Once upon a time, booking a trip meant googling and trip-advisoring and searching and checking and reading every single review on the internet before finally deciding on what we hoped would be the perfect spot.
But now, there’s no time for researching, and short-cuts are required, so my new modus operandi is to take the first recommendation I see online and go with that.
(Incidentally, holidays are not the only thing I buy based on internet recommendations – books, jeans, vitamin supplement drinks, eyebrow colour, more books, penguin-print bed linen, and an egg holder shaped like a birdcage also feature on my “things the internet made me buy list”.)
But on this occasion it was a holiday – a friend recommended Barbara’s Cottages, a self-catering trio of houses near Skibbereen, and a couple of days later, we booked it.
After some very hasty (and it turns out, negligent) packing, we set off on Easter Monday morning just an hour later than planned (so on target really) and made our way to West Cork. It’s six years since we were last there, and much, much longer since I lived there, but as we headed south, my Cork accent slipped back in, and the kids started to practice theirs. We were going native.
The cottage was everything we’d hoped and more – high ceilings, wooden beams, crisp white walls, wooden floors, and most importantly for the kids, loads of hide and seek options inside and horses to feed outside.
It took about an hour of running around and unpacking before they collapsed in a heap and realised they were all starving – so what to do for dinner?
It struck me that rather than wandering around Skibbereen peering in restaurant windows looking for places with no white tablecloths or delicate glassware, it made sense to look for recommendations. So I asked online, and a few people suggested a restaurant called The Church, and off we went. It was exactly what we needed – burgers and scampi, chips with everything, and incredibly friendly staff. High five to the internet.
Day 1: Baltimore and Inish Beg
Doing what the internet told us to do seemed to be going well, so we decided to continue with it the following day. We’d been told Baltimore would be a good spot for an outing, so off we went, starting with a wander around Dun Sead castle. The kids were fascinated reading about pirates and seeing real swords – I was fascinated reading about the 107 Baltimore residents who were taken by Algerian pirates and never seen again.
La Jolie Brise is one of the restaurants that was suggested to me when I asked for recommendations, so we headed in there after the castle tour – the grownups had fish and chips and the kids had pizza. The food was gorgeous, though there was no kids’ menu so each child had a huge pizza to themselves. (I need to negotiate shared main courses with my kids, but ideally not when the waiter is standing at the table, pen aloft.)
After that, we went to the next recommended spot – Laura had suggested Inish Beg (near Baltimore) for a garden walk with a fairy trail. We spent about an hour and a half wandering around the beautiful gardens – we admired bluebells while the kids completely ignored them in favour of finding fairy houses and ticking them off on a map, so win win.
Afterwards we had coffee and cakes on the lawn while the kids ran around and played with the owner’s dog. At the end of the trip, all three kids said this was the best outing of the week.
Day 2: Barleycove and Schull
We woke to blazing sunshine on day 2 so headed for Barleycove beach, retracing footsteps from our last trip six years ago. This is one of my favourite beaches in the world.
We had no picnic with us (Ireland in April – we didn’t expect to last more than half an hour) so eventually left for nearby Schull, where (as recommended online) we ate savoury pancakes in Paradise Crepes. Then we had pancakes for dessert too. That’s probably a terrible thing to do but they were SO GOOD.
Day 3: Clonakilty and Inchydoney
Karen O’Reilly (employmum.ie) is someone I’ve never met in real life but we’ve chatted many times online and she’s contributed to some articles I’ve written. I knew she was from West Cork, so tweeted her to ask for recommendations. She had loads of suggestions, but sold me on her home town of Clonakilty when she mentioned cafés and boutiques. If she ever branches out from helping parents find flexible employment, she’d make a fantastic ambassador for West Cork.
So for day 3, we drove to Clonakilty and started with lunch in Richy’s, one of the restaurants Karen suggested. As I dug into a bowl of mussels, I realised that the person sitting behind me was author Louise O’Neill. In true internet-age fashion, I was too shy to approach her in the restaurant, but tweeted her afterwards. She confirmed that she was indeed there, and that my fears that my kids’ fairly loud discussions (comparing and judging all the chips they’d had this week) had interrupted her writing work were unfounded.
We wandered around lovely Clonakilty after lunch, then drove to Inchydoney beach. The weather wasn’t as bright as the previous day in Barleycove but it’s a stunning beach – I can’t wait to go back and see it in the sunshine.
Another popular option in Clonakilty is the model railway village but it was too late by the time we got there – we did it on our last visit and the (then much smaller) kids loved it.
Day 4: Mizen Head and Crookhaven
Karen also suggested Mizen Head, and having been there on our last trip, we decided to check it out again on our last day, especially as the sun was out again. We explained to the kids that we’d be at the very tip of Ireland, and they paid no attention at all, but we had cake for lunch (because the sandwiches looked fine but the cake looked great) and there was a playground, so everyone was happy. We spent about two hours just sitting there drinking coffee and looking at the sea while the kids played – proper holidays.
We drove then to Crookhaven – a short but stunning journey along the water’s edge, and had a late lunch/ early dinner sitting outside The Crookhaven Inn.
On our leaving day, we went back to Clonakilty for lunch in Arís Café, another lovely spot that had been recommended, then on to visit family in Cork, before heading back to Dublin.
As we crossed the threshold, my temporarily resurrected Cork accent disappeared, but I suspect we won’t let another six years slip by before it’s back.
For the next trip, or for anyone else heading to West Cork, some other places that were suggested include:
Bantry House and Garden
If you have others, I’d love to hear them in the comments!