Sitting below the rugged Caha Mountains on the lip of Bantry Bay, Castletownbere is the biggest town on the beautiful Beara Peninsula. ‘Castletown’, as it’s known locally, is the ideal base from which to explore Beara with excellent accommodation options, great restaurants and charming pubs. Explore Bere and Dursey islands (a trip on Ireland’s only cable car is a must), see dolphins and whales in the wild, visit the charming villages of Allihies and Eyeries and marvel at the stunning vistas from the Healy Pass on Hungry Hill.
In antiquity there was no land connection to the rest of Ireland and this was the independent realm of the O'Sullivan Beare, Prince of Beare, a Gaelic princely title, which endured until the early seventeenth century, when the English Crown was attempting to secure their rule over the whole island. The ruins of the Prince of Beare's Donboy Castle can be seen a mile beyond Castletown, which is named after it. The last Prince of Beare, Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare, had his forces were defeated with the Irish and Spanish at Kinsale in 1602 and Dunboy Castle was attacked and all the defenders killed in battle or executed. Three hundred women and children who he sheltered on Dursey Island were also killed in what became known as the "Dursey Massacre." The O'Sullivan Beare led a thousand of his people on a 500 km march to Lough Neagh to join the Earl of Tyrone, only 35 made it to the end of the journey and shortly afterwards he left Ireland with other chieftains in what became known as the "Flight of the Earls." In the days of the O'Sullivan Beare this town had more connections with Spain, France and Portugal by sea. than with Ireland
The Beara Peninsula has a primeval feel to it with rugged mountains, lakes, "lost valleys and around every corner stunning vistas. Until 1938 it was the British Naval base of Bearhaven, one of three Treaty ports retained by Britain after Irish independence in 1922 (The others were Cobh and Lough Swilly). The deep water and the high elevations on Bere island with artillery installations at either end protected the fleet within but with war approaching Britain moved out because it could not protect them from the air. In MacCarthy's Bar there is a picture of the fleet including 5 American submarines which were relocated to Pearl Harbour, Hawaii where they still lie on the seabed after the Japanese attack in 1941. This the McCarthy's Bar featured on the cover of the famous travelogue by journalist Pete McCarty who travelled around Ireland going into every bar he found with the name over the door and introducing himself. He started here and found himself in a "Lock in" for owner Adrienne's 40th birthday - his hilarious description of the evening sets the tone for the rest of his bestselling book. The "nun" on the cover was the barmaid and as the picture was being taken the pet dog Bailey came out the door and is in the picture. His descendant still presides in the bar today.
There is another remarkable story to be told here about the samurai sword hanging in the bar which belonged to Adrienne and Nikki MacCarthy's father, Air Commodore Aidan MacCarthy, OBE, GM. A survivor of Dunkirk, of being twice on boats which were torpedoed and sunk in WWII, of being a Japanese POW and of being 30 miles from the atomic bomb exploded at Nagasaki. He prevented the Japanese Camp Commandant's lynching and he gave him his officer's sword in gratitude. His truly remarkable story is told in the film and book "A Soldier's Sword."
The naval influence is all around in the golf course built for the officers, in the old Commodore's House owned by Film Director Neil Jordan and in Dinish island formerly the shore base which today bustles serving the deep sea Atlantic fishing fleet and the mariculture industry that uses the deep sheltered waters of Bantry Bay. The fish you'll eat in Castletown is fresh indeed!
Top Tip: Three kilometres beyond Castletownbere on the left there is the visitor friendly Dzogchen Beara Tibetan Buddhist Retreat centre. Follow the signs past the prayer flags to the welcome centre and cafe. There are lovely gardens and spectacular costal views and spectacularly good cake and coffee in the friendly cafe.