The Iveragh Peninsula (Co. Kerry)

   Doulus Head just west of Caherciveen. (Photo by Linda Bailey)
Caherciveen / Cahersiveen (Cathair Saidhbhín – “town of Little Saidhbh”) (pop. 1300) has been called “The town that climbs the mountain and looks upon the sea…“. It is the capital of the Iveragh Peninsula, and overlooks Valentia Harbour. It has an excellent Marina and good harbour facilities. Regular boat trips to the Skelligs leave from here.

Caherciveen is special. It may not look that different from any other west of Ireland town at first glance, but it´s well worth spending some time here to find out more.

A feature of Cahersiveen is its long main street with many traditional and colourful shopfronts. A remarkable number of these establishments sell alcoholic beverages, and these premises almost always contain at least one customer, who is not only partaking of a leisurely pint but is also more than willing to chat with whoever walks in the door. Visitors “popping in” to what looks like a hardware store for e.g. batteries or tent pegs can find themselves emerging hours later in a highly philosophical frame of mind. (Photo –

Many of the natives of this area seem particularly given to alternative approaches to life. A surprisingly high percentage have university degrees, and could presumably get well paid jobs in a big metropolis, but prefer to stay where they grew up, enjoying a thoughtful and very attractive (if perhaps somewhat liquid) laid-back lifestyle.

Caherciveen Heritage Centre


Caherciveen Heritage Centre  houses excellent displays and information about local archaeology, Daniel O’Connell, the Great Famine, the Fenians, and other local history, and features a café / restaurant, craft workshops, and a tourist information point.

The Heritage Centre is the modern identity of the Old Barracks, undoubtedly one of the oddest buildings in the country. It is said that the architects’ plans somehow got mixed up with those for a barracks to be built in India, but this is a common myth applied to many British Empire era buildings all over Ireland.

Designed and constructed for the Royal Irish Constabulary c.1870, the bizarre turreted structure is quite out of keeping with the local landscape, but nonetheless picturesque. The edifice was burned by Republican forces in 1922 and has been carefully restored. (Photo by Frank Donovan)

During the Great Famine the population of the Caherciveen area dropped from 30,888 to under 8,000.

Bahagh Workhouse, of which only the shell remains, was converted in 1846, the second year of the Great Famine, from a lodge to a sanctuary for the destitute, incorporating a school, hospital, residential quarters, soup kitchen and a church. Its doors were closed in 1923.

Knocknadubar (Cnoc na Tobair – “Hill of the Wells”) is a local summit reached by a two-mile track lined with the Stations of the Cross, erected at the initiative of an energetic C19th priest, Canon Brosnan, who also revived a pre-C17th tradition of pilgrimage to and devotional immersion in Ahacovra Holy Well, aka Glaise Chumhra (the fragrant stream), dedicated to Saint Fursa.

The Daniel O’Connell Memorial church (RC) must surely be one of  very few churches in the world named after a layperson. Despite refusal from the Bishop of Kerry, Canon Brosnan received a Papal sanction for the church. Designed by George Ashlin  in a French Gothic style with medieval round turrets and steep conical caps, it was finally erected in 1875, but its planned steeple was never put in place as the builder went bankrupt

Daniel O´Connell is honoured by a bronze bust at the ruin of the not insubstantial house where he was born in 1755, ideally located for his father’s smuggling concern.

Eamon Doherty`s photogenic To the Skellig sculpture (1995) of monks in a boat commemorates the contribution made by Irish holy men to the survival of Christian Civilisation across Europe during the Dark Ages. (In August 2007 the “remarkable” resemblance a new 60m high sculpture due to be erected in Merseyside to this one in Caherciveen was dismissed by the British design firm Renn & Thacker as “an extraordinary coincidence”).

Caherciveen Coast Guard Station, established in 1851, still gathers and issues essential information for Atlantic mariners.

Cahergall and Leacanabuaile are the names of two Stone Forts in the vicinity; although built within at most 300 years of each other, the differences in their structures are remarkable. One of them has been completely restored.

Ballycarbery Castle


  Ballycarbery Castle is a C16th structure, believed to have been built by the MacCarthy Mór clan to replace an earlier building known to have existed on the site as early as 1398, but whether it was occupied by them or their wardens the O’Connells is unknown.

The castle was passed onto Sir Valentine Browne following the death of its owner Daniel McCarthy More. In 1652 it was destroyed by continuous cannon-fire from Cromwellian forces under General Ludlow.

An C18th Lauder family house on the site was demolished in the early C20th.

The castle has been eroded by wind and rain, but there are still intact stairways and a large chamber partially underneath the hill. Many enthusiasts claim this is their favourite castle ruin in Ireland, because it is such fun to explore.

The local power station, unmistakable with its large chimney stacks, is one of two turf-burning stations in Ireland. Built by Swiss and German engineers in 1957, it burns 30,000 tonnes of turf annually.

The Caherciveen Races in August are very popular, and the atmosphere is always full of fun. Not as manicured as some other courses, there is a casual attitude and relaxed ambiance here. Post-mortems of the day’s events are held afterwards in various hostelries around the town.

Contrary to some maps, no ferry currently crosses Dingle Bay between Caherciveen and An Daingean / Dingle on the Dingle Peninsula; however, a passenger service linking Valentia Island and Dingle was introduced in summer 2010.

Caherciveen is linked by winding mountain roads to Mastergeehy on the Interior Route.

White Strand is fine sandy Blue Flag beach located in a designated natural heritage area. In 1984, a newborn infant’s dead body was found here, resulting in the notorious Kerry Babies murder investigation and subsequent public inquiry. This is a still a sensitive issue which should NOT be raised in casual conversation locally.

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