Kerry: Walking in footsteps of the Vikings

BAILE na nGall means the foreigners’ town, referring to a 9th century Viking settlement at Smerwick, a Norse name meaning the butter harbour.

With the pier behind us, we set off, keeping left on the road, between houses. The road divides; we keep left. To the right is the truncated peak of Reenconnell. We pass the mast of RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta, a bungalow alongside.

The road is narrow, and difficult if there is a heavy traffic, but this is rare. As we walk, Binn Diarmada, northern most of the Three Sisters headlands, sweeps gracefully skyward beyond the mouth of Smerwick Harbour.

With Mount Brandon straight ahead, we reach a T-junction and turn left. The land rises gently to low cliffs, northward. Some houses have a rick of black turf in the yard, like a miniature Gallarus oratory or an upturned black boat.

As the road descends, the sea is visible ahead. Binn Diarmada is to the left, Ballydavid Head to the right with Carraig Dhubh, (the black rock), offshore. We pass the Clifftop Restaurant, where a small path goes down to the sea. There is a sign for An Ghlaise Bheag village to the right. We continue on the road, and turning down opposite The Old Pier restaurant we reach Dooneen Strand. Naomhógs lie by the road. Their Kerry name translates as “the small boats of the saints”. It was from Brandon Creek, 5km north of here, that St Brendan the Navigator and his monks sailed west in a large, sailing naomhóg in the 6th century. Tim Severin crossed the Atlantic in a reproduction of their craft, thus proving that a Kerry man might well have navigated the coasts of the New World centuries before Columbus set sail.

After the pier, we return to the road and turn right, back the way we came, to the black-and-yellow road sign indicating a left curve. Our footpath begins behind it, a small sector of the beautiful Dingle Way.

This path along the clifftop is well worn. Here and there, big stones support luxuriant grey-green sea ivory called Neptune’s beard. Of an evening, we can watch the sun set behind the Three Sisters.

We cross heath land and pass a communications mast held erect by a web of steel cables. Ling heather and dwarf gorse flowers amongst the bedrock. On clear days, Skellig Michael, 30 miles south, is framed between the nearer Great Blasket island and the Iveragh mountains. As we approach more masts, Wine Strand is visible across the sea.

At an elbow of the path, sheep wire guards the cliff edge. Hereabouts, it is not unusual to see choughs, our glossy feathered, red-beaked crows, tumbling and diving overhead.

The path is eroded, and it is sensible to stay well in. After crossing a small stream, we pass a ruined World War II look-out hut and enjoy views of Dún an Óir, a stronghold of the Anglo Normans Ferriters, built on an ancient promontory fort. When a Papal force of 600 soldiers (Mangan’s ”. . . wine from the Royal pope will give you hope ...”) landed here in 1580 to support the Irish Catholic cause, the English bombarded them from land and sea until they surrendered, ‘with honour’. However, all in the fort were then slaughtered — men, women and children. The poet, Edmund Spenser, and Sir Walter Raleigh were there and received tracts of Munster for their services.

The route now descends gently. In wild weather, the big rollers riding in to Muiríoch Strand run parallel to us as we walk. We shortly arrive back at Baile na nGall, where we began.

GET THERE

Start point: Reach Murreagh via the R559 road and then turn left for Ballydavid, Baile na nGall, our starting point.

Time: 10 km. (6 mls.) Allow 3 hours.

Difficulty: Easy going. The loop comprises a tarred road going north, and a cliff path on the way back, walking south. Especially scenic in late afternoon or early evening.

Map: OS Discovery Series 70

CLUB NEWS

Blackrock Hillwalking Club

Aug 18: Nagle Mountain, meet Ballyhooly RC Church, 11am.

Aug 19: Galtees 7 Peaks, meet Maxol, Mitchelstown, 9am.

Aug 19: Purple & Tomies, meet Kate Kearney’s Cottage, 9.30am.

Aug 26: Club Barbecue, Lough Hyne, 12 noon.

Bandon Walking Club

Aug 19: Hungry Hill 8am. Meet at Ash Tree, Glengarriff.

Skibbereen Walking Club

Aug 26: Sheeps Head. Meet at Kilcrohane, 1.45pm.


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