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As I sit here and write about things to do in West Cork my mind goes back to that day when 8 of us headed out from the INEC in Killarney with guide extraordinaire Jessie McDonald to visit West Cork on our TBEX Pre-Bex Tour. I remember thinking at that time could “Ireland get any better?” We had just completed a road trip from Dublin to Celbridge, Limerick, Ballingarry, Dingle, Killorglin, Kenmare to Killarney and we were blown away by the scenery, landscapes and traditional Irish villages and of course the Irish hospitality (and the Guinness!).
Well, West Cork, you exceeded our expectations! You see, Jessie our Guide is a West Cork lass, our coach driver Charlie from Kerry, and there seems to be a bit of rivalry between the 2 counties ‘which is more scenic’ and in turn a bit of fun rivalry rubbed off between the two of them during the day. Sorry, Charlie, we are siding with Jessie on this one! West Cork is definitely more scenic and we only saw a small part of it.
As we drove through lush green fields full where sheep and cattle were grazing, over old stone bridges and around tight bends in the road where traditional Irish cottages clung to the sides Jessie regaled us with history and stories of life in Ireland. We could listen to Jessie all day, so passionate and so informative, the perfect guide for our day out.
We learnt about the Irish language. If you or I were to move to Ireland we would be called ‘blow ins’ – a person who was not born in the town, even if you had moved there 30 years ago you would still be called a ‘blow in’.
Have you heard the expression ‘craic’ to us non-Irish it can be a little confusing? There is no exact English translation but as Jessie explained ‘having the craic’ means having fun.
We learnt about stone circles (a monument of stones arranged in a circle), ring forts (enclosed farmsteads in the early medieval period), fairies and Irish bogs as we travelled around. Now, did we believe in leprechauns? Do you?
- 1 Things to do in West Cork #1
- 2 Things to do in West Cork #2
- 3 Things to do in West Cork #3
Things to do in West Cork #1
A Visit to Durrus Cheese in Coomkeen Durrus
The journey from Killarney took us over the Sheep’s Head Peninsula and a photo opportunity at Faite Boulteenagh located between Bantry and Durrus. Visiting Ireland during Autumn is a spectacular time to visit where leaves of verdant green change colour to vivid red, gold and orange. It is cooler, can be wet at times but less congested, but perfect to enjoy the Irish cuisine.
We were greeted by Sarah Hennessy as we arrived, the daughter of Jeffa Gill, who started the family business over 40 years ago. Back in 1979, Jeffa bought the tumbled down farmhouse in Coomkeen near Durrus, apart from renovating the farmhouse, creating a vegetable garden she purchased a herd of milking cows.
Jeffa with her friend the late Veronica Steele of Milleens experimented in cheese making in the farmhouse kitchen. By 1991 the cheese making moved from the farmhouse kitchen to the converted outbuildings.
In 1984 their efforts were rewarded with Durrus Cheese winning gold at the Clones Agricultural Show, this was to be the first of many awards.
After explaining the history of Durrus Cheese Sarah took us over to the small factory to show us the process and to wave a hello to Jeffa herself and her team who were busy making the next batch of cheese. We witnessed how labour intensive cheese making could be. During our visit, one of the local farmers took away the whey (the liquid remaining after the milk has been curdled and strained) for fattening up their pigs.
Now, what we were all waiting for – taste testing the end product. Back in the showroom, we sampled:
Durrus Rind Washed Classic Cheese
A semi-soft washed rind cheese which we not only enjoyed here in Durrus but at Dublin’s famous cheese shop – Sheridan’s Cheesemongers on a recent Fab Food Trail Tour in Dublin.
- Gold Medal, Irish Food Awards, 2017
- Gold Medal, British Cheese Awards, 2017
- 2 Gold Stars, Great Taste Awards, UK, 2016
- Bronze Medal, British Cheese Awards, 2016
- Gold Medal, British Cheese Awards, 2013
A soft cheese young cheese that is perfect for the cheese board and can be melted in pasta dishes and baked pies and tarts.
- Best Irish Cheese, British Cheese Awards, 2017
- 3 Gold Stars, Great Taste Awards, UK, 2016
Dunmanus Matured Farmhouse Cheese
Dunmanus is made from raw cows milk and aged for 6 months. Dunmanus is perfect for the cheeseboard or in a Ploughman’s Lunch.
- Silver Medal, Irish Cheese Awards, 2015
If we were not on a tour certainly one or even all 3 of the cheeses would be coming home with us.
Contact Details for Durrus Cheese
Address: Durrus Cheese, Coomkeen, Durrus, Bantry, County Cork Ireland P75 PN81
Co. Cork, Ireland P75 PN81
Telephone: +353 (0) 27 61100
Website: Durrus Cheese
If you want to visit Durrus Cheese:
Visits to Durrus Cheese are by prior arrangement.
If you wish to purchase their cheese the showroom is open Monday through Friday between 09.00 and 14.00.
Durrus Cheese has recipes available on their website for their cheeses.
Things to do in West Cork #2
A Visit to Victor Daly Master Stone Carver in Ahakista
Just a short 20-minute drive away through stunning West Cork scenery we arrived at Ahakista to meet charismatic Victor Daly, Master Stone Carver.
Victor, originally from Midleton, has made Ahakista his home with his wife, and whom both now try to live a sustainable life growing vegetables, raising pigs, lambs and goats, recycling wherever and whatever they can. Victor has worked in the US and Scotland in castles and cathedrals, he explained to us that ‘he could have spent his life working at Edinburgh Cathedral’.
Victor has a busy schedule, working on his commissions from Monday through to Friday and running 2-day weekend Stone Carving Courses on Saturdays and Sundays.
He overcomes his busy work schedule by stretching, tai-chi, ensuring that he bends his knees whilst working on his pieces, eating well, drinking lots of water and taking a short break every 2 hours. Stone carving is heavy work and time consuming, you need to have a lot of patience. He states “on my course if you are able to cut one good letter in 2 days you are doing well! We start with the letter ‘i’ and spelling is vital”.
The concrete floor of his workshop can be cold especially in winter when Victor runs his courses he comes down early and starts the fire so it is cozy and warm for the students.
Victor’s commissions range from headstones for graves, house name plaques, abstract sculptures and Christmas gifts just to name a few. Stone carvings are ideal for interior and exterior use. When creating a headstone he talks to the relatives to find more out about the deceased, their passions etc so that he can create a headstone accordingly.
Victor told us that he has a lot of retired people coming to his course, they tend to do well as they have the time and the patience to work on their chosen pieces. “One of them”, he laughed, was so good that he had better watch himself, he has new competition!”
If you are considering learning how to carve Victor even has an Airbnb property that he rents out! When his students are not learning the art they are enjoying the fresh air and the walks through the countryside of Ahakista.
Is there a technique to stone carving?
Victor explained that you need to hold the chisel lightly and loosely if you hold it too tight your hand will get tired. It is like writing with 2 hands. Some of us had a go working on a piece if local slate, moving the chisel lightly from left to right at an angle. It is not easy. There are different types of chisels that Victor works with and each makes their unique sound. When conducting a class he can tell which of his students ‘have got it’ just by the sound of the chisel.
For more information on his courses click here.
Victor’s website details: The Stone Carver
Telephone: +353 (0) 86 051 4116
Address: Rossnacaheragh, Ahakista, Durrus, County Cork, Ireland
Accommodation at the Stone Carver’s
Airbnb Property details.
If you have not stayed in an Airbnb property before we have a special offer for you where you can save Euros on your first night’s accommodation.
Map of Ahakista in Durrus County Cork
Things to do in West Cork #3
A Visit to Bantry House and Garden
Bantry House and Garden is ‘one impressive Irish Georgian stately home’ overlooking Bantry Bay in West Cork.
As part of our tour, we enjoyed a light lunch at the Tea House, which overlooks the sunken garden, in the West Wing before meeting Sophie Shelswell-White, General Manager, and a descendant of the White Family, who gave us a quick tour and history lesson on Bantry House.
In 1765 Richard White purchased Bantry House, which at that time was known as Blackrock House. Richard was a local Councillor and had 3 sons.
Richard White, was made a Baron in 1797 and then in 1801 became known as Viscount Berehaven. At that time Bantry House consisted of 90,000 acres and the family were one of the largest landowners in Cork.
The 2nd Earl of Bantry enlarged the gardens, creating 7 terraces, a parterre and a fountain and the famous hundred steps, a staircase built of local stone, set amidst azaleas and rhododendron.
During this time the 2nd Earl also enlarged the house to its current size around 30,000 square feet. He travelled with his wife extensively throughout Europe even visiting Russia and Poland acquiring a unique collection of furniture, artwork and tapestries. He died without having any children and the title went to his brother William the 3rd Earl of Bantry who was married to Jane Herbert of Muckross. They had 6 children 5 daughters and 1 son who became the 4th Earl of Bantry. One of their daughters, Olivia married Sir Arthur Guinness 1st Baron of Ardilaun in 1871.
The title became extinct on the death of the 4th Earl and was passed to his eldest sister Elizabeth.
During the Irish Civil War in 1922 Bantry House was used as a hospital for 5 years.
During the Second World War from 1939 to 1945, the house and stables were occupied by the Second Cyclist Squadron of the Irish Army.
In 1946 the house is open to the public and in 1978 Egerton Shelswell-White inherits the house. When Sophie’s father Egerton Shelswell-White passed away, Sophie returned from Australia to take over the management of Bantry House.
The cost of upkeeping a substantial Georgian property such as Bantry House is immense. The family have now the help of the German University of Stuttgart to assist in the restoration of their valuable art collection and artefacts.
Accommodation at Bantry House
Bantry House offers B & B accommodation in the East Wing. Click this special offer
The following information is taken from their website:
“The 6 rooms in the East Wing of the house are all overlooking the glorious 19th century Italianate garden with the fountain and 100 steps leading up to the woodland. All created and designed by the 2nd Earl of Bantry, Sophie’s ancestor.
Rooms are furnished with silk curtains, Irish woollens and some period furniture. All rooms are ensuite with heated floors and towel rails. When the main rooms of the house close to visitors, overnight guests are given access to the grand Library with fires lit and magazines and books available. Help yourself to a drink from the honesty bar or take a fellow guest on in billiards or snooker in the Billiards Room.
Breakfast is served on the ground floor of the wing with a generous buffet of fruits, yogurts, cheeses and scones as well as cooked to order from the kitchen.
You can also book a private tour, some treats ahead of your arrival or afternoon tea served in the Library.”
What a great way to spend a few nights away!
Sadly all good things must come to an end, we could have stayed chatting with Sophie for ages about Bantry House and her family, but we were due back in Killarney and time was against us.
Contact Details for Bantry House & Garden
Bantry House, Bantry, Co.Cork, Ireland
Phone: + 353 27 50047
Website: Bantry House