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The Seven Heads Peninsula drive is a gorgeous route, with plenty of sandy beaches to bathe in the waters by day and to pitch your tent by night. The peninsula is a place for walkers and bird watchers; guides are available from many of the local shops. It is bordered by one of my favorite villages in south Cork - Clonakilty - a place of great food and entertainment. We did the drive backwards, from east to west, beginning in Timoleague.
Timoleague is a picturesque town set on Courtmacsherry Bay. The Irish Gaelic "Tigh Molaige" means "house of Molaga," and the town is named after the 7th century Franciscan Abbey, built by St. Molaga. Watch a variety of birds feeding at the muddy banks during low tide.
Courtmacsherry is a place for getting out of your car, either on foot, horseback, or in a canoe. There is much to do here, exploring the tidal flats with your binoculars or the depths of Courtmacsherry Bay with your fishing rod.
Hike up 100m to the top of Coolim Cliffs and see a panoramic view of Barry's Point, Old Head, Seven Heads, and Dunworley Bay. Dunworley Beach might attract the local surfers.
North Ring is a seaside village with lots of unofficial camping and caravanning.
Clonakilty is a fun place, full of good food and street life. It is a place to park the car and wander for the afternoon. Check out Spiller's Lane, a pedestrian corridor of gourmet food shops and antiques, located in the heart of Clonakilty.
What to See and Do
In Timoleague, wander the Franciscan Abbey and graveyard by the water. Study rare, mature plant species at the Castle Gardens, open July through August. Between Timoleague and Courtmacsherry, there is a Cistercian Abbey on the right side of the road. Drive by the smooth tidal flats, a muddy playground for a variety of bird species.
Courtmacsherry is a place for water babies - Broad Strand is a nice beach, the pier is a good spot for fishing, and the Courtmacsherry Water Sports Centre will supply you with all your equipment needs to get out on the water. The village has some beautiful, old trees. Visit Peter Wolstenholme Porcelain on your way out, to bring a piece of Courtmacsherry home.
End your drive with some live music and a cold pint in Clonakilty. De Barra's is a live music venue that attracts talent from all over Europe. An Teach Beag, in Recorder's Alley, has traditional music sessions all summer - free admission. Just walking the streets, I found entertainment -- I saw a banjo-wielding man conducting an ensemble of mechanical-puppet musicians; his Shop Street Ceili Band was fantastic. Stay overnight in Clonakilty and then throw some clay in the morning in a pottery course with award-winning ceramicist Jim Turner. He established Rossmore Country Pottery with Etain Hicky in 1982, and they offer one, three, and seven to ten day classes. Accommodation can be arranged at the Liscubba House, a farmhouse B&B (www.rosemorepottery.com).
Where to Eat and Drink
Visit Grainne's Pub in Timoleague, and have a glass in tribute to the pirate queen, Grace O'Malley. Grainne - pronounced "grawn-yah" - is a very popular name in Ireland. The Lettercollum Kitchen Project is a unique, specialty food and wine shop on Connolly Street in Clonakilty and worth a visit.
Where to Sleep
If you are tenting it or driving with your home on your back, Timoleague has a caravan/camping park located 4 km from town; follow the signs. Rent an Irish cottage in Courtmacsherry and stay for a while to watch the birds. Outside Clonakilty, wake up right on the beach as the Inchydoney Island Lodge and Spa - Tel: 023 35229, Web: www.inchydoneyisland.com. Or if you are on a budget and bold, pitch your tent in a quiet corner of the beach. Another options is to stay at the Liscubba House, an old-style, farmhouse B&B run by Phil Beechnor (Tel: +353 (0)23 38679).
How to get there
Drive the R601 from Timoleague to Courtmacsherry, Seven Heads, North Ring, and ending in Clonakilty.
See www.buseireann.ie website for all current travel details and restrictions.
Bikes can be transported on the Irish Rail Network with a small additional fare for bike depending on the length of your journey.
When to go
April to October when the days are long and the weather is fine. World Ocean's Day is June 10th and celebrated by a beach rally Courtmacsherry. Clonakilty's South of Ireland Brass Band Championships at beginning of July. Clonakilty's Michael Collins Festival in mid-July and mid-August. Lisselan Golf Club Open Week in mid-July. Courtmacsherry Sand Bank Horse Racing third week in July. Courtmacsherry Harbour Festival in late July.
Written by Liz O'Malley - Summer of Travel 2007