Gougane Barra, Ballingeary, County Cork. 6th – 19th century

Gougane Barra is a wild and wonderful glaciated valley located in the Shehy Mountains in West Cork. The name translates to mean ‘Finbarr’s Rock’ and is named after a 6th century monk who reputedly founded a monastery here on the little island in the lake. Most of the present ruins however date from the 1700’s when the penal laws were enforced. Catholics during this period could not openly practice their faith and so traveled to isolated landmarks like rocks or locations like Gougane Barra to hear Mass. One of the most famous ‘Mass Paths’ led from the Borlin Valley to the west via Gowlane Stream and down into Com Rua by way of the savage cleft of Poll. The beautiful 19th century church is known as St Finbarr’s Oratory and is famous as a popular place for wedding photography due to its picturesque location. The feast of St Finbarr falls on the 25th of September and many pilgrims still visit this holy site and attend mass on the Sunday closest to this date. The forest park here is rich in flora and fauna, contains some 20 different species of trees and is the source of the mighty River Lee that flows into Cork City.