Liss Ard Estate and Gardens, Skibbereen

**UPDATE** This article was written a few years ago when we first discovered Liss Ard. There are now some important guidelines for visiting the gardens and to see which days the gardens are open to non-residents, please visit their facebook page here.

Years ago, the children and I stumbled upon the Liss Ard Gardens, just out of Skibbereen, quite by accident. I had always presumed that the gardens were private and had been delighted to find out that they were in fact open to the public. Now, every so often, we love to re-discover the joys of Liss Ard and each year I am reminded by my 8 year old by how she felt tricked walking all that way as a 3 year old toddler only to discover that the ‘Talking Stones’ don’t actually say anything!  The highlights (for us) are most definitely the bluebells in Spring and the Sky Garden Crater, but with acres of land with so many pathways, there really is something for everyone on a Liss Ard walk.  The gardens are open every day, all year, until 11pm.

One of the many ponds in Liss Ard Estate

The Sky Garden was designed by James Turrell,  the renowned American artist, who is best known for his works on the theme of ‘light’.  It consists of a huge crater with a stone structure (slab) at the bottom of it. The crater was created for Irish skies to be contemplated and appreciated by the spectator lying flat on their back on the stone slab at the bottom of the crater.

Enjoying the view from the slab in the Sky Garden

The dome effect that is created in the elliptical frame is an unforgettable experience and is highly recommended.  ((((((((( )))))))) due to damage to the slopes by climbing??? apointments now made?? The Gardens are free to explore but if you prefer to book a guided tour,especially of the Sky Garden,  there is a cost of €5 per person.   Bookings can be made by ringing 028-40000.

Bluebell lined trails in the Liss Ard woodlands in Spring.

The gardens have been designed by Veith Turske and intend to bring out the unique relationship with nature allowing you to become the centre of perception.  The garden has been created as a place of contemplation and of meditation and as their website states :

‘Liss Ard Gardens have a strong presence. These vast nature retreats are demanding, they want full attention.  Attention to detail and awareness. For they reveal their inner beauty to those who can be present as well. Nature has extremes, it has power: this can only be experienced while opening our senses to everything it has to offer.’

Liss Ard is truly a place to inspire, learn tranquillity, to draw from the past, to fire the imagination and to nourish the senses.  The designed pathways leading past numerous ponds, waterfalls and quiet spots, have been likened to the garden of Eden in some publications. Companies like Laura Ashley, Debenhams and K-Shoes have taken advantage of the beauty at Liss Ard to carry out photo shoots. Equally, the accommodation at Liss Ard has attracted a fair share of celebrities ranging from Van Morrision, Oasis, Lou Reed, Patti Smith and Nick Cave –  all of whom have spent time at Liss Ard.

For more information visit their website here.

Dromillihy Wood, Connagh

The Dromillihy Woods, near Connagh on the N71 are a great walk with small children.  It is a lovely place to toddle – removed from the main road and with just enough uphill and downhill to make it interesting.

Dromillihy Wood – entrance to the trail

Kids love exploring  woodlands and if you are travelling down to West Cork on the N71, it is a great place to stretch your legs and to use the picnic facility.  The Cellmount walk is just over 1.5km and older, more robust children could easily do the walk twice – clockwise and then anti-clockwise.

On the Cellmount Walk

The development of the woodland trail is all down to a dedicated team of people from the local community who got together to make it happen.  Standing together, they fund-raised and planned and have succeeded in creating a lovely and valuable amenity in the community.  The trails were officially opened by Cllr Barbara Murray in April 2013 and have seen many families enjoying (and benefiting) from it.

Cellmount Loop in the Dromillihy Wood

There are interesting boards all along the walk with information on the local flora and fauna.

Information boards along the trail highlight local flora and fauna

The Dromillihy Wood amenity site is a testament to what a community can do if it works together for the greater good.  It is a credit to the community of Connagh.

Coorycommane Walk, Coomhola, Bantry

The Coorycommane Walk is a fabulous asset to Bantry and surrounds.  It is a  credit to the people involved in making it happen and for providing such a wonderful amenity. It is a way marked trail of 4.8km and is part of the Beara Walking Route.  We walked it this Easter with friends and the kids loved it.   It is one of those walks that has a little bit of everything – winding forest trails, steep hills, grasslands, hilltops and boggy, bumpy bits.

Coorycommane Loop, Coomhola

Coorycommane is a NLP (National Loop Walk) and it starts at Coomhola bridge where there is ample parking.   The walk kicks off with quite a steep climb before it winds through a well marked forest.  Kids cant resist running ahead. It has the feel of a real adventure trail.  The climb can then be quite strenuous to the top of Coorycommane Hill which will give you a panoramic view of the beautiful Coomhola and Borlin Valleys as well as a sweeping vista of Bantry Bay.

On the crest of the walk with sweeping views over Bantry Bay

The route is beautifully marked and where there are no signposts, look for clues painted onto the rocks and stones.

Look for clues of paint on the trail to lead the way if ever you are unsure

The walk then winds its way through more forestry before meeting up with the ‘Bog Road’ which will lead you back to the starting point at the Coomhola Bridge.

Walking on the Bog Road back to the starting point.

The Coomhola River is a wonderful place for a picnic and to cool little feet.  The walk took about 2 hours and was enjoyed by all age groups.

Paddling in the Coomhola River afterwards.

Drombeg Stone Circle, Glandore

The Drombeg Stone Circle which is also known as ‘The Druid’s Altar’ is a recumbent stone circle consisting of 17 (of which only 13 remain) closely spaced stones situated near the village of Glandore. The circle is located on the edge of a rocky outcrop and has good views over the sea. Of all the megalithic sites in Ireland, Drombeg is the most visited. A layer of gravel has been laid to protect the site from the high volume of visitors to it.

Glandore Stone Circle

The Drombeg Stone Circle is flanked by a pair of 1.8m high axial portal stones, which provide a south-west axis and orientate Drombeg in the direction of the setting sun during the midwinter solstice. In 1958 the site was excavated and restored. During excavation a pot was found buried in the centre of the circle containing the cremated remains of a young adolescent wrapped with thick cloth. The remains were carbon dated and found to be from between 945 and 830 BC. The pot had been buried in the middle of the circle along with 80 other smashed shards, 4 bits of shale and some sweepings from a pyre.

Gifts at the center of the circle include coins, flowers and shells

A little to the west of the monument are two round stone-walled prehistoric huts and a fulacht fiadh (cooking place). The huts are conjoined which means they are connected by an inter-leading door. A causeway leads from the huts to the fulacht fiadh which features a hearth, a well and a trough in which water could be boiled by the addition of red-hot stones. According to http://www.stonepages.com/ireland, recent tests have shown that using this ‘boiling’ method, 70 or more gallons of water could be boiled for almost 3 hours.

Fulacht Fiadh at Drombeg

Given the presence of the prehistoric kitchen, the huts and the stone circle, it can be suggested that annual or seasonal gatherings took place at the sacred site down to the 5th century AD – which is what carbon dating reveals for the cooking place.

Information Board at Drombeg

Getting there: Turn left off the N71 from Clonakilty to Rosscarbery onto the R597 (just after you have crossed the causeway).  After about 4km, you will see a left turn signposted for Drombeg Stone Circle.  Keep driving along the narrow country road and you will come to a small car park for Drombeg.  The stone circle is just a short walk from there.

Glengarriff Woods – Esknamucky Trail

The Glengarriff Nature Reserve is home to over 300 hectares of oak woodland and is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year.  Each season shows a different aspect of the woods and it is equally as beautiful to visit in the first flush of spring as it is during the colourful palette of autumn.  There are several clearly marked walks in the woods so there is a trail for every age, ability and fitness level.  Depending on how much time you have and what your energy levels are, it is always rewarding to combine a few of the loops into a longer tailor-made walk.

Esknamucky Trail, Glengarriff Woods

The Esknamucky Trail, which is a loop walk of just under 3km, is the most rugged of the trails as it winds its way up steeply through the woods.

Starting off on the trail.

Also known as the High Walk, there are many steps along the trail as the path threads up towards the top of the climb.

Esknamucky gives a great cardio workout with plenty of ups and downs.

There are several scenic viewing points along the way which give panoramic views over the forest and to the mountains beyond. 

The Esknamucky Trail is often combined with the shorter, but gorgeous, Waterfall Walk.

The Ewe Experience, Glengarriff

The Ewe Experience, which is Ireland’s only interactive and interpretive sculpture garden,  is a must-visit for both adults and kids alike.

Beautiful Sculptures at the Ewe Experience

Aside from begin the most interactive and stimulating art gallery in Ireland, The Ewe Experience also boasts the best location as it is situated outdoors in a woodland clearing on a river bank complete with cascading waterfall and woodland trails. The gallery is owned and lovingly created by a duet of talent in the form of writer Kurt Lyndorff and artist Sheena Wood. Using all sorts of interesting materials ranging from textiles, mosaics, ceramics, steel, copper, concrete wood, glass and mixed media, Sheena takes her inspiration from the many animals and birds that inhabit the river and woodland around her home.

Music Makng at the Ewe Experience

As The Ewe Experience is nestled within a 280 acre nature reserve which extends right up to the Kerry border on the Esk Mountain, it is a haven for animals such as wild deer, foxes, badgers stoats and mink. The river is alive with otters, brown trout and frogs whilst all around songbirds, dragonflies and butterflies abound. Upon arrival, you will be given a list of interesting things to find and to look for in the garden where there is literally a surprise in every crevice. There is a section where children can participate in interactive art by using an array of natural material such as sticks, stone and feathers to compile interesting features of their own. In another section, an interactive game of noughts and crosses can be had just beyond the enormous snail with its mirror mosaic trail.

Peeping at the creatures in the woods, Glengarriff

The Ewe gallery certainly deserves a standing ovation when it comes to instilling an appreciation of art in its many and varied forms to children and certainly breaks the mould of thinking that art is restricted to a coloured or framed page. Before leaving, make sure you have a got at partaking in the edible art section. Here, children can design their own ice-cream by adding an assortment of different toppings and making it look as delicious and individual as possible. There are picnic benches and and outdoor seating area overlooking a lovely stretch of the river. Here you will discover that the longer you sit – the more you see!

Ewe Experience

For more information visit their website here.

Bantry House and Gardens, Bantry

Bantry House is a warm and friendly family home owned and run by the Shelswell-White family.  It was built in 1700, and overlooks the waters of Bantry Bay and to the Caha Mountain range beyond. From the house, Bantry Bay looks like a private lake which in summer is dotted with sailboats.

Bantry House

The house is open to the public and self-guided tours of the 3 floors including the drawing rooms, dining rooms and library are available.  Complimentary information sheets are available at the house reception.  Guided tours are daily at 2pm included in admission prices or can be booked with the owners in advance for an extra fee.

Bantry House with view of Whiddy Island in the distance

Bantry House is very forward thinking in their approach and host a  number of stimulating cultural events throughout the year. The annual  West Cork Chamber Music Festival, a world renowned event, is hosted  by Bantry House each year.  A number of readings and gatherings for the West Cork Literary Festival are also held at Bantry House which makes a beautiful venue for a literary event. A wing of the house has been converted into guest accommodation of the highest standard. It is also possible to hire Bantry House for a private party or independent music events and concerts, civil weddings, corporate events or special birthday parties.

Bantry House and Gardens

Interesting History:

It is interesting to note that in 1920 during the civil war, the Bantry Hospital which was run by the nuns from the Convent of Mercy, was burnt to the ground. At that time, the then owner, Edward Leigh-White had passed away and his wife Arethusa generously offered Bantry House as a  temporary substitute hospital which offer was greatly appreciated. The nuns moved the patients in and a chapel was sanctified in the library. For the next five years, Bantry House served as a hospital for the local community.

Testing the cannon at Bantry House

Bantry House Gardens: Bantry House gardens, which extend to 45 acres, are home to many subtropical plants and shrubs which all thrive in the warm gulf-stream climate. Features in the gardens are a wonderful blend of both formal and informal creating a space of expansion and enjoyment. In our opinion the most amazing feature in the gardens has to be the ancient Wisteria Circle which circles a water fountain. There are always children kneeling at the waterside inspecting the water for frogs or tadpoles. Benches are available to sit and soak up the atmosphere or to simply rest before attempting the climb of the famed 100 steps.

At the foot of the famous flight of stone stairs

From the top of the steps:

There are stunning views over the house and gardens, across Bantry Bay and out to the Caha mountains which form the border of Co. Kerry.The garden, which is arranged over 7 terraces, has gone from creation by Richard White, the 2nd Earl of Bantry, through neglect (from the 1930s–1970s) to restoration which began in 1997. There are several loop walks within the grounds making them perfect for exploration with children.

Bantry House

There is a nominal fee or a once-off annual ticket purchase permitting re-entry for the entire season for sale at the main entrance.

For more information visit www.bantryhouse.