Bantry Bay

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter IV-20 | Start of chapter

We have now reached Bantry Bay. This noble spreading bay, as viewed from the land, presents so many new and magnificent features to the spectator, sailing up from the entrance of the harbour to the town of Bantry, who has leisure to behold the picturesque and varied shores of this great estuary, that I cannot pass them by without briefly noticing them. The length of the bay exceeds thirty miles, in breadth it varies from three to eight miles, and in some places it is forty fathoms in depth. The shores of this vast sheet of water are agreeably diversified; on the north side, the mountain barriers which confine it seem to start up precipitously from the water's edge, and give a wild and impresssive character to the scenery. At the north-eastern extremity, the junction of the mountain-streams that rush from the romantic Glengariff, form a lesser bay of great beauty. The scenery in the vicinity of the town is softer and more graceful than on the opposite shore; the grounds and demesne of the Earl of Bantry, which adjoin the town sweep in fine wooded undulations and beautiful glades down to the margin of the bay. Around all, the blue, lofty chain of Killarney and the Reefs, Glengariff and Gougaune Barra, with other mountains of the boldest and most fantastic outlines, gird, as it were, with a zone, this magnificent picture. The bay is studded with islands, of which Bere Island and Whiddy are the principal. The first, which is bold and rocky, lies close under the northern shore in an arm of the bay, called Berehaven: the second is of lesser extent, but greater fertility than Bere Island. It is situated opposite to Glengariff, at the head of the bay, and consists of three gently undulating hills, the centre one of them being crowned with the ruins of an old castle, erected by the O'Sullivans in the reign of Henry VI.

In quitting Bantry Bay, we feel quite unable to convey to the mind of the reader a perfect idea of the wild magnificence of the coast-scenery of this district. Filled with unspeakable awe and admiration at the majesty and vastness of the picture, the spectator at first cannot find language to express the impressions he has received, and it is only by repeated inspection that he becomes able to separate and analyse the multitude of images and emotions that crowd upon his mind. As we continue our course northward, we find the leading characteristics of wildness and grandeur still preserved in the aspect of the coast. The stupendous masses of rock which form headlands, and protect the numerous bays against the mighty waves of the Atlantic; the rocky mountains, which line the shores of the bays and harbours; and the wild mountain solitudes between Bantry and the northern confines of Kerry, are as fertile in scenes of bold and striking grandeur as the most ardent admirer of pictorial sublimity can desire.