Discover a ‘Mayan temple’ hidden in the Kerry hills

Walk for the Weekend: Cailleach Beara Loop in Bonane, Co Kerry, wends its way up the Esk Mountain Ridge

The first time my generation would have heard about "The Cailleach Beara" was in lines of a Patrick Pearse poem, "Mise Éire. Sine me na an Cailleach Beara."

The amount of background information we got on the Old Hag of Beara depended on the enthusiasm of the teacher for this most significant figure in Irish mythology. Modern students might not have heard of her  as Pearse’s poems have faded from the curriculum.

The Hag is said to be an old crone who brings winter with her and she was treated with a mixture of reverence and awe. It being summer, I felt it was safe to tackle the Cailleach Beara Loop without bringing her wrath down on me.

The walk starts from Molly Gallivan’s which is the focal point of a series of looped walks of varying length developed by the local community, all of which pass through sites of historical importance. The Cailleach Beara walk is of most interest to hill walkers as it wends its way up to the Esk Mountain Ridge on the Cork-Kerry border.


The start of the walk runs through Molly Gallivan’s traditional farm, passing traditional machinery, a famine cottage and a Neolithic Stone Row; a lot of history in a short time. The route is well marked and leads on to the Old Bridle Path to Glengarriff which was in use until the construction of the tunnels on the N71

On this section it joins up with the Beara Way and both routes continue to the top of the ridge where they diverge, with the Cailleach Loop turning off to the right. From here the route heads west across the crest of the Esk Ridge. The Caha Mountains can be difficult to negotiate and to navigate but this short section is a safe introduction for anyone who wants to try further hill walking on Beara.

The way markers are well placed to guide you through the outcrops. And, as I was informed by the gentleman back in Molly Gallivan’s, each post is numbered and if you run into trouble they have the GPS co-ordinates of each post back in the shop, so they can guide the mountain rescue teams; not that there is much likelihood of  running into trouble on this well-tended trail.

With the land falling away steeply on either side there is no restriction on the view north to Kenmare Bay and The Magillicuddy Reeks and a most magnificent view south down into the sparkling upper reaches of Bantry Bay with Glengarriff Harbour and the famous Garnish Island Gardens tucked into its northwest corner.

At the end of the ridge section is an enormous stepped concrete buttress supporting the tunnels. It sounds intrusive but having the structural attributes of a Mayan Temple, it provides an exotic ambiance to the wild terrain.

After that bizarre flight of fancy, it was an easy downhill trek to Molly’s cafe where an enormous pot of tea, which looked like an ancient artefact itself, awaited.

Cailleach Beara Loop, Bonane, Co Kerry

Map: Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 85.
Start and Finish: Trail Head at Molly Gallivan's shop and cafe. Grid Reference 920620.
How to get there: The shop is on the N71, Kenmare to Glengarriff Road, 3km south of the church in Bonane.
Time: Three Hours.
Distance: 10km.
Total Ascent: 516m.
Suitability: Easy. Walking boots and weather-appropriate clothing.