The history of West Cork goes back to the earliest times when the Milesians, who are reputedly the first settlers in Ireland arrived at Donemark near Bantry. Our landscape is studded with stone circles, megalithic tombs and standing stones from pre-celtic times. Traces of celtic Christian times remain such as the Kilnaruane stone from the eigth century, located near Bantry.
The ill-fated visit of the French Armada to Bantry Bay in December 1796 is commemorated by a life-size statue of Wolfe Tone in the Square. A longboat left behind was stored in Bantry House until the 1940’s and replicas of this are now used worldwide for training young people in seamanship skills.
Bantry prospered in the Napoleonic Wars because of the huge demand for agricultural produce. The fishing industry employed large numbers of people in the “Fish Palaces” on the Square. The Great Famine of 1845-7 decimated the population, and emigration became the norm for many families. Bantry was prominent in the Land Wars and the Home Rule movement, and in the War of Independence, which saw the birth of the Irish nation.
The development of Whiddy Island as a world class oil terminal in 1969 brought huge benefits to the area, only to be decimated again by the Betelgeuse oil tanker explosion of January 1979.
Today Bantry and district are once again thriving, despite the economic downturn. In its hinterland, thriving villages such as Durrus, Glengarriff, Ahakista, Kilcrohane, Kealkil and Drimoleague have schools full of young people, many of whose parents returned to Bantry during the so called Celtic Tiger years. The population of this region is optimistic, thrifty and mobile. Increasing inward tourism and the rejuvenation of agriculture signal a bright future.