Mount Brandon / Brendan Mountain / Cnóc Bréannain (“Brendan’s Hill”) (952m / 3123ft) takes its name from the legend that Saint Brendan the Navigator was on this summit c.530 AD when he had a vision of “the Blessed Isles”.
The smooth rounded nunatuk summit is crowned by a large metal cross and Sáipéilín Bhréannan / Brendan’s Oratory, a tiny stone building believed to have been used by the saint. It is usually approached by Cosán na Naomh (“the Saints’ Road”), a pilgrimage route marked with smallish white crosses.
The western side of the mountain is an almost unbroken grassy slope, while the eastern flank is gouged with corries; a glen is formed by a series of steps with small paternoster lakes, including the Coumacnock Loughs, Lough Nalacken and Lough Cruttia.
The mountain is the highest of the Brandon Group of summits, west of MacGillicuddy’s Reeks. Its neighbours include Barr an Ghéarráin (840m / 2760ft), Binn Fhaiche (822m / 2697ft), Masatiompan / Más an Tiompán (763m / 2503ft) and Piaras Mór (748m / 2454ft).
The Connor Pass is the terrifying highlight of an exceptionally scenic narrow winding mountain road overlooking a series of stunningly beautiful lakes. (Photo by Adrian Platt)
Lettragh is the part of the northern Dingle Peninsula east of Mount Brandon. Overlooked by mountains, the area is known for its beautiful walks and lakes. Although this is a Gaeltacht region, Irish is not so much the everyday spoken language as further west on the peninsula.
Benagh Fort / Binn na Port, one of the most remarkable hilltop Promontory Forts in Ireland, is located on a very high ridge shaped like the prow of a ship between two corries on the eastern side of Mount Brandon.
The fort consists of two stone ramparts built of large and medium sized stones laid horizontally, the better preserved sections of the walls are about 2m thick and stand up to 2m high. The walls must once have been a prominent feature of the landscape, for even in their present ruined state they are visible – weather permitting – against the skyline from much of the surrounding countryside. Indeed, from Cloghane it is possible to identify the entrance in the lower wall.
The similar hilltop promontory fort of Caherconree overlooking the eastern extremity of Lettragh strongly suggests that this area was a vital and powerful centre of activity in the Iron Age.
Brandon Bay is overlooked by a semicircle of scenic peaks. These mountains offer an almost unique wilderness; the seaward side of Masatiompan is positively eerie, bounded by nightmare cliffs. It is very hard to imagine that families used to live from what they could garner from desolate Sás / Sauce Creek. Nearby, uninhabited valleys bear traces of ancient farming communities and abandoned villages. To the east, the landscape varies from mountain pass to peak to bog-clad valley floor to sandy beach, and is filled with rivers, lakes, streams, and waterfalls The area has an abundance of flora, with arctic alpines growing near the summits and many seaside flowers growing on the edge of the bay. There are walking trails, most offering spectacular views.
Brandon & Cloghane (Co. Kerry / Southwest)
Brandon / Cé Bhréannain (pop. 133) is a tiny cluster of buildings serving as the social hub of a community spread around the slopes and shore. Local pubs serve very good food, especially fresh fish. Music sessions are common, and set dancing is enjoying a revival.
Cloghane /An Clochán (pop. 8) lies at the head of the estuary of the Owenmore River, which descends scenically from its source in the Mullach; it is very popular with anglers, as salmon and sea trout are plentiful.
Fermoyle beach at Kilcummin is a good place for shore angling.
Crutch’s Hillville House Hotel, very highly recommended as a place to stay, has an interesting history. The former holiday home of a branch of the Hickson family (another branch owned the large house nearby), used as a hunting lodge by visitors, this was where historian Mary-Agnes Hickson spent much of her life, alone and in straightened circumstances, writing in order to survive.
Brandon quay is quiet nowadays, but a century ago as many as a hundred small boats used to fish from here, in addition to several larger craft, bringing in large quantities of mackerel, to be cured on the quays by women and children and sent to North America; butter was transported to Cork by sea and pack horse. The old pier and Coastguard Station were built in 1825, and the later pier in 1896.
Trá Bhán (white strand) is popular for bathing, and the stunning Cappagh beach has its own swimming pool at low tide.
On a point jutting into the bay just east of Ballyquin is a caher, or stone fort, some 36.5m / 120ft across. The beach here is red from the coastal erosion of old red sandstone; it is not safe for any watersports.
The stone head of Crom Dubh, ancient god of the harvest, was stolen from the old graveyard in Cloghane in 1993. Happily an impressive likeness was presented to the area by sculptor Ronan le Gall of Plozevet in Brittany, with which the villages of Cloghane and Brandon are twinned; it can be seen at the Ballyguin Heritage centre, Halla le Cheile.
The Festival of Lughnasa
The Festival of Lughnasa is held on the last weekend in July, with a wide variety of entertainment available.
This is a revival or remarketing of the old tradition of Domhnach Crom Dubh, the last Sunday in July, for centuries the most important day in the local calendar. Emigrants to Britain, Europe and America, used to time their visits home to coincide with the festival. People made or bought new clothes, painted and cleaned their homes and prepared food. “Pattern pies” were made and sold; fiddlers came and played for their pennies; tinkers converged with their wares; and there were games and dancing and entertainments from the afternoon until early next morning.
Nowadays the highlight of this weekend is the ascent of Mount Brandon, with music and poetry reading and a picnic at its peak. On the Sunday, the Cloghane Pattern is celebrated with the festivities moving to Brandon on the Monday night. Sheep shearing, dog trials, traditional meat pies, face painting, street entertainers, and open air dancing are just some of the delights on offer.
The Brandon Regatta, held every August on the penultimate or last Sunday, comprises a series of curragh races with many different categories. Contesting boat teams travel right up the west coast, and winners and losers alike celebrate with music and song afterwards.
The tradition of the Wren is still observed on 26th December.
Lough Gill, a freshwater lake, is of considerable significance as a major breeding ground of the rare Natterjack Toad, which can be heard for miles on fine summer nights. Lough Gill is also one of the few places where Bewick’s, Mute and Whooper swans can all be seen. (Photo by an Sionnach)
Stradbally is a pleasant lakeshore location, home of Castlegregory Golf and Fishing Club.
Tomásíns Bar and Restaurant, run by Matt and Mary Moloney, has been dishing up delicious home cooked meals to locals and hungry travellers alike ever since it’s opening over 30 years ago.
Stradbally Strand was the site of Stradbally Hall, a Hickson family dwelling that became notorious under the decadent early C19th occupancy of “Georgie Gay” Hickson. One modern commentator has remarked “looking at the cold and wild view, one can imagine those Regency sportsmen and their dinner parties as part of the untamed landscape“.
St Brendan’s church (CoI) in Killiney, just to the west of Castlegregory, was built in 1810 close by the still surviving ruins of a medieval church overlooking Lough Gill and Brandon Bay. Ancient crude stone crosses in the graveyard bear witness that Christianity was present in the area from an early age, and an obelisk memorial commemorates the Port Yarrock, a barque which, having voyaged from California, foundered in Brandon Bay with the loss of all hands in 1894. The church is now principally used to serve the needs of holidaymakers in July and August.
The Maharees is the name given to a sandy peninsula stretching northwards, separating Brandon Bay to the west from Tralee Bay on the east, and not to be confused with the small archipelago at its tip, the Maharee / Magharry Islands, aka the Seven Hogs.
Castlegregory (Co. Kerry / Southwest)
Castlegregory (Caisléan Ghriaire) (pop. 210), an attractive village and popular family tourist resort, is the capital of the Lettragh. The population of the district was reduced by the Great Famine to a quarter of what it was in 1840, and Castlegregory remained the only place in the area resembling a real village.
Castle Gregory was a C16th edifice, an arched doorway of which can still be seen in the village at Tailor’s Row.
It was built by Gregory Hoare. Tragedy surrounded this family, beginning with the wedding in 1566 of Gregory’s son, Hugh, to Ellen Moore, whose father was an old enemy of the Hoares. On the day of the wedding, Gregory dropped dead on the threshold of his Castle when he was trying to stop the wedding party from entering.
Hugh inherited the castle, and in 1580 Queen Elizabeth‘s Lord Deputy Grey visited with his entourage, including Captain Denny and Walter Hussey of Dingle. Ellen apparently objected to entertaining her country’s enemies, as she emptied all the wine and beer onto the cellar floor. When Hugh found out what she had done he became so enraged he stabbed her to death. The next morning, when Lord Grey was bringing him to be charged with killing his wife, Hugh Hoare collapsed and died on the very same threshold that his father had fallen on the day of the wedding.
A later marriage, of “Black” Hugh’s daughter, transferred the castle to Walter Hussey of Dingle. He supported the Knight of Kerry in the Cromwellian wars and was pursued by General Wilmot across the mountains, where he died in the destruction of Minard Castle.
Castle Gregory – “slighted” by the English army – and the estate at Castlegregory were settled first on a Cromwellian soldier, and later acquired c.1800 by the first Lord Ventry, to whose descendants it belonged until 1913.
St Mary’s church (RC) has a fine stained glass window by Harry Clarke.
Castlegregory really comes alive during the summer months, when there is always a huge influx of tourists.
Castlegregory Pattern Day is celebrated on 15th August, when the tradition is to eat locally made mutton pies and wash them down with plenty of Guinness.
All of the local beaches are sandy, and many are suitable for watersports. The seawater is clean throughout the entire area. In the Maharees there is pony trekking along the beaches, as well as scuba diving, surfing, windsurfing, canoeing and waterskiing. Equipment and instruction are available locally.
There are a number of restaurants, cafes and pubs in Castlegregory and the Maharees, offering everything from take-away to haute cuisine, with local seafood a specialty. On summer evenings, traditional music can be heard at several pubs in the village.
Candiha is the site of a particular large (14ft) gallán.
Fahamore is a small fishing harbour on Scraggane Bay near the tip of the Maharees. The pier is the place to hire boats for excursions to the islands, where the diving is said to be very good, or for sea angling trips.
Kilshannig church may date in part to the C12th but it is mostly a C16th reconstruction. The ruins feature a C7th cross-slab with an interestingly designed cross a chi-rho – the Greek initials for Christ – a cryptically formalised loop out of the top of a Latin cross. There is a pagan-derived divergent spiral at the base of the cross.
Glenteenassig (Gleannta ana Easig – “the valleys of the waterfall”) is one of the loveliest places on the Peninsula, resembling parts of Co. Wicklow. (Photo- www.homeaway.com)
A track leading across the mountains to near Annascaul is believed to be the route taken by Cromwellian forces in pursuit of Walter Hussey to Minard Castle.
Camp is on ByRoute 1