Armada Exhibition
Bantry Bay
Bantry House
Whiddy Island

The town of BANTRY is located at the northern end of the bay to which it gives its name. In olden times called Kilgoban after its patron, St. Goban, the present name Bantry is said to derive from Beant-Mac-Farriola, a descendant of the O’Donovans and O'Mahonys, chieftains of the area.Today Bantry is a market town, port and tourist centre.

Bantry House is situated on the verge of Bantry town and overlooks Bantry Bay. The original house was built in 1750 and was once the seat of the Earls of Bantry.


Bantry Bay is a long inlet of the Atlantic Ocean, an area of outstanding natural beauty. The bay is 48 km long, 16km at its broadest point and is one of the largest and deepest natural bays  in Ireland and in Europe. Bantry Bay is surrounded by mountains and separates the Beara Peninsula to the north from the Sheep’s Head Peninsula to the south. The bay gives good shelter to yachts and ships in adverse weather.

Bantry Bay featured prominently twice in the naval history of Ireland; in 1689 when a French fleet entered the bay to aid James II, and again in 1796 to assist the rebellion by the United Irishtmen.

In the late 1700s the Irish patriot Theobold Wolfe Tone of the United Irishmen, enlisted French assistance to overthrow British rule in Ireland. In December 1796 a French Armada with 15,000 troops left Brest in France for Bantry Bay. However, severe winter weather conditions scattered the fleet and only 19 ships with 6,500 troops arrived in the bay off Bere Island. Fierce easterly gales prevented a landing and blew the ships out to sea. By New Year’s Day 1797, 12 ships with 4,500 troops were anchored off Whiddy Island. After many attempts and failing to land in Ireland, the fleet returned to France. One old frigate, 'La Surveillante' was left behind because of storm damage and was scuttled off Whiddy Island on January 2nd 1797.

The story of this ship and the unsuccessful French invasion is related in an exhibition at Bantry House.

The main commercial fishing fleet in Bantrv Bay is based at the port of Castletownbere. With a smaller fleet at Bantry, Castletownbere is one of the chief commercial fishing centres in Ireland. Fish species regularly landed include cod, haddock, herring, mackerel, plaice, whiting and shellfish such as lobster, prawn, shrimp and scallop.

In recent years Bantry Bay has become the most important area in Ireland for the production of mussels, which are grown on rope rafts in sheltered sections of the bay. Processing for sale takes place in local factories.

Within the vast open Bantry Bay there are a number of islands. The largest, Bere Island, is inhabited and has a long and interesting history. For many years it was an important British military and naval base. It is used today by the Irish army for training. Garinish Island lies within Glengarriff Bay. It is famous for its Italian gardens,  and is well worth a visit by boat from Glengarriff. A low rock, Roancarrig, is the site of the only lighthouse in Bantry Bay.

Whiddy Island is the location of a large oil terminal and is home to several families who farm the fertile land.

Because of its vast size, it is difficult to view the whole of Bantry Bay at once, except perhaps from the air. Bantry Bay is surrounded by scenic mountains and magnificent views of the bay can be had from a number of good vantage points:

    Vaughan’s Pass (named after a County Councillor from the 1950s) is east of Bantry town off the Cork/ Drimoleague road (R586) and provides magnificent views of inner Bantry Bay and the islands.
    On the road between Bantry town and Glengarriff (N71) there are a number of viewing points overlooking Bantry Bay where the visitor can enjoy wonderful views of the area. Viewing points between Bantry and Adrigole offer views of the Whiddy Island oil terminal and jetty. A point on the road west of Castletownbere also presents excellent views of the outer area of Bantry Bay and Castletownbere.
    The visitor travelling the narrow road on the north side of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula will also encounter spectacular land and seascapes. From the tip of the peninsula at Sheep’s Head, here are some impressive vistas of outer Bantry Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.

The oil terminal on Whiddy Island was constructed in 1969 by Gulf Oil. It was established at a time when the Suez canal was closed to shipping. Large crude-oil tankers known as supertankers, sailed from the Middle East via the Cape of Good Hope to the Whiddy terminal to discharge their cargo. With large size and deep draft, many of these tankers could not enter most world ports. However, Bantry Bay could accommodate them.

The first oil tanker to discharge at the terminal was the supertanker Universe Ireland. In 1979, the Betelgeuse was the last to discharge its cargo.

The French oil tanker Betelgeuse exploded on January 8th 1979 while unloading a cargo of crude oil at the terminal with the unfortunate loss of fifty French and Irish lives. An inscribed memorial high-cross stands in the cemetery near Bantry town.

A single-point mooring buoy for loading and off-loading has been installed since.

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This is the most colourful book ever on West Cork and includes all the photographs and information found on this website and much much more.

Photographs and Text by:
John J. Earley MSc.

Size: A5 (148 x 210 mm) 64 glossy pages (200g/sm) contains over 200 photographs all in splendid colour. Glossy cover with foldout colour map over two pages.

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