“We feel a wee bit sorry for visitors who whizz through Cahersiveen on a whistle-stop tour of the Ring of Kerry. This is a hidden gem of a place and you’ll be raging you missed it. “
Cahersiveen is the starting point for the Skellig Ring Drive, one of Lonely Planet’s top 10 global destinations for 2017. Wild Atlantic Way travellers can get off the beaten track here, and really experience Kerry life with the locals.
Our small population of less than 1,200 grows to well over 5,000 in the summer. Why? Because we’re welcoming so many international visitors to our Celtic Arts Festival. Will you join us?
Cahersiveen Celtic Arts Festival will be the high point of your summer!
Every August Bank Holiday, we close off the roads and party in the streets. Come and meet the locals, and mingle with thousands of our guests. They’re here to experience live music, dancing, performance arts and cultural activities. This year, we’ll also be streaming gigs live from the stage. Will you be here, too?
You’ll find something for all ages. Irish traditional music, children’s events, guided walks, sports competitions, sea angling, historical lectures, Celtic Mass, tractor-pulling, a funfair and fireworks!
- Experience Crashlands Ensemble playing contemporary classical music in Cahergal Stone Fort, an “outdoor venue” which dates from 600 AD!
- Enjoy a drink and a meal in one of our many cafes, pubs, and restaurants while watching the street buskers and bands playing on the Festival Stage
- Listen to a live choral concert in the Daniel O’Connell Church. Local man Dr Gavan Ring is an international opera singer, and he will lead our Iveragh Youth Choir in this performance.
- Try Oysters and Guinness in the Old Oratory while the Pipe Band plays.
- Have great craic watching the Terrier Racing on Banks’ corner, this is an old Cahersiveen tradition that everyone will love!
- Walk the Pilgrim Trail up Cnoc na dTobar mountain and visit St. Fursey’s Well.
- Show us your steps! Join the locals in traditional dancing on a wooden platform in the street, just like our grandparents did.
While we’re listing just a few highlights here, there’s so much more to do! See the full programme of events for 2017 here
Why you should stop in Cahersiveen.
We always welcome visitors to join us in celebrating the unique vibe of our small community. Even if you can’t be here for the Celtic Arts Festival, you can experience our heritage and culture all year round. We’d love you to visit us whenever you’re travelling on the Ring of Kerry or the Wild Atlantic Way. Most of all, we’d like you to stay a few days. You’ll discover a side of Kerry you never knew existed…
Let us introduce you to some of the people and places of Cahersiveen:
Begin at the Bridge
Enter Cahersiveen from the Killorglin side of the N70, and you’ll approach the bridge over the Carhan River. On the roadside to your right you will begin to see a tall, bronze monument – “Skelligs” by Irish Sculptor Eamonn O’Doherty. It represents the sea voyage of early Christian monks to the nearby island monastery of Skellig Michael, now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Immediately after crossing the bridge, you can stop on the left-hand side. There’s a beautiful riverside park here, dedicated to our most famous son – Daniel O’Connell. A striking bronze bust of “the Liberator” looks across Carhan river to the ruins of his birthplace and family home on the opposite bank. Daniel was the eldest of 10 children, so the house must have been jumping in its day! Daniel O’Connell (1775-1847) is a key figure in Irish history. A radical politician, lawyer, and great orator, he established a worldwide reputation for advocating the abolition of slavery. He is also the founder of the Catholic Association. We’ll learn more about Daniel when we get to the centre of town.
Explore Our Town Centre
Cahersiveen is small and compact, and easily accessible on foot. If you are driving, we’d recommend you follow the signs for the Town Car Park and then enjoy a leisurely stroll about.
The Memorial Church
For such a small town, this Church is unique in many ways. It is the only Church in Ireland dedicated to a layman, rather than a Saint. Papal Approval was necessary, and Pope Leo XIII grants this in January 1884. He also sends a 200 kg block of Travertine to be the cornerstone of the construction. In addition, he presents the parish with a Sidonian marble from the Catacombs of Rome. You can view this at the Church entrance, and read the inscription of Papal Approval.
In 1902 the Church was completed. It stands as a fitting memorial to Daniel O’Connell, the Cahersiveen man who changed the game in Irish politics. The parish website has lots of interesting information and history. They even live-stream some services! Take a look here
The Pimpernel of the Vatican
This extraordinary Kerryman was a theologian for the Holy See in Rome. During WWII, he leads an underground organisation against the Gestapo and saves the lives of over 6,500 Allied soldiers, anti-facists and Jews. The SS makes an assassination attempt in St. Peter’s, but fails to stop the Irish Scarlet Pimpernel!
In 1960 Monsignor O’Flaherty retires to Cahersiveen, and after some years of ill health he sadly passes away aged just 65. His final resting place is a simple grave here in the grounds of the Memorial Church. Gregory Peck portrays his life in the 1983 movie The Scarlet & The Black.
The Old Barracks
One of the most iconic buildings in Kerry, the Old Barracks in Cahersiveen stands in a commanding position at the foot of the bridge over the River Fertha. Stories tell that its intriguing Schloss design is the result of a mix-up in the original blueprints with a garrison planned for India!
In 1870 the Royal Irish Constabulary occupies the building as a Barracks until the locals burn it out in 1922 during the Civil War. Today it is a Heritage Centre for the Iveragh Peninsula. You can view exhibitions and artefacts relating to local history, including The Life and Times of Daniel O’Connell, The Fenian Uprising of 1867, The 1916 Uprising and The Great Southern and Western Railways.
Take a break at the Abbey of the Holy Cross
A less well-known site can be found on the edge of the town car park. The 17th century Abbey of the Holy Cross is a little green oasis. Its peaceful graveyard is the final resting place of Daniel O’Connell’s parents. Opposite the gate to the South, you’ll also see the remains of the old Penal Church where Daniel O’Connell was baptised in 1775.
Since the Abbey site is central to many shops and cafes, it’s a great place to enjoy an impromptu picnic in good weather.
Take a walk, breathe the Atlantic air and make stunning photos of Kerry’s most beautiful landscapes
A short stroll from the Abbey brings you to the Cahersiveen Marina. Yachtsmen and seafarers love this tiny marina, which has community-run amenities on site. From here, you can see all along the Fertha River estuary. This is a perfect location for a spot of photography, especially at sunrise and sunset. The natural light-show is incredible!
Feeling fit? Fancy a stretch of the legs? Cross back through the town to the Fair Green, where you’ll find the start of the 10 km Beentee Loop Walk and a mapboard. The boggy terrain and steep ascent make this quite a demanding trail, for people with above average levels of fitness. The most noteworthy aspect is the breath-taking view of the Skellig Coastline from the top of Beentee. From this vantage point you can see right across the town and out to the Atlantic Ocean with Skellig Michael on the horizon.
Go Over the Water
If you cross the bridge at the Old Barracks, you’ll be arriving “over the water” as the locals say. This is the lushest of land in the vicinity, and is perfect for exploring the great outdoors. Continue past the roadside houses until you reach the T Junction at the top.
Follow the Pilgrim Path
To the right, you can follow the signpost to begin the traditional Pilgrim Path to one of Ireland’s premier sacred mountains – Cnoc na dTobar. You’ll be following in the footsteps of pilgrims who are walking this route since prehistoric and medieval times. You should plan on spending at least half a day to complete your pilgrimage.
At the base of the mountain, you’ll walk through boggy ground to St Fursey’s Well. Named after a 6th century Saint and Scribe, this source of mineral water reputedly cures eyesight problems.
It’s an exhilarating ascent to the 690m summit. Achieving this, your reward is an uninterrupted view from Dingle Bay to West Cork, with Skellig Michael on the skyline. For many, this path is a personal spiritual journey, linking both Pagan and Christian traditions. The Cahersiveen Camino, perhaps? Pilgrims feel a strong sense of connecting with nature, the spirit of our ancestors, and the presence of the Divine.
In recent times, the path has been restored and promoted by locals, and there are now several opportunities for you to join a guided community walk. See here for more details.
Explore the Castle, Ancient Forts, and our Blue-Flag Beach
To the left of the T-Junction, you will see signposts for Cahergal and Leacanabuaile Stone Forts, Ballycarbery Castle, and White Strand. You’ll also need at least half a day for exploring these sites.
Europe’s most Westerly Castle
Follow the signpost for two miles, and on the left you will find Ballycarbery Castle. Records show that some form of residence was here from as far back as 1398. The current ruins date from the mid 16th Century. The castle was controlled by the McCarthy clan, and their wardens, the O’Connells. Both names still feature strongly in the local population today.
Ballycarbery castle is “unadopted”, so you’ll find no official guide or interpretive centre. You are free to enter the site and explore at your leisure. Please take care as the building is unstable in places! Local legend tells us that there is an underground tunnel linking the castle to the Stone Fort of Cahergal. Unfortunately, you can’t use it these days, so go back to the main road and follow the signs for the forts which are only a few hundred metres away.
Awesome examples of early medieval stone forts
Leave your car at the roadside parking place, and walk to both forts. Entrance is free.
Cahergal Fort is standing since around 600AD. This circular stone construction has stepped walls over 6m high and 3m thick. It has been excavated and maintained, and you can walk freely around the site. When you are standing inside, you can see only stones and sky. There is a real timelessness about the place, with no indication of the modern day on view. These days, the local community use it to host concerts and cultural events, and for stargazing in this Dark Sky Reserve.
Leacanabuaile Fort is a short walk up the hill. This circular enclosure is over 21m wide and sits on a massive rock foundation. The 3m thick walls contain the remnants of dwelling houses and a long souterrain. During excavations, Iron and Bronze Age objects were discovered. This supports the history of an early Christian community in the region.
Stand on the walls of the site to see both Cahergal and Ballycarbery Castle. Look to the West for a stunning view of Beginish and Valentia Islands. Beneath your eyeline is the beach at White Strand.
White Strand, our Blue Flag Beach
The White Strand is a fine extensive sandy beach located in a designated Natural Heritage Area. The locals come here all year round to walk, exercise the dogs and to bathe in good weather. The shallow shoreline is rocky in parts, but is safe for children and swimmers. A lifeguard is on duty throughout the summer months. There is a small car park here, with clean public toilets and an indoor changing area.
Working up an appetite? Come dine with us!
After all this exertion, you’ll be wanting a feed? Cahersiveen has a wide choice of restaurants and cafes. From freshly-caught fish to handmade pizza, local bakeries to pub lunches, you’ll find something for every taste and budget.
We hope you will accept our invitation to visit Cahersiveen!
This town, and the surrounding areas, hold a special place in the hearts of many. We can’t even begin to describe Cahersiveen in such a short article. It’s far more meaningful when you come and explore it for yourself! When you experience our place, we hope you will always remember it and come back again and again. You can make your own memories here, and be a part of our old traditions.
Speaking of tradition, did you notice Sigerson Clifford’s (1913-1984) bronze statue in front of the Community Centre? A beloved Irish ballad-poet, his work celebrates his hometown of Cahersiveen. His famous folk song “The Boys of Barr na Sráide” recalls the days of his youth, the War Of Independence and the friends who left for foreign shores.
It is a real local anthem, and you’ll often hear people singing it in the pubs and at festivals. Enjoy this great version, which includes old scenes of Cahersiveen, and the “Wren Boys”. Learn the words, so next time you visit you can join in, too!
Finally, while you’re feeling “all Irish”, please take a look at some related Irish gifts here. We’ve a range of bronze wall plaques and Irish Family Crests. What about a cosy jumper and a flat-cap for while ye’re out walking?
Thank you for reading, will you be adding Cahersiveen to your next travel itinerary?