The Copper Coast between Tramore and Dungarvan in County Waterford is one of the more spectacular driving and cycle routes in Ireland. Though not as well known as the Wild Atlantic Way, this rugged stretch of coastline boasts plenty of beautiful beaches, rugged clifftops, secluded coves and charming villages in a largely overlooked part of the country.
Named after the region’s historic metal-mining industry, the Copper Coast is now a well-preserved tourist attraction highlighting the geological history of the area from Palaeozoic volcanism to the last ice age. In 2004, UNESCO declared the region a Global Geopark.
Getting to the Copper Coast
From Waterford city, head south 13 km to R675 in Tramore and follow the route west to Dungarvan. Considered being one of the most beautiful scenic routes in the world, the drive can be easily completed in one day. This is also a popular route for cyclists. If driving by car, be extra careful approaching cyclists on the narrow and curvy country roads. It can be difficult to see oncoming traffic.
Tramore, in County Waterford, is a quaint seaside village and popular destination for surfing and other water sports. The town itself is built on a steep hill rising up from Tramore Beach. This former fishing hamlet has been a popular resort destination for the past 200 years.
Long rolling waves attract swimmers and surfers to the Newtown and Guillamene coves located off Cliff Road at the base of Newtown Head. There is a "men-only" sign on Guillamen beach for historical reasons. Up until the 1980s, both woman and children could only swim at Newtown Cove. Today, everyone is welcome.
Our first stop after Tramore was in the coastal village of Annestown in County Waterford. This charming village comprises about 25 cottages and houses built on a steep hill. The nearby secluded beach is an ideal spot for families, surfers, and swimmers to enjoy without too many people. The beach, recognized for its excellence in water quality and high environmental standards, was awarded the Green Coast Award in 2019.
At low tide, the Annestown Strand comes to life with an abundance of sea arches, islands and wildlife. The shallow water attracts families and visitors who want to explore the cove and wade in the water. Other times, the large swells and waves bring out the surfers.
The car park at the eastern end of the beach features an old “Lime Kiln” which you can explore.
Dunabrattin is locally known as Boatstrand. About 2,000 years ago, a Celtic clan lived along the top of the cliff. They were called the Brattins and their fort was called Dún. Hence the name Dunabrattin. The fort covered an area of around 6 hectares and was the largest along the Waterford coastline.
A little harbour below the cliffs, called Boatstrand harbour, was built in the late 1880s. The area has long been popular for boating and fishing. Reported to be one of the best fishing spots in County Waterford, Dunabrattin Head is very popular with anglers during the summer months. It is believed that the warmer temperature of the water around the head attracts mackerel to the area.
At low tide, a cluster of rock pools, sea-arches and sea-stacks appear along the strand. The locals consider the thin red strips of dilisk left plastered on the rocks by the ebb a nice delicacy once it’s washed and boiled.
Our next stop was the coastal village of Bunmahon. This was a prominent mining village between 1827 and 1877. The ruined mine shaft and chimney of Tankardstown mine still stands beside the coast road. This was the richest of the copper mines in the area. Miners descended into and climbed out of the mine by ladders set into one side of the shaft. There is a fence around the shaft warning visitors not to enter as the shaft is 256 metres deep and incredibly dangerous. Surprising to me that the fence is not higher than it is.
In 1840, about 2000 people lived in the village. It had 2 hotels, a pawnshop, creamery, bacon factory, several shops and 21 public houses. To curb drunkenness amongst the miners, the mine supervisors built Temperance Hall in 1842. It worked. Mostly, the miners spent their free time at Temperance Hall practicing music and engaging in various social activities. During the Famine years (1845–1847), the hall was used as a depot to feed countless hungry, destitute people. In 1854, the hall was converted to a chapel, St. Mary’s Church.
At the restored Monksland Church, in Knockmahon, you will find the Copper Coast UNESCO Global Geopark visitor centre. Here you will learn how the oceans, volcanoes, deserts and ice all combined over the span of 460 million years to create the rock formations we find along the coast today. The centre contains a local mining and environmental heritage exhibition, walking trail guides, brochures, and a café serving locally made soups, sandwiches, snacks and Copper Coast Roast coffee. The visitor center is open most days, though I recommend you call ahead if interested, especially if you are part of a group.
The coast is untouched by developers and boasts one of the finest beaches in the area. Bunmahon Beach is a 2.5 km stretch of sand backed by dunes and tall cliffs at each end, providing protection and shelter to the beach area. The beach is popular with surfers. Many locals and visitors also canoe or kayak here.
We arrived at Dungarvan in the early afternoon. Storm clouds were quickly approaching. The weather can change quickly along the coast so it is advisable to be prepared. We stopped along the R911 going into town to take a few pictures of the quay before the rain started. Then, we continued along Davitt’s Quay and found a place to park, not forgetting our umbrella.
On our walk about, we first came upon St. Mary’s Church of Ireland. This church is a Protestant place of worship in Dungarvan. The present building was constructed around 1828, incorporating an earlier church from about 1700. There is evidence that a church has stood on the site as early as the 1300s. A large, old graveyard with interesting tombstones is found at the back of the church. An unusually early headstone, for Robert Drepers, dates from 1685.
Just as we reached Dungarvan Castle, it started to rain. The nice girl at the reception desk invited us to view the exhibit for free to get out of the rain (I later learned admission is always free). The castle is also known as King John’s Norman Castle and dates from 1185. This Anglo-Norman’s built the fortification at a strategic location at the mouth of the River Colligan.
The castle is essentially a multi-sided keep, corner tower and gate tower enclosed with a curtain wall. Shell keeps are common in England but rare in Ireland. A two-storey military barracks from the early 18th century sat protected inside the curtain wall and houses the exhibition on the history of the castle.
The Irish Republican Army occupied the castle and set it on fire when they left in 1922. It was later restored and used as a Garda (Police) station until 1987. Then again, the castle fell into disrepair until it was restored and opened for exhibition and guided tours.
Once the rain stopped, we strolled down Main Street, past the Old Market House Art Centre and stopped in at Jitterbeans Deli and Coffee Shop for lunch. They offer a wide selection of made-to-order wraps, paninis, salads, and soups. So many great choices.
We spent another hour checking out the shops and strolling along Quay Street before heading off to our BnB in Macroom for a few days.