The Edge of Ireland: Mizen Head and Dromberg Stone Circle

After a very emotional week, I was in desperate need of some quality family time over the weekend.  We spent all day Saturday lounging around home–I don’t think the boys even got out of their pajamas the whole day. It was wonderful. By Sunday we were all ready to go out and do something, so we decided to embark on one of our family fun-ventures. I’ve been wanting to see Mizen Head, the southern-most point in Ireland, for quite some time now. After two failed attempts to go to Mizen Head in the last few months, it was time to give it another go. And, luckily for us, the third time worked like a charm. It was a glorious sunny day and we were surprised by how much we enjoyed our little day trip.

Mizen Head is in southwest County Cork, about a 2 hour drive from our house in Cork City.  On our way out to Mizen Head we made a couple of stops to help break up the drive. Our first stop was Dromberg Stone Circle, an ancient site of ritual and ceremony:

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Nobody knows the exact purpose of these circles (there are several still standing in Ireland), but it is believed that the alignment of the stones has something to do with the alignment of the sun during the winter solstice. Excavations of the Dromberg Stone Circle in the 1950’s uncovered a pottery vessel containing the cremated remains of a youth which were carbon dated to about 1100 B.C. Today, the circle still stands where it has stood for thousands of years: in the middle of a field overlooking the ocean. It’s quite sturdy, as evidenced by the climbability of the stones:

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Just outside of the stone circle there are the remains of two stone huts that were probably part of an ancient village:

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Inside one of the “huts” you can still see what remains of a unique cooking system. There are two pits: a hearth tucked into the back wall and a trough in the middle of the floor. Apparently what would happen is the people would heat stones in the hearth then place them in the trough full of water. The water would become quite hot for several hours and they could cook meat (and even brew beer!) submerged in the hot water. It’s kind of like a Bronze Age sous-vide cooker, if you will:

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After exploring the stone circle we got back in the car and continued up the road. On our way to Mizen Head we pulled off to what we thought was a turnoff at a scenic viewpoint. While the spot was unbelievably “scenic”, there was another little treasure here as well: an altar wedge tomb.

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This ritual tomb was constructed at the end of the Stone Age, between 3,000-2,000 B.C. The entrance to the tomb is deliberately aligned with the Mizen Peninsula and–if I don’t say so myself–has quite a magnificent view. Here are Jon and Jacob standing outside the entrance to the tomb for a little perspective of what the area looks like:

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From here it was only about 25 minutes to the Mizen Head visitor center. When we arrived at the visitor center we took care of business right away: 1. potty  2. lunch. It was such a nice day that we decided to have a picnic outside. There is a great playground at the visitor center and the boys were having so much fun there that we decided to just eat our lunch in the playground instead of sitting at the boring old picnic tables:

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At the playground, David found two little boys who were kindred spirits (as in, they all had boundless energy and enjoyed knocking each other down for fun). He had a grand time playing with his friends until Mom and Dad tore him away from them.

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To get to the end of the Mizen Peninsula, to the “head”–the very end of Ireland, you hike down a beautiful seaside path. The path is paved (thank goodness, because the boys never would have made it if we hadn’t brought the stroller!) and the scenery is breathtaking. Cliffs and crashing waves all around you. Absolutely incredible.

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When you get down to the bottom of the first cliff you have to cross a suspension bridge to get out to the lighthouse that is at the end of the peninsula. Here is the view of the suspension bridge from the top of the cliff:

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And here is the view from the suspension bridge looking down, down, down…it was a long way down. It’s hard to tell from the photo, but we were hundreds of feet in the air here with nothing but cliffs and rocks and water below:

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After we crossed over the bridge we walked down to a viewpoint where you could look back up at the bridge:

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Walking a bit further up the path we came to the hundred-year old lighthouse and keeper’s quarters that are set up like a bit of a museum now. When we walked out of the lighthouse it was the moment we’d all been waiting for: our view of the end of Ireland!

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It was amazing to see that point of rocks jutting out into the water, that southernmost part of this island. For thousands of people leaving Ireland (or Europe, for that matter) this point was their last glimpse of land–explorers, immigrants, and even convicts would have sailed by this very spot and off into the great blue ocean. And, for many who would never return, it was the last piece of Ireland they would ever see. For us, though, it was just another (beautiful) stop on our grand tour of this amazing country:

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After a full afternoon exploring Mizen Head we loaded back into the car. Before heading home, though, we made one last stop at a place called Barleycove Beach. There were huge sand dunes, millions of rabbits and their rabbit holes, seashells and, of course, rocks to throw in the water. A recent storm had washed out the footbridge across the river to the wide oceanfront beaches, but we still had a great time skipping stones on the river and collecting seashells.

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When we felt that the boys were sufficiently worn out we loaded them in the car for the long drive back home. Our ploy worked beautifully and within minutes both boys were snoozing peacefully in the back seat:

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We arrived back in Cork at dinner time and, since neither of us felt like cooking after our long day out, we decided to treat ourselves to dinner at our favorite “chipper” (a shop that sells fish and chips and other fried goodness). KC’s is ammmmazing, as evidenced by the mile-long line that winds out the front door and up the street during all business hours. The food is well worth the wait, though–especially if you’ve just had a long day exploring stone circles and wedge tombs and cliffs and beaches.

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I think we will all remember this day for many years to come: the day that we went to the edge of Ireland and back again.

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