Great West Cork Sea Bathing Spots | Island Edition

West Cork is the hotspot for sea bathing spots. Maybe it’s the Hundred Islands, big swells, seaweed coves or sheltered canals? Or maybe the long open beaches or the short pebble beaches? Different shots for different people. Find your best shot among these stunning West Cork sea bathing spots.

Heir Island

Heir Island

For most, the sound of motor ferries is synonymous with summer, but for the lucky ones in West Corkon, it’s the sound of everyday life.

Carbery’s Hundred Islands include more than a rock knob or two, but there are also larger dollops like Heir Island. A Goldilocks just good island bowl.

Join the short thrum at Cunnamore for the 5 minute ride. Enough time to absorb the stretch of sea framed by East Skeams with Mount Gabriel satisfied and approving.

To swim with this view and watch the action as the boats zip by or sail, take the first right, just a mere upper reach from the pier. Walk past the stone cottage where Percy Hall was the first artist-in-residence.

If you prefer sand to pebbles, keep taking the first left. Green pushes the central grass fairways.

Slight descent before lo! Reen’s main strand. There she blows – fake white sand, long bar and usually empty in the summer months. Wandering sand creeps underfoot before the lane naturally merges into the beach. All roads should end at a great swimming spot in the West Cork Sea.

Early 20and century, on Christmas Day, the islanders played an annual football game here. In July and August, beach balls bounce next to the ghosts of old leather balls.

Returning to the continent boasting of a Parisian swim? Instead of diverting to the Reen (or trying both), continue to a cluster of cottages over a perfect bridge. This bridge (minus the padlocks) is more of the Goldilocks just to the right in certain shades of light, you can time travel here.

In certain shades of light, you can time travel here. It’s the 21stst district where you can brew from the Left Bank at high tide.

Sherkin Island

Sherkin Island

In June/July/August, count your swim to the island in one day by continuing to Sherkin from Heir in Danny Murphy’s ferry. Or depart Baltimore year-round to focus solely on Sherkin.

It also hits the Goldilocks button, with an extra cream double dribble – one of Ireland’s top pubs – The Jolly Roger. If possible, try to get away from this tasty diversion until swimming.

Follow the road through an arch of overhanging trees, a Dark Hedges island, until a fork forces a hold. The climb takes you past St Mona’s Church to the less visited Trá Bán or turn right to two options – the Cow and Silver strands. Try all three at the same time or, less greedy, enjoy one at a time.

The trio is not pebbly with the ocean unfolding in front. As the road passes the entrance to Cow Strand, the surface loses asphalt and gains sand. Cape Clear rises ahead, channeled between two rocky outcrops. At the next turn, Silver Strand’s perfect cuticle dips under the road. A short walk invites you down.

Trá Bán is more isolated and requires negotiation across country, but is worth a cow’s puff or two for the extra shelter. Whether you choose one, two or three, each is a great place to swim in the West Cork Sea.

Cape Clear

Cape clear

The furthest from the mainland of all the islands in West Cork, the longer ferry ride to Cape Clear helps add to the thrill of the faraway look. A feeling of elsewhere intensifies with the Irish language in the foreground. Your snámh will have the holiday vibe minus passport use, no long security queues, no Barrys tea and Tayto contraband required.

The sandiest beach is at North Harbour, in shades of heron gray rather than silver or gold. Its unique location makes it one of West Cork’s best sea bathing spots.

It is also the busiest place on the island with ferry arrivals and departures and the location of the cooperative center – An Siopa Beag (pocket shop filled with a lovely variety), restaurant and pizzeria, boutique tourism and craftsmanship.

The bus/taxi also uses the North Port as a departure and arrival point. You don’t see quad because it regularly zooms back and forth.

This bustling hub injects some extra exuberance into a snámh here. Instead of people watching from a calm cafe chair, slow down your stroke, search and listen to the island life of the living element of farraige. Go hiontach ar fad.

Double your harbor swims with a short walk to South Harbour. It is a beach of pebbles and seaweed, no less wonderful than oars of sand like the sambas of water under the sun –

. . .crowd of colors on the sea then my mind begins to slide towards them carried by a wave of wind – (Alice Oswald)

Copper Point Lighthouse, Long Island

Long Island

Take the ferry from Colla Pier to another great West Cork sea bathing spot. The flattest of all the islands in West Cork, but Flat Island didn’t escape the tongue when baptized. Neither does Skinny Island. Its elongation is the distinctive sign almost 1km wide, 5km long. Operation Transformation would be proud.

Your first swim here might start near the pier with full, un-skimmed views, where from a great West Cork swimming spot you can spot a gallant Gannet diving and diving as you bob and float.

For your second swim, turn right after the pier until a rocky path unfolds beside a bench. Follow this enchanting path embellished with scallops, rainbow buoys and marine rope.

This shell emporium designed by Joe Whooley leads you to a stepped, tapering cove. Swim to Famous Five days here. Treasure flows from every pore.

Goats crossing the sea arch on East Skeam Island in Roaring Water Bay, photo: Bethany Cradick, Kilkilleen.

East Skeams (or Easter Skeams)

And now, head to the island without a ferry, go kayaking, take a lift or take your own boat. Cunnamore is the closest pier to stretch your thumb or shake your sea legs.

The main pane faces the Roaring Water Castle showdown Kilcoe and Rincolisky wink or push each other. Seal sounds can ricochet off Oileán na Ránee as your brain seals itself off from inner noise.

Directly behind the main strand, almost back to back, is another sandier option. Here the views shift to West (or Wester) Skeams. A random cow or goat might wander nearby – be prepared to share your space. On this island, the goat-trampled arch is a wonder of West Cork…..but watch your step.

If you prefer a smaller nook, follow the path past the two-story ruin to a stony cove. A swim here in the clarity of the Aegean Sea will make the heart explode. An emergence, a mental remedy and a spirit full of elemental life. The inner pulse of these stunning West Cork sea bathing spots…….

where the cold of swimming is no different from the clear of looking – (Alice Oswald)

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