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Trip Report Driving the Gap of Dunloe: Wow!

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Prior to our leaving the States for Ireland in September I did some research on driving the Gap of Dunloe in our own car. Included in our research materials were Fodor’s Ireland 2012 and the most current Michelin Green Guide to Ireland. Fodor’s is unequivocal in stating that “Cars are banned from the gap...” Michelin implies as much without making as strong a statement. Both sources suggest that one of the best ways to traverse the gap is to get yourself to Kate Kearney’s Cottage and hire a pony and trap with driver.

Unfortunately, our time constraints were such that getting to Kate Kearney’s for such a trip would be impractical. Further, my physical limitations (a prosthetic right hip and a prosthetic left knee with severe range of motion issues to mention a couple) are such that climbing in and out of a trap or walking alongside of it on steep hills make that kind of travel not only impractical but also potentially dangerous for me.

Thus, although my wife and I both wanted to cross the gap and see its legendary beauty it was, alas, not in the cards. Then fate and serendipity paid us a visit. We were out doing a wonderful day on the Ring of Kerry along with the Skellig and Valentia Rings and were all set to conclude the trip by returning to our hotel in Kenmare. We planned to do this by cutting across the Kerry Peninsula on a single track road from Glenbeigh to Glencar, then into Kenmare through Moll’s Gap. We were in no hurry and were glad to be able to escape the specter of going through Killarney and facing all the tour buses returning to Killarney late in the afternoon (something with which we had had first-hand familiarity just the afternoon before when we had arrived in Kenmare from Killarney).

It was sometime between 3:30 and 4:00 p.m. when the road to Glenbeigh reached the cutoff point to Glencar when, literally out in the middle of nowhere, we came across a ROAD CLOSED sign. There was a man in an orange vest from the Irish roads department who gave us a friendly greeting but no explanation as to why the closure. When we told him we were trying to get back to Kenmare he said that the best way to do that was over the Gap of Dunloe. He seemed surprised by the incredulous look his suggestion had brought to my face. I asked him if it were possible for us to take our car over that road and he looked at his watch and said that at that time of day it would be no problem. It was with glee that I asked Cookie, our GPS, to get us there.

Cookie’s route would take us into Killorglin where I stopped to fill the car with petrol and to check with the petrol station attendant about using the Gap of Dunloe that afternoon. He assured us that it is a public road and that anyone is entitled to use it. He also said that the pony and trap drivers had gotten a reputation for defending fiercely what they perceived to be their turf but that they were out-of-bounds in doing so. He also told us that if anyone tried to give us problems we should simply ignore them and drive on. This suggestion of possible interference coincided with similar comments which we heard from the staff at the hotel we were using in Kenmare after we had completed the trip.

Even at my age of 77 I still surprise myself at how resolute I can become when people attempt to bully me. After consultation with the good lady wife we made the determination that we would drive the Gap of Dunloe. Boy, am I glad we did.

Following Cookie’s directions we got down to Kate Kearney’s Cottage at probably around 4:45 p.m. We saw a number of ponies with traps and drivers but they all seemed to be just hanging about, most likely waiting for any last-minute takers. We did see a large sign which we glanced at briefly in passing. What I recall of it was that it said the road is intended primarily for pony and trap. I did not see anything which forbade our use of it nor did I look carefully. As we drove on to the beginning of no one tried to stop us or in any way impede or discourage our entry.

The day was mixed with sunshine and clouds and, of course, it would have been even more drop-dead gorgeous had we had full sunshine. Clouds notwithstanding, we had just undertaken one of the top ten drives in the world for us. For over an hour we tootled over hill and dale, all on single track roads with steepish fall-offs at places where the road was built up with no berm. We saw glistening lakes, spectacular hills, wonderful wildflowers and waterfalls, and a vast collection of eye candy provided to us by nature.

We only once encountered a pony and trap and that was going in our direction. At one point the driver looked back and clearly registered my presence but took no action based on it. For my part I maintained a very respectful distance in both an effort to avoid pressuring him (or even seeming to) and to take in the maximum amount of scenery I could. When we got to a wide clearing on the other side of a bridge I overtook him giving him as wide a berth as possible. His body language the whole time seemed to indicate that he was not pleased.

We stopped numerous times to allow one of the other of us to get out and take pictures to reinforce our memories. The good news was that no one was behind us and few people were coming towards us so we were able to savor the uniqueness of it all.

As we got closer to the other end of the road we noted an uptake of traffic coming towards us and gave way as required without incident. Over dinner that evening we basked in the glory of all three Rings of Kerry AND the Gap of Dunloe in a single, memorable day.

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