Approximately two million years ago, toward the end of the last ice age, slow-moving ice pushed through the Killarney Valley, creating what is known as the Gap of Dunloe. The stunning, narrow mountain pass lies between MacGillycuddy's Reeks and Purple Mountain, and has provided the backdrop for many adventurers who have come to explore the west coast of Ireland.
Along with my younger sister, Angel, and my mother, who had always dreamed of visiting the homeland of her great-grandparents, we headed toward Kate Kearney's Cottage to begin our adventure. Within minutes we were huddled in a compact, horse-pulled cart with a couple and our charming Irish driver riding into the piercing green atmosphere of Killarney National Park.
The starting point to the end of the glen is approximately six and a half miles and is made up of varied terrain, from green valleys to rugged hills composed of carboniferous rocks. The Gap of Dunloe may be just a fragment of the Ring of Kerry, one of the most popular scenic drives in Ireland, but the unique terrain of this small piece made this feel as if we were on another planet.
Coming to a steep hill, we all hopped out of the cart, making the uphill trek a bit easier on our horse. As we reached the top of the hill, Auger Lake came into view signifying that we were now in the center of the Gap of Dunloe.
Our driver was more than accommodating, allowing us to alternate between our cart ride and hiking at our own pace to take in every sight, especially Mom who was at a loss for words. At one point, my sister mentioned wanting to ride horseback, and then proceeded to ride English style for the remaining two miles with us trailing in the cart behind.
The Gap of Dunloe may be known as a natural attraction, but in no way lacks historic significance. Just past Auger Lake stands a ruined stone house, which our driver informed us is a former police barracks from the nineteenth century.
The six and a half mile trek ends at Lord Brandon's Cottage, a nineteenth century hunting lodge, the grounds of which are worth exploring. In just a half hour before the next part of our excursion, we visited Old Weir Bridge, hiked small hills that provided views of Purple Mountain, and were able to get an up close look at some wildlife native to County Kerry.
In the mid-1800’s, a group of Sika deer were brought over to Ireland from northeastern Asia, and moved into enclosed parks around Ireland. During “The Troubles,” an ethno-nationalist conflict in Northern Ireland that spilled over into the Republic of Ireland, many Sika deer escaped into the wild. Today, there are more than 20,000 Sika deer in Ireland, a large population of them being in County Kerry. On this day, we were lucky enough to come across two.
The next part of the excursion took us by boat through the three Lakes of Killarney, which range from forty-four feet to 246 feet in depth. Rain clouds began rolling in as soon as our boat of twelve was released into the Upper Lake. Within minutes our tour guide was gesturing us all to the rear of the boat, steadying our boat enough to avoid flooding as we rocked side to side.
While our boat ride may have been a bit more jarring than expected, the unexpected rain storm only added to the sense of adventure. All too soon, we were able to make out the outline of a stone castle in the distance. We had completed our ten mile journey through the Lough Leane, Muckross Lake, and Upper Lake.
Stepping out of the small boat, we were greeted by Ross Castle, a fifteenth century tower house and ancestral home of the O'Donoghue clan. It was the quintessential ending to our adventure through history and through the Gap.
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Jasmine is a Hospitality & Tourism graduate with a passion for writing, travel, photography and sustainability. When she is not blogging about her travels or adventures around New York City, she works as an Operations Coordinator for an independently-owned travel agency.