When you see lists of Ireland’s hidden gems including the likes of the Cliff of Moher (which saw over 1.4 million visitors in 2016) then you know that the term ‘hidden gem’ has become a cliche and is in danger of losing all meaning. However that doesn’t meant that the 2500km of the Wild Atlantic Way aren’t fertile ground for hidden gems – places of interest that aren’t very well known or might be overshadowed by better known neighbours – and with this series of posts I would like to reclaim the phrase.
In this post, the fourth in the series about the Wild Atlantic Way’s hidden gems (the first covered Mayo, the second Galway, the third Cork), Richard Creagh (co-author of Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way) takes a look at county Kerry.
Hidden GemsThere is nowhere else in Ireland that does tourism like Kerry does. Gifted with some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, as well as a rich history and cultural heritage, this county has been welcoming visitors for a long long time. The obvious drawback to this popularity is, well, the popularity. Many areas have now lost that ‘genuine’ feel that many tourists crave, and the rural roads in much of Kerry barely cope with the summer traffic, making travel quite stressful for some during the high season. Still, this is a large county with plenty of lesser known beauty spots, and one simple trick will have most places quiet for your visit – avoid high summer!
1. Kerry Dark Sky Reserve
has been designated an International Dark Sky Reserve. The long, dark nights of winter are the best time for stargazing, though the typical weather at that time of year often blocks out the upward view. But if you do get clear weather and can cope with the cold the show is indeed spectacular. Bring a flask and bundle yourself up in as many layers as possible and try to keep away from any outdoor lights. The longer you stay out the better your eyes will adjust, and once they have you’ll be counting constellations and shooting stars long into the small hours.
The Perseid meteor showers passes Ireland every year around the middle of August, a time that probably suits most people better for staying up late. While the nights aren’t as long, and hence not as dark as in winter, the show can still be very special, and usually lasts for a few nights.
2. Culloo, Valentia Island
Far from the crowds on the Ring of Kerry is a stretch of coast called Culloo on Valentia Island. Though it’s a lonely and exposed place it’s beautiful on a sunny day in May when the tops of the cliffs are covered in sea pinks and the swell crashes below. It’s a popular spot with shore fishermen, who cast from the rock at the eastern end of the highest cliffs, but few other people go past the car park here. A short loop walk can be made from the car park. Head towards the holy well and two stone crosses and from here take a straight line out to the shore. Local legend has it that St. Brendan sailed to here and climbed the cliffs just in time to baptise and anoint two dying pagans, and so the well is named after him. Following the cliffs east brings you to Culloo Rock (the fishing spot), where a stream-side track will bring you back to the car. Be extremely careful near the cliffs here – the area is remote and open to very big swells in rough weather. Rogue waves have washed people from the cliffs in the past.
To get to Culloo follow the northern road on Valentia Island east until a signpost to the left for Saint Brendan’s Well. Take this turn and follow the rough road as far as your car can make it. The road ends at signs for Culloo Rock, though the potholed nature might mean you’d rather walk to get to this point from further back along. With a bit of luck the road won’t be paved any time soon, helping keep the place that bit quieter!
Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
3. Cosán Cuas na nEighe
4. West Kerry Marine Wildlife
But being the west of Ireland there is a catch – the weather. The seas here are often too rough for trips out, even (and some years especially) during the summer. The wildlife too can be capricious, though that’s not really a fair word to use. After all, it’s not there to entertain tourists (despite what Fungie might lead some people to believe) and superb encounters can be replaced the following day by total no-shows. Still, natural history lovers will enjoy a trip around this superb archipelago on any day, and if you get lucky you’re likely to have a trip you won’t ever forget. Blasket Island Eco Marine Tours run dedicated wildlife trips out of Ventry. Great Blasket Islands and Dingle Bay Charters also run tours from Dingle.
5. Bromore Cliffs
For more information about these and other similar areas check out Exploring Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.