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It's easy to get to Valentia Island from Portmagee, Co. Kerry, Ireland. A bridge crosses Portmagee Channel from the Southwest Kerry coast to the western side of Valentia Island.

Hikers view Bray Tower from path.
Hikers view Bray Tower from path.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

A gravel road path, 1.5 miles (2.4 kilometers) long, leads to the Bray Head cliffs and Bray Tower. (Ceann Bhreagha is the Irish/Gaelic name for Bray Head.) The drive west from Portmagee Bridge to the starting point for the Bray Head walk takes less than five minutes.

First Transatlantic Cable

Our guided walking tour guide, Frank Walsh, stopped the van at Telegraph Field to show us the monument to the first permanent communications link between Europe and North America. "The first three attempts to lay the 2,000 miles (3,200 kilometers) of cable across the Atlantic were failures," explained Walsh.

The fourth attempt was successful. In July 1866, the Great Eastern sailed from here (Foilhamerrum Bay) and laid the Anglo American Cable Company cable to Hearts Content, Newfoundland.

The Bray Head hiking trail is a short drive farther along the road. After walking through a cattle gate, we started climbing the gently rising road.

Purple heather
Purple heather
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Bray Head walk

Grazing Irish sheep, splotched with colored paint (raddles) to signify ownership, dotted lush pastures, separated by hedgerows. Thick patches of purple heather lined our route.

"County Kerry has three types of heather, "explained Frank Walsh. "One type blooms in May. The other two varieties of heather blossom in September." Yellow gorse (Ulex Europaeus), which grows nearby, flowers in April.

Bray Tower

A two-storey stone tower, surrounded by a stone wall, loomed ahead of us at the end of the Bray Head trail. English forces built Bray Tower in 1815.

Designed like a 16th-century Irish tower house with a chimney, it was a signal station along with several Martello towers along the Ireland coast. In 1907, the Navy used Bray Tower as semaphore (flag) signal station. During WWII, the military used it for coastal watches.

Hiker views cliffs and Dingle Bay.
Hiker views cliffs and Dingle Bay.
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Coastal scenery diverted our attention from the abandoned Bray Tower. Atlantic Ocean waves crashed against the wind-scoured Kerry cliffs, as we hiked around southwestern Valentia Island.

Skellig Islands

The amethyst peaks of Skellig Michael (Great Skellig) and Little Skellig pierced the southern horizon. Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the best preserved early Christian monastic site in the world.

Little Skellig is the second largest gannet (Sula bassana) sanctuary in the world. Between February and October, 27,000 pairs of gannets breed and nest on Little Skellig.

Skellig tours

Although less dramatic, views from the Bray Head path back down to Portmagee were equally memorable. Skellig tour boats created wakes along Portmagee Channel as they returned from trips to the Skellig Islands.

By boat, it takes one hour to get to the Skelligs, and an hour back, after Skellig tours. Visitors observe birds and marine life, including dolphins, and climb 600 steps to dry stone cells occupied by hermit monks between the 6th and 12th centuries.

Hiking Bray Head path next to Portmagee Channel
Hiking Bray Head path next to Portmagee Channel
Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll

Portmagee Ireland

As we descended the Bray Head trail, we looked across pastures and stone fences toward the bridge to Portmagee (An Caladh in Irish/Gaelic), the main fishing port in South Kerry. Fishing boats bobbed in Portmagee Harbour, which is lined with bright red, blue, yellow and green buildings.

The village's other claim to fame is Ireland's Top Toilet Award. A plaque on the stone wall of Portmagee's public washroom, near the bridge, commemorates the award.


Tourism Ireland: www.discoverireland.com

More things to see and do in Ireland:

Irish Breakfasts at Ireland B&Bs

Bodhran Lesson - Cahersiveen, Co. Kerry Ireland

Cahergall Stone Ring Fort - Cahersiveen Ireland

Killarney Ireland Hiking Trail - Co. Kerry

Tetrapod Trackway Fossil Footprints - Valentia Island Ireland