One of the highlights of our recent trip to Ireland was not in the form of a horseback riding vacation. Instead, we took a Pony Trap ride through the Gap of Dunloe, near Killarney, Co Kerry, Ireland.
The Gap of Dunloe is one of the most scenic places in all of County Kerry (no mean feat). It’s a very narrow mountain pass through Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, a mountain range that spreads throughout the Ring of Kerry. This landscape also features the Purple Mountain, thus named because of the purple shale that covers the top of the mountain, and a much smaller mountain range.
The Gap of Dunloe Trail
We woke up early one (rainy) day, drove the winding roads to Killarney, and arranged with Deros Tours for transportation. We then boarded a small van with another couple, and drove a ways to Kate Kearney’s Cottage.
This is a small restaurant/gift shop/staging area for entrance to the Gap of Dunloe. We were dropped off and arranged with a driver for passage through the Gap. Most of the transportation here is via pony trap.
You can fit four people in a cart, along with the driver (who will both walk and ride). On extremely steep areas, the driver asks all able-bodied people to get out and hoof it themselves!
There are five lakes within the Gap (Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough) connected by the River Loe. The land is part privately owned, and some parts are within Killarney National Park.
The Ponytrap Ride in Dunloe
Our cart was pulled by a horse named Dawn, and was ably driven by Shane. Shane is one of 32 men that work in rotation on the pony hire, called Gap Poneymen. This rotation system has been in effect since the 1920s, and has been passed down within families since then. Shane was a personable guide, telling us the different locations we were passing through, and ably handling Dawn throughout the trek.
The beauty of the Gap of Dunloe is difficult to describe – it’s a quiet, majestic beauty. The shadows of clouds threw patterns on the mountains, and we were often rained upon. There were a few cars (mostly people that live there – about 40 or so families in the Gap), lots of hikers, and plenty of bicyclists.
The road was single-lane, and paved. We saw homes, abandoned buildings (deserted during the Great Potato Famine), a school, lakes galore, a Wishing Bridge, waterfalls, sheep, and more. Our horse was incredibly patient and the time seemed to slow.
I thought about times long ago, when people truly had to depend on horses for transportation, and how difficult getting through Ireland would have been.
The Pony Trap ride ends near Lord Brandon’s Cottage, an old hunting lodge that is now an outdoor café. We waited for our boat from Deros Tours, and took the boat back through many lakes, to Killarney. During this boat trip, we had a deluge of rain, a storm of seemingly epic proportions. We were soaked through, completely chilled, but along with our fellow adventurers, happy with the memory of a day in Ireland we will never forget.
What are your favorite things to do on a horseback riding vacation in Ireland?
This guest post and photos were submitted by Dr. Jessie Voigts, publisher of Wandering Educators