Travel Tales – West Cort

My Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast episode this week is a West Cork Destination Special where I interview two Blue Book hoteliers from the Clonakilty area to give us an overview of the area and local tips and recommendations.

My first interviewee is Michael O’Neill from Fernhill House and Gardens Hotel, who is a 4th generation hotelier. Then you will hear from Kela Hodgins of Donowen House both close to Clonakilty in West Cork.


Both Kela and Michael are part of Ireland’s Blue Book collection. I love the Blue Book because they are mostly family owned and run Irish Country House Hotels, Manor Houses, castles and restaurants. You really get to see Irish hospitality at its best and the properties are generally old country houses, so you get a real sense of the history of the area you are staying in. A Blue Book voucher would always be my top travel gif recommendation and their website is

The new Blue Book for 2023 has just been released and they have five new properties joining the Blue Book collection. The properties are Fernhill House and Gardens in Cork, The Lansdowne Kenmare, which is run by the famous Brennan brother, The Old Inn in Down, Perryville House in Kinsale and Tubbrid Castle in Kilkenny. The new additions bring the total number of properties in the Ireland’s Blue Book collection to 63.

Fernhill House & Gardens is a luxurious Georgian Mansion set on picturesque gardens overlooking the beautiful countryside of Clonakilty in West Cork. Fernhill’s gardens are among the finest in Ireland and were designed by Chelsea Gold Medal winner Mary Reynolds. A special recommendation from Michael is the West Cork Garden Trail ( which features stunning gardens in many of the great old houses of West Cork. You get to see amazing gardens but also learn the history of the great old houses of the area.

West Cork is famous for the influx and influence of people from abroad over the last few decades so my second guest on the podcast is a classic example. Kela Hodgins and her partner Stephen are originally from Dublin but moved to outside Clonakilty when they bought and resorted Dunowen House, a luxury 18th-century previously owned by Noel Redding, bass guitarist with the Jimi Hendrix Experience. The house showcases its unique rock and roll heritage set by a stunning coastal landscape of coves and beaches.
West Cork is fast becoming the food capital of Ireland due to its many artisan producers with a commitment to fresh and local. There are many local farmer’s markets to spend a morning at and sample West Cork’s finest produce with the market in Skibbereen a real highlight. West Cork has a number of fantastic Michelin starred restaurants including Chestnut in Ballydehob. Kela is a real foodie herself and became famous for her desert recipes on her Instagram during the lockdowns and she highly recommends Dede in Baltimore which is run by the Turkish-born chef Ahmet Dede.

The West Cork coast is dotted with hundreds of beaches where you can enjoy a walk, surfing or simply relaxing including nearby Inchydoney, Sands Cove, Long strand and Red strand. There is a multitude of picturesque towns and villages around West Cork for you to explore ranging from Timoleague with its abbey, Baltimore by the sea or Bantry and its bay.

The number one recommendation for an activity in West Cork from both Kela and Michael was do a Whale watching tour which they both say is “world class”. Check out my Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast to get many more tips on West Cork available on all podcast platforms now.