Saturday 21 October 2017

Skywalkers: Ireland's longest rope bridge opens in Kerry

Kells Bay House & Gardens

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

First, it hosted Luke Skywalker and Star Wars. Now, Kerry's Skellig Coast has opened its own 'Skywalk' rope bridge.

The 112-foot (34m) structure, straddling the River Delligeenagh at Kells Bay House & Gardens, is claimed to be Ireland's longest rope bridge.

Northern Ireland's Carrick-a-Rede bridge, by contrast, stretches 20m (66 feet).

Budding Skywalkers (see video above) will be able to cross the river 36 feet in the air, once the attraction officially opens to the public this April 8.

Billy Alexander of Kells Bay House and Gardens with Pupils from Filemore National School, Co Kerry, Emma O’Connor (7), Donagh Sugrue (11), Meadh O’Sullivan (9), Enda Sheehan (9), the first children to try ‘The Skywalk’ - Ireland’s Longest Rope Bridge. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
Billy Alexander of Kells Bay House and Gardens with Pupils from Filemore National School, Co Kerry, Emma O’Connor (7), Donagh Sugrue (11), Meadh O’Sullivan (9), Enda Sheehan (9), the first children to try ‘The Skywalk’ - Ireland’s Longest Rope Bridge. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan
Emma O’Connor (7), a Pupil from Filemore National School, Co Kerry,tries ‘The Skywalk’ - Ireland’s Longest Rope Bridge, at Kells Bay house and Gardens, on the Skellig Coast, and Wild Atlantic Way, Co.Kerry. Photo: Valerie O’Sullivan
Kells Bay House and Gardens, Co Kerry. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland
Kells Bay House and Gardens, Co Kerry. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland
Pupils from Filemore National School, Co Kerry, Emma O’Connor (7), Donagh Sugrue (11) and Meadh O’Sullivan (9), Enda Sheehan (9) try ‘The Skywalk’ - Ireland’s Longest Rope Bridge, at Kells Bay house and Gardens, on the Skellig Coast, and Wild Atlantic Way, Co.Kerry. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan

The bridge has its genesis in a storm that struck the Skellig Coast in 2009, badly damaging an older concrete structure. It will restore access to a section of Kells Bay Gardens cut off for several years, and also includes 800m of new paths.

Admission to Kells Bay House & Gardens (kellsbay.ie), which also includes rare plants, a breathtaking waterfall, Thai restaurant and bamboo gardens, costs €8 per adult and €6 per child. There is no additional fee for The Skywalk.

The Fáílte Awakens

The Skellig Islands shot into the global spotlight after a stunning cameo in Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015), and are expected to feature again (among other Irish locations) in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, scheduled for release this December.

Kerry's 'Skellig Ring', which detours west from the N70 Ring of Kerry, was named as one of Lonely Planet's Top 10 regions to visit in 2017.

Efforts are now underway to broaden the area's vistor appeal beyond island daytrips, extending the tourist season and increasing "dwell time" between Kells and Castlecove by highlighting attractions like Kells Bay, Daniel O'Connell's Derrynane House, Kerry's Dark-Sky Reserve and the Skellig Experience on Valentia Island.

Kells Bay House and Gardens, Co Kerry. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland
Kells Bay House and Gardens, Co Kerry. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland
Kells Bay House and Gardens, Co Kerry. Photo: Valerie O'Sullivan / Fáilte Ireland
Pupils from Filemore National School, Co Kerry, Emma O’Connor (7), Donagh Sugrue (11) and Meadh O’Sullivan (9), Enda Sheehan (9) try ‘The Skywalk’ - Ireland’s Longest Rope Bridge, at Kells Bay house and Gardens, on the Skellig Coast, and Wild Atlantic Way, Co.Kerry. Photo:Valerie O’Sullivan

This January, Fáilte Ireland launched a new visitor plan for the Skellig Coast - hoping to create stickier tourism in an area notorious for transitory tour buses.

The Skellig secret

“The secret is out," said Pat Kavanagh of the new Skellig Coast Tourism Network.

"Following years of individual communities working independently on tourism – we now have a co-ordinated approach where the whole area from Kells to Castlecove is identified as one area under the Skellig Coast Tourism Network.”

Inspiration for the Kells Bay 'Skywalk' came from several rainforest and jungle research trips, according to owners Billy and Penn Alexander.

The couple has invested €2 million in the site since acquiring it in 2006, and they hope the Skywalk will boost visitor numbers by 50pc.

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