Go Walk: Dingle Way, Co Kerry
Among the ruins: wind-sculpted region has a monastic air
John G O’Dwyer surveys the west Kerry landscape
The Dingle Way, West Kerry
Starting Point: Beyond Dingle follow signs for Brandon Creek. When the Dingle Way crosses the road go right and follow the arrows to Ballinknockane parking place.
Suitability: The walk is straightforward as it mostly follows the Dingle Way and the handrail of the clifftop. The descent into Fothar na Manach should, however, only be considered by experienced hillwalkers used to coping with steep terrain and possessing the necessary fitness for the demanding re-ascent.
Time: Allow two hours for the clifftop walk or four hours if including the descent to the monastic ruins.
Map: OSi, Mount Brandon, 1:25,000
At what age have other people started inquiring about the quality of your sleep? In my case it’s middle age, for in more youthful times nobody questioned the serenity of my slumbers. These days, however, I have apparently entered the “sleep deprivation age” as over breakfast recently people were approaching with furrowed brow to inquire how I had slept.
Quite well, actually, for I was in the sublimely relaxing surroundings provided by one of my favourite hotels – the Dingle Skellig. Indeed, I now felt energised to visit a most inaccessible monastic site. So later as I headed out to the wind-sculpted lands beyond Mount Brandon, I couldn’t escape a feeling of regressing in time.
Before me was the spectacular landscape where David Lean made Ryan’s Daughter only to find his stellar cast alarmingly upstaged by the beguiling west Kerry backdrop. Parking at Ballinknockane (see panel) it was through a gate and then along a track before going right and following the waymarkers for the Dingle Way to open mountainside. Heading right for the huge cliffs, an improbable patch of green caught my eye 400 metres below.
This was Fothair na Manach (greenfield of the monks) – surely the remotest, most spectacular monastic site on the Irish mainland. First-time visitors will immediately wonder how anyone, let alone a sandal-shod monk, could possibly descend the monstrous cliffs to reach these ancient fields and clochans. Careful investigation, however, showed that descent is possible by a tortuous ramp and so I began down-climbing. Initially steep going required great care, but the slope eased and I enjoy spectacular views over this wildest of west Kerry shores.
Arriving at the monastic site, the setting was breathtaking but the monastic remains proved unrelentingly minimalist. The exquisite ornamentation of Clonmacnoise’s Cross of Scriptures was never going to be created where survival was the daily imperative.
After exchanging pleasantries with a couple, I began the quad-burning re-ascent. Going upwards on vertiginous ground is less intimidating and quickly I reached the clifftop.
I proceeded right to gain the viewing point of Binn na mBan. Here unfolds a magical prospect of sea, sky and shapely hills, with the Blasket Islands forming a photogenic backdrop. And directly below was the unmistakable sandstone slit of Brandon Creek, where it is reputed St Brendan departed on his first transatlantic voyage. Finally, it’s just an easy amble above the cliffs until a path leads inland and back to rejoin the Dingle Way a short distance from my parking place.