All the fun of the Beara, but should we do more with this paradise on our doorstep?

A staycation in West Cork left JOHN DOLAN wondering why it lags behind Dingle and Kerry as a tourist haven
All the fun of the Beara, but should we do more with this paradise on our doorstep?

A view of the sea from near Eyeries on the Beara Peninsula, where John Dolan stayed on his holiday

YOU could spend your entire life living in Cork and touring the city and county on holidays and at weekends — and still, in your dotage, stumble upon some hidden charm or attraction, or never-before-seen view, that will take your breath away.

I’ve been living here for 20 years and seen a lot of it, but Ireland’s largest and finest (an undisputed fact, I soon learned!) county still has the capacity to amaze and enthral at every turn,

A few months back, our family visited Doneraile Park for the first time and were blown away by its natural beauty. What took us so long to see it? We’ll be back, we said!

We had a similar feeling when we recently enjoyed a family staycation holiday on the Beara Peninsula. What took us so long to see it? We’ll be back!

It was a two-hour drive from our home near Macroom (I was reminded of the size of the county when we returned home and I brought the eldest lad to a soccer match in Youghal, an hour the other way).

Sure, my wife and I had been to the gorgeous towns of Bantry and Glengarriff before, but once we had reached Castletownbere, we were in uncharted territory for us.

We then headed from that picturesque port to our holiday home near Eyeries — and so began a two-week exploration of the stunning Beara Peninsula which simply blew us away.

The natural beauty of the place, the views, the shimmering blue seas, the mist-topped mountains, the walks, the wildlife, the beaches, the friendly locals... The Beara Peninsula is a shard of paradise in a county already teeming with beautiful sights. And it set me thinking: What does the future hold for it?

The initial answer to that, naturally, is: Does it need to have a future that is any different to how it is now? Don’t we want it to remain an unspoilt haven? Indeed, isn’t it in our interests to keep schtum about this beautiful peninsula and save it for ourselves?!

All of these are valid points. There may not be much appetite in our increasingly green-friendly world for exploiting a region like the Beara Peninsula, especially for commercial gain, but there is certainly an argument for utilising it better, while retaining all its natural charms.

One of the things that struck me about the place was the large number of properties that were clearly unoccupied and used as part-time holiday home bolt-holes by folk, not just from Ireland but from the continent.

This strikes me as a shame, that many of these beautiful homes with stunning views are unused and empty for perhaps the vast majority of the year — especially so at a time when there is a dire housing supply crisis.

We’re often quick to point out the number of derelict houses in Cork city and its surrounding towns, but hundreds of similar properties lying idle in places ike Beara are an equally distasteful vista at a time when there is a chronic shortage of places for our young people to live.

The solution to this is far from straightforward. A government cannot force people to sell their second homes, and trying to either tax people into submission or reward them for selling up would be politically unpalatable.

Perhaps a solution, however, lies in the fall-out from the Covid crisis, as remote working becomes more widespread and acceptable.

Those who have a second home on Beara, in places where internet connectivity is good, may be faced with a choice in the coming years. Should they sell up their other residence and move local, stock and barrel to West Cork? What else is keeping them in the cities, towns, and suburbs?

WILD WILDERNESS: Sheep on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan
WILD WILDERNESS: Sheep on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork. Picture: Dan Linehan

Failing that, perhaps there will be a growing number of people seeking long-term rentals in places like Beara, looking for a greater quality of life while still able to work from there. Surfing the sea in the morning, surfing the internet in the afternoon... what’s not to like?!

If more people do start to live and work full-time on Beara, it will only add to the strong sense of community I experienced while I was there, and will be a fillip to the local economy, which has struggled like everywhere else in this pandemic.

There is another possible future for the Beara Peninsula — as a tourist destination on a grander scale.

You only have to head up to the Dingle Peninsula to see how that has adapted itself into a tourism haven. You are left pondering why the Cork peninsulas have not done the same with all their natural beauty.

It’s partly a case of the old maxim: Build it and they will come. Dingle built a Sea World and, surprise, surprise, families decided to include a trip there in their schedules.

The Kerry peninsula just has so much more to offer tourists than the Cork ones,

Kerry seems to do tourism on a grander scale than Cork, full stop. Why had I heard of the Conor Pass on Dingle, but had never heard of the equally stunning Healy Pass on the Beara? The road from Eyeries to Allihies is surely among the finest in Europe, but who knew? And why was Kenmare teeming with people sat outside bars and restaurant when I visited, but there was often barely a soul sat out in Castletownbere?

Then there are the vast number of hotels on the Dingle Peninsula compared to the Beara one. Build them, and the tourists will come.

Developing Beara into an international tourist destination — especially while it can piggyback on the success of the Wild Atlantic Way route — is certainly a feasible option.

What a shame, then, that the best transport option into the peninsula was scrapped all of 60 years ago. The Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway used to run all the way west to Bantry from 1892, until the line closed in 1961.

Remarkably, as long ago as 1846 there was a plan to link Castletownbere to Dublin via rail, but it never came to fruition. What the people of Cork would give to have that in place now. Still, best not to look back on past mistakes and omissions. Better to look forward to a brighter future for the beautiful Beara Peninsula.

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