The Gap of Dunloe in Killarney National Park is a mountain pass that was carved out two million years ago by slow moving glacial ice. Stunning, breathtaking, unique and beautiful are some of the expressions used in earnest by tourists who experience the area's panoramic views.
Ancient History - The Fir Bolg
The name Dunloe comes from the Gaelic Dún Loich, meaning ‘Lóich's stronghold. Loich was the first leader of the Fir Bolg -- the ancient 'men of bags' that first settled in Ireland, according to stories that were passed down orally, for hundreds of years, from one generation to the next. The first mention of the Fir Bolg in literature occurs in the 9th century. Scholars believe that tales of the Fir Bolg as an epic history -- that is, mostly mythical stories that have their origins in real-world events (for example, the forced migration of a people).
Walking, Driving or Cycling The Gap of Dunloe
The gap is also known as Bearna an Choimin or 'gap of the common land' and is popular with walkers, cyclists and horseback riders. The gap passes between Macgillicuddy Reeks to the west and the Purple Mountain to the east. The route offers views of the gorge and five small lakes. In summer it becomes busy with pedestrians and horses. A 6.4km /4 mile section of road that unfurls through the mountains. the gap has only been paved in recent years. It remains a narrow (room for only one car to pass) and winding road. When the road was unpaved, cars were forbidden, and the tradition of walking the route remains today.
If you're wondering what the scenery or roads will be like, take a look at this HD clip of two guys cycling through the Gap of Dunloe and nearby areas The Black Valley and Moll's Gap. The cyclists, Paul and Donncha, must have got up early, because they don't encounter many people along the way -- aside from a few sheep.
A pleasant morning's cycle through the Gap of Dunloe
Tip for drivers: While it is perfectly allowable to drive on the route, walkers and pony-trekkers tend to get a little annoyed by cars, as they force them off the road. A good time to drive the route is in the early morning or after 5pm in the evening, particularly in summer when the sky is still bright and there are fewer walkers. Tip for walkers: If you want to shorten the route back to the starting point, there is a road that loops back at the halfway point (approximately 3km / 2 miles along), and many opt for this shortcut.
Horse drawn traps four occupant carts called jaunting cars -- can be hired for the trip to the gap. These carts are guided by men from families that live in and around the Gap. They employ a rotation system called "the turn" which determines who takes the next customer. The turn has been used since the 1920’s and was passed on through the generations. Tip: Pony traps cost a fee of course, so walking may by the better option if you are on a budget. Expect to pay in the region of €20 euro per person for a pony trap ride through the Gap (2014 prices).
Watch out for Sheep!
Many visitors are pleasantly surprised by the number of sheep along the route towards the Gap. The slumbering animals graze peacefully on the mountainside, but sometimes wander onto the roads -- so be careful on your approach.
Where to Park Your Car and Start Walking
The entrance to the Gap is 10km / 7 miles west of Killarney at Beaufort on the N72 Killorglin Road. A popular starting point for walkers is Kate Kearney’s Cottage, a 19th century building, which is also a pub and café. This is also the spot where you can rent a pony trap. Tip: If you want to park and walk the route, there is ample free car parking opposite Kate Kearney's Cottage.
Where to Finish
Lord Brandon’s Cottage at the Gap’s other end offers a nice coffee shop. Many tour buses drop visitors off at Kate Kearney's Cottage, then collect them at Lord Brandon's Cottage later in the day. Of course, if you need to get back to your original starting point -- a good idea if you abandoned your car! -- you may prefer to loop back to the halfway point. Many of the walkers take this option, and almost all of the horse carriages turn back too.
How Long Does The Walk Take?
The walk from Kate Kearney's Cottage to Lord Brandon's Cottage takes about two and a half hours. If you turn back at the halfway point, the journey time is about the same.
The Gap of Dunloe's Dirty Little Secret
One thing that the tourist brochure's won't tell you about the Gap of Dunloe is that, with so many horses, there's a lot of ... ahem, horse manure. On rainy days, the problem of horse-poop can be particularly acute. Tip: The early bird catches the worm! Set out early on your walk. The horse tours don't start until 9am. Indeed, if you set out between 7am and 8am, you will most likely have the valley to yourself!
Boats to Killarney
One fun and truly memorable option, especially if the weather is fair, is to stop at Lord Brandon’s Cottage for refreshments and then take a guided boat tour back to Killarney. Lord Brandon's and is only a short walk to the edge of the Upper Lake. Boatmen carry bugles to demonstrate the strange echoes that bounce off the rocks. Boats pass under Brickeen Bridge and past a plethora of little lake islands. Entertaining guides recount local legends and mythology as they pass through The Black Valley. Boats arrive at the spectacular lakeside Ross Castle, making this a truly enchanting and magical way to discover the county of Kerry. Tip: if the weather is wet and windy, however, the boat ride may not be the best option. Rain and splashing waves may combine to make it doubly damp and miserable. On these days, consider sticking to land.
The red sandstone cliffs of the Gap are a popular rock climbing venue. Adventure groups typically hold weekly half-day or full-day outings. Some of the groups provide equipment, and beginners are generally welcome.
Image by Daniel Dudek-Corrigan