Return to Ballaghbeama


GREAT DRIVES BALLAGHBEAMA GAP:This spectacular, winding pass in Co Kerry is worth a visit or two, writes BOB MONTGOMERY

WAY BACK in August 2005, I first drove through Kerry’s Ballaghbeama Gap. That journey was inspired by a photograph I had come across, taken around 1900, of a group of hardy cyclists making their way through the rocky defile that forms the pass.

The photograph prompted me to make a search of all the likely places it might be located before I finally discovered it, situated on the Kenmare peninsula close to the heart of the mighty Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and within sight of Ireland’s highest mountain, the 1038m Carrauntoohil. It’s fair to say that the wild beauty of the place has haunted my consciousness ever since and I’ve been keen to return there for quite some time.

So it was that I found myself heading out of Killarney up the N71 to Moll’s Gap early one bright morning. My intention was to get to Ballaghbeama early so that I could experience the full beauty of the place in the early morning light, but this provided an unexpected bonus: as I climbed the N71, a thick mist rose over Killarney’s lakes, giving a very different appearance to a familiar landscape.

Turning right at Moll’s Gap along the R558 and driving on for a further 10 kilometres through a crossroads signposted to Lough Brin, continue on for a further half kilometre and take the road leaving the R558 to the right.

When I last came to Ballaghbeama I had driven up the centre of the Kenmare peninsula from just outside Waterville, over the Pass of Ballaghisheen with its wonderful views of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, and then branched right to Ballaghbeama.

This was an impressive way to approach Ballaghbeama but, having traversed the gap, I reckoned that approaching from the south-east might be even more spectacular. I was not disappointed. At first the road to Ballaghbeama is unspectacular – until it starts to climb through the valley that lies between the mountains of Knocklomena (641m) to the east and a spur of Mullaghanattin (773m) to the west. A little further along, nestled between Knocklomena and Knockaunattin (569m), is spectacular Lough Brin, which we had visited during a previous exploration. Finally, the road climbs steeply to the spectacular pass itself, a sharply sided rocky gorge through which the narrow road winds.

Once again, I was fortunate to be favoured with glorious sunshine for my visit to Ballaghbeama, which showed off this exceptional place to best advantage. (I can equally imagine that in wet and windy weather there are probably few less hospitable places on this island). The wildness of Ballaghbeama, allied to its remoteness and stillness, all combined to make any visit there a memorable one.

There are several places along the pass where it’s possible to pull off the road, but I don’t recommend trying to turn at any of these. It’s far better (and safer) to continue on north-west over the pass and carry on either to Lough Caragh and back to Killarney, or turn south-west and continue over the Pass of Ballaghisheen and on to Waterville, and there join up with the Ring of Kerry.

If you’ve a hankering for somewhere spectacularly different from the usual tourist routes, then I can’t recommend the Ballaghbeama Gap enough. Equally, should you crave a place of unspoilt beauty where you’re not likely to see another car, then this is for you.