Castlefreke group is walking tall

March 8th, 2023 7:05 AM

By Southern Star Team

Frances Milner; Michael O'Sullivan; Seán White; Loretta Tobin; Anthony Beese; Esther O'Regan and Marian O'Leary were among the driving forces behind the development of the woods. (Photos: Andy Gibson)

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A local community banded together in recent years to save their local woods from going into private ownership, and having cleared that hurdle they’ve gone on to develop it into a tourist attraction with plenty more plans in the pipeline for 2023


The trails are unique with castles, and the ocean on view, as well aarchaeology that anges from Iron Age ring forts to mediaeval buildings and two castles.



CASTLEFREKE Our Woods Our Walks (COWOW) is an organisation formed in recent years to maintain and promote a series of four looped walking trails in and around Castlefreke Woods.

The area covered is a well-known beauty spot replete with historical landmarks that adjoins the magnificent beaches of Long Strand and Little Island Bay Beach. It has long been used as a walkway by locals and visitors alike, and is located on a stretch of coastline popular with generations of returning tourists.

One of the big attractions for this amenity is its location close to the shoreline, but the other big selling point it has that draws the affection of so many visitors is the density of historical landmarks, flora and fauna.

It was the danger of Castlefreke Woods falling into private hands that prompted the creation of COWOW in the first place in 2018, as geologist, committee member and secretary of COWOW Anthony Beese explains.

‘I went to the first meeting that prompted the setting-up of the organisation,’ says Anthony. ‘There were a lot of people attending, all of whom were very interested in preventing the sale of the woods into private ownership.’

At the time, Castlefreke Woods were due to be sold by owners Coillte to former investment banker Stephen Evans-Freke. He is a descendant of the Freke family that gave its name to Castlefreke, which he purchased some years ago. He is currently living in Rathbarry Castle.

That was in June 2018 and, less than five years later, an impressive amount of progress has been made in not only seeing off the spectre of the woods falling into private ownership, but in establishing well signposted and maintained walks, complete with a maintenance employee and a very user-friendly website ( that all other walks organisers should take note of.

Even from that early point in 2018, however, there was a good network of support throughout the wider local community and, perhaps crucially, from political bodies.

‘That first meeting was very well attended,’ says fellow COWOW committee member Esther O’Regan. ‘Christopher O’Sullivan TD (FF) was the first to bring the danger of the place being sold to people’s attention. He picked up on it and he called a meeting which was attended by a huge crowd. Then, he organised the first official meeting a week later at the Celtic Ross Hotel and there was another huge turnout.’


This year the group hope to introduce more information boards with QR codes linking to the website.


The issue of the possible sale of Castlefreke Woods really hit a nerve with people locally, Esther says. It was such a beloved facility that seemed to have been taken for granted and was now on the brink of being sold out of public ownership. Another former local TD and Junior Minister Jim Daly (FG) also became instrumental in ending the proposed sale of Castlefreke Woods by the national forestry agency.

From this point on, there would be no danger of it being taken for granted anymore and the progress of the project was rapid.

‘It just picked up very quickly,’ says Esther. ‘I think we were very lucky with the people who supported it and we have a very good committee who’ve worked very hard. They got on well with Coillte and with Cork County Council and others ... in a few years, there’s a lot of work done.’

‘Everyone in the committee really plays to their strengths,’ says Anthony, ‘so it has really advanced pretty quickly ... It’s amazing the different types of local knowledge and expertise that is there in the community and there’s always been an active core of about eight to 10 people in the committee, supported by many more. There was also good support from politicians that got involved at an early stage. Funding was made available and everything kind of jumped forward then.’

Getting a defibrillator installed along the walk was another step along the way in the walk’s development, as was the hiring of a maintenance worker last September through the Tús community work placement scheme. the employee works under the  supervision of Esther.

‘It’s a very important tourist venue,’ says Anthony. ‘It’s very diverse ... you can see castles, you can see woodland, you can see the ocean. You have what is probably the longest and biggest strand in West Cork (Long Strand) and then there’s the flora and fauna and the archaeology ranges from Iron Age ring forts to medieval buildings and more modern ones, such as the two castles.’

COWOW aren’t for resting on their laurels, either, and at the organisation’s last agm in November, they laid out a number of objectives for 2023. These include lobbying for the installation of permanent toilets at Castlefreke /Long Strand, the preservation and refurbishment of the 13th century church and the production of more information boards with QR codes linking to the website.

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