Cycle series: A rural route through Kerry’s rich heritage
Sliabh Luachra Loop journeys through a mix of routes from climbing, pacy ones to rolling scenic roads
Bawnaglanna: the route loops and winds its way up a valley
This is a hilly, rural cycle in an area rich in music and heritage.
The route begins in the east Kerry town of Rathmore, just 20km outside Killarney. There is usually plenty of parking available within the town. A useful spot for parking is near the Centra/Topaz filling station, which is just on the eastern side of the town. Sliabh Luachra, with a name that roughly translates as “Mountain of Rushes”, encompasses parts of Kerry, Cork and Limerick that are synonymous with music and the arts. This route aims to take you on a heritage-laden journey through several of the towns within the region and includes some fantastic climbing as well as pacy, rolling roads. You never know: you just might get the opportunity to hear some traditional music in the style unique to this region while passing by the many pubs along the way.
Leave Rathmore and take the R582, signposted for Knocknagree and Ballydesmond, briefly heading across the county border into Cork and reaching the quaint village of Knocknagree after 5km and Ballydesmond after 12km. Knocknagree punches way above its weight in terms of its heritage and, as well as being famous for its music, it was also where the famous 18th century poet Eoghan Ruadh Ó Súilleabháin died. The rolling road from Rathmore to Ballydesmond has a number of small ascents, just enough to warm up the legs for the road ahead. Just before Ballydesmond you will reach a T-junction where you turn left on to the R577 and back into Co Kerry. From here, the road rises again for a category 4 climb but it is relatively short, at just 3km.
At the summit of this climb is a crossroads in an area known as Knocknaboul, with impressive panoramic views. From here, continue straight for a nice, lively descent towards Scartaglen. Just after this crossroads there is a commemorative plaque on the left-hand side, marking the site of the ambush at Tureengarbh Glen, which took place in January 1921 during the War of Independence.
The descent continues on from here until the road levels; a small rise will bring you into the village of Scartaglen with 25km completed. Scartaglen, “where the women chase the men”, as the locals cheerfully say, has a rich heritage of music, dancing and drama and hosts many events in its 200-seater heritage and arts centre. Continue from here along the R577 where another lively descent and rolling road will bring you into the town of Castleisland, home of the annual Padraig O’Keeffe music festival. Here is a good place to stop for tea or coffee and there are plenty of shops and restaurants in the town.
From Castleisland, take the N28 towards Killarney briefly, until the 35km mark where our route turns left, following signposts for Currow. Take a left-hand turn in Currow at the church and a subsequent right at a fork in the road after another 2km. This takes you over a bridge and on to a T-junction, where you turn left, following signs briefly towards Scartaglen again. At the 44km mark turn right, following the signpost for Kilsarcon, and just afterwards at another fork on the road, turn right again, ignoring signs for Kilsarcon Graveyard. This is the end of complicated directions for a while as the road climbs up towards Bawnaglanna on a road little known for cycling in the county but a spectacular one nonetheless.
This stretch is a category 3 climb and is roughly 7km long but the scenery is very distracting as the route loops and winds its way up a valley. The top of this climb, with a mast at the summit, is visible for miles around. There is a very fast descent with wonderful views of the Lakes of Killarney ahead on a nice day as we roll towards a T-junction where we left. This is the parish of Kilcummin; our route, however, does not enter the village itself, instead opting to carry straight on for another 6km until reaching Anablaha School, which is a very distinctive yellow building.
Take the right-hand turn just before the school and another right at a T-junction. Around here the countryside changes briefly, leaving behind the fertile landscape for bogland, which has its own charms. Continue until you see a signpost for Barraduff to your left. Take this left turn and cycle on, passing a crossroads and reaching Barraduff at the 70km mark. From Barraduff turn left onto the N72 for the remaining 10km, which is rolling and pacy as it returns you to the starting point in Rathmore.
Sliabh Luachra Loop
Rathmore - Knocknagree - Ballydesmond - Scartaglen - Castleisland - Currow - Kilsarcon - Barraduff - Rathmore
Height gain: 885m
Time: 3-4 hours
Climbs: Category Length Start/End Points Start/End Elevation Average Gradient
5 4km 1km/5km 132m/196m 1.6%
4 3km 12km/15km 190m/281m 4%
3 7km 28.5km/35.5km 71m/274m 3%
5 2km 40km/42km 148m/200m 3%
5 2km 43.5km/45.5km 167m/214m 2%
- Edited from Cycling Kerry – Great Road Routes by Donnacha Clifford and David Elton (The Collins Press, €14.99), available in bookshops and online from collinspress.ie