This famous and epic march undertaken by O’Sullivan Bere to Leitrim through the Counties of Cork, Limerick, Tipperary, Offaly, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo and eventually Leitrim arose as a result of the Irish and the Spanish defeat in the Battle of Kinsale at the hands of the Crown forces. The Battle of Kinsale began on the 17th of October 1601 with the 3400 Spanish soldiers under the command of Aquilla supported by O’Sullivan Bere, O’Driscoll and the O’Connors of Kerry. Aquilla surrended on the 12th January 1602 and handed over the four Spanish defended castles along the South West Coast. Donal Cam, chieftain of the O’Sullivan Bere Clan rushed back to Dunboy and began to fortify the castle against an attack that started on June 6th and lasted 11 days with the Crown forces storming the castle and bombarding it with cannon-fire.
Harassed by the Crown forces and having lost his lands and his herds of cattle and sheep, he left the Beara peninsula and the Bay of Bantry where the French invasion took place in 1796, to begin the long march to Leitrim to meet the O’Rourkes. Accompanying him were 1,000 men, women and children representing the first large-scale exodus of people from Beara peninsula region. When the Beara men travelled from West Cork as well as his followers were members from other clans O’Collins, McAuliffe, O’Rourke, Fitspatrick, McGuire, O’Keeffe, O’Donoghues,O’Driscoll, McCarthy, McSweeney, Carrs, Quigleys and Naughtons. In the middle of January 1603 they finally reached their destination with only 35 people remaining, many settling along the route and been known since then in these localities as the Bearas.
After Dunboy (the home of the O’Sullivan Bere Clan) and Dursey Island castles and their defenders were wiped out in June 1602, O’Sullivan Bere went on a campaign of guerrilla warfare around West Cork, where he took at least six castles. By December 1602 Donal Cam and his followers were camped for the winter in Glengarriff. Crown forces, under Wilmot, attacked and took his creacht, 4000 cattle and 2000 sheep. Faced with overwhelming odds and starvation and the O’Sullivans left Beara on their epic march to Leitrim.
The Beara-Breifne Way
The Way runs 500 km north from the tip of Beara Peninsula at Dursey in Co. Cork to Blacklion area in the Breifne area of Co Leitrim And Cavan, following generally the line of the 17th century march of O’Sullivan Beare, the last great chieftain of West Cork and South Kerry area. In the words of Dan O Sullivan. Community representative, Kealkil, the idea was to transform the theme of tribulation into a celebration of human spirit and endurance.
In 1602 Munster was ravaged by war. The forces of Elizabeth 1st had defeated the Irish and Spanish at the Battle of Kinsale and advanced to capture the territory of donal Cam O Sullivan Beare, Chieftain of Beara. Following a series of battles and the loss of his stronghold, dunboy Castle, O Sullivan and his troops withdrew to Coomerkane Valley west of Glengarriff on the Beara Peninsula . On New years eve 1602, faced with almost certain starvation, they were finally forced to flee. a thousand men and women, including four hundred soldiers, embarked on an epic mid-winter march, hoping to join forces with rebel leaders in Ulster. Travelling through Ireland at a time of war and severe food shortages they were seen by local chiefs as a threat and were attacked. Women carried infants and many of the camp followers could not keep up. By the time they reached the river Shannon their numbers were severely reduced. Hemmed in by enemies, they crossed the river at night in a boat made of the hides of slaughtered horses, the meat eaten by the starving in the camp. two days later, at Aughrim, their path was blocked by cavalry and infantry.
O Sullivan Beares camp had no choice but to fight. against all odds, his exhausted band defeated greatly superior forces, then continued to march without a rest. as the mercenaries among O Sullivans followers began to drain away, returning to their Connaught homes, the remaining refugees were continuously threatened. on the fourteenth day, O Sullivan Beare reached Leitrim Castle, stronghold of the rebel O Rourke of Breifne. Of the original one thousand followers only thirty five remained.
The dramatic history contrasts with the beauty and diversity of the landscapes along the Beara-Breifne way. the walk begins with a rugged coastline, then threads a barrier of hills. there are bogs and woodlands, riverbanks, rolling farmland and wayside villages. the route links counties Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary, Offaly, Galway, Roscommon, Sligo, Leitrim and Cavan , and it also connects a series of rural communities along the entire way. The finer detail of the route is supported by strong folk memory and there are unbroken clan connections with the story. The 400th anniversary re-enactment of the march galvanised the routes communities to develop the walk. The venture could only have come from the ground up; almost all the land used is in private hands and access has been granted, neighbour to neighbour, for the greater good of the wider community. the route may be nationwide but the sense of ownership and heritage is emphatically local. For the seasoned walker it is this local interaction which sets the Beara-Breifne way apart.
The Beara Way
The Beara Peninsula is an ideal place to develop a walking trail with a mountain range located down the middle of the peninsula surrounded by coastal views of Bantry Bay, Kenmare Bay and Sheepshead Peninsula. From the top of Hungry Hill walkers can look down at the famous Berehaven Harbour which is the second safest natural harbour in the world.
The Beara Way is approximately 220 km in length and completes a circuit of impressive coastal and mountain scenery, before turning inland to Kealkil. The route is one of the top five walking routes in Ireland. The Beara Way was developed by the Beara Tourism and Development Association and links many of the peninsulas main attractions.
These include the bird life of Dursey Island, the copper-mines of Allihies, the famous fishing port of Castletownbere, the military heritage of Bere island and the famous woods and harbour of Glengarriff. Along the way there are O Sullivan ruins at Dunboy, Dursey, Tousist and Kealkil, a heritage Park at Bonane, lakes at Tuosist, and lush gardens at Derreen in Lauragh. Megalithic remains are scattered along the coast and throughout the uplands.
Ardgroom has a spectacular stone circle, while the Hag of Beara “ancient goddess“ maintains an eerie presence on the coast near Eyeries. Walkers can start the Beara way from any village or town on the peninsula. The route follows the mountain range from Dursey, along the south coast to Glengarriff, then inland to Kealkil, walkers can also turn north at Allihies and follow the route through Eyeries and on to the Kerry section of the Beara Peninsula. Both routes follow off-road tracks and quiet back roads. However, The Beara Way crosses public and private lands and dogs are not permitted. Access to private lands is by permission of local landowners, arranged by the local community, and special thanks are extended to both landowners and community groups for their assistance in making this venture possible.
There are 17 loops routes dotted through the peninsula which give walkers an option of a 1-4 hour walk. The loops are developed throughout the peninsula from Glengarriff woods to the lighthouse walk on Bere Island or across to Dursey on the famous cable car, the only of its kind in Ireland. The three loop walks in Allihies follow the foot steps of the miners in the 19th century.
Beara has a range of accommodation from hostels, B&B’s and holidays homes. There are hotels in Glengarriff and Kenmare. In Castletownbere Cametringane hotel is due to open in the spring of 2013.
Beara is famous in many ways. The north side of the Beara Peninsula was the first place the Celts landed in Ireland. There are 511 historical sites, some dating back to 2000 B.C., making it the location of one of the highest number of antiquities in one area in Ireland. The Cailleach Beara is one of the oldest mythological antiquities in Ireland. The Cailleach was turned into stone and the figure of the Cailleach can be seen between Eyeries and Ardgroom. The highest waterfall in Ireland and the UK is the Mare’s Tail in Adrigole which was the centre piece of the new film Byzantium by Director Neil Jordan.
In 1796, Wolfe Tone sailed from France to Ireland with a French general called General Hoche and a fleet of thirty-five ships and about 15,000 soldiers. The only boat to land was the French longboat which landed in Bere island and stayed in Berehaven Harbour for over 102 years.
Dzogchen Beara is a Tibetan Buddhist Retreat centre. The Centre is situated on the wild and beautiful Beara coast line and sits high on cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean with breathtaking views of the sea and sky. The centre welcomes everyone, from all walks of life and of any faith.
The Beara Way forms the first section of The Beara Breifne Way Walking Trail which is 500km in length and almost fully developed. The route is based on the march of O’Sullivan Beare from Beara to Breifne in 1602/1603. At that time Munster was ravaged by war. The forces of Elizabeth I had defeated the Irish and Spanish at the Battle of Kinsale and advanced to capture the territory of Donal Cam O Sullivan Beare, Chieftain of Beara. Following a series of battles and the loss of his stronghold, Dunboy Castle, O Sullivan and his troops withdrew to Coomerkane Valley west of Glengarriff on the Beara Peninsula. On New years eve 1602, faced with almost certain starvation, they were finally forced to flee. One thousand men, women and children including four hundred soldiers, embarked on an epic mid-winter march, hoping to join forces with rebel leaders in Ulster. On the fourteenth day, O’Sullivan Beare reached Leitrim Castle, stronghold of the rebel O’Rourke of Breifne. Of the original one thousand followers only thirty five remained after fourteen days.
Beara rugged hills and valleys and scenic coastline is a walkers dream fraught with heritage, history and folklore.