The Gap of Dunloe (part 2)

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by greenierexyboy on October 6, 2012

‘Like a train in the night, yeah…’
Getting around by pony and trap is about as stereotypically Irish as Dana or dancing without moving your arms, and even in this modern mechanised age it’s not that unusual in many areas. I’ve seen a fair amount of it in Wicklow, but it’s most prevalent in the south west: here, many folk have long since realised the commercial potential of languid open-air passage through nice scenery with someone/thing else doing all the work. So in season the north end of the Gap is awash with jarveys: local carriage drivers earning/supplementing their livelihoods by providing rides for tourists.

A short amble up the road from the parking leads to the pickup point and a plethora of Dobbins and discount Prince Phillips. A system known as ‘The Turn’ decides which jarvey gets the next fare, so I suspect (I’ve never actually hired one, what with my preference for being on foot in the mountains) that the customer doesn’t get to choose their driver. The basic ride is to the third lake and costs 30 Euro per carriage; other itineraries are doubtless negotiable. Combination tours (offering permutations of jarveys, bikes and boat trips on the Lakes of Killarney) can also be made, but will probably need to be arranged elsewhere; check online (e.g. for details.

As I’ve said, it’s not really my cup of tea but disengaging my ‘hmm…tacky’ head it does indeed look a rather pleasant and diverting way to while away the time. And I bet the jarveys are a bit…’characterful’. For instance…

Nappygate…or how the smell of dung and the perpetual wearing of a cloth cap will do odd things to your brain
In December 2009 my friend Dave and I were driving down the N71 from Killarney, destined for a few hours on the hill. As we drew level with the entrance to Muckross House it was suggested that I might wish to glance to the right, and as I did I noticed the driveway was blocked with placard-toting gentlemen.

‘That’s the jarveys. They’ve gone on strike’.

Once we’d behaved according to convention when sighting anyone on a protest in Ireland (‘Down with this sort of thing!’ ‘Careful now’) Dave explained the nature of their grievance. Authorities in the Killarney National Park had decided that the environment would be improved by slightly less excrement on the trails plied by the jarveys and their horses and had therefore insisted upon the use of ‘dung catchers’; the furious horsemen had argued the devices were ‘unsafe’ (yeah, that confused me too) and that they had the right to operate without them. Eighteen months of wrangling had led to their banning from the park and an assortment of legal action, a standoff finally resolved at the end of May when the judiciary concluded that the National Parks and Wildlife Service had every right to manage the park for the benefit of the public: roughly translated, ‘Stop being so daft lads: there’s American tourists who need fleecing’. So the majority of the jarveys fitted their equine Pampers and went back to work.

Being outwith of the National Park the Gap of Dunloe was not affected: the horses are as free to fertilise the tarmac as they always were.

The Irish Rover
It's obvious to anyone with eyes that an abrupt mountain defile such as the Gap will have hills on both sides. So if you're stood in the car park feeling a burning need to get away from the coach loads of tourists and the loitering jarveys, and that sort of thing floats your boat... then there are several splendid excursions to be made...

This final (relatively) diminutive upthrust of Macgillycuddy's Reeks squats like an overfed heathery watchdog over the west side of the entrance to the Gap, and is one of the best introductions to Irish hillwalking I can imagine: alas/fortunately they aren't all this easy. Highly recommended on a fine day.

Starting from the car park one walks up the road into the Gap, keeping an eye out for pony & traps and the occasional car (and ignoring all offers of lifts from either). After about half a mile of gentle uphill there is an obvious 'here be monsters / don't be a pillock' sign from the Kerry Mountain Rescue team bolted to a rock on the right hand side of the road: these are in place at all major points of pedestrian access to the Reeks and behind it a wide green path begins winding more purposefully skywards. Passages up mountainsides don't get much more straightforward than this, broad zig-zags mitigating the steepness and the path itself grassy or gravelly. And the views inevitably broaden as you climb, with the harsh glimpses into the fastnesses of the Gap softened by the Kerry farmland to the north with its collage of every shade of emerald.

With a thousand feet comfortably attained the path ends on a wide plateau. To your left, across an unusually sinister-looking swathe of fissured grass lie the stark outlines of the Reeks, while Struicín itself lies adjacent to the right, like a vaguely pointed pudding. An obvious track leads to and up the final short sharp climb ('the consistency of chocolate brownies' says my man on the spot, which should be considered if you're wearing shoes you can't bear to ruin) to the top with its broader panorama now including Tralee Bay and Dingle. Very nice. There are also three large cairns on the summit; most Irish tops don't even have one, so these grandiose rockeries make you wonder if the ascent carries some kind of deep significance in the history of mountaineering...well, rest assured it doesn't. I'm pretty sure even Julia Bradbury has never been here.

On the retreat to the top of the path used on the outward journey the more ambitious will have their eyes trained on the pleasingly pointy (and much higher) summits of the Reeks as they croon their siren call across the 'sinister grass' noted on the ascent. The inexperienced/genteel should consider that (and the fact that the wide green path below is actually a bog road) a warning: that big swathe of grass is actually a vast dominion of ooze notorious even by Irish standards, and only possible dry-shod after the hardest of frosts or the toastiest of droughts. It certainly can't be recommended to the casual tourist, but the reward for the serious walker who survives all that slutch is one of Ireland's finest ridges: the huge grotto to the Virgin atop Cruach Mor (built single-handedly by a man who ended up in St Brendan's lunatic asylum in Killarney, allegedly) and the exciting blocky knife-edge of The Big Gun.

Or they could follow the path and road back down to the start where there's a pub. Just saying.
Gap of Dunloe

County Kerry, Ireland

© LP 2000-2009