Coastal tales from Kerry

On a glorious, sunny day recently in the Dingle Peninsula, I met two young German men who were admiring the view from Ceann Sibeal (Sybil Head). They didn’t know they were standing at the location of a Star Wars movie set, earlier in the summer.

On telling them, they expressed amazement for a few minutes before returning to the purpose of their visit — to view the scenery and Blasket islands. Publicity from Star Wars may be drawing extra tourists to the coastal areas of the south-west, but the natural beauty of these areas will always attract people in its own right. Even if they know nothing about the area’s cinematic history, they’ll come to take in the rugged grandeur.

On the day, ferries to the now uninhabited Great Blasket seemed to be doing a lively trade. Yet, for decades, pier facilities have been inadequate on the island and on the mainland at Dunquin. An inflatable craft is used to get people on and off the ferries.

A government plan to designate the Great Blasket as a national historic park has yet to be implemented. The building of proper piers to improve access is a key element of the plan.

In a new book, The Kerry Coast, author Tony O’Callaghan points to long delays in making the landing areas more user-friendly. “It is astounding that little or nothing has been done to improve landing facilities to what passes for a slip in 100 years,’’ he writes.

The retired teacher and publisher of guides to walking routes has immense knowledge of coastal areas. The 366-page book is peppered with fascinating insights into the history of different areas, all of which enriches a reader’s experience of the coastline.

O’Callaghan also strays into West Cork, just as beautiful as the neighbouring county: Castletownbere, Ardgroom, Allihies,

Garinish, Dursey, Eyeries and many places in between all get due mention.

The names of well-known people of the coast pop up here and there, football heroes like Mick O’Connell, Mick O’Dwyer, Teddy Harrington and Mickey Ned O’Sullivan and the flamboyant Dunquin publican of yesteryear, Kruger Kavanagh, to name a handful.

There are stories of lighthouses, sea tragedies, fishing, seabirds and nature in general. The Blasket archipelago of over 100 islands, islets and rocks is given ample attention. Innisvickillane, the most southerly, was owned by ex-Taoiseach Charlie Haughey, who built a house there.

Haughey introduced native red deer to island and was less successful in his attempts to install sea eagles there. O’Callaghan suggests it would be a gracious act by the Haughey family to return Innisvickillane to the people of Ireland, saying it could be part of the proposed Blasket national park.


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