Valentia and the Coast of Kerry

J. Stirling Coyne & N. P. Willis
c. 1841
Volume I, Chapter IV-21 | Start of chapter

Along the coast of Kerry are the protecting harbours of Kenmare, a long and beautiful estuary, called a river: Kilmashallog, Sneem, Ballinskellig, Valentia, Dingle, Ventry, Castlemaine, Dunmore, Smerwick, Brandon, and Tralee. Of these Ballinskellig Bay is the first we meet of any importance. It is a spacious haven, almost entirely encompassed by lofty mountains. The shores, which stretch out into the headlands, are bold and varied, and the islets with which the spacious basin is agreeably diversified, add much to the beauty of the scenery. On the green margin of a sheltered creek, running in from this bay, in the most romantic situation imaginable, stands Derrynane Abbey, the seat of the late Daniel O'Connell, Esq. It is a singular-looking patchwork edifice, having been enlarged by additions made at different periods, and in various styles. The mountains which rise precipitously behind, and on either side of the house, completely hem it in, and give it an extremely solitary appearance. The only means of communicating with the country inland is by a narrow road, or more properly a track, winding through the craggy defiles of the mountain, and altogether impassable for any vehicle; so that a more secluded and interesting spot than Derrynane it would be difficult to find. The ruins of the little abbey, from which the mansion takes its name, stand within view of the house on the extremity of a low tongue of land running into the sea; some pretty islets lie in front of the house, and give an agreeable variety to the bay.

The scenery along this coast is of a singularly wild and solitary character. "The mountains," says Mr. Inglis, "jut out into the sea on every side; the island of Valentia lies opposite, separated from the main land by a narrow channel; and the small town, enclosed among the brown mountain slopes, seems like a place at the world's end." Valentia, so called by the Spaniards, who formerly had an extensive trade along the western coasts of Ireland, is the property of the Knight of Kerry, who derives a large sum annually from the fine slate and flag-quarries which the island contains. A handsome cottage, in which the knight resides, is pleasantly situated on the east side of the island.

The sail from Valentia to Dingle on a fine summer day is exceedingly beautiful; the intelligent tourist whom I have quoted fully appreciates the magnificence of the coast scenery. He thus speaks of his voyage, which was undertaken in a heavy fishing-boat:—"There was scarcely a breath of wind, and we were forced to row the whole way; sometimes, indeed, profiting by the brief course of a passing breeze to hoist our sail, but losing more than we gained by the suspension of rowing. This must, indeed, be a frightful navigation with a heavy rolling sea before an Atlantic north-wester; but as I was not desirous of reaching Dingle before nightfall, I did not regret the slowness of our progress and the tranquillity of the sea, which permitted a more leisurely observation of the fine scenery that lay on every side. The tide did not permit us to steer directly for Dingle; and accordingly we made the opposite shore considerably to the west, and then rowed under the rocks eastward, passing in succession Ventry Harbour, numerous bold headlands and singularly-formed rocks, and many curious sea-worn caves, never visited but by the sea-fowl, that are congregated in thousands along this coast—riding on the waves, covering the rocks, and wheeling on the sides of the cliff. I noticed many varieties of these birds: some were of the purest white, some were white all but the tips of the wings, and some were speckle bodied, with red feet and bills."