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Hello and welcome to this weekend’s virtual walk.
You might remember that I posted a video from Gougane Barra a few weeks ago and promised that I would take you for a virtual walk to this beautiful spot , so come along with me today and we will visit this ancient and historic place.
Located deep in beautiful West Cork , Gougane Barra has been a place of pilgrimage for well over a thousand years . It’s a bit off the beaten path, but boy is it worth the drive. The name Gougane Barra – pronounced “Goo Gone Barra“ cones from the Irish Guagán Barra, meaning ‘the rock-cleft of Barra’ and is located in the scenic valley and heritage site in the Shehy Mountains , near the villages of Ballingeary and Inchigeelagh in the Irish speaking , or Gaeltacht area of County Cork.
There is plenty of parking , so let’s hop out of the car and begin our walk . The name Gougane Barra comes from Saint Finbarr (or Barra), who is said to have built a monastery on the island in the lake during the sixth century. Finbarr is the patron saint of the county , so if you meet a gentleman called Finbarr , or Barry – for sure he has a Cork connection !
In more recent years a causeway has been built so that we can walk the short distance to the island , so off we go.
As we pass through the gates the first thing that we see is the holy well. It’s a tradition for the visitor or pilgrim to take a sip of the sacred water – there is even a little jug provided to scoop out the water before doing the “ rounds “ of the ancient monastic settlement.
Very little remains of Finbarr’s original settlement and what we encounter dates mainly from the 1700’s . There is a traditional sequence of stops around the settlement and we can see several stones that have the image of the cross scratched on them. Regardless of your faith , I feel that you will find a deep sense of calm and peace here . A sign tell us that a priest named Denis O’Mahony retreated to the island during the times of the Penal laws – a time around the 1700’s when it was forbidden to practice the faith , and Gougane Barra’s remoteness meant that it became a popular place for the celebration of the Mass in secret .
Let’s now head for the nineteenth century oratory which stands near the original hermitage. This lovely building is famous for its picturesque location and richly decorated interior and is a popular place for wedding photography . In the hushed interior – we have the pace to ourselves – let’s pause and light a candle. Take a look at the stained glass windows that are dedicated to many of the Local saints , including Finbarr and Gobnait .
Its starting to get cloudy and I fear the rain is not far off  but I want to let you know that St Finbar’s Oratory is the final destination for one of the five Pilgrim paths in Ireland. This one, St Finbarr’s Path, starts 35-kilometres away in the village of Drimoleague. I will bet its an incredible walk through the hills of West Cork  and I must put it on my list !
The nearby forest is 1.42 square kilometre (or 138 hectare) forest park with twenty tree species, and many species of native flora and fauna. The forest park has 5 km of motor trail and 10 km of hill walks, nature points and vista trails. If we had more time, I would highly recommend a good hike !!
I don’t usually mention restrooms on my walks – but I have to point out the spotlessly clean public restrooms that are located within a purpose built thatched building they even won Irelands Top Toilet award !!
As we are in and Irish speaking area, watch out …The men’s room is “ FIR “ or “F” , and the ladies’ room is “ MNA “ or “M” .. thank goodness for the graphics to save an embarrassing mix up !!!
Before we go let’s take a few more photos before heading for a cup of tea , and a browse in the gift shop attached to the Gougane Barra Hotel that overlooks the lake .
Thanks for coming with me today , check out our 20% off Labour day sale on my website at and have a wonderful weekend. See you next week,
Stephen Walsh
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