Welcome to Valentia Island, a lesser-known yet remarkable destination off the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, southwestern Ireland. With its rich history, diverse landscapes, and intriguing attractions, Valentia Island is a haven for travelers seeking a more authentic and immersive Irish experience. This guide will help you plan your trip and make the most of your time on Valentia Island.
Sights and Attractions
Valentia Island is a treasure trove of historical landmarks, captivating landscapes, and unique attractions. One of the island’s most striking features is Geokaun Mountain & Cliffs. This vantage point offers stunning views of the island and its surroundings, making it an ideal spot for hiking and picnicking. The panoramic vistas from the summit provide an unmatched opportunity to appreciate the beauty of the island’s landscapes.
Another popular destination is Bray Head, a scenic walk that rewards visitors with breathtaking views of the Skellig Islands and the impressive coastline. The area also holds historical significance, as it was once a lookout post during World War II. The remnants of this past can still be seen today, adding an intriguing layer to the site’s allure.
The Tetrapod Trackway is a globally significant fossil site that features 385-million-year-old fossilized footprints of early tetrapods. These ancient footprints offer a unique glimpse into the Earth’s distant past and the evolution of life on our planet. The site is both fascinating and educational, making it a must-visit attraction for anyone interested in natural history.
The Slate Quarry & Grotto is another historically significant site on Valentia Island. This quarry provided slate for iconic buildings such as London’s Houses of Parliament and Paris’s Opera House. Today, visitors can explore the quarry, witness the extraction process, and learn about the island’s slate industry, which once played a vital role in the local economy.
Valentia Island Lighthouse (pictured above), situated at Cromwell Point, is a picturesque destination that offers guided tours during the summer months. The lighthouse has been carefully restored and now houses a small museum that details its history and the lives of its keepers. Its stunning coastal location also makes it an excellent spot for photography enthusiasts.
The Skellig Experience Visitor Centre allows visitors to learn about the history, flora, and fauna of the nearby Skellig Islands, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The center features informative exhibits, multimedia presentations, and guided tours, providing a comprehensive introduction to these fascinating islands before embarking on a boat trip to experience them firsthand.
How to Get There
Valentia Island can be reached by car via the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge at Portmagee or by ferry from Renard Point (Cahersiveen) during the summer months (April to September). The closest airports are Kerry Airport and Cork Airport, where you can rent a car or take public transport to reach the island.
The History of Valentia Island
The history of Valentia Island stretches back thousands of years, with evidence of human habitation dating to the Bronze Age. Numerous standing stones, ringforts, and burial sites scattered throughout the island are a testament to its ancient past. During the early Christian period, monks established monastic settlements on the island, including the Church of St. Brendan the Navigator, further enriching its historical tapestry. In 1866, Valentia Island played a crucial role in the development of global communications when the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable was laid between the island and Heart’s Content, Newfoundland. This event revolutionized communication and connected continents like never before. The island is also known for its slate quarry, which provided materials for iconic buildings worldwide, further highlighting its historical significance.
Legends of Valentia Island
Some captivating legends associated with the island include the story of Oisín and Niamh. According to Irish mythology, Oisín, the son of the legendary warrior Fionn mac Cumhaill, fell in love with Niamh, a fairy from Tír na nÓg (the Land of Youth). It is said that they traveled across the sea from Valentia Island to the mystical land, where they lived happily for many years before Oisín returned to Ireland.
Another popular legend involves St. Brendan the Navigator, a renowned Irish monk and explorer. It is believed that St. Brendan sailed from Valentia Island on his legendary journey to discover the “Isle of the Blessed” in the
6th century. Some speculate that he may have reached North America during his voyage, making him one of the earliest European explorers to set foot on the continent.
Local legend also tells of a fearsome sea monster that once lived in the waters off the Fogher Cliffs, devouring fishermen and sailors who ventured too close to its lair. This story has been passed down through generations and adds to the island’s mystique and allure.
When to Visit
While Valentia Island is a year-round destination, the best time to visit depends on your preferences and interests. The summer months, from June to August, are considered the peak season. During this time, temperatures are warmer, days are longer, and the weather is generally more reliable. However, expect to encounter more tourists, and attractions and accommodations will be operating at full capacity.
The spring months of April and May, as well as the autumn months of September and October, are considered ‘shoulder seasons’. These periods offer mild temperatures, fewer crowds, and an abundance of natural beauty, with spring blooms or autumn foliage enhancing the island’s landscapes. It’s important to note that some attractions and accommodations may operate on limited schedules during these months.
Winter, from November to March, is ideal for visitors who prefer solitude and tranquility. While temperatures are cooler and rainfall is more frequent, the island’s landscapes take on a uniquely atmospheric quality. Be prepared for shorter days and reduced access to some attractions and accommodations. However, for those seeking a more peaceful experience, the winter months can provide an opportunity to explore Valentia Island’s beauty without the bustle of tourists.
Valentia Island offers a variety of accommodations, from hotels and bed & breakfasts to self-catering cottages and hostels. Some popular options include:
- Royal Valentia Hotel – 200 year old hotel, which also can offer a unique wedding venue. Prices from €109 per night for 2 as I write (April 2023).
- Shealane Country House Bed & Breakfast – popular guest house run by Mary and Jim, who can help organise activities for guests.
- Atlantic Villa Guesthouse – 4* self catering option at a historic Cablemaster’s house.
- Valentia Island Caravan & Camping – opens April to October, with 18 fully serviced pitches.