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Bantry Self Guided Historic Town Walk

Bantry is the gateway to Ireland’s mountain-strewn southwest, at once an old fishing port, market town and heritage gem. It’s an all-rounder as suited to a flying cuppa as a longer stay.

Bantry has two heritage trails, marked in blue (1.8km/40 mins) and red (1.3km/30 mins). The routes take in a varied range of stop-offs, ranging from St. Brendan’s Church to Kilkeenagh Burial Ground and Godson’s Folly - site of a former hotel whose owner once blasted a path to his establishment through a huge rock, spending so much money in the process that he put himself out of business.

Bantry, of course, was where an ill-fated French invasion fleet pitched up in 1796, carrying Wolfe Tone in an attempt to bring a French-style revolution to Ireland. The town lies at the mouth of Bantry Bay, one of Europe’s finest deep-water harbours, and must have seemed an auspicious entry point (French vessels had earlier used the route to deliver troops for James II).

“We were close enough to toss a biscuit onshore,” Wolfe Tone later said. But storms and winds conspired to frustrate them, and ‘The Year of the French’ remains one of Irish history’s great near-misses (you can see the French Armada museum at the nearby 18th-century Bantry House).

Elsewhere along Bantry’s heritage trails, you can see the site of the town’s old ‘fish palaces’ near a church devoted to St. Brendan the Navigator, the Mill Wheel (located beside the library, and unusually, still in use), the Presbytery Pillar and Garryvurcha Church & Graveyard, amongst others.

The town itself radiates outwards from the large Wolfe Tone Square, a colourful plaza brushed against by the harbour and hosting a weekly farmers’ market. Golf, sailing, Bantry House and some humming bars and restaurants await the visitor in this southern belle and, when you’re done, the rugged peninsulas of Cork and Kerry await.

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