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  • Writer's pictureHugh MacMahon

Hidden Kenmare

Kenmare has been called ’the Jewel of the Ring of Kerry’. The name comes from ‘Ceann Mara’, ‘the  Head of the Sea’ but earlier it was known as ‘Neidin’, ‘the  little nest’, and that seems to suit it better. 

It is perched where the Roughty River runs down from a valley into the sea between the Beara and Iveragh peninsulae. It is easy to see it as a sunken glacial valley that stretches from the hills above out into the sea as far as Lamb’s Head.

William Petty built the town there in 1670 on land he had been given by Cromwell for the mapping of Ireland.  Until a road was built along the coast it had been isolated, accessible only by foot and currach. 

However there had been people in the area long before Kenmare became a town and they left their distinctive mark.

The Kenmare Stone Circle, 16 large stones with an impressive Boulder-Dolmen in the centre, dates from the Bronze Age (2,200 -500 BC), carrying on a tradition of ritual and ceremony.

The Circle is well advertised but can be difficult to find. The lady at the Tourist Office gave me general directions but she had never heard of the other place I was looking for -- the cell of Finnian the Leper.  It was another lady, at the Stones,  who after consulting her children who had been there on a school trip, sent me on my way there.

Finnian (called the Leper because there were so many other Finnians) had an eye for beautiful places along the Kerry coast and settled for a time in Kenmare (or rather, Neidin) in the 6th century. Intentionally or not he was continuing the tradition of ritual and prayer in the area. His cell was on a gentle rise where the river meets the sea and today is part of a graveyard which has an impressive circular Famine Plot commemorating the 5,000 or more local people who died from the ‘Great Hunger’.

Down on the shoreline, lapped by rising tides, I found the Holy Well, a direct link with Finnian and his small community.   Interesting, it is known for curing sore eyes, not skin ailments (such as leprosy).  

Most visitors to Kenmare miss out on this forgotten place, aptly named ’the Little Nest’.  It is worth the effort to find it.


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