Holidays with Hindrances 2: Killarney, the Gap of Dunloe

The county Killarney, the town of the same name and its national park are probably one of the most prototypically Irish places. You got it all: The soft green hills, the mountains, the old abbeys, castles and churches, the lakes. It’s beautiful. It’s also one of the oldest tourist attractions in Ireland, going all back to Queen Victoria and the invention of “trips” as such. One thing to do is to explore the “Gap of Dunloe”, a pass between the Purple Mountain and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. There’s different options on how to do that, nd I#ll list them worst to best.

Worst: By car. The road is narrow, there’s tons of other people on it, it’s 15 km, so the whole thing will be over in 30 minutes max and most of what you saw is people being angry with you.

Second worst: By jaunting car. Yes, this is probably very traditional and tons of local folks earn their money that way, but having horses run on asphalt all day is just cruelty to animals. You can actually see a dent in the middle of the road, worn down by horseshoes and you can imagine what this will do to the poor animals’ feet. It’s probably amazing for the people in the car and I think few people know enough about horses to understand why it#s not ok.

Bad: motorcycle. Horses, pedestrians, sheep, narrow roads, curves where you don’t see shit. Do I have to elaborate?

Good: bike. Now, I wouldn’t recommend going by regular bike if you are not very fit and good at biking, though there was one guy who passed us uphill and still had the breath to wish us a good day. But nowadays you can rent ebikes everywhere and there were lots of groups with little physical fitness who managed. I’d say that if you don’t have a lot of stamina, that’s probably the best option.

Equally good: on foot. That’s what we did. I’ll admit that we didn’t walk the whole Gap. As you can see below, the traditional hike starts at Kate Kearney’s Cottage, leads through the Gap, down to Lord Brandon’s Cottage. You can book a boat back to Killarney from there, but that’s little use if your car is back at Kate Kearney’s Cottage. We made it to the top of the Gap and then some hundred metres downhill for a nice view before we returned. Now, Wikipedia claims that this walk was just 6km and can be done in about an hour, but the author is lying. We’re neither athletes nor comatose sloths and sure, we did take breaks, but getting up to the Gap is quite some hillclimbing. The way down to Lord Brandon’s cottage is shorter, but we decided that going down there meant having to go up again, so we turned back and enjoyed the walk instead of being completely done. The whole trip was 17 km and took a bit more than 4 hours, with the way back being much easier as it was mostly downhill.   So, enjoy the views!

Map of the national park and hiking trails

©Giliell, all rights reserved: You start at the red square, walk the white road down. We turned around shortly after the orange dot

More pics below the fold

View of the Gap of Dunloe, mountains to the left and right

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This picture was taken from the viewing point towards the direction of Kate Kearney’s Cottage. Yes, that#s the road, yes, people think that all the travel guides saying “don’t do it by car” are talking bullshit.

View of a lake. A small plush tapir is sitting on a bench, gazing into the distance

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This is where we started the holiday tradition of always carrying a plushie on each trip. Tapsie the Tapir obviously enjoyed it very much.

A valley with a lake

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Looking down into a valley with a lake, with a narrow road on the right side.

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There’s that cyclist, btw. At this point of the hike I wasn’t sure if I wanted to die or just kill him ;)

A small brook running over stiones with a small stone bridge in the background

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There’s pics of me taking that pic. My husband probably takes those in case I manage to break my neck trying for a better angle, in order to get out of the murder charges and claim the life insurance.

A white and a brown horse rubbing their necks

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I think that’s a much better place for the horsies than the road.

A green lake, some grass is underwater

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Ireland obviously had a lot of rain, as you can see by the level of the lake, and the plants seem to have adapted to occasionally growing underwater.

Flowers growing underwater

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Plush tapir on a stone in front of rocks and flowers

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Purple wildflowers

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They call Ireland the green island, but honestly, there’s so much colour! Wildflowers will be a reoccurring theme.

Plush tapir sitting on a stone that says "Welcome top the Black Valley"

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At the top of the Gap. I hope you enjoyed your little trip along with me.


  1. flex says

    Very lovely. We toured some of Ireland a few years ago. We spent a day at Killarney House, but we didn’t attempt the gap.

  2. says

    Lovely photos!
    I was there in (1997?) and did the route in a car, then went back and walked around the spots that looked most striking.
    The most interesting part, to me, about the valley, is how it’s fractally detailed and consequently looks much much bigger than it is. I was surprised that the whole scene fit in the viewfinder of my camera, compared to the Rocky Mountains or something like that. It’s a perfectly designed miniature landscape.
    There’s an iron age circle fort off to the side of one of the main roads, which is worth a visit as well, if you enjoy grim things.

  3. Jazzlet says

    Oh this takes me back! Paul and I toured that area cycle camping way back in the late 80s or early 90s. We did that route in the opposite direction, and stopped for a salmon lunch before we started up in the hope it would stop raining, it didn’t but the lunch was delicious. Back then that side of the route hadn’t been paved, not even with the tar and gritting that was the usual surfacing for local Irish roads, and it was hard work getting our laden bikes up, But oh when we got to the top . . . the sun came out, and the colours were just so so vivid, bright greens, deep greens, pale greens with bright flowers, and blue blue lakes as vivid as the postcards. We had to be careful coming round corners because of all the people coming up the Gap, but it was a lovely ride down.

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