ByRoute 1.3 Co. Cork (S/W) & Co. Kerry (S)

Castle Haven / Castlehaven Harbour



Castle Haven / Castlehaven Harbour is a deep inlet guarded by the ruin of Dun Bearchain / Glenbarrahane Castle, named for Gleann Bearchain / St Barrahane`s Glen, a deep rocky valley associated with a local C5th hermit. The stronghold, also known as Porto Castillo, was one of the O’Driscoll clan’s most important castles, a smuggling depot for ships from France and Spain,  and the centrepiece of the Battle of Castle Haven.


On 1st December 1601, six Spanish ships under Don Pedro de Zubiaur, with 700 troops led by Don Alonso de Ocampo, landed in Castlehaven to join the expeditionary force at Kinsale, and were welcomed by Conorand Donal O’Driscoll and two other brothers.

The commander of the English naval forces at Kinsale, Sir Richard Levison, was ordered to “seeke the Spanish fleete at Castlehaven, to take them if he could, or otherwise to distresse them as much as he might“, but his four ships were repelled by the Spaniards after three days of fighting.

The Gaelic chieftains of West Cork had mostly sided with the English government up until that time, for a variety of different and conflicting reasons, but on the underlying assumption that Queen Elizabeth’s forces were invincible, a not unreasonable attitude after the Desmond Rebellions of recent memory. However, they were radicalized and rallied by the Spanish success.


Hundreds of local people, particularly O’Driscolls and O’Sullivans, flocked to join the Spaniards, taking oaths of loyalty to the King of Spain, Felipe III, and set off by land with 100 Spanish soldiers to fight for Hugh O’Neilland Hugh O’Donnell at their disastrous Battle of Kinsale rout by Lord Mountjoy on 24th December 1601.

The next day Hugh O’Donnell himself arrived in Castle Haven, and almost immediately departed with Don Pedro and Donal O’Driscoll for consultations in Spain.

The Spanish commander at Kinsale, Don Juan de Aguila, finally surrendered on 2ndJanuary 1602, and also agreed to surrender the castles of Castle Haven, Baltimore and Dunboy.


The West Cork chieftains now hurried to placate the government. In February 1602 Sir George Carew wrote: “..Few of the ‘provincials’ here were in rebellion. The best of them, namely Sir Fynin O’Driscoll, O’Donovan and Sir Owen McCartie’s sons, have not joined Tyrrell and the northern rebels, and ask to be received to mercy. They say they only conversed with Tyrone, O’Donnell and the Spaniards, and did no harm to any of her Majesty’s subjects. I believe this is true.”


When English troops under Captain Roger Harvey finally arrived in Castlehaven on 10thFebruary, they found the castle being besieged by the Spanish, having lost it through a ruse to the O’Driscolls, who had no desire to surrender it to the English. However, when the O’Driscolls saw the English ships they surrendered the castle to the Spanish commander, Pedro Lopez de Soto, on condition that they be allowed to leave in safety.


Dermot O’Driscoll, who had assisted Zubiaur when he first landed at Castlehaven, subsequently left for Spain in March 1602. His father, the aforementioned Sir Fineen O’Driscoll, who had been nervous about the whole business from the start, disclaimed all responsibility.

(The title Earl of Castle Haven was granted in 1616 to George Tuchet, 11th Baron Audley, who had been wounded at the Battle of Kinsale. He was at various times Governor of Kells (Co. Meath) and Utrecht in the Netherlands.

His son Mervyn was beheaded on London’s Tower Hill in 1631 for “unnatural crimes“, including participation in the rape of his wife Countess Castle Haven (by restraining her during the attack by Giles Browning / Broadway) and sodomy with his page Florence FitzPatrick, who denounced the Countess as “the wickedest woman in the world” and was also executed. The case was the subject of Cynthia B Herrup‘s A House in Gross Disorder – sex, law and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, published by OUP in New York in 1999.

The 3rd Earl of Castlehaven, a Roman Catholic, played an important role in Irish history as a commander of the Kilkenny Confederacy army during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

The title became extinct in 1777)

Castletownsend (Co. Cork / Southwest)

Castletownsend / Castletownshend (Baile an Chaisleáin) was formerly called Sloughleigh and then Castletown after nearby Glenbarrahane Castle.

Castle Townshend was built in the C17th by the Townshend family, some of whom still reside there and provide upmarket B&B facilities. Castle Townshend demesne is very attractive.

The village main street, lined with large C18th homes, runs down a sharply sloped hill leading to the shore, where there is a quay with mooring facilities and a tiny shingle and sand beach.

Mary Anne‘s pub / restaurant is highly recommended.

St Barrahan’s Church(CoI), reached by 52 steps, was built in 1826 on the site of an earlier replacement for the original church (the ruined eastern gable of which can still be seen in the old Castlehaven graveyard at the southwestern end of the Harbour). The church, designed by James Pain, is noted for beautiful stained glass windows by Harry Clark, and for the Classical Music Festival held here every year since 1980. It contains many historic relics and memorials, notably three large stone tablets telling the history of the C18th village’s founding families, many of whose members are buried in the churchyard.

Drishane House on the outskirts of the village was the home of Castletownsend’s most famous inhabitant, Edith Somerville(1858-1949), who wrote The Irish RM stories with her cousin Violet Martin Ross. Edith’s brother Henry Boyle Townshend Somerville, a sailor and well-known antiquarian and anthropologist, particularly expert on Stone Circles, was murdered by the IRA in 1936 for providing assistance to local men who wanted to join the Royal Navy. Visits to the house and gardens can be arranged by appointment.

Knockdrum Ring Fort was enthusiastically reconstructed in the early C20th by Henry Boyle Somerville complete with guard-chamber and rampart, Greek cross inscribed pillarstone and 3 souterraines. The site commands fine views of the sea to the south and of the famous Three Fingers of Gurranes standing sentinel on the next hill to the northeast.

The Three Fingers / Three Ladies at Gurranes are skeletal Pillar Stones acting as an impressive welcome or ominous warning to visitors. They appear to have been erected specifically to point to where the sun rises above the coastal hills on Mid-Summer’s Day. The tallest is 4.3m high. The row /alignment originally consisted of five columns; the fourth lies broken nearby, and the fifth is on the nearby Somerville Estate.

Lakes in the vicinity include Shepperton, Ballinlough, Corran, Adereen, Knockskeagh and Clounties.

Toe Head is a scenic spot, and reportedly a good place for whale watching.

The Stags are the three tower-like islands standing off the headland. The flag marker south west of the islands marks the stern of the wreck of the Kowloon Bridge, a 294m / 900ft monster that was smashed against the rocks by gales in 1986 and is said to be the largest shipwreck in Europe, if not the world. She was carrying 165,000 tons of iron ore and 2,000 tons of oil from Seven Islands, Quebec for the River Clyde. The RAF airlifted off the 28 crew, but her 1,200 tons of bunker fuel caused serious pollution in the area.

Lough Hyne

Lough Hyne, northern Europe’s only inland sea / saltwater lake and Ireland’s first Marine Nature Reserve, was once a freshwater lake to which the sea gained access; it is now tidal, and provides a giant laboratory for research in marine biology. (Photo by benjaminspeedy)


Among its curiosities is an asymmetrical tidal cycle; it takes four hours to rise and eight and a half to fall. Despite years of intense research, scientists still don’t know why its sea life is so similar to that of the far-away Mediterranean or why the water is so much warmer than the Atlantic that feeds it. The lough is said to boast the biggest scallops found anywhere.


Lough Hyne is much loved by divers, as depths of 45m can be had with good visibility close to the shore in a sheltered environment, although any disturbance of the silty bottom soon puts an end to the visibility. The necessary authorisation/permit may be had locally.


Lough Hyne is scenically set, surrounded by hills covered by deciduous forests. These woods are popular for walking, and there are lovely views from the top of Knockomagh Hill.

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