- For other places with the same name, see Bantry (disambiguation).
Bantry (Beanntraí, dwelling place of Beann's people) is a village at the head of Bantry Bay in County Cork in southwest Ireland. In 2016 it had a population of 2722.
The southwest coast of Cork is divided into three peninsulas, like claws on the foot of Ireland. Bantry is at the base of the middle peninsula, Sheep's Head, but with roads leading to all three. It has good visitor amenities and is the obvious base for exploring all of them. For convenience, Sheep's Head is described in detail here. Beara peninsula to the north is described under Glengarriff and Castletownbere, while the southern peninsula of Mizen Head is described under Skibbereen and Schull.
Bantry Bay is 35 km long and 40 m deep; it's a ria or drowned river valley, flooded by rising sea levels at the end of the last Ice Age. Bantry and similar villages never developed as major harbours as they were so far from the cities, with poor roads and no profitable hinterland. But if you wanted to land an invasion force to catch the government by surprise, it might be a good bet.
In Ireland as in America, 18th century rebellion against English rule arose not from the peasantry but from prosperous landed gentry, mostly Anglican Protestants. One leader was Wolfe Tone (1763-1798) of Dublin, a founder member of the United Irishmen. He was inspired by the United States and moved there, but was swiftly disillusioned by their money-grubbing, anti-democratic chicanery - with George Washington a prime culprit. Thereafter he looked to revolutionary France for support. The Directory in Paris were impressed by Wolfe Tone and saw a chance to shake and perhaps even topple their old adversary, but they were dangerous allies to have.
In 1796 an Armada or Expedition of 43 ships was assembled in Brest and eventually sailed in December - several months late through a mixture of set-backs and bungling, and not a good time for an inexperienced fleet to put to sea. They did achieve surprise, as the British warships had retreated in the face of storms, but the Expedition became scattered and confused. Most of their ships however reached Mizen Head. They were then struck by perhaps the worst winter storms of that century, unable to progress into Bantry Bay, or make any landing on the raging shores. Wolfe Tone aboard Indomtable cursed that "we were close enough to Castletownbere to throw a biscuit ashore." Anchors dragged, cables broke, ships were wrecked, and after several days of this the fleet had no choice but to limp home.
There was another Irish revolt in 1798, the "Year of the French". Napoleon was now in charge, and all he would commit in support was a series of raiding parties. The raid on Killala in County Mayo went better than expected, catching the defence off-guard and marching through Connacht for 11 days until British forces gathered against them. But a mass uprising never materialised, the rebellion fizzled out, and the other raiders were swiftly dealt with. Wolfe Tone was with a raid into Lough Swilly in Donegal that was captured by the Royal Navy. He was put on trial in Dublin and sentenced to hang, but committed suicide.
His statue now graces the main square named after him, in the village he never quite reached. So never take travel advice from this fellow, and still less from the one commemorated at the other end, Brendan the Navigator. This 5th / 6th century saint really did get around the British and Irish coasts, but he's supposed to have sailed a frail coracle to America, Paradise, and various God-forsaken places. Perched on a rock he found Judas Iscariot, who had reason to know exactly where he was, and why. But if Judas is uninformative try the TIC in the Old Courthouse, though in 2020 it's just an online facility.
Bus Éireann 236 runs from Cork bus station via Bandon, Enniskeane, Dunmanway and Drimoleague taking 1 hour 45 min to Bantry; some buses continue to Glengarriff and Castletownbere. They run M-F every 90 min or so, but Sa Su there are only four or five.
A local bus plies M-F from Skibbereen, setting off at 08:00 and taking an hour via Ballydehob and Durrus to Bantry, and setting off back around 16:00.
There is no direct bus from County Kerry to the north. In July and Aug, Bus 282 runs a triangle across the hills from Kenmare to Glengarriff and Castletownbere then back to Kenmare, and the reverse triangle in the afternoon. So with three changes of bus at the height of summer you could get here from Killarney.
Cruise ships often visit the bay and land parties for excursions. They're on package itineraries and don't offer point-to-point voyages to Bantry.
West Cork Rural Transport minibus runs from Bantry round Sheep's Head to Kilcrohane and Durrus then circles back to Bantry. There are two runs on Tuesday and Thursday. There are also occasional minibuses to Skibbereen, Ballydehob and Schull.
The ferry to Whiddy Island sails four or five times a day, taking 15 min from the pier 500 m west of Bantry village. Adult return €7, no cars are carried.
Bike N Beara (aka O'Donovans) does bike hire and repair. They're on Market St in Bantry, normally open M-F 10:00-17:00, Sa 10:00-13:00 but closed until spring 2021.
- 1 Wolfe Tone Square is the attractive centre of town - it's been created from infill of the harbour, and Bantry Bay opens from its west end. That's the man himself on the statue, and the big anchor is from the luckless French fleet.
- 2 Bantry House, ☏ , email@example.com. April-Oct daily 10:00-17:00. A stately home built in 1710 in a mix of styles. Nowadays it's hotel accommodation so you can't go inside, you come for the extensive gardens looking onto the bay. Adult €5.
- 3 Whiddy Island in Bantry Bay is reached by a 15 min foot-passenger ferry. It's low-lying farmland; in the closing weeks of World War I it hosted a US seaplane base. At its west end is an oil tanker terminal, struck by disaster in 1979 when the tanker Betelgeuse blew up with the loss of 50 lives. Later salvage operations discovered the wreck of La Surveillante, a French frigate scuttled when the 1796 invasion was abandoned - the large anchor in town square is probably from that ship.
- 4 Kilnaruane Pillar Stone is a slender standing stone 2.1 m tall, 1 km west of the village. "Ruane" probably refers to Romans, not that they marched here, but for the Roman method of calculating Easter, which was a big dispute in early Christendom.
- Sheep's Head: also known as Muntervary (Rinn Mhuintir Bháire), this is the scenic peninsula south side of Bantry Bay. The Goat's Path Road winds along the coast through nowhere in particular then crosses the ridge between Mt Seefin and Mt Caher. It returns east along Dunmanus Bay, through Kilcrohane, Ahakista and Durrus, where it meets the road from Bantry to Mizen Head.
- 5 Durrus is the village at the foot of the peninsula. The area is dotted with prehistoric sites, but there's not much left of Coolnalong castle. The village has a scattering of self-catering cottages and a bar, and is the home of Durrus Farmhouse Cheese. St James Church (C of I) has the grave of JG Farrell (1935-1979), author of Troubles, Siege of Krishnapur and Singapore Grip. He came to live on Sheep's Head but slipped from rocks while fishing, and drowned.
- Kilvarock Garden with exotic species is 2 km west of Durrus.
- 6 Ahakista has B&Bs and a bar, and a Bronze Age stone circle to its west. The Air India memorial is half a mile east: on 23 June 1985, Air India flight 182 from Montreal to London and Delhi was blown apart by a bomb planted by Sikh extremists, killing all 329 aboard. The plane was some 200 km off Ireland, with Sheep's Head one of the closest points of land.
- 7 Kilcrohane also has B&Bs. The name means Church of Crochan, who was a contemporary of St Patrick.
- Mt Seefin (345 m) is reached by a 1 km trail from the top of the ridge where the Goat's Path Road crosses the peninsula behind Kilcrohane. Park in the layby, where there's a cross and kitsch pietà, and head east. The trail starts level then ascends a steep, muddy gully, then the summit comes into view. Note "Seefin" is a common name, this is the one in County Cork. You can also hike up Mt Caher (391 m), the peak west of the road, by a 2 km trail.
- 8 Sheep's Head lighthouse and cliffs are at the end of the peninsula. You can drive most of the way there by the lane that goes west from Kilcrohane. The word "Eire" has been picked out in slate for the benefit of air navigators: some 85 of these were placed around Ireland in 1942 / 43. Sheep's Head was Eire 31 but the number is no longer visible.
- Beara Peninsula to the north: see Glengarriff and Castletownbere.
- Mizen Head to the south: see Skibbereen and Schull.
- 9 Gougane Barra is away up in the Shehy mountains, where the lake is the source of the River Lee flowing to Cork. St Finbarr is believed to have founded a monastery on an islet in the 6th century. Its remoteness made it a place where Roman Catholic mass could be held during the Penal Laws repression. There are ruins on the islet from 1700, and a richly decorated 19th century oratory which is a pilgrimage site.
- Béicín Loop is a level paved trail from the Square north along the coast. Either retrace your steps or circle back into town via the lane. See Explore West Cork for other trails.
- Cinemax is on the Quay just west of the Square.
- 1 Bantry Bay Golf Club, Caher P75 DT68 (2 km north of Bantry), ☏ . Daily 06:00-20:30. On the slopes overlooking the bay - it's not a links course. Blue tees 6144 m, par 71. Round €45.
- 2 Bantry Pony Trekking, Glandart (7 km east of Bantry), ☏ . Rides 10:00-17:00. Lessons and guided treks in great scenery, suitable for all ages and abilities.
- Bay Run is a half marathon from Glengarriff to Bantry held in May, dates TBA. There's also a triathlon, next held on 31 July 2021.
- West Cork Music & Literary Festivals are no longer in a fixed week, but events are held through summer into autumn. Their 2021 programme is To Be Announced.
- Bantry Market is every Friday morning on the Square, with the first Friday of the month being the big event.
- The Brick Oven, The Quay, ☏ . F Sa 16:00-21:00, Su 13:00-21:00. Cheerful family-friendly pizzeria.
- The Snug, The Quay, ☏ . M-Th 10:30-23:30, F Sa 10:30-00:30, Su 12:30-23:00. It's a regular pub, but most people come for the great food.
- O'Connors, Wolfe Tone Square, ☏ . M-F 09:00-22:00, Sa 10:00-22:00, Su 10:00-21:00. Acclaimed seafood restaurant. They also do meat but there's not much for vegetarians.
- Organico Cafe, 3 Glengarriff Rd, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-18:00. Organic health food store and bakery has a small cafe.
- The Stuffed Olive, 2a Bridge St, ☏ . Tu-Sa 08:30-15:00. Pleasant little cafe and takeaway.
- JJ Crowley's Bar, Wolfe Tone Square. Daily 10:30-23:30. Welcoming central pub often has trad live music.
- Others include Quays Bar, Ma Murphy's, West cafe wine bar and Boston Bar.
- The Bantry Bay (formerly O'Callaghan's), Wolfe Tone Square, ☏ . It's really a restaurant with rooms for B&B and self-catering. Closed until Spring 2021.
- 1 Doire Liath B&B, Glengarriff Rd P75 C934, ☏ . Welcoming B&B north edge of village. B&B double €85.
- Bantry House (see above) has B&B and self-catering accommodation, but is closed until Spring 2021.
- 2 Seaview House, Ballylickey (5 km north of Bantry), ☏ . Elegant country house hotel and spa, closed until April 2021. B&B double €140.
- Ballylickey House, next to Seaview House, has upscale self-catering lodges. The main house is being refurbished and expected to re-open in spring 2021.
- 3 Eagle Point Camping, Reenadisert P75 WP58, ☏ . Clean well-run site open June-Sept for caravans and tents. Tent €12 ppn, tourer pitch €36.
- 4 Blair's Cove, Durrus P75 FE44, ☏ . Upscale hotel in converted farmhouse looking onto Dunmanus Bay, with great restaurant. Closed until 18 Mar 2021.
As of Nov 2020, Bantry town has a mobile signal with all Irish carriers, and you'll get 4G with Vodafone. There's mostly no signal in the countryside, such as on Whiddy Island. 5G has not reached this area.
- North to Glengarriff for the Italianate Gardens, and Castletownbere for Beara Peninsula. Further north you cross into County Kerry on the road to Killarney.
- South to Skibbereen and Schull for Mizen Head. The rugged coast then trends west.