Cycle series: North Kerry and the Coast Road
Explore the beauty of north Kerry coastline, away from the busiest tourist traps
The Blue Flag ‘Ladies Beach’ in Ballybunion.
The roads along the coastline of north Kerry have a charm that would rival any other scenery in the country, as the landscape changes from golden beaches to windswept heath to rich agricultural land. Where better to start and conclude this adventure than in the culture-rich heritage town of Listowel, home of the famous playwright John B Keane? With many towns and villages en route this cycle seems to fly by, with each landmark telling a different and intriguing story.
Follow signposts in the town centre for Ballybunion, leading on past Convent Street. Follow the R553, which is mostly flat and perfect for warming up the legs. After 15km pass through Lisselton, before arriving in Ballybunion a further 7km on. This seaside town is renowned for its picturesque beach and championship golf course, played by President Bill Clinton in 1998. Continuing through the town and cycle northwards onto the R551, following signs for the Wild Atlantic Way, which lead to a gentle climb out of Ballybunion. Take a left turn 1km after leaving the town, signposted for Beale Strand. This area boasts more than 3km of beachesand dunes as well as magnificent views across the Shannon Estuary to County Clare, with Kilrush visible on the clearest of days. Continue along this undulating road until it merges with the R551 again, taking a left turn, signposted for Asdee.
After passing through Asdee, the road continues eastwards in the direction of Ballylongford. At 3km outside Asdee, turn left upon meeting a signpost signalling 4km to Ballylongford and proceed down the narrow road. This road is part of a looped detour towards Carrig Island and the single-tower 15th-century castle at Carrigafoyle, one of the strongholds of the Earl of Desmond until it was besieged by Cromwellian forces in 1580. Enough still stands of the castle to merit the name it is still called, “The Guardian of the Shannon”. Be aware that this road is rough in parts and floods on occasion. Beyond the castle the route enters the village of Ballylongford at the 37km mark.
Take a left turn back onto the R551 and proceed for another 10km along a flat stretch of road until reaching Tarbert. The town is well known for its ferry to Killimer in Co Clare. There is a 4km detour along the banks of the River Shannon to visit the ferry terminal, to avail of the views, the bar and toilet facilities there. Leaving Tarbert, continue along N69 coast road that enters quickly into Co Limerick and the heritage town of Glin.
Glin has a colourful past and is steeped in medieval history. The Fitzgerald castle, built around 1200, is still visible, with the later castle, built around 1780, impressively dominating the surroundings. The village has a number of shops and cafes and is a good place to refuel.
Take a right turn and follow signposts for Athea on the R524 along a road that has a surprisingly difficult incline from the outset. Along here, the landscape changes to heath and woodland as the route heads inland and upwards with a leg-testing climb of approximately 8km in length, after which there is a swift descent into Athea with 72km completed so far. If tempted (and tired), it is possible at Athea to follow signposts for Listowel for an optional shortcut back to the start; however, for those with remaining energy and resolve, follow the signposts through Athea for Abbeyfeale. A 3.5km climb out of Athea is followed by a steady 8km descent into Abbeyfeale.
On entering Abbeyfeale turn right onto the R555, signposted for Listowel. The brief sojourn in Co Limerick comes to an end as the route crosses over the River Feale and enters back into Co Kerry. This final stretch of road has a number of small climbs, with the standout hill being in the village of Duagh, but overall there is nothing too taxing.
Continue north-eastwards beside the River Feale until the road merges with the N69. Take a right turn and cycle over the impressive five-arch bridge traversing the River Feale back into Listowel and receive a friendly wave from the statue of John B Keane in the town centre, welcoming you back after a very satisfying journey.
Route 24 North Kerry and the Coast Road
Listowel - Ballybunion - Tarbert - Glin - Athea - Abbeyfeale - Listowel
A great opportunity to explore the beauty of the north Kerry coastline, away from the busiest tourist traps.
Height gain: 870m
Time: 4-5 hours
Start/Finish: This route begins in Listowel, 30km north of Tralee, where there are several opportunities for parking including a convenient location just off Convent Street in the town centre where there is a large car park near the SuperValu shop.
An edited extract from `Cycling Kerry – Great Road Routes' by Donnacha Clifford and David Elton (The Collins Press, €14.99), available from bookshops and online from collinspress.ie