Biking through the hills and mountains of Cork and Kerry on the Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour, you are never far from the sea. Even when you can’t see it, you can probably taste the salty ocean on your lips and even hear its rhythms in the accents of the locals.
You can certainly choose to eat the sea’s abundant produce in any of the restaurants in Kenmare or Killarney; the local seafood chowder, mussels, and oysters are unmissable when you’re in this part of the world. In fact, Ireland has seen a recent surge in food culture and farm-to-fork cuisine, and the southwest regions of Cork and Kerry are leading the charge. But nothing beats a hands-on experience.
It’s one thing to eat a really lovely plate of seafood, but having the opportunity to pull the lobster pots and pick mussels yourself, while listening to the stories of the local men and women for whom the ocean provides their livelihoods, really brings your understanding of the Atlantic Ocean closer to home. Your seafood dinner goes from delicious to unforgettable.
Though there are many islands along the jagged shores of Ireland, particularly in Kerry and West Cork, some islands are more famous than others. But it is actually some of the least-known islands that are the most fascinating ones – and the best part is that you’ll likely have such places to yourself. Though these half-forgotten islands and coastal inlets are always amazing places to visit, the best way to get a sense of these tiny island communities is through the eyes of locals who call the coasts of West Cork their home.
Aaron O Sullivan is one such person. Aaron grew up in the small coastal town of Bantry, in the remote and wild region of West Cork, with his two brothers. Each morning, he woke up to views through his bedroom window that looked out onto the sparkling waters of Bantry Bay. His childhood was spent fishing off the rocks with his brothers and the other local children, exploring the craggy shores and windswept hills, and playing the traditional Irish game of hurling.
Today, Aaron is a school-teacher. When he’s not teaching, he uses his summer off to indulge in his passion for the sea by taking visitors out onto Bantry Bay on his Whaly boats – small open-air powerboats perfect for exploring the tranquil waters of the bay. It’s the perfect finish to your Trek Travel Ireland Bike Tour. Imagine – having traversed this beautiful corner of Ireland, you’ll swap bike for boat, heading out onto the sea with local fisherman Aaron to explore one of his favorite places in West Cork. Landing on the shores of Whiddy Island, you’ll find a glass of Guinness and a seafood tasting right on the beach.
Speaking to Aaron, it’s plain to see his passion for Bantry and its people, the history of the region, and the role the sea has played in his life and the lives of everyone else that calls this salty, windblown corner of Ireland their home. Aaron’s own grandparents grew up on Whiddy Island, and the 16th-century Reenananig Castle ruins that stand proud on the island were even built by his own ancestors, chieftain Donal Cam O’Sullivan Bere. His ties to the area run deep, and his knowledge of the history and people of the place is overflowing.
From Vikings to WWII Allied forces, Whiddy Island has a long history. Island visitors can wander the grounds of the now-abandoned castle of Aaron O Sullivan’s ancestors, as well as other historical sites, including a church, graveyard, and holy well.
In January of 1979, Whiddy Island was the scene of Ireland’s greatest maritime disaster when an oil tanker exploded in the bay. While the incident did cause an oil spill, happily marine life recovered within a few years and the bay now has the highest grade possible for water cleanliness, an amazing story of rejuvenation and sustainability.
Which brings us back to the food! Mussels thrive here in Bantry Bay and along Whiddy Island. They need the minerals that come with such clean water, in which they grow more quickly and therefore become a more viable enterprise for the local fishermen like Aaron. The clean water and sheltered bay has also led to the area being named Ireland’s only ocean blueway.
And just like that, Whiddy Island and and Bantry Bay have become an ecological success story and a paradise for man and fish alike. And sitting out on the island in August, sipping a pint of Guinness after a magnificent bike ride through the soaring Caha Mountains, you’ll be forgiven for never wanting to leave this magical place.