Ireland’s only cable car will take you across to Dursey Island – population ‘approx. six,’ says the noticeboard – one of the most north-westerly points in Europe, split off from Ireland’s spectacular Beara Peninsula by a narrow channel fed from the Atlantic Ocean.
Islanders, sheep, cows and other cargo have preference over mere tourists and, if things are busy, the operator will tell you what time you can return. No bookings, no bicycles, no arguments.
It’s a ten-minute, heart-in-the-mouth trip each way, dangling over the powerful tidal race and rocky reefs which make crossing Dursey Sound by boat so dangerous. This is the only cable car in Europe which goes over the sea. With typical Irish humour, a signpost on the cliff pointing east bears the legend ‘Moscow 3310km.’
On this wild and remote isle, four miles long and one wide, there are remains of a lighthouse, a church and a signal tower, an ancient castle site, a few scattered cottages and a lonely graveyard – here you can experience a windswept freedom which embraces both tumult and peace.
World-Famous Ring of Kerry Scenic Route
Beara is one of three mountainous peninsulas that regale the visitor to Kerry and West Cork in the south-west of Ireland with a matchless beauty: sparkling lakes, rugged chasms and breathtaking seascapes at every turn of the road.
Today, lesser-known Beara is gaining on the popularity of Iveragh, with its world-famous scenic route, the Ring of Kerry, and of Dingle, near Tralee. The Ring of Beara, encompassing the amazing white beach at Allihies, romantic castle ruins and enigmatic stone circles, plus activities such as river and sea fishing and horse-riding, has jewels of its own awaiting discovery.
Our week in the region was arranged by Irish Ferries, sailing on the Isle of Inishmore from Pembroke to Rosslare, and enjoying the comforts of the ship’s excellent Club Class lounge with its free drinks, plentiful snacks, newspapers and magazines. This costs an extra £16 per passenger and is well worth it for priority boarding, bar, reserved seating and power points for laptops.
From Rosslare, our drive was to the Ring of Kerry Golf and Country Club, about four miles from the quaint and welcoming little town of Kenmare, where luxurious holiday homes have panoramic views to soaring peaks beyond Kenmare Bay as seal-watching and nature cruises ply back and forth.
Killarney National Park, the Irish ‘Lake District’
Travelling the Ring of Kerry, and returning through the Killarney National Park – the Irish ‘Lake District’ – is an unforgettable experience. Ever in the distance, and sometimes a lot closer as lanes take you into the foothills, are the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range, stretching for nearly 20km and including the tallest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil, at 1,038m.
A highlight among highlights is the dramatic Skellig Coast where, from the picturesque fishing village of Portmagee, you can take thrilling adventure trips to the Skellig Rocks, the boats passing whales, sharks, dolphins, seals and puffins.
Skellig Michael, the larger of the two islands and a Unesco world heritage site, rising 240m above sea level, has the forlorn remains of a sixth-century monastery atop a rocky ledge, while Little Skellig, closed to the public, is famous for the world’s second largest Northern Gannet colony.
Nearby Valentia Island, nosing a little further into the Atlantic than Dursey, is actually western Europe’s most westerly inhabited point. The Blaskett Islands, off Dingle, are further out to sea but no one lives there anymore.
Portmagee Bridge or Car Ferry from Renard Point
Valentia – the European base for the transatlantic cable until the mid-1960s – rewards a day’s stay in itself, with the Skellig Experience interpretive centre, fossil record, its cliffs and pre-Christian remains. You can take the car ferry from Renard Point or drive over the bridge from Portmagee.
Spacious new-build holiday houses at the Ring of Kerry Golf and Country Club are furnished to an extremely high standard and each has three bedrooms, the master bedroom with an en suite bathroom and the other main bedroom a bathroom adjacent.
Irish Ferries booked us into homely B&B at Kilrane, near Rosslare, for the night we arrived and the night before we left – stopping over is a good idea for anyone contemplating this trip as it’s a five-hour drive to Kenmare, via the cities of Waterford and Cork (there are delicious steaks at Danby’s if you’re staying at Rosslare). This drive is on top of the four-hour-plus sea voyage and the time it takes to get to Pembroke from wherever you are, in our case, another four hours from North-East Somerset.