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Lush and lovely is the only way to describe gorgeous Derreen Gardens, that I happened upon, when exploring the Beara Peninsula a couple of years ago. A trail of purple and pink rhododendrons lining the roads from Tuosist led me to its gates and handsome house at Derreen. It was early summer and no one was manning the gate, they trust you to pay, with an intriguing notice offering a reward of €1000 if you spot any of the fairies who live in the gardens there! Needless to say I didn’t, but I did find the garden completely enchanting. In an already wild and gorgeous setting with a backdrop of mountains and the sea this regal property, the same family the Bingham’s, descended from Lord Lansdowne, still own and manage the gardens.
Derreen Gardens obviously enjoys its very own micro climate, warmed like others that are blessed along the West coast of Ireland by the Gulf Stream, delicate tree ferns even managed to survive the harsh, icy cold winters of 2009/2010 that killed off others elsewhere. In fact much of the garden, the interior at least, is like a tropical forest and definitely a place fairies would approve of so keep your eyes open and you will spot their charmingly creative dwellings, at least. There are several paths which lead in and around the 60 acres of gardens, that run down to the stoney beach, where there is a rickety bridge out to a private island with beautiful views of the bay and the mountains. Derreen Gardens are enchanting to say the least, a plantsman’s paradise and fairies folly, please note the house is private but there is a new café on site now for refreshments.
10 Hidden Gems near Derreen Gardens
1 Teddy O Sullivan’s Pub now run by his niece Helen where you can enjoy the finest organic mussels from the bay opposite with either brown bread or chunky chips and a nice, cool dark pint of Murphys (which is the preferred to Guinness in West Cork) due to the fact that it is brewed in Cork while Guinness is brewed in Dublin.
2 Uragh Stone Circle (back towards Kenmare) is one of the most beautiful and mystic places I have seen on my travels throughout Ireland over the last 8 years.
2 Ardgroom Ogham Stone see the tallest (17’) Ogham (ancient script) inscribed standing stone in Europe in an incomparable setting just a few miles outside Ardgroom, take the second right signposted for the harbour (you will see it on the way down) and then go left, stop at the first cottage and walk on up through the gate, just say hello to Diane the owner first. You can go on a bit further then and visit the Hags Chair and the Cat Stone (pre Christian) at Kilcatherine church.
3 Before picking up the road again to head further west to Eyeries (pronounced 'iries') another small village with very pretty painted houses.
4 Stop into one of them, Evie’s café in the middle of the town for home cooked apple pie and a pot of Barry’s tea, it is like having tea with your aunties!
5 Continue on via Cods Head (a vista to die for) and Aillihies the furthermost village on the peninsula and centre of Cornish Copper Mining once upon a time until the price of copper dropped and the miners headed off to Butte in Montana to try their hands at digging for gold. Nice modern museum in an old church with a good café and more of those incredible sea views.
6 Head out to Dursey Island and Ireland’s only cable car if you fancy going out to the island, I hadn’t time (that was my excuse) only joking it's quite safe, if you are not worried about the basking sharks below!
7 Or drop into Dzogchen Beara a state of the art Buddhist Retreat clinging to the cliffside on the way back to Castletownbere. There is an open invitation to the public for a guided meditation each afternoon between 3 and 4 pm. They also have a range of weekend or weeklong retreats also, see website for details and dates.
8 Castletownbere, I didn’t have enough time to fully explore this bustling little town where most of the white fish sold in Ireland comes from but I did find Pete McCarthy’s famous pub! Sadly Pete died way too young but his novel of the same name is an absolute hoot (he was the Irish equivalent of Bill Bryson) that you must read if you are headed that way.
9 Adrigole is where you turn off to do the Healy Pass which nobody could argue is spectacularly beautiful, take your time the roads are narrow but there are plenty of pull-ins to pass by or take photographs. On the far side 7kms down the mountains is Josie’s café/restaurant, nice home cooked food and a warm welcome.
10 A Grand Day Out is a co-operative of all the local arts and crafts places along the route, although if you want a one stop shop Adrigole Arts Centre has a good selection of quality crafts from all over Ireland and a nice terraced tearooms overlooking the Hungry Hill.