Ireland’s award-winning tour company has a reputation for whisking guests into the magic of off-the-beaten-track gems.
Visitors step back into history on the Beara Peninsula on four tours conducted by Vagabond Tours of Ireland. Here on Ireland’s southwest coast is “Ireland’s Best Kept Secret,” according to Travel + Leisure in its May 2019 issue.
“Thankfully, because the roads here are still too narrow for tour buses, the rugged Ring of Beara (peninsula) sees fewer tourists than other parts of the Wild Atlantic Way. However, we still can experience livestock-induced traffic jams,” said Rob Rankin, owner with Amy Rankin of Vagabond Tours of Ireland.
Countless locales in Ireland have inspired poetry and music. So has Bantry Bay. This bay represents the calmer waters bounding the south of the Beara Peninsula that juts out into the wild Atlantic. In the evenings, guests may still experience many a “tender sound of song and merry dancing (that) stole softly over Bantry Bay.” Here in 3000 BC Bronze Age people made their marks in standing stones, predating the remains of Vikings who plundered monasteries, and well before the copper barons of the 18th and 19th centuries savaged under the earth in service to English masters.
The net result of all of these comings and goings is a trove of magic that many visitors to Ireland fail to discover. Here are some of the many delights Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland mixes and matches into itineraries that imbibe the Beara Peninsula.
Healy Pass: The name of this serpentine mountain road resonates with Ireland’s history. It was built in 1847 in the turmoil of the potato famine to help people get to food sources. It was named for the first governor general of the Irish Free State (circa 1922).
Uragh (Neolithic) Stone Circle: Standing stones up to 10 feet high from 3000 to 1500 BC.
Lorge Chocolatier: Handmade chocolates from a native of France who follows that country’s chocolate-making traditions.
Garnish Island: Out in Bantry Bay this island enjoys a micro-climate where a formal Italianate garden of, among others, sub-tropical plants flourishes.
Milleens Cheese Ltd: This company is the oldest company producing farmhouse cheeses in Ireland. Home base is a farm that boasts a herd of Holstein-Friesians, a breed distinguished for milk production (dating to 2000 BC) and recognized as those black and white cows.
15th Century Dunboy Castle: This ruin represents a clan (O’Sullivan) that held the reins over coastal fisheries and therefore the livelihood and bellies of local folk.
Bullig Bay Looped Walk: A scenic trail replete with ruins (including Dunboy Castle) in and out of the woods along the bay. Watch out for traditional dry-stone walls, a ruined watch-tower and crumbling walled enclosures, each steeped in history.
Puxley Mansion: The dream is to make this 19th century Victorian manor house near Dunboy Castle into a hotel. Dogging its history is the fact that the IRA burnt it to the ground in 1920. (Jane Eyre and Rochester might well have been at home here.)
Copper Mines Museum: Think the TV series Poldark that was set across the Irish Channel in Cornwall. Techniques of copper mining in Cornwall (shown in the TV series) made their way over to Allihies in the early 19th century, leaving behind today’s labyrinth of dangerous and deserted mine shafts, skirted by Vagabond’s off-road vehicles. (Up to 40% of the population of Butte, Montana in the U.S., descended from emigrant miners from this area.)
Derreen Garden: Dating to Clan Sullivan that controlled the fisheries, guests today can stroll the paths through this 60-acre estate confiscated by Cromwell’s friends in the mid-17th century, a time that marked Protestant control over the then-Catholic population.
Seal Colony: A colony of roughly 250 seals bask on the rocky outcrop of Seal Island visible to guests boating across Bantry Bay.
Vagabond Tours of Ireland offers two styles of culturally immersive travel. Vagabond Adventure Tours are for active travellers who want to mix up hiking and biking and other outdoor adventures with history, culture, dining and shopping. Active tours that partake of the Beara Peninsula are:
- 7 Day Epic Irish Food Adventure Tour
- 12 Day Vagabond Giant Irish Adventure
- 8 Day Vagabond Wild Irish Rover
- 7 Day Vagabond World Tour of Ireland
Driftwood Journeys of Discovery follow similar itineraries but at an intimate and in-depth looking and lingering pace, sans the physical exertion. In the end the mission is to have guests “love Ireland as much as we do,” says Rankin.
On all of its tours, Vagabond staff curate locally-owned accommodations, pubs and restaurants that help serve their goal of authenticity. Transport is in a custom 4x4 Mercedes 'Vagatron' or Mercedes-Benz “Drifter” that allows access beyond where regular tour buses go. In 2019 Vagabond will also be utilizing a fleet of Mercedes “Sprinters” and Volkswagen “Crafters” for guest comfort.
For details on all of Vagabond Tours of Ireland itineraries, availability and for 2019-2020 reservations, please visit https://vagabondtoursofireland.com/. Call toll free (from the US) 1.833-230-0288; in Ireland 00353 (0) 1 5634358; or email: [email protected].
About Vagabond Tours of Ireland
Since 2002 Vagabond Adventure Tours has been creating opportunities for visitors to embrace Ireland by walking, biking, horseback riding and kayaking its lands and waters, imbibing history and culture along the way. In 2013 the company was honored by National Geographic Traveler with a Top 50 Tour of a Lifetime distinction. In 2015 and 2017 Vagabond Small Group Tours of Ireland was named the “Best Adventure Experience” at the Irish Tourism Awards. In 2017, Vagabond became Ireland’s first tour operator to achieve Ecotourism Gold Level Certification and in 2018, Vagabond Tours won The Green Tourism & Entertainment category in Ireland’s most prestigious Green (business) Awards. In February 2019, the company won two top Irish Tourism Industry Awards for the Best Ireland Ancient East Tourism Experience and Best Environmental Tourism Innovation.