On the Road to Mizen Head

A traveler to Ireland’s southwestern corner tries, just a little, to keep a great travel secret to himself

Pat Riley

It took me a while – perhaps a half dozen trips to the country – but I finally found the section of Ireland not really worth traveling to.

Dublin’s a wonder of the ancient and modern. Galway simply can’t be beaten for culture, books, and scenery. Is there a more barren yet more beautiful place in the universe than the burren in the northwest? Or a more picturesque village than Clifden? Probably not.

Your best bet is to continue traipsing to those places – just like the guidebooks tell you to.

Here’s some considered counsel: stay away from the Southwest – the real Southwest, just before you fall off the island into the Atlantic. It’s not crowded. It’s simple. Not a lot of commotion. The scenery, with the sea and the green, the hills and the country lanes, wears on you after a day or two. And the people – way too friendly – like they’ve known you all their lives.

In short, the southwest (the southwest of County Cork to be exact) is not like the television commercials. And that’s why we’re charitably telling you to avoid it.

Lost in time, literally

Still, Ireland’s a small country, and tourists with more than a little time on their hands might end up down there, having wound up on the N-71 without a clue as to how to get back to Cork or Waterford. So here’s a short, point-by-point guide for things to avoid (please…) if you find yourself drawn to Ireland the way it was meant to be.

As in the rest of Ireland, bed and breakfasts abound in this region, and are in the main less expense than in other places. Those are the places to stay, if you must go.

Start at Cork, and make your way south and west on the N-71 – past Kinsale (there’s another place that’s a better place for tourists) and Clonakilty (site of the universe’s best black pudding) and Skibbereen, (the last urban center before Boston…). You’ll then find yourself in Schull, a beach village offering little in the way of “attractions.” To gird yourself for the trip to come, stop in the Arundel bar, on the left just as you’re leaving the village. Now you’re ready to travel to the end of Ireland’s “last peninsula.”

Toormore Bay

Beyond Schull, the road takes you along Toormore Bay, and in the summer the light hits the ocean water at just the right angle, giving everything a breathtaking tint. At night, looking out to sea, you’ll see the Fastnet Rock Light.


Goleen is a village (more of an intersection, really) with a couple of shops, three bars (McCarthy’s is the best – a must to avoid) and a lovey church (St. Patrick’s, of course). Any meal you get here will be great – concentrate on the fish, and the farmhouse cheeses and you can’t go wrong.

Need some recreation? This is the place to avoid. Cows, and at times the occasional golfer might get in your way as you walk up the boardwalk from the small parking lot to the beach, but once you get there, what a beach. Impossibly large, with tidal pools and small fish that will keep kids busy for hours. The water is cold – even in August – but because at low tide you need to walk half a mile to get into surf, you’re so numb by the time you’re fully wet that it’s not a


The perfect fishing village – around the corner from Barley Cove Beach – Crookhaven has the reputation of being one of Ireland’s best sailing outposts. Summer weekend nights are jammed with people. The only reason to avoid the place is the locals, who look to be having more fun than should be legal.

The Mizen Head

The end of Ireland. A lighthouse on a rock, reached by a path and a fairly steady though not entirely unfrightening bridge. Nothing like it on a windy stormy day. (In fact, that’s probably the best time to visit the Mizen Head.) Educational facilities and a gift shop, to boot. There’s a little bit of irritation among the local folks about the quality of the roads and infrastructure – a general, long-felt feeling that the politicos in Dublin and Brussels have not paid proper attention to the more rural spots in Ireland. Unfortunately the roads are fine – Europeans are quickly starting second generation beachheads in this part of Ireland.

Don’t hurry, unless you’re fool enough to want to see Ireland the way it’s been for centuries, but won’t be for long.