Killarney, in County Kerry, has a high concentration of tourists; probably the highest in Ireland, due to its location at the intersection of several major roads and its role as the “base camp” for the Ring of Kerry.
I heard a local travel expert say “if you have only one day in Killarney, and can do only one thing, I urge you to visit the Gap of Dunloe.”
The Gap is a narrow mountain pass between McGillicuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain. Here is a map showing the traditional routes through the Lake of Killarney, the Black Valley, and the Gap of Dunloe.
You can go in either direction, and go by foot and boat (as we did), bicycle, the most traditional way by pony and trap, which is a two-wheeled jaunting car; or by the least recommended way – by car. The road is extremely narrow and a car would be useful only if you’re staying at one of the few hostals along the route. If you’re not, do yourself a favor: walk or bike if you’re in reasonable shape, or go by pony trap if you are not. The walk is not too strenuous but it is long.
So – here we go. I’ll explain the route we took, but again, you can go the opposite way – just be sure you check boat schedules to and from Lord Brandon’s Cottage.
We had two cars so had no need for coach service between Kate Kearney’s Cottage and Ross Castle. We left one car at Kate’s and drive the other to our departure point at Reen Pier beside Ross Castle. There we got our boat at 11:00 (with Gap of Dunloe Tours) and made the 13-mile voyage across the Lake of Killarney, into Muckross Lake, and along the Upper Louth to Lord Brandon’s Cottage. You’ll see in video below, these boats are not large, enclosed ferries but open, long motorboats with a shallow draft to allow them to get up through some extremely narrow, extremely shallow waterways (though our boatman told us some parts of the lake are 100 meters deep!).
After arriving at Lord Brandon’s and a short pause for tea, we began the 7 mile (11 kilometer) walk through the Black Valley and Gap of Dunloe to Kate Kearney’s Cottage. There are hills and dales and dips and rises, but nothing too strenuous.
It is dotted here and there with moss-covered ruins, roofless cottages from ages past, and a hostal of more recent vintage (where I met a very old man who told me he’d lived all his life in Dunloe as he brewed the finest cup of tea I’ve had in ages.
Finally, I’d like to give you a bette view of the experience with this short travelogue of our boat ride and hike through the glorious Gap of Dunloe.