The Gap of Dunloe (part 3)

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

Tomies / Purple Mountain
The buttressing outliers of Macgillycuddy's Reeks loom spikily over the west side of the Gap, but to the east lies a range of lower tops ('lower' being purely relative, as Purple Mountain would look reasonably ginormous in most other areas of Ireland) whose traverse is a middlingly strenuous (not epic, but still requiring experience and navigational know-how in the party) hillwalk. Retreating back down the road towards Killarney should locate a lane sidling off eastwards, the end of which allows the lower slopes of Tomies Mountain to be gained.

The ensuing steep heathery flog up to the summit may require the gritting of teeth and the grinding of dentures, but the views over the Gap to the Reeks are spectacular enough to make the standard 'I'm just looking at the view...I'm in no way shape or form knackered, no sirree, whatever made you think that' excuses seem marginally more plausible than usual. Stay on the Gap side of the new deer fence (unless you really enjoy repeatedly climbing over deer fences, which are quite high as a rule) and the agony lessens on the approach to Tomies' summit when you suddenly have a path to follow. The path persists on the walk south to Purple Mountain itself, over a subsidiary summit and a rather aesthetically proportioned climactic ridge. The view is magnificent, with the Lakes of Killarney and the wild Iveragh interior lavishly displayed.

The next major objective is the Head of the Gap and what with travelling in expectation being slightly preferable to travelling in hope it helps to be able to navigate a bit (even in clear weather): the intermediate landmark lake of the Glas Lough lies amidst steep and potentially confusing ground down to the right of the continuing ridge, and what path there is seems elusive when sought from above. (Rough translation: 'We didn't find it. But none of us died so it's not that bad'). The Lough located, a fence leads on down to the road at the Head of the Gap six miles from the start.

Those who have left a second car here or those who have hired a jarvey to ferry them down will either a) have missed out on the lovely walk down through the Gap, or b) be in an ideal position to laugh at the footsore purists who eschewed such artificial aids as 'horses' or 'petrol'. And in April 2008 they could have added c) be able to snigger at two six-foot plus blokes being comprehensively outpaced over six miles by two girls. (The moral of the tale is that your ego will always be battered by Irish women who've been given the 'there's a pub at the end of it' incentive.)

One could do the walk in the reverse, ending with Tomies Mountain, maybe having ridden up the Gap first. I would strongly advise against it: the final descent is bad enough (steep pathless bumpy knee-wrecking heather...lovely) but the lane mentioned above is where a large proportion of the jarveys stable their horses. As a result we found it to be a Stygian river of mud and equine effluent where hillwalking boots and woolly hats were much less suitable apparel than wellies and a gas mask. Doing it first is getting the worst out of the way early, and it gives you the rest of the walk to (hopefully) remove anything malodorous from your footwear and thus avoid the possibility of stinking up the bar of one of my favourite pubs in the world...

Streams of Whiskey
All Gap-related excursions need to end in the bar of Kate Kearney's Cottage: it's the law. Maybe I'm enamoured of this place because my visits always follow mountain walks and I'll look favourably upon any establishment slaking my hunger and assuaging my thirst. But I don't think so. The location seems somehow to seep through the walls; I'd wager that even if you'd been brought in blindfolded and then positioned out of sight of any windows (a rare occurrence in this particular corner of Ireland, but you can’t be too careful) you'd still somehow know that you weren't going to emerge in Cleethorpes if you stepped outside. The bar meals are decent (well, the lasagne's good anyway) if pricey (but not outlandishly so): a restaurant (as yet unpatronised by yours truly, but quite highly rated) is available for anyone wishing to make dining the main objective of a visit. There is also a gift shop that manages to deftly straddle the twin worlds of 'genuinely interesting local crafts' and stereotypical 'Bejesus! There's a leprechaun!' tourist tat.

Personally, I recommend a drink in front of the fire. Even in summer.

For those interested in alternative/additional ways of spending money, there's a coffee shop ('The Coffee Pot') across the way from Kate's, and a crafts/outdoors shop called Moriarty's down the road towards Killarney. A little further on is the Gap of Dunloe nine hole golf course, where you can shank and snap hook to your heart’s content while claiming that the fabulous scenery is putting you off your game.


Like most places in Ireland, the Gap is most easily reached by car. The more sensible northerly approach leaves Killarney on the N72 road: after a few miles (and a lot of expensive real estate) it’s signposted on the left. A few more miles of country lanes will see you there.

The route from the south is a bit more ‘Sir Ranulph Fiennes’, seeing as it takes you past Muckross House, Torc Mountain and waterfall, the Lakes of Killarney and the haunted church at Derrycunihy (accompanied by the constant threat of being squished by an oncoming coach). And that’s just the easy bit on the ‘main’ N71 out of Killarney: once you leave that at the lonely junction of Moll’s Gap (the location of a very classy Avoca shop, ladies might be interested to learn) it’s an awful lot of single track road with what might very optimistically be considered ‘passing places’. Survivors of this trial by potholes and grass strip should arrive in the Black Valley: refer to the section about driving through the Gap higher up.

There are no scheduled bus services to the Gap but there are so many coach tours leaving from Killarney that something could almost certainly be arranged.

Accommodation is a large part of the local economy so there are lodgings available to suit all budgets ( covers most of Ireland and is a good place to start). Inhabitants of other land masses can perhaps get here by ferry (Cork being the nearest terminus) but will more likely use Kerry Airport; served by Aer Arann from Manchester and by Darth O’Leary and his evil galactic empire from Stansted, Luton and Dublin. And Frankfurt, confusingly.


That’s the Gap of Dunloe then: a forced marriage of mankind and physical geography. It’s easy to decry this sort of place (and indeed, I usually would) but the reality is that it successfully caters to a large cross-section of the population, be they fit or infirm. Or just plain lazy. The ‘glass half-empty’ interpretation of its contribution to the fabulous Kerry scene is that it’s worth sacrificing the odd honey pot to the altar of mindless tourism just to save everywhere else. But let’s go with the glass being half-full: maybe even those mindless tourists have a bit of hive intelligence sometimes.
Gap of Dunloe

County Kerry, Ireland

© LP 2000-2009