Nestled in the Derrynasaggart Mountains is the romantic lake of Gougane Barra, the source of the river Lee. It is one mile long and about ¼ mile broad, bounded on all sides, except the east, by precipitous mountains. Down the precipices wind numerous streams, which, after heavy rains, become foaming cataracts, “with a roaring noise like thunder.” The whole scene is very striking and in the 7th Century, St Finbarr, a native of the locality, founded a monastery prior to establishing a monastery “where the waters of the Lee meet the tide,” in Cork.
In the middle of Gougane Barra lake is an island approached by a causeway, at the entrance to which is St Finbarr’s well and an ancient cemetery held in great veneration. On the island is a cluster of buildings, a small Church, and, adjoining it, the ruins of the conventional buildings. Eight small circular cells surround the court and in these cells are plaster casts of the Stations of the Cross; in the centre of the court is a wooden cross raised on a platform. An annual pattern and pilgrimage to St Finbarr is held here every September on the first Sunday after St Finbarr's feast day, 25th of September.
Further up the valley is The Coillte National Forest Park, opened to the public in 1964 and has 254 hectares of forest and woodland to explore. The Park has drive-through facilities and numerous pathways for all types of walkers. Please check for access to the forest as it may be closed from time to time for tree felling.
Gúgan Barra is part of the Muscraí (Muskerry) Gaeltacht, an area of West Cork where Irish is still to the fore. Coláiste na Mumhan (Irish College) was founded in Gougane Barra in 1904 to teach the Irish language to 'Timirí' (Irish language enthusiasts). The Coláiste then moved to Beal Áthan Ghaorthaidh (Ballingeary) and has celebrated summer schools since then. Daonscoil an Fhomháir have an annual weekend in October every year in the hotel, where Irish is the spoken language and different topics of interest relating to the Irish language are discussed.
For the more energetic there are interesting walks ascending the slopes, from which the panoramic view of mountain and crag, lake and forest, present a picture of unforgettable beauty. For the skilled walker the high hills surrounding Gougane Barra invite you to sample the joys of hill walking.
Other activities in Gougane Barra include cycling; the Cork City-Beara-Gougane Barra cycle route passes through Gougane Barra and finishes here. Gougane Barra is a favourite location for trout anglers and painters. In fact Eric Cross wrote the controversial book The Tailor and Ansty, a witty collection of sketches commemorating the talk of his friend Tim Buckley, the tailor of Gougane Barra.