Most people who tour south Cork pass through this fishing and market centre on the main coastal road. The town stands at the head of the long haven of Bantry Bay, sheltered by two of the hilly peninsulas that trail southwest from Cork’s mainland. A statue of St Brendan gazes seawards from its square by the harbour. Bantry was twice a unsuccessful target for the French invaders hoping to establish a base in a friendly Catholic enclave from which to overthrow the English. In 1689 a French fleet called in, offering support for James II, only to be rebuffed by William of Orange’s supporters. In 1796 the revolutionary Wolfe Tone arrived with another French fleet, but was driven back by fierce storms. An alert local landowner, Richard White, sent urgent warnings to the English forces and was rewarded for his loyalty by a peerage.
His decendants still live in the splendid mansion of Bantry House, one of the most beautifully located houses in Ireland. The terraced Italianate gardens overlook a gorgeous sweep of Bantry Bay. The house amply repays a visit, its sumptuous rooms full of fascinating objects. In a renovated side courtyard is the Bantry 1796 French Armada Exhibition Centre. This lively museum recounts the history of Wolfe Tone’s failed rebellion and display articles recovered from the wreck of the frigate La Surveillante, which sank during the storm.
In 1796, Britain was once more saved from foreign invasion by the weather. On 16 December a French Armada of 43 ships set sail from Brest, bound for Ireland. From the start, it was a disaster, storms disrupting communications between the fleet. Soon the ships were separated and only 16 battered crews reached Bantry Bay with their commander, Wolfe Tone.
On Christmas Eve Tone was ready to make his attack, but fatally, he decided to wait for Hoche, the French commander. By the next day his chance of a landing had gone; savage gales had blown the ships out of the bay. Tone wrote in his journal, ‘We were close enough to throw a biscuit ashore…The elements fight against us.’
Visit Bantry on your tours of Ireland with Ireland Luxury Tours……….