Join surfers, swimmers and walkers on the many strands, coves and sandy beaches, which are overlooked by the historic Galley Lighthouse and Rathbarry (Castelfreke) Castle , once the home of Lord Carbery. Or stroll the Coillte developed walks at Castlefreke Woods.
You’ll also find numerous historical gems including a Celtic cross, standing stones, ring forts, a sprigging school and more.
Ardfield is also a premier fishing destinations in Europe with an annual fishing competition as part of the Summer festival.
DIRECTIONS: Located 10-15 minutes from Clonakilty by car.
Galley Head Lighthouse
The gleaming white Galley Head Lighthouse rises an imposing 53m above the roaring Atlantic ocean. Along with the Old Head of Kinsale and Fastnet Lighthouses, it’s an important aid to offshore navigation. It is one of 65 lighthouses operated by the Commissioners of Irish Lights around the coast of Ireland and continues to provide a vital role in maritime safety today.
When first constructed in 1875, it was the most powerful lighthouse light in the world – the original light could be seen in clear weather for a distance of 30km. Its lantern, dome and 21-metre tower are still painted white, just as they were in the 19th century.
Lightkeepers at Galley Head would have witnessed the loss of the Lusitania in 1915 and sighted many British and German vessels during World War I and II.
The lighthouse was converted to electric operation in 1969 and automated in 1979.
While not possible to casually visit the lighhouse, Irish Landmark Trust has restored two lightkeepers’ houses which offer self-catering accommodation.
Rathbarry castle and the Castlefreke estate were originally the site of a 15th century tower house that was owned by the Barry family.
The Freke family, who arrived in Ireland in the seventeenth century, acquired a number of estates in West Cork, including the former Barry castle. In 1642, during the Eleven Years’ War, the Freke family were forced to defend the castle from Confederate Irish forces during a sustained siege.
Following an intermarriage with members of the Evans family, the combined Evans-Freke dynasty became Barons of Carbery in the early 18th century. The original 15th century tower house was damaged by fire and other events, and John Evans-Freke, 6th Baron Carbery built a new castle on the estate in 1780.The older (Barry) fortification was incorporated into the estate’s farm buildings.
Following a fire in the early 20th century, Castle Freke was sold by John Evans-Freke, 10th Baron Carbery, and the estate and its lands passed to the Irish Land Commission. The building was used as a military barracks during The Emergency (WWII) before being partially dismantled in the 1950s. Remaining as a ruin for several decades, the castle was purchased in 2005 by a descendant of the Evans-Freke family, who (as of 2019) was restoring the building.
The ruins of an early 19th century church and graveyard are located on the castle’s demesne.
Ardfield playground is beloved by children of all ages for its fun facilities including a zipwire! Adults can spend their time taking in panoramic views of the coastline.
A visit to the lovingly restored Sprigging School in Rathbarry, accessed via a bridge over a picturesque small stream, is highly recommended. The school was established by Lady Carbery in 1825, when there was a strong market for handmade lace. The name sprigging comes from the type of lace associated with Rathbarry which was known as sprigging lace as it was shaped like a sprig or spray. Now a one-roomed building, it was originally divided in two to include a domestic space for the live-in teacher, who slept on a settle bed in the kitchen. An information panel in the building tells its story.
FISHING AND ANGLING
For angling, Long Strand lives up to its name so the best mark is at the farthest point east. Flounder and the odd Bass are taken at low water and the first of the ebb. Dunnycove is the bay nearest Ardfield village and offers some excellent rock fishing at all stages of the tide. Flounder are the prime candidate amongst the Flatfish, but Dogfish and Bass are also taken as are Thornback Ray at distance, and ideally on night tides in warm calm weather.
Local fishing companies offer trips to sea.
Sands Cove is a secluded shingled cove that is suitable for a swim, kayaking, snorkelling or a spot of rock pool hunting.
Red Strand is a sandy beach that is loved by children and boasts a lovely view of Galley Head Lighthouse.
Long Strand is overlooked by Castlefreke woods so provides the option of a long beach or woods walk. It has lovely dunes for exploring or enjoying a sheltered picnic but the waters are not suitable for swimming.
Discover many other hidden coves loved by locals!
Castlefreke is a collection of small woodlands that are linked by a number of trails. Once part of the Freke Estate there are many features to remind you of this fact, including impressive entrances, a high cross, estate walls and specimen trees. Rathbarry castle is private but the ruined Rathbarry church and graveyard can be visited.
The woods are ecologically rich with a range of habitats including wet woodlands, coastal marine sites and old woodland. It’s location beside the Long Strand make for some truly spectacular views of the Atlantic and the coastline.
The walk by Kilkeran Lake in Rathbarry village (opposite the entrance to Castlefreke) is also recommended.
See Clonakilty Walking on this website for full details of the walks.