(IRISH INDEPENDENT, February 26th, 2016)
Close your eyes for a moment and think of the airy summer views from the stone cottage annex of Kit’s Cottage on the Mizen Head in west Cork.
Through the large picture window and out across the azure sweep of Dunmanus Bay you see the rugged horn of Sheep’s Head peninsula. Nearer home, the sheep-strewn hills are undulating and beguiling, the moors studded with the same craggy lichen-stained rock used in the low walls that separate them. As far as your eye can see, the wind-hewn coastline bows before the shimmering Atlantic swell.
In starker seasons, the view is less radiant but perhaps even more mesmeric. The winds may be howling outside and the rain spattering that picture window, but here, cosy by the stove, you are outside time and transfixed by the primitive music of the elements.
Inside your west Cork retreat, the same rock that dots the landscape forms the exposed stone walls throughout the house. Well-positioned Velux windows maximise the natural light, and the north-south orientation ensures you can watch the sun rise out the front and set from the slate patio of your back garden.
Previous owners of this extended, refurbished home have renovated to optimise the scenery inside and out. Stripping back the internal render to show off some old-school masonry has given Kit’s Cottage character.
Upstairs is one vast 19ft by 18ft master bedroom, with a small bathroom off, and the exposed stone walls are complemented by the exposed roof beams and panelled ceilings.
The ground floor has a 17ft by 11ft living room, with wood-burning stove and sloping, wood-panelled ceiling, which links to the 15ft by 11ft kitchen, with its sycamore units and thick worktops.
Also on ground level is the old central hall, and two compact bedrooms plus another bathroom.
The 1,200 sq ft structure has central heating, plus that stove, and windows are double glazed in hardwood frames – one original window has been kept, for maximum impact, in the hall entrance.
The Mizen Peninsula is an area of exceptional natural beauty, covering 34km from Ballydehob village to Mizen Head. Kit’s Cottage is over a hill on the north side of Goleen village, towards the south-western end of the peninsula, hence the view over Dunmanus. Water access at Dooneen Coss Pier is only a short stroll away, while the child-friendly Blue Flag Beach at Barley Cove is nearby, and Crookhaven village is a short drive away.
It’s as pretty a spot as you’ll find along this stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way. Goleen claims to be the last parish in the south-west of Ireland, before America – and Fastnet Rock and lighthouse off the coast is sometimes known as “Ireland’s Teardrop”, as it was the last sight of Ireland for 19th century and early 20th century emigrants.
Falling away left of the village is the hidden harbour from which the village takes its name, “Goilin” (little inlet). Goleen is 14 miles from Schull and over 80 miles from Cork City.
What to do
For a start, there are three flagged beaches in Goleen parish: Barley Cove, Ballyrisode Green Flag beach and Galley Cove Green Flag beach, looking out on Fastnet Rock.
The sea is central to tourism here, naturally, and every marine activity you can think of is catered for. Schull, with its sheltered harbour, is a sailing Mecca, and the Fastnet Marine & Outdoor Education Centre on Colla Road, in Schull Harbour, for instance, has serious courses for the experienced sailor but can accommodate those looking for a laid-back jaunt around the coast.
The Schull Harbour Regatta in August is the high point of a week of active racing in and beyond the harbour.
Ferry trips to Cape Clear and Sherkin Island leave the pier daily throughout the summer and boats can be hired from Schull Watersports Centre. Sea angling trips can be arranged on the various private motorboats operating locally.
Not far from Goleen is the Mizen Head Visitor centre. Mizen Head signal station is perched high above crashing waves and sea cliffs on a small island connected to the mainland by a spectacular 45m-high bridge. From the visitors’ centre it’s a 10-minute walk via 99 steps to the station, which houses exhibits on the station’s history and on marine wildlife – keep an eye out for whales and dolphins.
The Sheep’s Head Way is a 200km walking route between Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay, taking in boreens, open grassy and heathery hills, rocks, field paths, quiet roads and short stretches of woodland path. It also extends eastwards from Bantry to Drimoleague and majestic Gougane Barra.
West Cork is a renowned retreat for artists, poets and musicians, and there are galleries and niche shops aplenty, in the likes of Durrus, Ballydehob and Ahakista, over on Sheep’s Head and the summer retreat of Graham Norton.
Eat and drink
Where do we start? Emma and Freddie Olsen’s atmospheric stone cottage Crookhaven Inn serves great seafood – their classic crab meat on brown bread is top notch, and it is also a popular watering hole. The seafood chowder and fried shrimp is popular in O’Sullivan’s Bar at Crookhaven harbour. They move with the times here in west Cork too, and there is a big screen and surround sound in the bar on big match days.
Over in Goleen, the Heron’s Cove restaurant and B&B has a menu Tripadvisor describes as “varied and interesting, obviously fish is a speciality (and very special!), but the locally sourced meat dishes are also delicious”.
Schull has loads of great places to eat as well, including Grove House, overlooking the harbour. This comes highly recommended by Georgina Campbell, while John and Sally McKenna’s foodie guides noted that the excellent cooking of Katerina Runske, originally from Sweden, and her son Nico “have made Grove a hot Schull spot”.
As for bars, Hackett’s Bar in Schull has John and Sally McKenna cooing over “the charm of this little bar, with its stone floor, with its artworks, with its punky staff, with its excellent drinks and its soulful cooking. Hackett’s has the warmth of a hearth – you are drawn to it as you are drawn to a crackling fire, all energy and comfort”.
Goleen itself has Denny O’Meara’s pub, the Lobster Pot and the Fastnet Bar, which does a great crabmeat sandwich and salad.
There’s a big mix, largely from Dublin and Cork cities but also a solid English and German presence. Foodies, the sailing set and rugged outdoor types dominate. This area has a particular attraction for triathlon and extreme sports types who love to hang off rocky outcrops.
What’s not to like
Dress up well in winter, you’ll get a full belt of the Atlantic gales and storms which have been so instrumental in creating this dramatic landscape. It’s isolated, desolate even, in winter.
Lickavaun, Goleen, Co Cork
Sherry FitzGerald O’Neill West Cork. Agent Micheal Duggan (028) 21404