Ireland Road Tripping: West Cork & Kerry (again!)

This year the kids have a full week off for February mid-term break so we’re taking advantage of it and heading away for a few nights.  We’re huge fans of staycations and make every opportunity to take in as much of the amazing Emerald Isle as we can.  If we ever relocate back to the US [or somewhere else], I do not want to look back at our time here with regrets.

Like we’ve done several times, we found a deal on SuperValue Getaway Breaks and we’ll be staying at the Westlodge Hotel in Bantry.   It’s not a fancy hotel at all and in fact, I’m slightly nervous that we’ll get put in an old room but for the price we’ll have to deal.    3 nights including a FRIDAY & SATURDAY for €245.00!!  The hotel has a heated pool with a kids area and bubble section – which was key decision factor.  Being just outside the town centre, I’m thinking we’ll be able to find a cozy pub and hopefully have live music.

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Our Room was #213. It was not a newly renovated Superior room, but it was fine!  It was very warm even in February, so we slept with the window and mesh curtain open as much as possible – but at night you’d have to close the over curtain or those opposite would see right in.  Not sure what it would be like in Summer – might be too hot?!  Our room had two single beds and a double bed. The only two cons of the room – tiny tv and when I say tiny it was like a large computer screen with a MAX volume of 21!  The toilet had some flushing issues oh and it was not mixed taps – so you have either super hot on the left and freezing cold on the right – grrr!

it overlooked the outdoor kids playground area (closed for the season – I assume to regrow the grass around it) and was just down the hall from the kids games room which consisted of some plastic garden houses, a pool table, a football table, ping pong table “like Anthony’s next to the Porsche“.  The Leisure centre staff in the pool area said they had some supervised kids activities, but it was not a “real” kids club where you check them in and they are supervised. One girl was putting some face paint on a kid and that was all the supervision we saw for the 3 days.   So if you are looking for a drop-off, supervised kid club like the amazing one at Clifden’s Station House this is not the place for you.  The kids went swimming twice, once was the four of us and once it was just Nils and the kids (I had a migraine and had taken a pill). The pool area was terrific – sauna & Jacuzzi, a small kids pool, a shallow end and a deep end.

The one huge issue we had with the hotel is that the pub areas were so un-cozy.   Even their pub was nothing like a lovely, cozy Irish pub – it had a large tv blaring some UK talk tv show, a poor singer shoved in the corner no on listening to him.  We felt so bad, we moved closer to him and watched him for a few songs.  When we left, not a person was there ….  shame that they don’t install a  dimmer switch – the lights were fully on.  We left and visited Bantry where we had a nice drink in a couple different pubs.   1) Ma Murphys – a genuine, untouched, traditional Irish pub with real Irish character, friendly staff.  it’s been in one family since 1800’s and they have a little shop section.  Mary was working and was so personable and welcoming.   2) Bantry Bar – served Paulaner on draft so I was a huge fan instantly!   Music didn’t start until 10 and kids had to be out around 9 so we were out of luck there.  We also ate in the Brick Oven Pizza restaurant and itw as great.  The best part about that restaurant was the two guys who worked there.  One kid had a melt down in the corner and without any hesitation, the guy (I think Matt?) ran over and talked with the child.  He was quite and it was so amazing – my husband was so impressed he mentioned to him that he was brilliant with kids.

The location was great – you could technically walk from the hotel down to the town centre but a 5 minute taxi ride back is easy enough too.

There were some other deals available including Sneem Hotel, Casey’s of Baltimore, etc but Bantry is a great central location not far down any of the many peninsulas.  Two years ago we stayed in Ahakista in December and in August that year our friends visited from Boston so went down to West Cork & Kerry, but have not been since so we’re due a trip down.  One day we drove over to Baltimore to have a look – we ended up seeing a huge gathering of kids doing a sailing course – very cute.   The “town” or village was tiny – a few pubs, restaurants,etc.  But what was cool was the ferry;s out to the islands – we’d love to do that in the summer.

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One thing about this trip was that we’re going to try and do/see some new things.  We’ll still do a few of the same things we always do like a stop in Kenmare – one of our favorite places!
I popped in two new charity shops which were not there when we visited last – nothing for me but more books for Nils!  I think he got 12 in one shop alone!!  There was a second hand flog it store half way up the street, but when we were going to enter the man said no kids allowed but we could come in one at at time – ah let me think about that, NO!   I get that perhaps some shitty kids were in his shop before and as an shop owner he has the right to refuse entry but then don’t try to then talk us into coming in one at a time.

We ate in PF McCarthys (again) – kids split a toasty and Nils and I both had seafood chowder and open faced, smoked salmon sandwiches on brown bread – soooo good. Oh and they too served Paulaner on draught, so I had a pint too!  Not sure but I think the barman was an American!  

It was drizzling so we popped in shop to shop from The Nest, Fat Face, Quills and the toy/sports shop up the top.    We love Kenmare & we’ll be back again and again.

We also took a trip down to Schull & Crookhaven to have an open faced, smoked salmon sandwich with seafood chowder in O’Sullivans.

crookhaven

We didn’t bother going to Mizen Head visitor centre – we’ll save that for summer too.  Schull was a bit more dead then it was last time we were there & loads of shops seems to have closed down.  The one group of people we saw walking around went into the Wine Bar across the street from Hackets.   The one great thing about Schull this time was it was low tide and down the by pier was a rocky section normally under water and it was full of sea glass and pottery pieces – I got a LOT in only about 10 minutes.

Boat with flowers inside - Schull, West Cork

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All this while keeping I mind it’s February.  Irish say it is spring , but for us we maintain it’s WINTER!   No snow like in Boston, but cold nonetheless but some flowers are starting to bloom – snowdrops are out and daffodils are right behind.

But the new things we could have possibly done included:

A day in Cork City and a wonder through the famous English Market and checking out the second hand shops on North Main Street. We never made it to walking around Cork City, but we did stop in to the Franciscian Well Brewery and had some amazing pizzas.   They lease out a brick oven pizza maker in the back and they were so good!  We got two pizzas but easily could have had a third.  I highly recommend this place and we’ll be back.

A visit to Cobh (pronounced Cove) is on the books too.  Cobh is a beautiful Victorian seaport town & the home to Ireland’s only dedicated cruise terminal.  Some 2.5 million people left Ireland for pastures new in North America via Cobh (formerly Queenstown) from 1848 – 1950. These emigrants included Annie Moore and her brothers. Annie was the first immigrant to be processed through New York’s famous Ellis Island facility in 1892 and the family stands facing the United States.  A similar statue of Annie can be found in Ellis Island, New York, representing the honour of being the first emigrant to pass through Ellis Island and standing as a symbol of the many Irish who have embarked on that very same journey.

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In looking over the things to do, we had to decide what to do.  A quick look what there is to do as tourists and seems there is a lot. Some of the attractions in Cobh include the magnificent St. Colman’s Cathedral which is a beautiful photo rather famously shown in many brochures of Ireland.

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This first photo I pulled from the Internet – the houses were not as vibrant and lovely as shown – probably photo shopped.   Anyway, the following photos are all mine. We parked in the free parking lot behind the church. Loads of steps up and down so for those with small kids and old people don’t bother – go down to the “waterfront”.


There is Titanic Trail, self-drive harbour cruise boats, Spike Island tours, the Lusitania memorial, the Cobh Road Train, Cobh Museum and many other places of interest.   They have two charity shops, so we popped in – Nils got more books, Soren a Beano book and Maebh a headbands game – which we played that night in the hotel lobby.

One option would be to visit The Queenstown Story at Cobh Heritage Centre where you learn a bit about the Titanic, Lusitania, Genelogy, Emigration, Cobh’s Maritime & Naval History, etc .  The admission fee is €25.00 for our family.

But my main drive to Cobh is to visit the Titanic Experience which is also €25.00 admission – no way would we do both.  Upon check-in you will receive your boarding card. Your boarding card will have the details of one of the 123 passengers who came to the White Star Line Ticket Office on Thursday April 11th 1912. These were the final passengers to join Titanic at her last port of call in Queenstown, Ireland. (Cobh was renamed Queenstown from the period of 1849-1921 in honour of Queen Victoria’s visit to Cobh and so they refer to Cobh as Queenstown for much of our story.) Did you survive? The final element of the experience located in the story room, is where you will learn the fate of you as a passenger and all the Queenstown passengers. We also feature a selection of interesting artefacts from Carpathia, The Odell Family Collection and some original serving pieces from the White Star Line fleet of the early 20th century.  The kids are so curious if we survive or die.  I am not sure – I think we may survive but Nils says probably die and that only in the US would we survive.

When we arrived, I asked the lady to at the counter to be sure that she gives us two people who live and two who pass as it would be exciting to see what happens.

I was Mary Madigan, Soren was Maurice O’Connor, Maebh was Ellen and Nils was xxxxxxxx.

The guided tour was about 30 minutes long and then you are brought into an area with artifacts and videos, etc.  and in the end you learn of the fete of your passenger. Like I said before two lived and two died – turns out it was the two ladies who lived and the two guys who died One body was recovered, one never found!  All in all it was good.  When we finally get to the Titanic Museum in Belfast where the ship was built, I’ll compare the two.

So when we arrived in Cobh we were hungry and all the places were just not appealing to us. I then suggested we visit The Titanic Pub downstairs from the museum.  Nils was assuming it was some tourist place with mediocre food but turned out to be excellent.  Seafood chowder was an 8.5 – excellent – a tad bit salty but still very good.  The only issue we had was that it was 8.95 so from a price standpoint it is a bit high.  I had an open faced smoked salmon sandwich and Nils had fish & chips.  The place was surprisingly good – highly recommend.

Prince August – Toy Soldier Factory

On Sunday on our way back from our trip we stopped in for a visit to Prince August – Toy Soldier Factory.  I booked online and saved 10% but they offer a great deal of 50% if you book in the morning before noon. This didn’t work for us this time, as Nils was meeting a friend from 20 years ago in a nearby village so while he was having drinks with them, we went onto the place.  Being allergic to paint, we thought this was the best part.  I have to upload the photos from our time there & will post shortly.

My TripAdvisor review:

I visited with my 7 and 9 year old kids on the way back to Dublin. Was a great way to end our weekend in West Cork. Both kids cast and painted items – my daughter their newest item – an elf. My son choose a soldier on horseback. They loved it and asked me to promise a stop each time we are in the area. Next time I’m going to join in too 🙂 The staff are all lovely and very helpful. We booked online and saved 10% but if you book before noon you can avail of 50% off (amazing deal) – I suspect it is quieter in the mornings too – though being a Sunday nding a mid-term it was not to busy My youngest pointed out that if we lived closer you could even have your birthday party there.

I’d say it’s best for kids 6 & up. The little ones would not be doing to pouring of the hot metal rather painting only.

Overall it was great, and its an activity that parents and children can do together at the factory and at home (if you buy kits to make at home). We didn’t visit the battle of Waterloo exhibition, but heard it’s amazing.

They have a small area with coffee/tea & crisps for the parents to sit while the kids paint.

We hoped to take a small walk around Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve but didn’t get there.  Too wet. We’re not a huge hiking family with Nils’ bad knee, we’re not going far but we’ll take a short walk and see what we can spot.

We did have a great drive over the Healy Pass!

Visit Donkey Donks at The Donkey Sanctuary just outside Mallow.  Wonder if we can bring them apples?  Over 5,200 donkeys from all parts of Ireland have been taken into their care.  It’s free to visit but rely on donations, so we’ll be kind.  You can also adopt a donkey for a year for €25.00!  Don’t worry, you don’t take the donkey home with you!

As  I am always up for sea glass hunting on a nice rocky beach,  so when I hear about The Coral Beach in Sneem near Gleesk Pier which is a rare geological gem and one of only 2 coral beaches in Ireland, the other is near Carraroe in County Galway.  While most Irish beaches are made of sand, this beach is made up of tiny pieces of desiccated and sun-bleached algae.  This type of coral is not like the coral you might find in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.

coralbeach coral-beach-sneem-ring-of-kerry

While Fota Wildlife Park is a great place to go with kids, we’ll skip that until much warmer weather.

So for now this post is finished,  I’ll update with photos and fix why the layout is wonky!

Ireland Road Tripping: Cork & Kerry in August with friends

In early August, we had some friends coming over from Boston to visit us in Dublin. Instead of spending their entire nine-day vacation here in the city, we’re heading to Cork & Kerry for the first four nights of their trip.   Overall we had an amazing time and had great weather but I am Cork & Kerry’d Out – and next road trip will be Northwest & Antrim/Northern Ireland.  We have only been to the area in the winter/Christmas time so to see the amount of people in towns and around was different too.

In looking at Airbnb and other sites, it is very hard to find affordable accommodations for two families for less than 7 days, but we did.  We found a house for rent just outside Kenmare (one of our favorite villages) in Dunkerron Woods.  As you can imagine,  August is peak time in that area so many houses are already rented.   I really enjoyed renting a self-catering unit as we could enjoy breakfast and dinner (occasionally) here at that made it more affordable.  I will say though we had to buy a lot of things which you take for granted having at home like butter, salt, pepper, ketchup, mayo, etc.  So next trip we take, within Ireland, I’m going to bring a sort of started box from home containing all those condiments and bits that would be used.  Anyway, this property was great – a perfect location for exploring the area.  Very quiet at night and served our needs perfectly.

We spent our entire trip going from one place to another – so many places, I have to try and remember the names of them.  I’ll just start by posting a bunch of the best photos I took – all from my android.  Didn’t bother to take my Nikon on this trip – also as I was sitting in the back of the ‘bus’ nearly the entire time, many photos were taken through the window.

One day we drove the entire Ring of Kerry and onto Valentia Island.  It was a bit windy and chilly so didn’t walk up to Bray head – but I imagine the view is amazing and the area is so nice.  I said it was like “50 Shades of Green”. Not any time soon as I want to explore other parts of the country first, but in a few years, I could totally see us renting a small house here & just enjoying the views and area.

We also drove from Kenmare to Crookhaven in West Cork via the beautiful Healy Pass and Kerry Mountains… at one point we HAD to stop, pile out and take some photos.  The views were amazing.
Once we got through the mountains and into West Cork, we entered Goleen and onto Crookhaven, where we were impressed with the crystal clear waters.  Having only been in the area for winters – and last year right after Christmas, we only remember it from cold winter walks with the dogs, Lara and Ashleigh.)   This time was even more fun – the kids LOVED it.  They started running down the dunes and then within minutes clothes were off and they were paddling in the sea.
At Barley Cove Beach, there is a great, week-long surf school – perhaps something for the kids.  If we lived closer, I’d totally sign them up.  Perhaps there is something up this way when they know how to swim better.  Then again, I think Soren would sign up for the Sutton Dingy club to learn to sail.

Of course, a trip down to that area wouldn’t be complete without a stop in O’Sullivans in Crookhaven to have some lunch.

crookhaven

[Yep – open faced salmon sandwiches & seafood chowder!]  It was packed and not only that outside was even more busy.  This time was full of families who were jumping off the wall into the quay. Most wearing full wetsuits and a few without – who were clearly a bit cold.  The kids made a friend who they were encouraging to jump.

Another day we headed over to Killarney – the most “American town: in Ireland.  First we stopped over to check out a real castle as that was on Mason’s list.  So with the closest castle to us being Ross Castle, we went along to check it out.  You were not allowed to take photos inside, but we did have an informative one hour tour of the insides.    Inside was an exhibition hall and you were able to take photos there – so I couldn’t resist the “poop hole” which the kids pointed out to me.  Later on the tour, we got to see said poop hole…

While it was informative and interesting, I think I much prefer visiting old, lavish and elaborate stately historical homes which have been restored – guess I’m spoilt with National Trust properties – could visit the Muckross House next time.

Before we did the tour we had time to kill so we explored the grounds.  It is set on a beautiful lake which you can take a boat tour- that is what all the old people did as they were not physically able to climb the small, winding staircase.  Oh and I can’t forget that the kids nearly gave me a heart attack by climbing around the walls – and as they were going to climb on the cannon, my helicopter instincts kicked in and Sam was kind enough to make the blade sounds – hilarious! .

On the way back to Dublin we made our way to the Blarney Castle so that Sam & Nicole could “kiss the stone & become eloquent”.  It’s one of the biggest tourist attractions in Ireland – we had to go.

I have done it before (many, many years ago  and it was just us and the guy who works there… but this time, despite waiting with our friends in a long line (with Nils & the kids),  I was chicken and couldn’t do it.  Ever since having children 7 years ago, I’m such a wimp and overly cautious.   Anyway, both Nicole & Sam kissed the stone so it was well worth the wait.

Now they will never again be lost for words. 🙂
Outside they have a “Poisonous Garden” – bet you’d NEVER find that in America!!  I can think of a few kids who shouldn’t be brought here!
We had such an amazing time together and this post does not reflect the scenery nor our daily adventures, but for the sake of time, I just want to post up the photos.

Ireland Road Trip: Cork & Kerry between Christmas and New Years

We’re just returned from exploring the Cork & Kerry areas which we spent a lot of time about 10 years ago.  The kids were not born then so it’s all new to them.  We were very much looking forward to visiting familiar places – hope the seafood chowder and open-faced, smoked salmon sandwiches at O’Sullivans Bar in Crookhaven in West Cork were as good as they were.

We have been doing some research on places to stay and we’ve found a cottage on Airbnb which is less than 50 a night!!    Just looking at the photos, the place is very cozy (aka a bit small ) but it’s okay as we’ll only use it for sleeping, breakfast… oh I’m sure we’ll use the wood burning stove at night as we love those and don’t have one here in our home…. but we’re there to explore!!

Here are photos of the cottage shown on the website.  There were some differences like a new washing machine, a round kitchen table and a different sofa, but all in all it was essentially the same and our home for four nights.


The cottage is the section with the three sky light windows on the right side.

PROS:  It’s a lovely cottage in the remote area of Ahakista on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula.   It is quiet, has beautiful views and was rebuilt from a 100 year old shell of stone. All the money the owner makes from it’s rental she puts back into the property.  Next up are solar panels and a hot tub.

CONS:   My only “issue” with the house was that it had steep steps from the top floor to the bottom leaving the top was wide open.  So in the middle of the night, if you were to walk from bedroom #2 to the toilet, if you were not careful, you could take a tumble.  I’m sure for an adult that would not happen but we were concerned for the first days with our 4.5 year old old… so we kept her down stairs or when she was up to use the toilet we went with her.  If I were to recommend it to a family with small children, I’d recommend a stair gate at the top – in fact, I think a stair gate would be a good idea regardless – rather be safe than sorry!

Day 1

We left Dublin around 9 am and headed via the highway down to Cork with a visit in Kinsale. It’s pretty much the same feel of a sailing village with a mix fisherman, tourists and a fair share of range rover driving yummy mummies.  On the way out we spotted a nice playground which we thought was new… well new to us.  At our last visit we didn’t have kids so perhaps it was there all the time and we had never noticed it.

We were looking for a place to have lunch and settled for Jim Edwards Seafood Restaurant.  We were thinking about the Spaniard or the Bullman but had already parked our car and so just decided to find something in the town.. BUT they must have seafood chowder and it must have a cold beer for Nils.  I wrote a review on Tripadvisor here about the entire meal but overall the food was good.  I’d recommend it, but I would not dine their again on a future trip to Kinsale rather try something else.
Here is Soren with his first bowl [of many]seafood chowder on our 4 night trip.
Here are a few photos I took of Kinsale.

Kinsale is also home to Stone Mad.

It’s a lovely jewelry shop which me, my MIL and three sister-in-laws own many pieces from but for some reason at this stage in my life, I’d rather not spend 70 euro on a pair of bling bling, I’d rather buy my black, short Hunter wellies, which yes, I’m still on the hunt.  The one shop in the village which sold Hunters didn’t sell short ones.  As I needed a pair for this trip, I opted for a blue pair from Fat Face until I get them.   They are cute and very comfy!!

My in-laws rented a small place in Kinsale for a while just across the bay (in the little pink houses).

On the way out of town towards the cottage, we drove by a lovely beach area called Garretstown Beach.  I would love to return here in the warmer weather with the kids.  They have a very popular, surf school too, Gtown Surf School.

Day 2

We first started out going down the Sheep’s Head Peninsula to the end where there is a lighthouse.  The road was so windy and Maebh was a bit car sick at the end and threw up a bit.  From then on when we had a windy road, which was pretty often, we asked the kids to look out the window and enjoy the view.

After a very cold, windy wind-swept visit to the tip, we headed back over a rocky pass and over towards Bantry and then on to Kenmare for lunch.

Getting to Kenmare we had to go over the Caha Pass where the kids thought it was pretty cool to drive into the rock tunnels.


Kenmare in Kerry – one of our favorite towns. We love it so much Maebh’s middle name is Neidin. [Kenmare (Irish: An Neidín, meaning “the little nest”!]  It’s also known as “Ireland’s most Dutch town”!

The town has not stayed the same over the past 10 years, it has gotten better.  Better restaurants, great shops including Fat Face and a few other boutique shops but some of the old favorites remain like the Purple Heather Bistro and O’Donobahains.   I did a quick TripAdvisor search and decided to go eat at P. F. McCarthy’s pub as they were given the best ratings for their seafood chowder.  Truthfully when we walked in, I thought ugh not nice atmosphere nor is it a cozy pub but the food was surprising excellent … Soren really liked the chowder here too.  It was full of fish – perhaps a bit too much if that is possible.

After our lunch, we ended up driving a bit and stopping at two really nice beaches.  The first one was a small beach but very quiet and lovely rockpools for the kids – would be amazing in the summer.  Of course, I can’t think of their names this second, but I will ask Nils and update it.  I think the second one was called Caherldaniel.

And our typical Aquarius water-boy, can’t keep him out of the water…

The second beach  was very nice too… would be great in the summer – soft white sand beach with amazing views.

Day 3

We headed towards Schull, Mizen Head, Goleen and with our final stop being O’Sullivan’s in Crookhaven for what we remember is the best seafood chowder and open face smoked salmon sandwiches.

First stop was to pop around Schull – visit the pier to see if the resident seal was around (which he was not this time) then poke in a few shops and a stop at the playground.  We think this down has changed a bit since we rememberd it 10 year ago… Perhaps it was because it was winter and all the tourists were not present but it was not as quaint as we remembered it.

We then make our way to the Barley Cove Beach which was SOOOO windy!  Maebh and I stayed back and explored a part that was sheltered and when Soren returned he was completely soaked from going in the water!!!  One day we will try and spend a few nights, in the summer, at the nearby Barley Cove Beach Hotel.

And off to Dermot’s place – O’Sullivan’s where you can have a pint of beer in the most southerly pub in Ireland.  The seafood chowder to me and Nils was delicious – Soren & Maebh didn’t like it too much as they didn’t like the dill.   But one thing we did notice is you get less than you did before. You’d think the soup would be up to the line in the bowl…

It was as if keeping a heaping ladle of soup from each bowl, nets you an extra bowl for every so many served and there was a lot being served as it was PACKED!!  Perhaps the bust of the Celtic Tiger or a bit of greed, but we both agreed it was not good.  It was bit like the bar I worked at in Boston where they poured generic ketchup into Heinz bottles to save money !!  Overall, the food was good – not cheap at 6.00 a bowl and 11.00 for an open faced sandwich – went spent more at that lunch than we did a dinner the day before! Oh and of course, horrible beer selections for me… so tomato juice it was.  It was nostalgic and we’re glad we visited.  Perhaps next time we visit, we’ll come by sailboat.  (Update: We came with our friends Nicole, Sam & Mason) when they visited from Boston.

Day 4 
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The last day, we drove down past Castletown Bearhaven to Dursey Island where there is a cable car which still is operational.  The most westerly of Cork’s inhabited islands, Dursey is separated from the mainland by a narrow sound known for its strong tides. It is accessed by Ireland’s only cable car, which runs about 250m above the sea. It can carry six people at a time (locals get preference) on the 15 minute journey. Without any shops, pubs or restaurants, this peaceful little island offers day-trippers an escape from the hustle and bustle of modern living. It is, however, home to three small villages and forms part of the Beara Way Walking Trail. Dursey is an excellent place for viewing wildlife, as a variety of birds can be seen here, including rare species from Siberia and America. Dolphins and whales can also fre – quently be spotted in the waters surrounding the island. On the island’s most westerly hill sits the 200-year-old Signal Tower, which boasts commanding views north to the Skellig Islands and south to Mizen Head. There are also ruins of the ancient church of Kilmichael, which is thought to have been founded by monks from Skellig Michael.