There are few places in Ireland that are as fairytale-like as the magnificent Gougane Barra in Cork.
If you’re not familiar with it, Gougane Barra is an area of immense wild scenery and natural beauty that you’ll find tucked away on 137 acres at the edge of the Sheehy Mountains.
This little slice of paradise is steeped in rich history and is home to a number of different things to do and places to have a nosey around.
In the guide below, you’ll find out everything you need to know about Gougane Barra, from walks in the forest to the history of area and more.
Welcome to Gougane Barra
You’ll find the brilliant Gougane Barra in County Cork, in the South West of Ireland, not far from the Beara Peninsula and a stone’s throw (54-minute drive) from Kenmare in Kerry.
A visit to the magnificent Gougane Barra Forest Park hands-down, in my opinion, tops the list of the many brilliant places to visit and things to do in Cork.
Many people that visit Cork, for some bizarre reason, completely overlook the gorgeous 137-acre park that’s hidden away in a lovely valley at the edge of the Sheehy mountains.
I’ve been to Gougane Barr National Park a handful of times over the years and the ‘Good-God-this-place-is-seriously-f**king-special’ feeling never wears off.
When you enter the park, you’re immediately taken back by the beauty of the rolling hills and the surrounding mountains that stand proudly over the chilly waters of the lake below.
It all started with St. Finbarr
If you’re not familiar with St. Finbarr, he’s the Patron Saint of Cork. It’s said that when he first arrived at Gougane Barra he was so blown away that he decided to build a Monastery on its grounds.
The ruins of his Monastery can still be viewed today on the island that’s adjacent to the Church. There are a number of legends associated with the Saint.
One tells the story of how he was led by an angel from the source of the mighty River Lee at Gougane Barra to the mouth of the river, where he founded his monastery.
It’s said that the city of Cork grew from here. Another legend explains how St. Finbarr banished a great serpent named Lú from the Gougane Barra Lake. Apparently Lú created the River Lee as it escaped his wrath.
St. Finbarr died in 633 A.D. His remains are enclosed in a silver shrine in St. Finbarr’s Cathedral in Cork City.
The Gougane Barra Church
The Gougane Barra Church dates back to the 19th century. You’ll find it near the ruins of the Monastery, where it looks like something plucked straight from a Walt Disney movie.
As I type, I can’t help but think of the first time that I walked here. It was on a solo 5-day road trip in February 2017.
It was frosty and there was a sheet of mist hanging in the air over the lake. Gougane Barra is peaceful. Incredibly so. A ramble here banishes cobwebs and clears the head like nothing else.
As the Church comes into view, you can’t help but feel like you’ve just discovered something secret. Something special that not many have. Get yourself here sharpish.
Weddings at St. Finbarr’s Oratory
Yep, you can in fact get married at the Gougane Barra Church. Now there’s a romantic aul setting to say the least.
The waiting list is said to be pretty lengthy, so if you fancy tying the knot here you’d want to start planning ASAP.
Gougane Barra Walks
If you’ve never been to Gougane Barra then you’re in for a treat. This place is seriously picturesque and there are a number of different walks that you can head off on.
There are six different trails at Gougane Barra – the pick of the bunch (in my opinion) is a ramble called ‘the Slí an Easa Walk’.
This is a 1.8km trail that can take up 1.5 hours to complete, depending on pace. It’s also fairly strenuous in places.
This walk takes you high up into the mountains around Gougane Barra and rewards your efforts with spectacular views of the surrounding area.
Gougane Barra Hotel
If you’re looking for somewhere to stay near the park, give the Gougane Barra Hotel a bash. Five generations of the same family (the Lucey’s) have run this gorgeous hotel since it was built in 1936.
You’ll find the hotel in a very idyllic setting, on the edge of Gougane Barra Lake, a stone’s throw from St. Finbarr’s Oratory. Although I’ve never stayed here, I know several people that have.
By all accounts, the service is top-notch and there’s a proper ‘home-away-from-home’ feel to the place. The ridiculously good reviews on Google are a testament to how good this place is.
Frequently Asked Questions
We’ve had a shed-load of questions from people about everything from Gougane Barra walks to the weather, over the years.
Below, you’ll find some of the most frequently asked questions. Have one that we haven’t tackled? Ask it in the comments section below!
What does Gougane Barra mean?
According to the Placenames Database of Ireland, Gougane, which comes from the word ‘guagán’, means ‘cleft, crevice (in rock)’ while Barra comes from St. Finbarr, the patron saint of Cork who founded an early Christian monastery in Gougane Barra in the 6th century.
Are there any easy Gougane Barra walks?
Yep, there are. There’s a walk here called the ‘Slí Dhoire na Coise Walk’. This is a roughly 1.8km ramble that’ll take you around 45 minutes to complete. The walk is nice and handy and takes you along the Lee to the lake and back.
How far is Gougane Barra from Cork City?
Gougane Barra is 59km from Cork City Centre. Although it’s not close, it’s well worth carving out some time to visit.
Are dogs allowed in Gougane Barra?
Yes, dogs are allowed in Gougane Barra, once they’re kept on a leash. Make sure you pick up after him/her is he/she does their… business… in the park.
Where can I get accurate Gougane Barra weather updates?
Everyone tends to have their own ‘go-to’ weather app. Personally, I use yr.no, as I find it’s accurate. Here’s a link to the Gougane Barra weather section.