A Guide To Bere Island: One Of Cork’s Finest Hidden Gems

bere island in cork
Photos by Timaldo (Shutterstock)

A visit to Bere Island is one of the most overlooked things to do in Cork. Below, you’ll discover why.

The beautiful Bere Island sits at the entrance of Bantry Bay on the Beara Peninsula in West Cork.

It’s a small, inhabited island that boasts an interesting history and a gorgeous natural environment which is protected by a vibrant island community.  

Below, you’ll find everything from things to do on Bere Island and how to get there to where to stay and more.

Some quick need-to-knows about Bere Island in Cork

things to do on Bere Island
Photo by Timaldo (Shutterstock)

Although a visit to Bere Island is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.

1. Location

Bere Island is located just 2km offshore from the town of Castletownbere. The island lies at the entrance of Bantry Bay on the Beara Peninsula in County Cork and it’s one of seven inhabited islands off the coast of West Cork.

2. Getting there

You need to hop on a Bere Island ferry from Castletownbere to get to the island. There are a couple of operators to choose from. We’ll explain it all further down.

A brief history of Bere Island

the bere island ferry
Photo by Timaldo (Shutterstock)

Bere Island has a long history dating back to the Bronze Age with megalithic tombs and standing stones still remaining as evidence of early human occupation. The island belonged to the O’Sullivan Bere clan until the early 17th century when Britain landed on the island in preparation for the assault on Dunboy. 

In December 1796, a French fleet entered Bantry Bay with a longboat landing on Bere Island. The fleet ultimately had to disperse due to adverse weather, but it prompted British authorities to develop a more comprehensive defensive plan.

Martello Towers were constructed on Bere Island as a result and were some of the earliest to have been built in Ireland. Additional fortifications and barracks were also built on the island over the years until the end of the Napoleonic Wars. 

Even after 1921, part of Bere Island remained in British hands under the Treaty Ports agreement. The island, along with Spike Island in Cork and Lough Swilly, were retained by Britain due to strategic importance. It wasn’t until 1938, that these ports were handed over to the Irish Republic. 

The Bere Island Ferry

getting to the island
Photo via Bere Island Ferries on Facebook

There are two ferry operators which service Bere Island, both of which can carry vehicles and passengers. Both ferries operate every day of the year, with frequent departures throughout the day.

Bere Island Ferries

Bere Island Ferries sail between Castletownbere and Oilean na gCaorach at the west end of Bere Island. In summer from June until September, they have eight different departure times throughout the day from around 8am until 8pm.

For the rest of the year, they have seven departure times per day also from around 8am to 8pm. On Sunday’s, services are reduced to six departures in summer and only four for the rest of the year (prices and times may change). 

Murphy’s Bere Island Ferry

Murphy’s Ferry sails between Rerrin Village on the east end of the island to the Pontoon, about 2km east of Castletownbere. During summer months, they operate seven departure times roughly every couple of hours from 7.30am til 8pm.

For the rest of the year, they have reduced services with only five departures each day, with an additional one on Fridays. 

The ferry crossings take around 15 minutes and cost €8 per adult for return passengers and starting from €25 for a car plus a couple of passengers return (prices and times may change). 

Things to do on Bere Island

bere island in cork
Photos by Timaldo (Shutterstock)

If you’re debating a stay on the island but you’re not sure if it’s worth the spin, the section below will hopefully help you decide.

There’s plenty of things to do on Bere Island to keep you occupied, and there are several pubs where you can whittle away an evening after a day of exploring.

1. Explore the island on foot

bere island walks
Photo via Google Maps

One of the best ways to explore the island is on foot. Bere Island has loads of trails with routes to suit all different fitness levels. Many of the walks begin at both ferry points so you can head straight off on the trail as soon as you land on the island.

Bere Island’s walking trails are incorporated into the well-known Beara Way which includes over 200 kilometres of trails. Many of the walks on the island are loops and include stops at some of the various highlights and attractions.

One of the best walks is the Main Beara Way which is a 19km trail stretching from east to west connecting both ferry points and taking in many different sights. Shorter options include the Ardnakinna Lighthouse Loop, Doonbeg Loop, Rerrin Loop and Lonehort Heritage Trail.

2. Or hit the water with the Bere Island Sea Safari

Ardnakinna lighthouse
Photo via Bere Island Sea Safari

If you prefer to explore the island from the water, the Bere Island Sea Safari is a popular tour for both locals and visitors alike. The boat safaris leave from both the island and Castletownbere and take you around Bantry Bay. 

The safaris explore lighthouses, caves, cliffs and beaches, showcasing the very best of the coastline of the Beara Peninsula.

You can also look out for dolphins, puffins, kittiwakes, porpoises, seals and much more during the one-hour trips.

Related read: Check out our guide to whale watching in Cork (includes the best time to see whales and what tours are on offer).

3. Head for a paddle at Scairt Beach or Cloughland Strand

 Scairt Beach
Photo via Google Maps

Bere Island is perfect for swimming with plenty of beaches and safe waters to enjoy around the shoreline. Scairt Beach and Cloughland Strand are by far the two most popular beaches.

Scairt Beach is a little slice of heaven with beautiful calm, turquoise waters in a secluded bay. While Cloughland Strand has a concrete boat ramp into the water and rock pools to the side from where you can search for sealife. 

Swimming lessons are held at Scairt Beach every year for local kids, but visitors are also welcomed to join in. 

4. Spend a rainy afternoon at Bere Island Heritage Centre

Bere Island Heritage Centre
Photo via Google Maps

If you’re looking for things to do on Bere Island when it’s raining, you can easily spend the afternoon at Bere Island Heritage Centre.

It’s the best place on the island to learn about its unique history and culture. The centre is home to the Bere Island Experience Exhibition which details the history and lifestyle of the island through photographs, artefacts, maps and old genealogy books.

It’s all housed inside the restored Ballinakilla Old School Building, which opened in 2009. You’ll also find plenty of information there to inform your exploration of the island, including other historical sites to check out during your trip.

5. Take a stroll up to Ardnakinna Lighthouse

Ardnakinna Lighthouse
Photo by Corey Macri (Shutterstock)

Although far less known than the nearby Mizen Head signal station, the Ardnakinna Lighthouse, which was built in 1965, is home to a whole load of history.

It has white and red flashes every 10 seconds navigating out to sea and protecting the Piper Rocks below.

You can head there on a decent walk of 11km from the west end of the island. The lighthouse and walking trail offer spectacular views of the coast.

6. See the Bardini Reefer Ship Wreck

The Bardini Reefer shipwreck is found in the channel between Bere Island and mainland Ireland. You can spot just the mast and funnels breaking the surface of the water. 

The ship was at anchor before being delivered to the dock at Aviles when a fire broke out. After a number of explosions, it sank after burning for a number of days and now you can see what is left out to sea.

7. The Signal Tower

Several signal towers were built along the west coast by the British between 1804 and 1808. This tower on the island was the 14th in line from Cork and is a two-storey structure which was used to communicate by signal to other towers on Sheep’s Head and Blackball Head. 

8. Holy Year Cross

signal tower on the island
Photo by Corey Macri (Shutterstock)

This large cross was erected on Knockanallig, the largest hill on the island, in 1950 in commemoration of the Holy Year.

Each year a mass is held at the site of the Cross on the Sunday of the August Bank Holiday weekend (unless it’s raining of course!). 

9. Lonehort Battery

Lonehort Battery is a military fort built for the English army by the Royal Engineers at the eastern end of the island. Work began on the battery and deep moat surrounding it in 1899 with the help from local labourers and contractors. 

10. Lonehort Harbour

This natural harbour is believed to have once been a Viking Harbour. It was also the place that General Carew landed his troops in 1602 and used the island to prepare for the Siege of Dunboy.

11. Ardaragh Wedge Tomb

There are around four different megalithic tomb types and the wedge tomb is considered the last of them from the early Bronze Age. 

12. St Michaels Church and Graveyard

bere island church
Photo via Google Maps

This church and graveyard were originally built in 1843 before being expanded in 1900. The graveyard is home to both Catholic and Protestant, Irish and English graves including some from the British Military. 

13. Ardagh and Cloughland Martello Towers

Bere Island Cork
Photo by Timaldo (Shutterstock)

These two Martello towers were built by the British as part of their defensive network against the French. There were originally four towers completed in 1805, but just these two remain standing today. 

Bere Island Accommodation

bere island accommodation
Photos via Bere Island Holiday Homes

There’s a good bit of Bere Island accommodation on offer, for those of you that fancy staying on the island.

The Bere Island Hotel is one of the better-known places to stay, but there’s also glamping and plenty of B&Bs.

Bere Island Glamping

By far one of the most unique places to stay on Bere Island is this glamping and camping experience at Wild Atlantic Glamping. The purpose-built site is designed to offer comfort in all sorts of weather and includes eight luxury bell tents situated along the shoreline of the island. 

Each of the tents has its own private deck so you can sit back and relax with views over Bantry Bay. The tents are extremely comfortable with double beds, a wood burning stove, electricity and a welcome pack filled with local goodies. 

The Bere Island Hotel

This family-run bar and hotel on Bere Island is a great option to stay the night. They offer six en-suite rooms, varying from single, double, twin and family rooms.

The rooms overlook Bantry Bay with beautiful views across the water. They also serve meals in their dining room and bar every day of the week except Sunday from 1pm until late.  

B&Bs and Guesthouses

Bere Island also has plenty of B&Bs and guesthouses available. Some places offer sea views, while others are modern self-catering lodges for a peaceful escape. No matter what kind of accommodation you’re looking for, there’s something to suit everyone.

Bere Island pubs and restaurants

restaurants on the island
Photo via Google Maps

After a day spent ticking off the various things to do on Bere Island, you’ll have earned a bite-to-eat and, if you fancy, a post-adventure drink.

There are several places to eat and pubs on Bere Island where you can kick-back and relax after a long day on the road.

1. O’Sullivans Bar (Dessie’s Bar)

O’Sullivans Wine and Spirits, or otherwise known locally as Dessie’s Bar, is located in Rerrin Village. It has a real traditional pub atmosphere with great beer and pub meals. They also have live local music on some nights of the week. 

2. The Hotel Bar and Restaurant

The Hotel Bar and Restaurant is the dining room and bar inside the Bere Island Hotel. It’s located in Ballinakilla overlooking the bay. They’re open for food and drinks from 1pm every day except Sunday, with excellent food and friendly staff. 

3. The Lookout Restaurant and Bar

Located on the pier in Derrycreeveen, just 80m from the ferry landing, this bar and restaurant is a very convenient place to grab a meal and a pint. They serve great meals with a full bar menu, as well as, coffee and cake if you’re after a light snack. Open from 11am until 7pm every day of the week, it’s a popular place for visitors. 

What to do near Bere Island

One of the beauties of Bere Island is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best things to do in West Cork.

Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Bere Island (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).

1. Glengarriff Nature Reserve

Glengarriff nature reserve
Photo left: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH. Photo right: Pantee (Shutterstock)

If you want to spend some time in nature, the Glengarriff Nature Reserve has 300 hectares of woodland just outside of Glengarriff village. There are plenty of walking trails inside the park to suit a range of fitness levels and is not far from east of Castletownbere on the Beara Peninsula. 

2. The Beara Peninsula

ring of beara
Photo by LouieLea (Shutterstock)

The Beara Peninsula is a rugged and beautiful slice of coastline on Ireland’s southwest. It’s particularly known for its stunning mountain and coastal scenery. Most people enjoy the area on a self-drive tour around the Ring of Beara along the coast, which passes through Castletownbere and the ferry departure points for Bere Island.

3. Healy Pass

healy pass cork
Photo © The Irish Road Trip

One of the most scenic points of the Beara Peninsula, Healy Pass is a road pass offering panoramic views of the coast and Caha Mountains. It crosses the peninsula from Lauragh to Adrigole with tight hairpin bends that climb to the viewpoint overlooking the surrounding area. 

4. Whiddy Island

things to do nearby
Photo by Phil Darby (Shutterstock)

If you want to visit another island off the coast in Bantry Bay, Whiddy Island is located closer inwards near Bantry Town. The island is known for its beautiful nature and wildlife, as well as, interesting history. It’s a popular day trip for families in West Cork.

5. Bantry House and Gardens

bantry house
Photo left: MShev. Photo right: Fabiano’s_Photo (Shutterstock)

Bantry House and Gardens is one of the most well-known estates in Ireland. The stately home is located just outside of Bantry Town, overlooking the bay and Whiddy Island. It’s a beautiful place to stroll around the gardens or have a picnic from the tearoom.

FAQs about visiting Bere Island in Ireland

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from are there many things to do on Bere Island to how to get there.

In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.

Is Bere Island worth visiting?

Yes. Bere Island in Cork is definitely worth a visit. Ireland’s islands are often overlooked, but as Bere Island is a short, 15-minute spin from the mainland, it’s easy to reach and it’s worth the short spin.

Are there many things to do on Bere Island?

  • Explore the island on foot
  • Or hit the water with the Bere Island Sea Safari
  • Head for a paddle at Scairt Beach or Cloughland Strand
  • Spend a rainy afternoon at Bere Island Heritage Centre
  • Take a stroll up to Ardnakinna Lighthouse
  • See the Bardini Reefer Ship Wreck

Where do you get the Bere Island Ferry from?

You need to hop on a Bere Island ferry from Castletownbere to get to the island. There are a couple of operators to choose from. We’ll explain it all further down.

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