Salad days in Beara
Thirteen venues on the Beara Peninsula have joined forces to produce a striking new tourist brochure – A Grand Day Out.
The brochure, which was launched at the Mill Cove Gallery in Castletownbere recently, takes visitors on a tour of some of the most interesting attractions dotted along this particularly beautiful and rugged stretch of coastline.
The brochure, first printed in 2011, was produced in response to the increase in tourist footfall, and was designed to give visitors a glimpse of the area’s best features – its sculpture gardens, art galleries, museums, restaurants and retreat centres.
As part of the launch, the owners of each of the venues met with members of the public and presented them with a vivid snapshot of what they have to offer the day-tripper.
What was evident from talking to each of the 13 business owners is that they – first and foremost – have a strong sense of pride of place: they know that the Beara Peninsula is one of the most unspoiled and remote peninsulas in all of Ireland.
In fact, the Beara Way and its near neighbour, the Sheep’s Head Way, have been named as two of the top five tourism destinations for walking tourists, and the appeal of its pristine environment is now attracting the interest of international walking groups.
Beara has always been a haven for creative people and it’s quite clearly reflected in the venues featured in the brochure: The Beara Gallery, Adrigole Arts, Driftwood, Dzogchen Beara, Anam Cara Artists’ and Writers’ Retreat Centre, Josie’s Restaurant, Garra Fado Garden, The Old Bakery, the Sarah Walker Gallery, Dereen Gardens, the Allihies Copper Mines Museum, the Mill Cove Gallery, and Marianne Klopp Pottery.
In many respects, Beara is the end of the line...but that is part of its appeal. It has a distinctive atmosphere that is traditional, intriguing and largely self-sufficient, and a visit to any one of these venues would give people an insight into what makes it a mecca for creative types.
On a more prosaic note, John Goode explained the thinking behind the brochure and the business-like decision to form a ‘collective’ to promote their interests, as well as the joys of the Beara Peninsula.
‘The first one came out in May 2011, but that was already late in the season, so we decided to launch the brochure earlier this year to let people know that Beara is open for business.’
He said the decision to call the brochure ‘A Grand Day Out’ was inspired by his own mother who – no matter where they went or what they did – would always, on their return home, say, ‘That was a grand day out’.
‘In the case of Beara, it happens to be true,’ said John, ‘because we have it all – everything from galleries to gardens, and restaurants to retreat centres.
‘There’s no disputing the fact that what we have to offer is unique.
It also hits the right note when it comes to cultural tourism. Or, to put it another way, if I was going to a place these are the kind of venues that I would like to visit,’ said John.
Each venue is easily distinguished by the rather eye-catching red fish brand: the first one on route to Castletownbere is Adrigole Arts, a thoroughly inviting destination for tourists that has a beautifully stocked craft shop, a gallery and an atmospheric coffee room.
Day-trippers to Beara will also have noticed the Driftwood craft shop en route. This family business was set up seven years ago by Paul and Irene Skilling and has grown to sell a large variety of crafts, ceramics and artwork created by local and national artists.
Paul, a talented craftsman himself, makes the famous ‘Beara Chair’. The chair, which takes its inspiration from the Adirondack Porch Chair, made news recently when the Brennan brothers of The Park Hotel fame placed a substantial order to complement their luxury camping initiative at Dromquinna Manor.
The Mill Cove Gallery and the Sarah Walker Gallery, which is located in Castletownbere town, need no introduction, having hosted numerous high-profile exhibitions over the last few years.
The Olde Bakery restaurant, which consistently serves good food and therefore has a consistently good business right throughout the year, is next to feature on the itinerary.
But the stop after that – the Dzogchen Beara Retreat Centre – is perhaps the most unusual venue of all along this particular route. Open to all, the centre is inspired by the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and is under the guidance of Sogyal Rinpoche, the author of The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.
Here, daily visitors are invited to simply relax and enjoy the beauty of the environment by taking walks along the coastal path, or enjoy one of the many gardens and viewpoints overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. The centre also offers daily guided meditation sessions that are suitable for beginners.
The Allihies Copper Mines Museum and Café is a fascinating stop-off point at the head of the peninsula, while the Anam Cara Writers’ and Artists’ Retreat Centre in Eyeries is becoming an increasingly popular bolthole for creative people who want to reconnect with their muse.
Meanwhile, Connie Downey, who previously managed the gardens of a famous hotel in Kenmare, opened the Garra Fado Garden with her husband Michael in January 2011.
Connie, a delightfully enthusiastic person who studied horticulture at the National Botanic Gardens, said their decision to open up their own business was a good move.
She is happy with all the positive feedback they are getting to their ornamental garden and kitchen garden, where they have produce for sale, and the interest in their large range of seaside plants.
By appointment, people can call in to see Marianne Klopp’s fabulous ceramic studio and shop, but The Beara Gallery, which is located on the road between Ardgroom and Lauragh, is open from Sunday to Friday, and features the very compelling work of the gallery artist, Nigel Overton, as well as the work of six other guest artists.
Last but not least is Josie’s Restaurant – a real hidden treasure. Its commanding views from Lauragh to the Healy Pass would certainly give any day-tripper pause for thought.
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