On the Monday we decided to go back the same way as the day before and make our way to Skibbereen. This town is further away from Castletownbere than Bantry in terms of driving time. The drive is absolutely lovely though! You will see plenty of cows and sheep as usual, as well as large looming fields of green and even some actual mountains. The roads from Castletownbere to Skibbereen were good too, narrow enough, but not too much which can lead to constant slow-downs and discomfort.
On the drive there are many turns that open up to beautiful scenery. With Nick driving, I could absorb all of the views without having to worry about staying on the road! We passed the Eccles Hotel in Glengarriff (I’ve still yet to go in!) and once again passed through the lovely town of Bantry. We pulled over at one point to admire the views along the way.
We arrived to Skibbereen, navigated the very crowded and narrow streets in the town, and parked around the corner from The Heritage Centre. This facility was built in an old gasworks building that was restored and remodelled for this new purpose. This was the first place we visited in Skibbereen and I'm so glad we did! This centre has a museum about the Great Famine, aka Gorta Mór, as well as information about Lough Hyne and opportunities for people to explore their genealogy. To visit the exhibition, it was €6 each. This was fine with me because the tickets also get you a discount on visiting Skellig Experience Centre (which we will eventually do someday) as well as a discount for visiting the Cobh Heritage Centre, and the discounts never expire! There was also sign requesting people do not take pictures, and I could understand why. The Famine is a very serious and somber topic and the no-photos rule may be there to prevent insensitive selfies from happening.
The famine exhibition is small but very engaging. You stroll through, following the footsteps on the ground, and learn bit by bit about the famine. There is an app you can download to accompany your experience in the exhibition as well. You start with some background on the diets of Irish people at the time, which for many, heavily relied on the potato. You also get some background on how English rule and land ownership in Ireland worked at the time. Both concepts are essential to understanding what happened next.
I learned about how Skibbereen was effected particularly bad by the Great Famine. It became a town where journalists and other curious people would flock to in order to report the horrible state of what was happening to the people back home. I liked looking at some original prints from an illustrated paper in London that depicted many scenes fro the famine. The drawings were powerful and the message clear: people were dying. Some other interesting topics to hear about were the work houses and legislation that was enacted during the famine. It made me sad to think about how the famine occurred in the first place, and how it was handled by the people in power. I was also really interested Dr. Dan Donovan. He was a famous famine doctor and helped distinguish causes of death between starvation or other comorbid diseases. His descriptions of what was going on were heartbreaking to read.
Overall, I think this small exhibition was really good and I'm glad we visited. I really enjoyed the different stations where you could watch and listen to learn more about different topics within The Famine. I think it's important for anyone visiting Ireland to at least do a bit of reading on The Famine because what happened is quite shocking. It always blows my mind that there are less people living in Ireland TODAY than there were prior to the famine due to the massive amounts of death and emigration during the 1840s, and this fact highlights just how effected Ireland really was. I also found this small exhibition to be more interactive and engaging than I did other Famine exhibitions that I've been to. This Heritage Centre exhibition was short and sweet, but packed a punch to the gut.
Next time we are in the area, I would like to visit the Abbeystrewry Graveyard where famine burial sites and memorials are located. If anyone goes, let me know how it is!
After the Heritage Centre we made our back around the corner and into the main town. Right away, I really like it. As I've said in a previous post, all these small towns in West Cork have charm, but each one is still different from the next. I felt that Skibbereen had a lot of character. I think was partly due to me enjoying the Irish language that was sprinkled throughout the main streets, as well as the fact that their arts festival had just begun. I gathered that the upcoming festival was Moon Landing themed, and many of the store fronts had creative window displays that were on theme. According the website there were several events going on through the week until the 4th of August, including shows, art exhibitions, spoken word events and several films being shown. I didn't realise that this was going to be happening when we visited, but next time I will definitely keep my ears and eyes open for events I'd be interested in. I will say though, I absolutely loved the moon landing theme.
I also think some of the character of Skibbereen was in the names of the shops and the street art all around the town. I am pretty sure there was one store called Higgeldy Piggledy which I thought was perfectly kitsch. The bright colours and uniqueness of each shop is so inviting and fun. I also noticed how many places there were to eat. The streets were bursting with small cafes just asking you to come in for a mocha and a scone. There were also plenty of places to go shopping for a gift, and a unique restaurant built into an old church that I definitely want to try next time we visit.
We stopped for lunch at Benedict's on North Street, and it was very good. Nick ordered a burger with a side salad (we love a good side salad!) and chips. I ordered a vegetarian Irish breakfast, which is served all day. It was hard to choose what to order because the menu was full of amazing options, especially for breakfast food. The cafe was quiet, good for people watching, and had some quirky elements inside such as a tank with turtles in it. The staff were very nice too, and the food was excellent. I was also very impressed with the price! It was so cheap! If I lived in Skibbereen I feel like I would spend a lot of time in Benedict's.
This town definitely has something for everyone. If you were to stay for a few nights, it is definitely a lovely stop in West Cork. There were plenty of pubs, food places and things to do. I also noticed several jewellery stores and boutiques. I think it would be a good place to shop for a fancy date night outfit. If you were staying here on a budget, you could do that too with an Aldi grocery store just beyond the heritage centre. Furthermore, I got a sense that the coffee around here is excellent.
Skibbereen definitely left an impression on me. Seeing the Irish language everywhere inspired me to get back into practicing some Irish! For that I use a mix of a few apps on my phone, supplemented by Nick's knowledge too. Irish is the national lnguage of Ireland, so I really appreciated seeing it around. Poor Nick was probably so annoyed with me asking him to read all the signs.
I also greatly enjoyed the focus on the arts, which is something that rings true for much of West Cork. There is an appreciation for the arts which I love. Hopefully their arts festival goes brilliantly and they are blessed with the same amazing weather we had all week.
In the future, I would totally bring someone back here again just to walk around and enjoy the day. It was also very easy to get to and is well sign-posted when you pass through Bantry. The drive here from Castletownbere was lovely with several points of beautiful scenery. The town itself is also easy to get around and I don't think you could get lost. The only thing that freaks me out is the parking on the narrow streets, but that might be just me. Nick did brilliantly with that anyways, so there was no need for me to worry!
In the end, if you're coming to West Cork, Skibbereen is a GREAT place to visit!! The colourful streets and Irish signage give this town amazing character. For a Monday, it was also buzzing, which is always a good thing. We will definitely be coming again I'm sure, and now I have to go add it onto the wedding website. Eek!!!