Priests Leap Mountain Pass Scenic Drive, Route Map and Guide, Co Cork and Kerry, Wild Atlantic Way

  • Author:ActiveME
  • Created: October 6, 2016
  • Updated: December 12, 2017
Location: Kerry
  • DistanceInstructions
  • Distance52.91 km
  • Time0 s
  • Speed0.0 km/h
  • Min altitude6 m
  • Peak452 m
  • Climb912 m
  • Descent912 m

Priests Leap Mountain Pass Drive and Cycle is a 40km (25 mile) stunning scenic road trip and testing cycle over Irelands highest mountain pass at 465m (1,500 ft) from Bonane in Co. Kerry to Coomhola in Co. Cork and is truly one of Irelands hidden gems, off the well trodden nearby tourist routes. The Priest Leap (pronounced locally as Lep) mountain pass is a steep, narrow and winding mountain road on the border of counties Cork and Kerry on the Wild and I mean Wild Atlantic Way. Priests Leap is best approached from the Kerry side at Bonane as there are more passing opportunities on your ascent.  Take this scenic driving route with you on our free App for iPhone and Android and share your photos on the ActiveMe facebook page.

Priests Leap looking west c.RichardWebb_ccl
Priests Leap looking west c.RichardWebb_ccl

Not for the faint hearted and scaring cyclists for years, Priests Leap is an infamous route passing through some of the wildest and most scenic country side in Ireland. The views from the top are both timeless and breath taking in equal measure, to the south you have Bantry Bay and the Sheen Valley and to the west and north you have the Caha Mountains and in the distance, the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks Mountain Range which includes Ireland’s highest mountain, Carrauntoohil at 1,039m.

The Priest's Leap Mountain pass looking south to Bantry Bay

The Priests Leap starts from the wonderful village and community of Bonane, so rich in heritage you could stay a week (or from towns of Kenmare in the north or Bantry in the south). The route takes you along the beautiful river valley before rising up to the Priests Leap mountain pass famous for a number of reasons. These include the great views, the brilliant local folklore and irish mythology surrounding the origin of the name 'Priests Leap' and the poem which immortalises the story by T.D. O’Sullivan. The mountain pass is also the starting point of of many walks on these mountains, in particular, a walk up to Knockboy Mountain (703m), the highest point in County Cork. From here its downhill all the way to Coomhola and Ballylicky where you can complete the loop drive by returning north on much wider modern roads through the picturesque village of Glengarriff before taking on the winding Caha Mountain pass and a number of great mountain tunnels and arriving back to the village of Bonane.

Caha Mountain Pass with Barrarneen Mtn 458m and Bonane village
Caha Mountain Pass with Barrarneen Mtn 458m and Bonane village

The story tells that before the dawn of day, a priest named Fr. James Archer, disguised as a lowly farmer, made his way on foot, to a sick person in the locality. The priest was carrying the ‘Secret Host’ which he kept hidden beneath his cloak and close to his heart. Fr. Archer was almost at his destination, when a peasant ran to his side and alerted him of approaching soldiers, by speaking the words that have been immortalised in the poem The Priests Leap written by the West Cork poet T.D. O’Sullivan.

‘Fly father fly the spies are out they watched you on your way
They’ve brought the soldiers on your track to seize you or to slay
Quick Father dear here stands my horse no whip or spur he’ll need
Mount you at once upon his back and put him to his speed
And then what course you’d better take ‘tis God alone that knows
Before you spreads a stormy sea, behind you come your foes’

The priest mounted the steed and rode in the direction of the mountain’s peak at Coomeenshrule but by this time, the soldiers had him surrounded on all sides. He managed to elude capture however, when his horse made a miraculous leap from the summit, over the bay and landed three miles away, just outside Bantry town.

Above is only one of nearly 15 verses in the poem. My Grandfather, from the townland of Coomhola at the end of the Valley only 5km to the south of the Priest Leap knows the story well. At 95 years of age now, for his 90 birthday he asked could he de driven to the top of the Priest Leap. Once there, he recited the entire poem by heart, all 15 verses. He mentioned that without radio or television in his youth, people used to recall stories and recited poetry as their evening entertainment.
Caha Mtns (3)
The story concludes by explaining that the rock which the priest and horse struck as they landed, immediately turned to clay. The imprints of the horse’s head and knees, and also, the fingers of the priest, can be seen there to this day. In the summer of 1972, the community of Bantry erected a memorial plaque just outside the town where the mounted horse is said to have landed. This perpetuates the memory of the priest and his leap.
Remember to take your time on this route and take care as the road is narrow and you must pull in to allow cars to pass each other. Take the scenic Priests Leap driving and cycling route map with you on our free App for iPhone and Android and share your photos on the ActiveMe facebook page.