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Dursey Island – Ireland's Hidden Gem

Off the southwestern tip of the Beara Peninsula, lies the island of Dursey, seperated from the mainland by the narrow Dursey Sound, a stretch of water with an extreme tidal race. The most westerly of Cork's inhabited islands, Dursey is home to only three families although its numbers swell during the summer months with visitors looking for the tranquillity that the island can guarantee.

Dursey Island has a long history, as evidenced by the bullaun stones here. The monks of Skellig Micheal built the ruined church, and during the worldly excesses of the Vikings, Irish slaves were held on the island to await ships to remove them. During the early 1600s, Queen Elizabeth's forces sacked O'Sullivan Beara's castle here, and all the captives were thrown to their deaths from the cliffs. Much more recently, a mere 30 years ago, the government decided to relocate the islanders to the mainland, following the collapse of the fishing industry, and almost everyone left.

Dursey is the only island in Europe connected to the mainland by cable car. Riding high above the swirling waters, it can carry six passengers or one cow and takes about six minutes to complete its journey. Regulars describe it as 'like travelling in a big biscuit tin', and locals and animals are always given precedence over tourists.

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Dursey has only partial electricity, and no running water, shop or pub; its inhabitants live simple, almost spartan, lives. However, the island is beautiful, with high cliffs rising over an indented, rocky coastline, its interior is a patchwork of fields divided by old, drystone walls and ditches, and sheep dotted here and there. Scarlet fuchsias bloom beside small waterfalls that tumble over the rocks, and aside from various ancient remains, there are also three deserted villages waiting to be discovered.

When to visit

June to December

How to reach

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By Cable car from Garinish, on the mainland.

Highlights

  • Walk the well-signed Beara Way, which extends onto the island and is renowned amongst birders, receiving thousands of seabirds as well as hawks and falcons. Rare species from America and the Arctic can be spotted here.
  • Visit the island's antiquities - the O'Sullivan Beara family vault in the old graveyard, the ruined castle, St Mary's Abbey, the standing stones and the Napoleonic signal tower.
  • Enjoy spectacular views of the off-shore islands and the West Cork coastline.

You should know

In the 1970s Charles Haughey, then Taoiseach, Prime Minister, of Eire, got caught up in the tricky waters of the Dursey Sound, and sailed his boat into the rocks, requiring rescue by the local lifeboat. Remember, if you are visiting Dursey, there's nowhere to stay and you must bring your own food and water.

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