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Welcome to Cork’s Bull Rock: Home To ‘the Gateway to the Underworld’

Welcome to Cork’s Bull Rock: Home To ‘the Gateway to the Underworld’

There’s a little island (Bull Rock) off the coast of Cork that looks like a set from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie…

To be completely honest: I’d never heard about Bull Rock up until last year. I was sat in a cafe in a little town called Castletown-Bearhaven on the Beara Peninsula in Cork. 

It was the tail-end of summer… and it was lashing down outside. The original plan for the day was to join an organised walking tour, but the guide rang that morning to say that it was cancelled.

When the chap in the cafe dropped down my coffee, we got to chatting about the area and what there was to do that was a little off the beaten path.

That’s when he mentioned what he described as ‘the most unusual of the many things to do in Cork‘. He was, of course, talking about Bull Rock.

Some quick need-to-knows about Bull Rock in Cork

Bull rock tours

Photo by Dursey Boat Trips

Although Bull Rock is one of the more off-the-beaten-path places to visit in West Cork, a visit here is pretty straightforward.

Below, you’ll find info on its location, how to get to Bull Rock and what there is to see and do nearby.

1. Location

The chances are you’ll have heard of Cork’s Dursey Island (yep, it’s the one that’s accessible via a cable car).

Dursey is situated at the southwestern tip of the beautiful Beara Peninsula and it’s off the western point of Dursey that you’ll find Bull Rock Island.

2. How to get there

There are two different Bull Rock tour providers: Dursey Boat Trips and Skellig Coast Discovery. You’ll find info on both below, from where they leave from to how much the tours cost.

3. What to see

Now, although you can’t get onto the island itself, you’ll get to have a spin around it on the different tours and you’ll also go through the hole in the centre. You’ll also see Bull Rock Lighthouse and discover the story behind the mysterious little island. 

About Cork’s Bull Rock: ‘The Entrance to the Underworld’

Bull Rock lighthouse

Photo by Dursey Boat Trips

You’ll find Bull Rock Island off the southwestern tip of the beautiful Beara Peninsula in the even more beautiful region of West Cork.

Off the western point of Dursey lies three rocks (one of which looks like a set whipped straight from a Pirates of the Caribbean movie):

  • Bull Rock
  • Cow Rock
  • Calf Rock

Like something from another world

I’ve done a fair whack of travelling around Ireland over the past 10 years, but I’ve never seen anything like this place.

From the moment that I first laid eyes on Bull Rock, I thought that it looked like a deserted island that you’d find tucked away somewhere in the Indian Ocean.

The type of place that pirates would have used back in the day to stash their swag.

What you’ll see if you visit Bull Island in Cork

Bull Rock close up

Photo by Dursey Boat Trips

If you take one of the Bull Rock Tours (info on these in a minute), you’ll be treated to a very unique experience.

The island, which is roughly 93m high and 228m by 164m wide, is arguably one of the more overlooked places to visit on the Wild Atlantic Way, and a visit here packs a punch. Here’s what to expect.

The passageway through the rock

As you can see from the photos above and below, there’s a narrow passageway that cuts through the island.

You’ll see this referred to as ‘the Entrance to the Underworld’ on social media and on places like Reddit and Tripadvisor.

I’ve done a bit of digging, but I can’t find any more info on the background to the name. It’s not hard to see where the name came from, though – take a look at it up close and you’ll see why!

On the Bull Rock Tours, you’re take through the dark tunnel that runs beneath the island, right the way through to the other-side. 

The Bull Rock Lighthouse

The original Bull Rock Lighthouse was built by Henry Grissell of Regent’s Canal Iron Works in London, after he won the contract in 1861.

He completed construction of the lighthouse in 1864. However, just 17 years later, in 1881, the Islands’ lighthouse was destroyed by a storm.

Thankfully, the lighthouse keepers weren’t in the tower at the time. It wasn’t until 1888 that a new lighthouse was completed and it wasn’t until 1st of January, 1889, that the light on the island started up again.

Bull Rock Lighthouse operated successfully for many years after. The, in early 1991, it was fully automated and the Keepers were withdrawn.

Bull Rock boat tours

Bull Rock Beara Peninsula

Photo taken by Deirdre Fitzgerald

Since writing a guide to Bull Rock in Cork 4 years or so ago, we’ve received an awful lot of emails asking about tours of the island.

Below, you’ll find info on two Bull Rock Tours (one from Cork and another from Kerry). Note: prices, times and tours may change, so check with the provider in advance.

1. Dursey Boat Trips

If you’re in/visiting Cork, Dursey Boat Trips are the go-to for getting to Bull Island. On the tour, you’ll spin around Dursey Island, Calf Rock, Elephant Rock and, of course, Bull Rock.

Here are some need-to-knows about this Bull Rock Tour (note: tours are weather dependent): 

  • Where they leave from: leave from Garnish Pier in Cork 
  • Tour length: 1.5 hours
  • Cost: €50 per person
  • When they leave: Several times per day during the summer months

2. Skellig Coast Discovery

The second tour leaves from Caherdaniel in Kerry. On this tour, you’ll soak up the scenery around Derrynane, experience a good chunk of the glorious coastline that makes the Ring of Beara one of the best road trip routes in the world and take a spin around Bull Rock.

  • Where they leave from: Caherdaniel in Kerry
  • Tour length: 2.5 hours
  • Cost: Adult: €50, Child (2-14): €40 and private tour: €450
  • When they leave: Several times per day during the summer months

FAQs about visiting Bull Rock lighthouse

Bull Rock from the side

Photo by Dursey Boar Trips

We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from can you climb up to Bull Rock Lighthouse (you can’t) to what tours are available.

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.

Can you visit Bull Rock Island in Cork?

So, while you can’t set foot on the island itself, you can take one of the Bull Rock boat tours from either Garnish Pier or Caherdaniel. 

Where is Cork’s Bull Rock?

You’ll find Bull Rock just off Dursey Island, off the southwestern tip of the Beara Peninsula.

What Bull Rock tours are available?

There are two Bull Rock tours on offer: one leaves from Garnish Pier in Cork and the other leaves from Caherdaniel in Kerry. Info on both above!

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Cyndy

Wednesday 3rd of February 2021

All so fascinating!

Sandra Coleman

Sunday 3rd of January 2021

Donn was éber Donn, a Spanish ruler who, along with his brother érimón sailed to ireland to seek revenge for the death of their uncle at the hands of An Tuatha Dé Danann. They angered the goddess Ériu who shipwrecked them. Donn was buried there

Lisa DeBrabant

Saturday 12th of September 2020

I'm also interested if this rock was occupied it looks like maybe at 1 time it was & if so do we know whom occupied & also is there an entrance into this Bull Rock that at 1 time looks as if it had been occupied if so where is it located & can the entrance be accessed and person enter into Bull rock ?.

Patricia O’Hanlon

Tuesday 25th of August 2020

Very interesting indeed. I’m curious to know if the ‘buildings’ below the lighthouse were occupied - maybe the men who worked in the lighthouse? Just wondering ☘️

Niamh

Monday 3rd of August 2020

The calf rock lighthouse was destroyed in storm where all the men on the lighthouse where thought to be dead. That why they constructed the lighthouse on bull rock. The locals had warned them about building the lighthouse on the island. It's a very interesting story.

My great great grandfather was maroon on the island in the storm and the story is that they where rescued without anyone knowing so he walked into his house while the wake was going on.

Keith O'Hara

Tuesday 4th of August 2020

That's a brilliant bit of knowledge. Thanks a million for taking the time to comment, Niamh!

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