonehort Battery at the eastern end of the island.  Work on this began in 1899.  It was built by the Royal Engineers for the British Army.

  • Holy Year Cross on the top of Knockanallig.  This was erected in 1950 and an annual mass is held there each year in August.

  • Ardaragh Wedge Tomb - this is thought to date from the early Bronze Age.

  • Dun Beag Promontory Fort at the most southerly tip of the island

  • The Signal Tower.  A chain of signal towers was built across the west coast of Ireland by the British from 1804-8.  The one on Bere Island communicated with similar towers on Sheep's Head and Blackball Head by means of a signal mast.

Castletownbere - Bere Island Ferry
Welcome to Bere Island
Café - it looked lovely but it was closed!
Shrine near the ferry
Bere Island Primary School at Ballinakilla with colourful murals
Disused building next to the school with trompe l'oeil windows
Tree planted to commemorate the opening of the Bere Island Heritage Centre by Irish President Mary MacAleese in October 2010
Heritage Centre
 Gallan Standing Stone Information Plaque
 - the stone itself is just visible in the distance in the fog
View Point with Seat
I thought this fence post looked like a human figure
 - I can see a head with one eye and a mouth. 

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