Cnoc na dTobar, 690m (Hill of the Well), a “stand-alone” mountain north of Cahersiveen and rising sheer out of Dingle Bay, is one of the most impressive mountains in the Iveragh peninsula.
With pilgrim routes being part of the zeitgeist due to the popularity of the Camino de Santiago and Croagh Patrick, Cnoc na dTobar has been strangely overlooked by enthusiasts from outside the area. Dr Tomás Ó Carragáin, in his chapters on "Iveragh's sacred mountains" in The Iveragh Peninsula: A Cultural Atlas of the Ring of Kerry (Cork University Press), identifies Cnoc na dTobar as a site of devotion to St Fursey (c 597-650AD).
There is evidence that pilgrimages have taken place here on the last Sunday in July from early medieval times, involving games, singing and dancing and the choice of a young couple to cut a specially prepared cake. In 1885, the Cahersiveen parish priest , Canon Brosnan, organised the erection of stations of the cross on the route from St Fursey’s Well to the summit.
In response to the renewed interest in pilgrim routes, some locals have been staking out the path up the mountain with distinctive white markers. As the start, we met one of them, Cormac Dineen, who was busy with a scythe clearing the bracken which encroaches on the first part of the route.
Once clear of this short section, the going is easy as a clear track contours up the slope to the summit ridge. On the narrow crest, we walked south first to a prominent outcrop which gives an interrupted view over the wonderful spread of the south Kerry coast lands while away to the north, the Blasket archipelago and the Slieve Mish massif provided a multi-hued backdrop to the glittering waters of Dingle Bay.
The tall Celtic cross which marks the end of the pilgrimage is a short distance from the summit and is visible from the town of Cahersiveen. If you are ascending for penitential purposes, you can turn back at this point, but the hillwalker will be drawn along the crest to the northeast, a route which parallels the inland peaks of the peninsula.
On your way to Spot Height at 633m, the ground drops steeply on your left to the tarns of Gleann Dá Loch. Nip across to bag Spot Height at 612m before heading for the cairn at 568m, which tops the spur leading down to the Kells road. On your way down you will see a relic of the second World War, with “Eire” marked out with rocks for the benefit of approaching war planes.
It struck me as I reflected on the day that the three great sacred sites of Kerry – Mount Brandon, Cnoc na dTobar and Skellig Michíl – are all in sight of one another and could easily be climbed over a long weekend if the weather was fine. It would be more of an exhilarating uplifting of the spirits than a penance.