The force is with Skellig: How To Spend A Weekend In This World-Class Beauty Spot
Star Wars was filmed here and it was named one of the world’s Top 10 travel regions by Lonely Planet.
Located on the Wild Atlantic Way, the Skellig Ring is a section of the much larger Ring of Kerry – and Cork’s Red FM broadcaster Neil Prendeville has been visiting the region for more than 20 years.
He shares his recommendations on how to spend a weekend in this world-class beauty spot…
Four kilometres outside of Cahirciveen town stands Cnoc na dTobar, a pilgrim mountain with the Stations of the Cross on the ascent, and a cross and an altar sitting at the top. Its difficulty level is moderate, making it suitable for families. Busloads of tourists arrive daily to this impressive spot, eager to walk the ancient pagan trail while taking in the magnificent views of Dingle Bay. Cahirciveen, the home of Barr na Sráide, is a gem of a town with the friendliest of people and host to a great festival each August.
Next, the road stretches along the harbour to Portmagee and Valentia Island. Throughout the shooting for the previous two Star Wars films on Skellig Michael, the cast and crew made the Bridge Bar in Portmagee their home – and I can understand why. There’s nowhere better for top-class bar food, and their Moorings Restaurant is simply outstanding for fresh local seafood.
The Skelligs can be reached by boat from Portmagee every morning from mid-May until September, with ferries departing at 10am and returning around 3pm. However, booking is advisable for this Unesco World Heritage site as tourism has exploded since Harrison Ford and his Hollywood “force” arrived on the scene more than two years ago. The monastic site – dating from the sixth century with perfectly preserved beehive huts, a church and graves – is a bit of a climb so it’s not for the faint-hearted.
Across the bridge from Portmagee lies the ruggedly beautiful Valentia Island, one of Ireland’s most westerly points and where the next stop is New York! This treasure island boasts the Bray Head Loop Walk of approximately 7km and covers magnificent coastline, views of the Wild Atlantic Way, and breath-taking views of the Skelligs as you climb to the Napoleonic Tower and make your way back. Not too far away, you will find a memorial marking the history of the transatlantic telegraph cables to America, laid on the seabed from the mid-19th century. The first telegram from Europe to America was sent from here in 1858, and next to that you will find one of Ireland’s few remaining crossroads dance floors.
Driving clockwise around Valentia Island is a holiday in itself with all the things to see and do. Visit the cliffs; stop at St Brendan’s Well where he baptised pagans before heading off to discover America; or observe the tetrapod tracks which are the oldest footprints in the world at 385 million years old! For the best views across the entire peninsula, go all the way to Geokan mountain where a superbly illustrated history of the region awaits, including the decimation of the island in famine times.
The road will eventually lead you past Glanleam House & Subtropical Gardens (the ancestral home of the Knight of Kerry) where, for a small fee, you can spend a few hours walking among the trees, flowers, shrubs and woodland. Soon enough you are driving into Knightstown and the Royal Hotel is a great place to stop and quench your thirst or have a bite to eat. Afterwards, why not check out the local museum and see an authentic 19th-century school classroom?
In summertime, you can catch a ferry that will take you across to Renard near Cahirciveen and back to the main road as you head on for Ballinskelligs, with super beaches and world-class surfing. After a long beach walk, stop off at Skelligs Chocolate Factory in Finian’s Bay before heading on to Waterville for dinner at The Smugglers Inn – and a good night’s sleep.
By Neil Prendeville
For ferry bookings to Skellig Michael from Portmagee, see www.moorings.ie