Cape Clear Island Views

1. View from Cape Clear island towards Long Island (in centre at rear). To the left is The West Calf Island and on right is the Middle Calf Island. The small island nearest the land of Cape Clear is called Oileán Éinne. Eanna was the given name of a person who lived about 1500 years ago. Most houses are on the Northern more sheltered part of the island and the ferries to and from the island travel on the water passage between Oileán Éinne and Long Island. The bay all around is called Long Island Bay. Note some old ruins of houses that date to the early to mid 19th century with houses from the early 20th century being extended and modernised in the 1980’s. Electricity and house water was a ‘luxury’ that only arrived on the island in the 1970s and a submarine cable bringing electricity from the mainland 8 miles away arrived only about 1995.

6. View of fields on North coast of Cape Clear where the land is best and where most of the population live. The southern part of the island faces the Atlantic winds and high seas. Clifts on the west rise to 200 feet. This area was the last view of Ireland that some two million Irish people saw as they left their beloved country in the 1800’s when they had been forced to flee the country from famine in 1845-49 and terrible poverty to the 1900’s. Ireland won its independence from England in 1922 and broke away from the United Kingdom arrangement which had been brought about by the Act of Union in 1800. Ireland is a Republic today. Many who left Ireland settled in UK, Canada, USA and Australia with the names of places in Ireland being transferred to places in many countries. In Australia where some settled as miners and farmers one finds the name Cape Clear, Victoria which is believed to be named from Co. Cork’s Cape Clear island, the last part of Ireland to be seen by those who took or were forced to take the sail ship to Australia. Many of those who were forced to leave Ireland in the 19th century for Australia went as prisoners in chains for committing such minor offences as stealing a chicken, or a sheep or a jug of milk.

7. Looking South in Cape Clear upon the Atlantic Ocean where all shipping passes the island on its way to the United States of America. The coast of the island is very indented with names given to several rocks above and below the waterline and hundreds of names given to inlets large and small and even places on the water have been given names known, perhaps, only to fishermen. Cape Clear islanders have been known for centuries for their great boating skills. They are experts at forecasting the weather and there is a long tradition of storytelling on the island.

Cape clear Island Primary School

Cape Clear Island Primary School at South Harbour was built in 1897. It replaced the former school situated in the centre of the island which has been restored and now houses the Cape Clear Island Museum. The present building was partitioned into both a girls school and a boys school in which were about 100 girls and 70 boys. In the early 1900s both schools were amalgamated and had at the time over 100 pupils. Pupil numbers have declined steadily since the 1920s and today there are around 15 students and two women teachers. Subjects taught at Primary level would be Irish, English, Maths, Drawing, Religious instruction, IT computer skills, Enviornment Studies, Music, Physical Education –games, sports, basketball, swimming and singing. The medium of instruction is Irish for all subjects and school activities except for the English class. The student population would consist of a number of students born on the island but in recent years some families have come to live on Cape Clear island with young children and these have been forming a large part of the school population.


The island does not have a Postprimary school and teenagers are obliged to reside in homes on the mainland from Monday to Friday in towns like Skibbereen and Clonakilty during their Postprimary school years- perhaps five to six years. Postprimary students return to Baltimore every Friday and take the evening ferry to Cape Clear and are returned to the mainland on a 7am ferry each Monday morning. A school transport network exists to bring students to their schools on the mainland. A plaque erected on the Cape Clear School wall at South Harbour in 1997 celebrates the centenary of the building of the school and another gives the name of the school which translates in English as Cape Clear Primary School.

The school setting overlooks a beautiful small harbour and surrounding island hillside and very narrow roads teaming with beautiful flowers in Summertime. The island has an international reputation for its variety of plant, seaweed and bird life. Many families on the island are named O Driscoll. Cape Clear and surrounding islands have the remains of O Driscoll Castles or Tower houses which date to c. 13 -16 centuries. That at Cape Clear is called Dún an Óir. The one at Baltimore is named Dún na Séad and has been completely restored. It is and the focal point for the Annual International O Driscoll Clan Gathering. See www.odriscoll.ie

Day-tripping Views of Cape Clear

1. The entrance to Cape Clear island is Trá Chiaráin also called North Harbour is bounded by high cliffs and interesting rock shapes. The journey from Baltimore takes about 40 minutes by ferry. The island has restaurants, B& B accommodation, a hostel, campsite, primary school, church, shop, heritage centre, library and bird observatory. The population of the island is about 120 with most people being able to speak both Irish and English. The island has a spectacular coastline, is 3 miles long by 1.5 miles wide and has a network of very narrow roads. The Cape Clear ferry runs daily all year and may be joined by other ferries in Summertime bringing hundreds of visitors to the island each day during Summer months. All boats dock at Trá Chiaráin, North Harbour pier which on a Summer’s day is often a very colourful spectacle.

2. North and South Harbours are about a quarter of a mile apart. The island is divided into 16 townlands and has about 1,600 fields almost all of which are surrounded by a network of drystone walls and each field, cliff, cove and pathway has an individual name in Irish, 2,200 of which have been recorded and mapped. [Use photo No 4 A aerial view map] The water around the island is crystal clear with some 50 narrow coves and inlets, a number of small islands, high cliffs, caves and many rocks around the coast all of which having each a separate name in the Irish language.

3. In the harbour area is the island cemetery Cill Chiaráin a 13th century ruin of a stone built church dedicated to St. Ciarán (St. Kieran), Patron of the island born there in the 5th century. Also close is Dún an Óir (Dununore) one of the castles of the O Driscolls who were since the 10th century the Chieftains of the people on Cape Clear island and the surrounding mainland territory until they lost all to the English in 1601 after the Battle of Kinsale in County Cork. Other buildings in the harbour area are the offices of Cape Clear Co-Operative Society, Cape Clear Bird Observatory, An Siopa Beag restaurant, Club Chléire Bar, Cotter’s Bar and Ciarán Danny Mikes Bar and Holiday Homes.

4. South Harbour Strand faces the Atlantic where in the 19th century Sail Ships from America would stop and take on board a Pilot to steer the ships to Cork Harbour and often to London and the Mersey River at Liverpool, UK. Cape Clear islanders particularly those named O Driscoll and Cadogan were the Pilots for ships for over 200 years. Letters arriving on board ships off Cape Clear’s South Harbour in the years between 1863- 1867 would be collected from ships by some islanders who would row their boat to meet with the ship and take the messages to the island Atlantic Cable Co. of America Telegraph Station which is still standing at South Harbour. From there they would be sent to Cork, Larne, London by Telegraph. When USA was connected about 1865 by a Telegraph cable to Valentia Island in Co. Kerry, the Telegraph Station in Cape Clear declined in importance. South Harbour Pier was built around 1805 to allow the landing there of the Cornish granite cut stone which was reassembled as the Cape Clear Lighthouse in 1818.

5. The 1979 Fastnet Race Memorial at Cape Clear’s North Harbour bears the names of the 15 competitors who lost their lives during the storm that hit the Fastnet Race of August 1979. The Fastnet Rock four miles from Cape Clear is the turning point for the most competitive yachting race in the world. Cape Clear Museum Society organised the 1979 Fastnet Race 25th Anniversary Remembrance Ceremony off Cape Clear in August 2004 and erected the Don Cronin sculptured Fastnet Race Tablet at the island museum.

7. Loch Ioral of 11 acres is the island’s only lake is situated in the western part of the island. The surrounding area is covered with mountain area, high cliffs on the coastal part and areas enclosed by double and single width traditional stone-built walls.

8. The island is famous for its natural light shades, bird and plant life, whale, basking sharks and dolphin watching. Sunset at Cape Clear is spectacular.

Archaeological & Historical Sites on Cape Clear Island

1. One of the two standing stones in the east of the island has a hole through it where couples are believed to have joined hands in a marriage ceremony in prehistoric times perhaps around 1200 BC. There were originally four standing stones on the site but two of them have fallen.

2. The Crathach Thoir / East Croha Standing Stone probably dates to around 2000 BC and possibly was used in some form of religious ceremony.

3. Gallán Chiaráin / St. Kieran’s Standing Stone at North Harbour, Cape Clear has a number of crosses carved upon it. It is believed by some that the stone was used in Iron Age pagan ceremonies and that with the arrival of Christianity on the island in the early 5th century crosses were carved on the stone as people adopted the new religious practices. The stone is regarded as a National Monument and features in religious ceremonies on the island every 5th of March, the feast day of the island’s Saint Ciarán / St. Kieran. At the same site is Tobar Chiaráin (St Kieran’s Well) which is regarded as a Holy Well from which water was always taken on board fishing vessels before leaving the island’s harbour Trá Chiaráin.

4. Kilkieran is a 13th century stone built church dedicated to St. Ciarán who was born on Cape Clear island. He became a Christian and travelled to Rome where he was ordained a priest and later a bishop. He returned to Cape Clear where his people became Christians and Ciarán then ministered throughout the South of Ireland and Cornwall where he is honoured under the name of St. Piran. Surrounding Kilkieran at Cape Clear is the island cemetery. North Harbour Pier is close to the cemetery and a steep road leads east from North Harbour to the island Church and Cape Clear Museum and Heritage Centre.

5. A The winding road to the Catholic Church and Cape Clear Museum in the centre of the island provides the visitor with beautiful views and interesting stone walls along the roadside and in the fields as well as of the ruin of the O Driscoll Dún an Óir and the Wild Atlantic Ocean to the west.

6. Cape Clear Catholic Church is dedicated to St Ciarán and was built in 1839.

7. The O Driscoll Castle at Cape Clear destroyed by the English in 1602.

8. The old Cape Clear Signal Tower built in 1805 as part of a coastal defence system built around the coast of Ireland and England to warn of any approach of a French Invasion force. The Cape Clear Signal Tower was one time covered with blue Cape Clear island slate which later gave way to a more durable slate from Crookhaven which is on the mainland. The doorway of the tower now bricked up would in the 1800s have been perhaps 10’ above the surrounding surface and the feature at the top would have been used to pour boiling liquids on any approaching enemy. Most of the Signal Towers built around remote parts of the coast of Ireland are still standing.

9. The Cornish granite tower of the Cape Clear Lighthouse built in 1817 and continued in use until 1853 when a new lighthouse was built of iron on the Fastnet Rock four miles out to sea from Cape Clear.

10. The trip on the Cape Clear ferry to the Fastnet Rock and Lighthouse is stunning in Summertime but is almost unapproachable in Winter. In November 1847 the American ship Stephen Whitney crashed on the West Calf island with the loss of 92 lives. Arising from this tragedy a lighthouse was built at the Fastnet Rock four miles from Cape Clear in 1849-1853 and the lamp light from the Cape Clear Lighthouse was transferred to the iron built lighthouse there. The lighthouse was replaced with a Cornish granite lighthouse in 1904 and this lighthouse still throws its light over Cape Clear and the waters surrounding the Fastnet Rock every night of the year. The Fastnet light has safely guided home thousands of sailors and fishermen since 1853.

11. The Fastnet lighthouse was manned by three lighthouse-keepers until 1989 when it became automatic and its building and light is maintained by the Commissioners of Irish Lights and international shipping and harbour fees and the Irish Government provide funding for the Lighthouse Service. Ireland has a 2,000 mile coastline which is serviced by the Irish Coastguard and Customs Service and the Lifeboat Service which has operated as a voluntary organisation in Ireland and the UK since 1824 and is known as the Royal National Lifeboat Institution. The Lifeboat servicing the area from Galley Head to Mizen Head is stationed at Baltimore, Co. Cork and provides a vital service to people living on islands when storms sometimes prevent island ferries from going to sea in an emergency. The trip on the Cape Clear ferry to the Fastnet Rock and Lighthouse is stunning in Summertime but is almost unapproachable in Winter. Fastnet Lighthouse situated four miles from Cape Clear was built in 1904. The round black feature is what remains of a former 1853 iron built lighthouse. The lighthouse is the turning point for the Fastnet Race that takes places every two years from Wales to the Fastnet Rock and back.

Old Houses and Roads

1. A house built entirely of stone which dates to about 1820. The floor of the house is solid rock. The window opening at the gable end indicates that there was an upstairs room and the building would have had a roof of thatch (straw or grass) which might have been held down with straw ropes attached to stones. There were no other windows in the house. The section attached to the building was probably for housing a cow and calf . Notice the stone walls all round enclosing fields.

2. The stone built building was in 1976 the last surviving thatch roof in Cape Clear. Note ropes and stones holding down the thatch. [Use photo No. 2] The two story house on left side was built about 1901 and has 3 bedrooms on first floor with kitchen and dining room on groundfloor. Bathroom facilities would have been added in the late 1940s but water in all houses on Cape Clear Island would only have become a feature as electricity only arrived on the island in 1970. Prior to this water had to be drawn in buckets from roadside spring wells of which there would have been around 100 on the island. Of course there were no electric kettles, washing machines, televisions, telephones on the islands. Cooking would have been done on open fires.

3. House entirely built in 1890s of stone as opposed to one built of bricks or concrete blocks. The plaster would have been added to this house perhaps in the 1950s and electricity provided in 1970. The other building with the iron roof would have been a home previously and later adapted as a cow house with a loft above in which hay might have been held. A fine all stone wall joins both buildings, neither cement or clay being used. Two island in Long Island Bay can be seen in the centre background and beyond is the mainland.

4. Large early 20th century house originally built of stone and plastered perhaps in the 1950s. Notice the rows of stones at the lower part of the house. Attached to the house is a smaller building which may have been part of an older house a part of which was probably incorporated into the bigger new building. The house has three chimneys which would have been unusual. Almost all houses on Cape Clear were built on the Northern shore area because it is better sheltered. To the rear of the house is Long Island Bay in which are many smaller islands but with few residents. The hills in the distance are on the mainland near the small towns of Ballydehob and Schull.

5. This is a 1990s complete merging of two houses which were built of stone around 1900. The windows of timber would be traditional country farmhouse style.


Island Roads

6. Notice the stone walls on either side of this narrow road which is called ‘The Burma Road’ by islanders as it was built around 1944 when there was War in Burma.

7. The narrow road from the eastern pier where a small roll on-roll off facility exists for use by small trucks which might bring building materials, tractors and heavy machinery on to the island. This narrow road runs westward to North and South Harbour. The house on the left was built around 1899 and was later given a coat of cement and sand plaster. It underwent considerable development around the year 2000. The island has a complete network of narrow roads like this one where only one car at a time can go, but there would be places along the way where one can stop and let a car driver pass. There would only be about 20 cars on the island and most people would have a car parked on the mainland at Baltimore. People buy old cars for use around the island where the narrow roads wind their way around hills and over humps and hollows. The island has plenty of natural stone for wall building.

Cape Clear Island Museum Exhibition

The Cape Clear Island Museum and Archive was founded by Dr Éamon Lankford in 1981 to collect, exhibit and preserve island folklife and maritime artefacts and undertake the collection and recording of data relating to island lore, genealogy, placenames, folk and maritime traditions. Central to the undertaking was the encouragement and promotion of the Irish language.

The building in which the island museum is housed at Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork was a school from 1826 to 1897. At that time it had a thatched roof made of a kind of ‘straw’ and cuttings from bog grass. The roof would have been held down with netting to which stones were attached. The building was restored in the 1970s and now houses a large collection of folklife and maritime artefacts. A new school with a roof of slate was built in 1897 in the south side of the island above South Harbour and this is the current primary school. The museum and its exhibition is open daily June to early September and at other times by arrangement locally.

In the Household Exhibition is a selection of artefacts some dating to the mid 19th century which were used in former island homes. Other aretefacts relate to folklife and old farming impliments

Cape Clear island has a long and rich maritime tradition and many islanders have served in the merchant navy of the UK and USA and Ireland. Others have served as pilots of large vessels at Irish and ports around the world. Different forms of the name Cape Clear and Fastnet Rock find mention on the earliest portolan charts. Fishermen, traders, pirates, smugglers and Algerian raiders have all operated in the vicinity. Fishing, boatbuilding, sailing adventure, and Antartic expeditions are all part of the maritime history of the islands and closeby mainland areas

The sea around Cape Clear, the Fastnet Rock and Mizen Head is a graveyard of a hundred shipwrecks. Artefacts and exhibition panels telling the story of the sinking of the Stephen Whitney 1847, SS Hazelside 1939, Thomas Joseph 1918 and many other shipwrecks and disasters are exhibited in the Cape Clear Museum

6 Cape Clear has a close connections with County Offaly which has St. Ciarán (St Kieran) born at Cape Clear as the patron of the Diocese of Ossory which includes the County of Offaly. The flag of the Cape Clear Museum has the prehistoric Cape Clear Stone as its emblem. The original Cape Clear Stone is held in Cork Public Museum and a copy is mounted in the island museum. Exhibited also are artefacts and exhibition panels relating to churches and other buildings on the island. The Church bell, and window frames from an a former church on the island are exhibited and some fine altar and other lacework is exhibited .

The ruin of Cape Clear Lighthouse built in 1818 still stands alongside the Old Signal Tower Lighthouse (built 1805). The old lighthouse had its light dismantled in 1853 when a new Lighthouse was built at the Fastnet Rock 4 miles out to sea from the island. The audio-visual Fastnet Experience at the museum covers the story of the building of the Cape Clear Lighthouse and of the two lighthouses that were erected at the Fastnet Rock. Also presented is an exhibition illustrating the story of the 1979 Fastnet Race. The 1925-26 Sailing Adventure to the Falkland Islands by Cape Clear island sailors is also covered in exhibition panels. .

8. Panels and artefacts relating to the archaeology of the island are exhibited and panels exhibiting the placename, history and maritime heritage of the island are presented on different occasions. The Cape Clear Island Archive containing documntation relating to aspects of island life and and heritage as well as the O Driscoll Memorial Collection are also housed in the museum building. See Cape Clear Museum websites: www.capeclearmuseum.ie / www.odriscoll.ie / www.placenames.ie