Portmagee is a fishing village on the Iveragh Peninsula of County Kerry, with a population in 2016 of 123. In Irish it's An Caladh, "the ferry", because it was the port for Valentia Island, but a bridge now spans the channel.
The main N70 "Ring of Kerry" road around the peninsula bypasses Portmagee. A side-loop called "Skellig Ring" winds through the village then along the top of Kerry Cliffs to St Finian's Bay and Ballinskelligs, rejoining the N70 at Waterville. All those small places and Valentia Island are described on this page.
Boat trips are the main reason to visit Portmagee. The star attraction is the remote isle of Skellig Michael, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but you need to be lucky with the weather.
Connect?? Turns out you can't improve the line speed on a narrow-band connection by simply ramping up the voltage along the wire. But the 1850s were pioneering days in long-distance telecoms, so it has to be chalked up as a bold but not-to-be-repeated experiment.
In those days it took two weeks or more to convey a message between Europe and North America - the fastest a mail boat could sail. But the telegraph had been invented and Morse code adopted as a signalling protocol, and cables were laid from England to France and to Ireland, and from the Canadian mainland to Newfoundland. These were technically and financially challenging, but a transatlantic telegraph cable was the obvious next development.
The first attempt started from Ballycarbery Castle near Caherciveen in 1857 but ended in failure, and a second in 1858 almost led to the project being abandoned: the cable kept snapping. But they persevered, with two vessels working outwards from mid-Atlantic, and in early August that year the cable reached Trinity Bay in Newfoundland and Knightstown on Valentia Island. After several days of test messages the line was declared open, and Queen Victoria sent a 98-word congratulation on the project's completion to US President Buchanan. It took 16 hours to send.
William Thomson (later Lord Kelvin) devised a mirror galvanometer that could detect very faint telegraph signals, but Whitehouse the pig-headed chief electrician insisted that the answer was more voltage. And more, and more! The cable only lasted a month, with 732 messages passed, before it burned out. It could withstand high voltage if the insulation was intact, but the slighest damage (easily acquired during cable-laying) ensured a terminal bang!
But the concept had been demonstrated, materials and technology had meanwhile improved, and in 1865 the Great Eastern began laying from Valentia Island. 1698 km later, the new cable snapped and was lost. Back home we go. But a further attempt in 1866 not only laid a complete transatlantic cable, but recovered the previous year's lost cable, lost it again, recovered it again, several times over before splicing it and completing it. So Valentia Island and Newfoundland were now linked by two transatlantic cables each capable of eight words per minute - that's how you improve line speed.
Local Link Bus 287A runs from Caherciveen to 1 Portmagee then crosses the bridge to Chapeltown and Knightstown on Valentia Island. There are 2-3 on Tu, Th and Friday. Bus 287B runs from Caherciveen to Dromid and Ballinskelligs twice M and W.
Local Link Bus 285 runs from Killorglin to Glenbeigh, Caherciveen, Waterville, Caherdaniel and Cahercove. There are two or three daily on the Caherciveen-Waterville section, but only one or two at the ends of the route.
By road follow N70, the Ring of Kerry route - usually from Tralee or Killarney (the nearest railway and inter-city bus station) via Killorglin, but you could approach via Kenmare and Caherdaniel.
2 Valentia Island Ferry sails from Reenard's Point near Caherciveen to Knightstown on the island, a 10 min crossing. It's a small ro-ro sailing Mar-Sept daily 08:00-21:00; it shuttles continuously, no booking. Fares are €5 single per car and passengers, €8 return; cyclist €2 single €3 return, pedestrians €1.50 single €2 return. But from Portmagee you simply reach the island by the bridge.
You can get around Portmagee and across the bridge to the Skellig Experience on foot.
See above for the Local Link bus across Valentia Island. There's no public transport along the Skellig Ring road: you'd have to take the bus into Caherciveen then come out on the bus for Waterville and Ballinskellig, and take all day about it.
Bicycles can be hired in Caherciveen, a pleasant enough ride via road or the ferry.
- The Skellig Experience, Coarha More, Valentia Island V23 YD52 (just across bridge from Portmagee), ☏ . Tu W Th-Su 10:00-17:00. Visitor centre with an exhibition on the Skelligs history, architecture and wildlife. They also run non-landing cruises round the islands. Adult €5, conc €4, child €3.
- 1 Illaunloughan is an islet in the channel off Portmagee with the remains of an 8th century monastery. The graveyard was used into the 20th century.
- 2 Valentia Island has its best scenery along the north coast, with Geokaun / Fogher cliffs, the "Grotto" in an old slate quarry, the "Tetrapod Trail" where some vast beast hauled out of the water and left its footprints, and a lighthouse. Glanlearn at the edge of Knightstown has tropical gardens but is nowadays a B&B.
- Beginish Island north of Knightstown has monastic ruins. Boat trips usually start from Caherciveen.
- 3 Bray Head is the breezy southwest tip of Valentia Island, reached by a footpath west of the Skellig Experience.
- 4 Kerry Cliffs line the coast south of Portmagee. Reach them along Skellig Ring, the narrow lane round this tip of the peninsula. The lane then zags over the ridge to St Finian's Bay, with the ruined Glen Church, then cuts inland past Coom Wedge Tomb (resembling a petrified ottoman sofa) to Ballinskelligs.
- 5 Puffin Island ends this stretch of coast, a steep double-peaked island 1.5 km long, just 250 m offshore. Boats visit for the bird life but landing is not permitted.
- 6 Ballinskelligs is properly Baile an Sceilg as this patch of Contae Chiarraí is Irish-speaking. Cill Rialaig Arts Centre is a gallery and workshop for contemporary art, open daily Jul-Aug 10:00-19:00, Sept-Jun 11:00-17:00. The main beach is sandy, overlooked by the abbey and castle, hard to say which is the worse ruined. There's food and accommodation.
- 7 Waterville is a small resort village on the main road, on an isthmus between Lough Currane and the sea. Charlie Chaplin and his family often holidayed here 1959-1968. The beach is stony. Eightercua is a set of four tall aligned slabs from 1700 BC, probably marking a tomb; it's by the main road 1 km south of the river bridge. Church Island north end of the lough has a ruined medieval church and beehive hut similar to those on Skellig Michael; boat trips sometimes visit. The village has lots of accommodation, two golf courses, and a statue of Chaplin.
- Derrynane House in Caherdaniel is the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connell, see Kenmare. It's open daily April-Oct, Sa Su Nov.
- 8 Skellig Michael is visible away out in the Atlantic southwest in the general direction of Cuba, with the lower Little Skellig lying before it.
- Boat trips: see Skellig Michael for boat operators plying to this remote monastery outcrop. Landing is only possible for agile adults in calm summer conditions, so the Skellig Experience (above) might be the closest you can manage. Trips also explore the cliffs, marine life and sea-bird colonies closer in, either by design or as Plan B when the Skellig crossing is blown out.
- Horse riding: ROK Equestrian Centre is on N70 five km north of Waterville.
- Golf: Waterville has two courses, Hogs Head GC and Waterville Golf Links.
- Tech Amergin is an Arts and Education Centre in Waterville hosting various events and exhibitions.
- Chaplin Film Festival is in Waterville in August. Dates for 2022 are TBA.
- Portmagee: O'Connell's Foodstore by the harbour is open 09:00-20:00, Su 08:30-17:30. No ATMs hereabouts: some boat operators only take cash.
- Cois Cuain Gifts is close to O'Connells, seasonal hours.
- Knightstown has Donal & Rosie's Foodstore, open daily 09:30-20:00.
- Skelligs Chocolate Factory & Cafe is in St Finian's Bay along the Skelling Ring. You can buy online.
- Waterville has a Centra with an ATM, open daily 07:00-22:30 and a couple of filling stations.
- Fisherman's Bar, 2 Harbour View, Portmagee V23 Y439, ☏ . Su-Th 09:00-23:30, F Sa 09:00-01:00. Good seafood restaurant, caters for vegans and others.
- Smuggler's Cafe at Portmagee harbour is open M-F 11:00-17:00, Sa Su 08:30-17:00.
- K's Golden Grill is a burger and fish & chips trailer parked by Portmagee harbour. Hours vary, usually out-of-season Th-Sa till 22:00, daily until late in summer.
- The Moorings has a restaurant, bar and accommodation, see Sleep.
- Ring Lyne Bar is midway across Valentia Island, with a restaurant and accommodation.
- Cable & Co is a shocking-pink food truck in Knightstown, hours seasonal.
- Ballinskelligs has Cable O'Leary's and a couple of cafes.
- Waterville has The Lobster, An Corcan, Dooley's, Five Spice and Waterville Inn.
- The Bridge Bar is within The Moorings restaurant and B&B, see below. It's open daily, with Irish music and dancing on Tuesday night.
- Knightstown has Boston's Bar and The Dwelling House.
- Ballinskelligs has Sigerson's Bar (Tig Rosie), and Waterville has Bayview Bar.
- McGill's Brewery is 2 km north of Waterville on N70 and offers tours. It's open daily 11:30-17:00.
- Portmagee Whiskey is distilled in the old Portmagee police barracks, but it won't be ready for sale until 2028. They're also developing a new visitor centre; no tours meanwhile.
- Skellig Ring House (Portmagee Hostel), Portmagee, ☏ . Immaculate digs, more like a guesthouse than a hostel; it didn't open in 2020 or early 2021. Free parking, TV room with DVD player, internet and 2 large kitchen/dining areas. Private and shared rooms, ensuites available. Dorm €15 pppn.
- The Moorings, Main St, Portmagee V23 RX05, ☏ . Excellent friendly B&B, with restaurant and Bridge Bar, waterfront views. B&B double €120.
- Portmagee B&Bs also include The Ferryboat, The Waterfront, Portmagee Heights and Calafont.
- Valentia Island accommodation is mostly at Knightstown at the east tip. These include Royal Valentia Hotel, Horizon View, and the camping & caravan site. There's a straggle of self-catering cottages inland.
- Ballinskelligs has Skellig Lodge (below), Seaside B&B and Tig an Rince. In early 2021 several other guesthouses were available for self-catering but not operating as B&Bs.
- Skellig Lodge & Hostel, Ballinskelligs V23 Y757 (500 m from beach), ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. Great value budget accommodation - though it's called a hostel, the max room size is four. From €24 pppn.
- Waterville has lots, including Sea Lodge, Old Cable House (below), The Villa (O'Dwyer's), Butler Arms Hotel, Klondyke House, and O'Grady's Townhouse. Edge of the village are Brookhaven House (below), Golf Links View and Smugglers Inn.
- Old Cable House, Old Telegraph Cable Station, 9 Iveragh Terrace, Waterville V23 X892, ☏ . Welcoming B&B in the historic transatlantic cable station. B&B double €100.
- Brookhaven House B&B, New Line Rd, Waterville V23 EY98 (on main road), ☏ . Smart welcoming B&B. B&B double €110.
As of May 2021, Portmagee has a mobile signal from Three and Vodafone, but nothing from Eir. Valentia Island has practically no coverage, nor the Ballinskelligs area, though the signal resumes on the N70 Ring of Kerry road.
- Anti-clockwise round the Ring of Kerry brings you next into Derrynane, Sneem and Kenmare. From there you can turn north to continue the circuit to Killarney, or go south onto Beara Peninsula and Castletownbere, or head inland to cross the hills towards Macroom and Cork.
- Clockwise you soon reach Caherciveen, birthplace of Daniel O'Connell and with two sturdy ringforts. Carry on east for Kerry Bog Village and Killorglin, where the road forks for Killarney or Tralee.