Hear the voices of the Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way is a place like no other. Out there, the sound of the crashing waves and whisper of the coastal winds calm our hectic minds but it is the passion of the locals who really make it so special. There is no better way to understand the spirit of the route than by talking to the people of the Skellig Coast Region. All you have to do is listen.

The Skellig Coast Region may seem off the beaten track, but that’s exactly what makes it so special. It’s on the Ring of Kerry, a world-renowned section of the Wild Atlantic Way, but it feels like the edge of the world.

It may have first been the monks who were drawn here thousands of years ago but even in the present day, it remains a place of retreat where visitors can come to settle their busy minds. The distinctive landscape with the exposed craggy rock jutting out in the huge expanse of the Atlantic Ocean is arresting, making you pause for a moment to catch your breath. Coming for a trip to the Skellig Coast Region, or anywhere along the route in fact, has a transformative effect which stays with you long after you leave but what exactly about this route is so cathartic?

While the physical attributes certainly contribute to the restorative power of the Wild Atlantic Way, there is something so resonant about the locals that you run into out there. Their infectious local pride, personal anecdotes and big personalities leave a lasting impression. Whether you stop to simply ask for directions or spend an evening sharing a pint at the local pub, it is the faces and voices of the Wild Atlantic Way that will stay with you for years to come.

We spoke to some of the locals who call the Skellig Coast Region home and asked them what about this inspirational place keeps people coming back.

The Skellig Islands, seen from the Skellig Coast Region ©James Grandfield

Ballinskelligs Beach and the Monks Trail

LISTEN: Dessy Cronin, a local of Ballinskelligs, keen Kerry football fan and a fountain of knowledge on the monastic history of the area, will take you on a trip back in time from the abbey to the ruins of Ballinskelligs Castle, standing on an outcrop on the beach. The McCarthy Mór Tower, a stronghold of the powerful McCarthy clan tells its own fascinating story of 16th century feudal Ireland.

Dessy Cronin

Dessy Cronin

Ballinskelligs is deeply connected to the Skellig monks and you can retrace their footsteps with the Monks’ Trail, a newly developed walking route that includes the Augustinian Abbey, known locally as Ballinskelligs Abbey, established in the 13th century by returning monks who had fled Skellig Michael due to Viking raids and worsening weather conditions.

May the smile of God light you to glory.. (Irish blessing) . . Happy Saturday from Galway x

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Ballinskelligs Beach (Trá Baile an Sceilg) on the south-facing side of the peninsula is a beach where white sand stretches out to an outcrop of rock on which stand the ruins of a castle and an abbey each with a fascinating story to tell. A beautiful place to spend a day with family and friends and there’s a relaxed and happy vibe as parents and young children splash in the shallows, the sand soft under foot. Here you can slow down and spend an easy afternoon as you connect with the Wild Atlantic Way of life. Barbara at Café Cois Trá, just off the beach, runs a buzzing little café where you get a good cup tea or an ice-cream and where you’ll meet the locals who are always willing to give you their insider’s knowledge of the area. Close by at Ballinskelligs Pier (Cé Bhaile an Sceilg) Skellig Boats operates daily boat trip to land on Skellig Michael.

A sacred secret

Travelling away from the beach, up onto the slopes of Bolus Head, Dessy showed us an unmissable hidden gem of archaeological importance: the original Skellig monks’ land base. A number of beehive huts, of the exact same construct as those found on Skellig Michael, can be found as well as still standing altar stones with primitive Celtic crosses cut into them. It’s a stunning find that illustrates the importance of the region and its historical links to Skellig Michael. It really is a privilege to experience it. Sitting here among the ruins and lichen covered rocks, surrounded by sheep you get a real sense of the tranquillity that drew the monks to this part of the world.

The ultimate hidden gem on the Wild Atlantic Way. #skelligmonks #skelligmonkstrail #skelligmonksabbey #secret

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Here, with the only the sheep to bear witness to an ancient history, you’re struck by the sense of peace that surrounds you. With the wind in your ears and the sun sparkling off the Atlantic far below, you can almost hear the chanting of monks and time stands still.

From here, it’s only a fifteen minute drive to Valentia Island.

The Kerry Cliffs in the Skellig Coast Region © James Grandfield

An island on the edge of the world

LISTEN: We spoke to Tony O’Connell and Michael Lyne about their hopes for the future and their quest to establish the Valentia Transatlantic Cable Station in Knightstown as a UNESCO protected heritage site of communication. In a world where globalisation and connectedness are taken for granted, it’s worth remembering the very important role played by Valentia Island in that journey.

Valentia Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge to Portmagee, where you can catch the boat for the Skellig Islands. Knightstown, the main town on the island has the proud and very significant history of being the site for the first ever transatlantic telegram cable transmission. Vincent Kidd of the Royal Hotel Valentia offers an intriguing insight into the thriving community that existed on the island at the time as engineers and operators came from all over Britain to establish the Silicon Valley of its day. The restored hotel has a Victorian look and feel to it, evoking an era of great endeavour and engineering. Find out more here.

Valentia Island, where life emerged from the sea to walk on land

Valentia Island is also the site of another very significant moment in evolution. On the far side of the island, there’s a pathway that leads down to the coast where a small series of footprints on the rock indicate the movement of a tetrapod moving from sea to land some 370 million years ago. It is among the oldest verified tetrapod trackways ever discovered and recalls one of the most important evolutionary milestones for life on earth.

Geokaun Mountain and Cliffs

Fogher Cliffs © James Grandfield

Geokaun Mountain and Fogher Cliffs

LISTEN: Muris and Bernie O’Donoghue have transformed their family farm to include a viewing spot of the incredible cliffs and a 360 degree panoramic view from Geokaun Mountain, with dizzying views of the surrounding area you’ll feel like you’re flying above Europe’s most westerly points, an incredible feeling when confronted by such sublime beauty.

Bernie and Muris O’Donoghue 

Bernie and Muris O’Donoghue 

Muris and Bernie have augmented the visitor experience with their knowledge of local and Irish folklore as well info on the flora and fauna of the region. With their passion for the land they’ve worked all their lives, they have given us the chance to experience the raw elemental beauty of this part of the Wild Atlantic Way.

From Knightstown, at sea level you’re just a 10 minute drive from one of Kerry’s highest points at Geokaun Mountain, one of the Wild Atlantic Way Discovery Points in this area. The views of the cliffs at Fogher can rival any in Europe for drama. Looking out from the cliffs, you will find yourself transfixed by the incredible view, holding your complete attention - like for one moment, nothing else matters.

That feature of the Wild Atlantic Way, the land meeting the sea coming together is part of our next adventure where we met Tommy O’Connell and his novel way of exploring it.

The view of Beginish Island from Geokaun Mountain, Valentia Island © James Grandfield

From sea to land

LISTEN: Back on the mainland, at Cahersiveen, local man Tommy O’Connell had the bright idea to have an amphibious boat custom-built and he operates tours out of Cahersiveen where you can visit the uninhabited Beginish Island, a tour that cannot be missed! The island would otherwise be impossible to visit as there is no harbour or pier.

Tommy and Rory O'Connell

Tommy and Rory O'Connell

The whole family get involved in the business and Tommy is a pure gentlemen whose passion for the area comes through in his descriptions of what you can see along the way. From the history of Daniel O’Connell’s birthplace in the town, to how the Fenian uprising of 1867 led to the building of a new army barracks. Apparently the plans for the building were accidentally swapped with one intended for India, the result is an unusually grand fortress which today is a museum dedicated to "The Liberator" Daniel O’Connell. For more click here.

Waves' breath at the shore at sunset in the Skellig Coast Region ©James Grandfield

Derrynane House and Gardens

Derrynane House

Derrynane House and Gardens

LISTEN: We spoke James O'Shea, Head Gardener at Derrynane House and Maura E. Lyne, Guide, about the museum, the house and the stunning surrounds.

Nestled in the Oakwood of St Fionán on the very tip of the Iveragh Peninsula, where the craggy, scree-filled mountain slopes crash toward the sea, through a lush subtropical flora across summer meadows and ending at a white sandy beach surrounded by crystal clear blue water is a place so beautiful you can barely believe your eyes.

Derrynane House sits on this site and it’s a place as fascinating as it is stunning beautiful. It’s the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell, "The Liberator". Daniel was fostered by his uncle the imitable Maurice Hunting Cap O’Connell and later inherited the property. It was here the great O’Connell together with his wife Mary raised his family and the house remained his blissful retreat away from the demands of Parliament and the struggles for Catholic Emancipation.

Throughout his life Daniel returned to Derrynane whenever he could for the restorative effect it had on his mind, body and soul. Today, the house is a national monument dedicated to the great man but it retains its peaceful serenity. The gardens have been lovingly nurtured into an eclectic and beautiful collection of subtropical plants that thrive in Kerry’s warm conditions.

The star of the show though is the beach just beyond the house that is one of the most spectacular to be found anywhere along the Wild Atlantic Way. It winds around a series of coves with innumerable little outcrops of rock creating sheltered little swimming areas. When you’re walking here it’s very easy to imagine Daniel O’Connell playing with his children or walking his dogs as he let go of the stresses of political life.

“This is the wildest and most stupendous scenery of nature and I enjoy residence here with the most exquisite relish… I am in truth fascinated by this spot and did not my duty call me elsewhere I should bury myself alive here."

Daniel O'Connell

Find out more here.

Derrynane Beach

The Wild Atlantic Way feels like a world part. There’s the draw of the inspirational nature, a raw elemental beauty and then there’s the people, always welcoming, always friendly. It’s a heady combination that allows you to slow down, to reconnect with what’s important and feel the exhilaration of life, on the edge of the world.

Start planning your trip now at: wildatlanticway.com.