It’s a little over one hour’s drive, without stopping, from Cork City to the ancient, lakeside monastic site of Gougane Barra, following the valley of the river Lee.
Named for the early medieval monk Saint Finbarr, is the wooded lake where the Lee rises. And when you travel from the city to this ancient, scenic site, you follow one of the main branches of the old Butter Roads, the networks of routes along which butter and other produce from the rich farmlands of Cork and Kerry were brought to our great merchant port, for export to Europe and as far away as Indian and the West Indies.
The route is not so busy these days, since the small carts that brought the farm produce to our port were replaced by the railways.
It’s a tranquil part of Cork. And this is a very scenic drive through some of the richest farmland in Ireland, brings you from the City to the mountains which mark the border between Cork and Kerry. Cross the mountains and you are heading on to Killarney and the Wild Atlantic Way, in our neighbouring county, known as The Kingdom.
A one-day trail, from the city, through the Lee Valley and the Old Butter Road will bring you to:
Breakfast at the Old Blarney Post Office Cafe – It’s a 9km or 20 minute drive from Cork City to historic Blarney, home of the world famous Blarney Castle & Gardens and also the Old Blarney Post Office Café.
This re-purposed Post Office, right on the village green, serves up gorgeous breakfasts with locally baked bread, eggs from farms just up the road and smoked salmon from West Cork. There is a walled garden and artwork on display from local artists. Charming and a little quirky, the Old Post Office is a delight to start your day.
Also In Blarney – The village is also home to The Square Table, a sweet, high-quality restaurant run by sisters Martina and Tricia Cronin. They are recommended in the Michelin Guide to Ireland, are fiercely committed to local growers and offer lunches and dinners that will delight if you have had a busy few hours touring the famous Castle.
Onwards to Macroom – It’s a 40 minute, 33km drive from Blarney to Macroom, where you will find stalls and shops selling local produce in the main square on many days during the summer, plus a Farmers Market on Sundays.
Just 5km outside Macroom, there is the Toons Bridge Dairy, Shop & Pizzeria, a great champion of quality food in this area. Toons Bridge make award winning cheeses, many of which end up on the artisan pizzas they serve up in their own wood-fired oven in their restaurant. It’s the perfect place for a pit-stop and for browsing in their country store, which features their own cheeses as well as artisan foods from all over Cork (and Italy).
You can also – take a tour of Macroom Buffalo Farm and see Ireland’s only Water Buffalo Dairy Herd in their natural environment. Farmer Johnny Lynch and his family have over 100 buffalo, roaming free, and tour guide Dorothy O’Tuama welcomes groups of ten people or more to see the buffalo, the milking parlour and the facility where they make their award-winning buffalo mozzarella. Contact her via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. The farm also has open days on one Saturday every month during the tour season – which runs from April 1st to October 1st.
Take A Brewery Tour – At the 9 White Deer Brewery in Ballyvourney, some 20kms from Toons Bridge and further along the road to Killarney. It may be relatively remote, but this is one of the most innovative craft breweries in Ireland (their range includes gluten-free beers) and your guide will bring you through the entire process, together with some local history and a sample-session.
Finish your day in ancient, beautiful Gougane Barra, home to the famous St Finbarr’s church on the lake. You will find Cronin's Bar & Cafe (for tea, scones and sandwiches) and the Gougane Barra Hotel, for relaxed, country kitchen style dining with great views out over the lake. Their fish comes up the road from the harbour town of Castletownbere, caught fresh that morning. Gougane Barra is 24kms from the White Deer Brewery in Ballyvourney and 30kms from Macroom.
From Gougane Barra, you are very close to Killarney, on the other side of the mountains. This is the ancient gateway into Kerry and will now link you up to the Wild Atlantic Way.