During our recent visit to Cork, we decided to take a spin down west to Gougane Barra to see St Finbarrs oratory, a little hidden gem west of Macroom. I’d been here years ago when I lived in Cork, and had memories of a little stone church on an small island, nestled below the mountains. As we turned the corner for our first sight of the church, these memories proved true.
It was quite cold this day, but we decided to take a wander round the little island. The name in Irish is Guagán Barra, meaning “the rock of Barra”.
“Barra” refers to St Finbarr, the patron saint of Cork, who is reputed to have built a monastery here during the 6th century.
As you enter the grounds you pass the old well. The church looks as beautiful closer up as it does from the road, and an old bell hangs from the remains of the 6th century monastery walls.
The present building dates to the 1700’s. It’s a tiny church, with only four small pews on either side. But it’s a beautiful place, with lovely stained glass windows and intricate stone carvings.
Outside, the remains of the monastery are crumbled moss covered ruins; there is feeling of peacefulness in this west Cork valley. It is believed that St Finbarr spent time here before making his way to Cork city. There he established another settlement close to the current site of St Finbarrs Anglican Cathedral.
Going up the steps you reach the remains of the monastery, with the Stations of the Cross in Irish placed above the old prayer cells of the monks. Standing there, the words contemplation and mediation come to mind.
Gougane Barra is set in a beautiful spot; the scenery is breath-taking, and it although it is more spectacular in summer, even in deepest winter it has a unique charm.
If you happen to be passing; stop and have a wander.