When strolling through the trees of the Gougana Barra Forest Park, and gazing out at the placid waters of Gougana Barra’s lake, you can see why this corner of southwestern Ireland was a place of historical solace. It was here on the island in the middle of the lake, that St. Finnbar—patron saint of Cork—founded a monastery in the 6th century before eventually moving to Cork. When visiting the Gougane Barra today, the most popular site is St. Finnbar’s Oratory on a small island in the lake. With its romantically elegant stone design, this 19th-century, picturesque church is a popular spot for weddings, and it’s also a holy pilgrimage site—where Roman Catholics would hold secret Mass away from the Anglican Church. Behind the lake is the National Forest Park and its system of hiking and biking trails, which pass through woods that are densely forested in Sitka Spruce and Pine. This is also the site of the River Lee—which meanders its way through Cork—and while Gougane Barra is most often visited as a relaxing day trip from Cork, there’s also a small, family-run hotel that’s open from April-October.
Gougane Barra is one hour from Cork and 50 minutes from Killarney. There is no entrance fee to visit the church, and while hikers in the park can enter free of charge, there is a $6 entrance fee for cars driving in the park.