December 18, 2022 @ 8:30 am - 4:00 pm
The Gap of Dunloe (from Irish: Dún Lóich, meaning “Lóich’s stronghold”), also recorded as Bearna an Choimín (meaning “gap of the commonage” or “gap of the little hollow”), is a narrow mountain pass running north-south in County Kerry, Ireland, that separates the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range in the west, from the Purple Mountain Group range in the east. It is one of Kerry’s most popular tourist destinations due to its scenery.
The term Dunloe is believed to be an anglicization of the Irish term “Dún Lóich”, meaning fort or stronghold of Lóich (the River Loe that runs through the Gap of Dunloe valley also derives its name from the same source). According to the Annals of Clonmacnois, Keating and the Lebor Gabála Érenn (LGE), Deala (or Dela) Mac Lóich was the father of the five chieftains of the returning Fir Bolg (Slainghe, Gann, Genann, Seangann, and Rudhraighe), who conquered Ireland and divided it into five provinces, each ruled by one brother. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, the Fir Bolg ruled Ireland for 37 years from 3266 to 3303 B.C., but were themselves defeated by the returning Tuatha Dé Danann.
The Gap of Dunloe was formed 25,000 years ago during Ireland’s last ice age as a result of a “glacial breach” where a glacier in the Black Valley, part of the Templenoe Icecap, estimated to be over 500 metres deep, broke through the Head of the Gap and moved northwards carving out a U-shaped valley.
The pass runs north-south between the Old Red Sandstone mountain ranges of the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks (to the west) and the Purple Mountain Group (to the east). The north-south road through The Gap as the area is also known, goes from Kate Kearney’s Cottage in the north, to the highest point at the Head of the Gap at 241 metres (791 feet), and down to Lord Brandon’s Cottage in the Black Valley in the south. The road from Kate Kearney’s Cottage to Lord Brandon’s Cottage is 11 kilometres (7 miles) in length, with 200 metres (650 feet) in total elevation change.
Within The Gap are five lakes (from north to south): Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough. The lakes are connected by the River Loe. Between the first two, Coosaun Lough and Black Lake is the Wishing Bridge on which it is said that wishes made while upon it are destined to come true. The stone bridge at the northern end of Augher Lake and the stone bridge at the northern end of Black Lough are also lookout points.
The road through the Gap of Dunloe, from Kate Kearney’s Cottage in the north, into the Black Valley in the south, is a public road, and under the charge of Kerry County Council. Private jaunting car operators based at Kate Kearney’s Cottage have been accused of erecting signs that imply the road is closed to cars. In 2018, the Lonely Planet guide had to clarify the road is public in its 2018 Ireland guidebook.
The true Head of the Gap (at Moll’s Gap and then continuing east on the R568 road until a small side-road (at , sometimes labelled “Gearhasallagh” after the townsland, on maps), descends steeply north into the Black Valley and then winds its way westwards towards Lord Brandon’s Cottage (which is off-route), but then diverts north to the actual Head of the Gap; this route is part of a 55–kilometre loop of the Killarney–Gap of Dunloe–Black Valley–Moll’s Gap area, popular with cyclists.), can be accessed from the north by driving past Kate Kearney’s Cottage, and from the south by driving to
As the public road through the Gap of Dunloe road reaches the Head of the Gap it becomes narrow and winding and is difficult for vehicles to pass, which has led to concerns over safety; there have been fatalities over the years of cyclists. There have also been fatalities of tourists in jaunting cars.
Climbing and walking
The mountain ranges on either side of The Gap (MacGillycuddy’s Reeks to the west, and Purple Mountain Group to the east), are common hill walking routes (some routes are discussed in more detail in their respective articles). The walk from Kate Kearney’s Cottage (at ), to the full Head of the Gap (at ) is 6 kilometres and takes circa 1 hour (and another hour for the return journey back to Kate Kearney’s Cottage).