Oileán Chléire (Cape Clear) is Ireland’s southernmost inhabited Gaeltacht island. It has an enviable location – right on the cusp of the continental shelf. The entrance to Roaringwater Bay is one of the leading dolphin and whale sighting locations in Europe and, if the weather’s on your side, a visitor might also catch sight of leatherback turtle, sunfish and shark.
The island is also home to Ireland’s only manned bird observatory, which has been maintaining a daily species log since 1959. Located a mere two-minute walk from the ferry beach, the observatory is manned by a resident warden (March to November), and even offers birdwatchers hostel-style accommodation. May and October are high season.
In summertime, Oileán Chléire (Cape Clear) is festive. Scores of Irish language students energise the island; day-trippers stroll to the lake or the Old Lighthouse; yachts ply in and out of the harbours. A storytelling festival brings alive the oral traditions of yore and outdoors enthusiasts pitch up with kayaks, fishing rods, hiking boots and binoculars. Beneath the seas, scuba divers prowl old wrecks and precipitous reefs.
The islands is firmly on the radar of walkers too, many of whom – after a stroll on the pebble beaches or gorse-strewn headlands – will pop into one of the island’s lively pubs. The Cape Clear community speaks both Irish and English, and knows how to spring a music session, light a cosy fire or spark a friendly chat – visitors are always welcome at their social soirees.
Location: 14.5km off Baltimore. By road, Baltimore is roughly 12 kilometres from Skibbereen, 42km (50mins) by road from Bantry, and 98km (1hr 45mins) from Cork.
Size: 4.8km x 1.6km. Oileán Chléire (Cape Clear) can be enjoyed by daytrip, but a longer visit is required to see the entire island, or to fully enjoy its many festivals!
Facilities: B&Bs, self-catering, hostel, yurt village/campsite, observatory, shops (groceries, crafts), restaurants, pubs, heritage centre, goat farm, guided walks, tourist information office, library, internet access.
Top 3 Activities: Birdwatching, Walking, Irish language courses.
Getting there: Ferries sail daily from Baltimore, year-round. Sailings take about 45 minutes. You can also catch a ferry from Schull Pier from June to September.
Getting around: Visitors can explore the island on foot, by bus tour, boat hire or on board Paddy’s Wagon (the island’s cheerful – and colourful – tractor-drawn wagon).