Galley Head and Roscarbery Bay
The Galley Head Peninsula curves southwards around Rosscarbery Bay and dominates the Carbery Coast.
Galley Head Lighthouse on Dundeady Island was built in 1878, electrified in 1967 and fully automated in 1979). It is one of the two most powerful lighthouses in Europe (the other being Fastnet). The Keepers’ cottages are available for holiday rental. (Photo – www.irishlandmark.com)
The O’Cowhig Clan were evidently very important in this region. A section of their once large Downeen Castle still stands on a windswept promontory isolated from the mainland by years of erosion. Their Donoure / Dunowen Castle remains eroded but evocatively situated on its eponymous sea-girt headland, while the mighty walls and ditches of their Dundeady Fort cut off the isthmus joining the mainland to the headland called Dundeady Island
Owenahincha is an extensive sandy beach backing onto sand dunes sheltering camping and caravan sites. It is an exposed beach and the sea can be quite rough at times, despite / due to which it is popular with surfers. Life guards are on duty during the bathing season.
The Warren, aka Cregane Strand, is a sheltered Blue Flag beach with safe family bathing facilities, numerous rock pools, and a pier suitable for fishing. The adjacent dunes are home to an 18-hole championship Pitch and Putt course. There is a short pleasant cliff walk between the Warren and Owenahincha.
Long Strand comprises about a mile and a half of sand/stony beach, bounded by waves of dunes and looking out across Galley Head. The top end is a haven for surfers but the rest of the beach is unsafe for bathing due to a dangerous undertow. However, this is a marvellous place for a brisk walk, particularly popular on Christmas Day.
Rathbarry / Castlefreke (Co. Cork / Southwest)
Rathbarry Village, little more than a crossroads, is nowadays part of an extensive community centred on the nearby village of Ardfield.
Rathbarry’s diminutive museum is next door to the Post Office / shop.
St Michael’s church (RC), erected c.1830, a pretty stone building scenically situated at the top of a steep flight of 70 steps, is a popular wedding venue.
Rathbarry Castle & Castle Freke
Rathbarry Castle, a C15th Tower House built by Randal Óg Barry to replace an earlier dún / fort, was occupied by the Freke family in 1617.
In 1642 the castle was besieged by the MacCarthy clan, who had previously taken Ross, and endured a ten-month siege, the longest in Irish history; it is related that the garrison were on the point of surrendering when help arrived from Kinsale and Clonakilty under Sir Charles Vavasour and Captain Jephson. The occupants were then escorted to the safety of Bandon, the nearest walled town.
The castle was burned to prevent the MacCarthy forces making use of it, but they re-entered the ruins and occupied the site until 1643 when Colonel Myn‘s Parliamentary forces retook, garrisoned andeventually “slighted” it.
Part of the original Rathbarry keep remains, notably a stone arch over the basement (now at ground level). The castle bawn was later converted into the farmyard for Castle Freke. It has some fine dressed stone doorways, and the original farm dairy and forge also still exist.
Castle Freke / Castlefreke, first erected in 1648, was rebuilt in 1780 and redesigned as an extraordinarily opulent mansion in the high Gothick style by Sir Richard Morrison for John Evans-Freke, 6th Baron Carbery in 1820. It was badly burnt in 1910, but restored and extended, then lay vacant from 1926 onwards and fell into serious decay. (photo – An Garrán Cóir, a top class B&B in the vicinity)
John Evans-Freke, 10th Baron Carbery, was noted for his dramatic aeroplane displays over the area; a friend of Michael Collins, he used to fly the Irish tricolour from the castle battlements at the height of the Troubles. Having renounced his peerage, shot out the eyes of the portrait of his ancestor, the 1st Lord Carbery, locked the house and thrown away the key, he sought amusement abroad. Deported from the USA for bootlegging, he set off for Kenya, where he joined the aristocratic “Happy Valley set” of debauched colonial ex-pats in the White Highlands and was embroiled in the notorious scandal surrounding the murder of playboy Lord Erroll, the basis for the 1987 film White Mischief (in which he is depicted wearing a dress and earrings). Married three times, he died in Johannesburg in 1970. The title passed to his nephew.
The mansion is currently undergoing restoration by the seriously rich USA-based biochemist Michael Peter Evans-Freke, heir apparent to the title of 12th Baron Carbery; he is also said to be interested in restoring Rathbarry Castle.
Rathbarry church (CoI) was built c.1830 by the then Lord Carberry (who also funded the new local Roman Catholic St Michael’s church) to replace an ancient chapel, the remains of which can be seen nearby. The church was allowed to fall into its current sad state after the local Protestant population “ceased to exist“. The atmospheric churchyard contains several interesting gravestones.
Castlefreke Woods, acquired by the State in 1952, is a pleasant place to stroll. One walk leads from the main avenue to a large hilltop Celtic Cross, erected in memory of the 9th Baron Carbery by his widow. At over 30ft in height, it is reputed to be the largest memorial cross in Ireland. The shaft is richly decorated with Redemption scenes. One panel contains the figure of Saint Fachtna and another of Saint Patrick.
The hill overlooks Long Strand and commands panoramic views: to the east is Galley Head, to the west large, black islands – High Island, Seal Rock, The Stags– and Toe Head. There is magnificent cliff scenery nearby.
The diary of Elizabeth Freke records a shipwreck in November 1693: “A great Dutch ship was cast away and lost with all the passengers in her on Rathbarry strand and was dashed to pieces amongst our rocks, and every creature in itt but fowre men Mr Freke took upp and buried them in Rathbarry Church”
The pretty Gate lodges and parts of the old estate wall still stand.
Rathbarry / Kilkeran / Kilkern Lake & Marsh was once a tidal inlet to the castle, until the Lisbon Earthquake of 1760 changed sea levels all along this coast. It is now a bird sanctuary and also an important source of research on lichens. The walls of the old pier still standing recall the drawbridge, which at one time provided access to the old coastal road to Rosscarbery. An early Lady Freke was drowned c.1700 when her carriage toppled over the bridge.
Lough Rahavarrig at the eastern end of the woods is almost entirely covered with reeds, and is a good place to spot sedge warblers and reed buntings in summer, and migrating swallows and martins in autumn.