The Lee Valley
Geographically, the area that has become known as the Lee Valley comprises the catchment area of the River Lee, incorporating within its borders the distinct valleys of its major tributaries including the Sullane, Foherish, Laney and others.

The Lee rises in the hills above Gougane Barra, the spot that St Finbarr chose for his 7th century hermitage which today remains a centre of pilgrimage. After many riverine adventures the Lee joins the sea below Cork City which was also founded by the Saint. The journey of the river mimics the saints own life-journey from a hermetic and idyllic setting among the Shehy Mountains - one of the most spectacularly beautiful settings in Ireland - to the busy, people centred city of Cork, also known as the ‘real capital’ of Ireland.

The upper Lee Valley is encircled by the Shehy (Carran 567m), Derrynasaggart (Paps 694m) and Boggeragh Mountains (Mushersmore 644m) and the glaciated valley displays a range of geographic features and their consequently beautiful landscapes.

Travelling downstream on the Lee, we meet Ballingeary (Beal Atha an Ghaorthaidh) in the parish of Uibh Laoire, also containing the villages of Inchigeelagh, Kilbarry and Toonsbridge. This is the Lee Valley’s Lake district, with four miles of unspoilt lake and mountain scenery.

Kilmichael famed in song and in story also lies downstream on the Lee and the events surrounding the historic 1921 ambush still remain controversial today.

Downstream of Toonsbridge the Lee transforms itself into the extensive alluvial forest of the Gearagh - the only one west of the Rhine. The network of narrow channels demarcate islands growing oak, ash birch and willow. The Gearagh is a world heritage Ramsar site and is protected under both Irish and European environmental law.

Further downstream again, the river forms the Carrigadrohid and Inniscarra reservoirs set in rich rolling countryside.

The Múscraí Gaeltacht
Within the Lee Valley catchment lies the culturally distinct are of the Múscraí Gaeltacht one of the few remaining Irish speaking areas in Ireland. Here you will find the villages of Baile Bhúirne (Ballyvourney), Baile Mhic Íre (Ballymakeera) and Cúil Áodha (Coolea) on the river Sullane, Beál Átha ‘n Ghaorthaidh (Ballingeary) and Guagán Barra (Gougane Barra) on the river Lee and the villages of Reidh na nDoirí (Renaniree) and Cill na Martra (Kilnamartra) astride the ridge that forms a watershed between the two valleys.

The way-marked-way the Beara Breifne Way traverses this region from Gougane Barra and Ballingeary to Ballyvourney and onwards north to Millstreet taking in some of the most unspoilt and varied countryside en route. The Múscraí Gaeltacht is the only Irish speaking area on the entire route lending particular importance to this section.

It was in Cúil Áodha that Sean Ó Riada lived and worked composing some of the most memorable Irish music of the twentieth century.

Macroom which lies on the Sullane River is the main market and economic centre of the region. It boasts a wonderful traditional market square and the remains of Macroom Castle and its demesne which, bequeathed to the townspeople forms a centrepiece to the town. Tuesday is the main market day with a second on Saturday when the livestock mart also takes place. Bealick Mill, which historically powered Macroom as the first town to have electric street-lighting in Ireland has been restored and is open to the public during the summer months. The town also boasts a thriving E Park which promotes environmentally freindly practice in business.

To the north of the town lie two regions in which the local heritage has been particularly well-preserved; Carriganima and Aghinagh which lie in the Foherish and Laney valleys respectively. Both have way-marked trails with excellently preserved examples of archaeological and historical sites.

The Lee Valley is ideally situated as a base to explore further west in Cork and Kerry while still having access to the cultural life of the 'real' capital.

Check sunset and sunrise times for Cork here

Mist Irish Mountains
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