The Maharees

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The Maharees or Magharees (Irish: Na Machairí) is a 5 km long mound of land located on the north side of the Dingle Peninsula, halfway between Tralee and Dingle and is famous for its long gold beaches, pushed flat and green into the wind-ruffled clean water of Tralee Bay. The Maharees, and the surrounding areas offer a peace and beauty that are removed from the hustle and bustle of urban life and everything associated with it.

To the north of the Maharees lie the Magharee Islands or Seven Hogs, the largest of which, Oilean t-seanaigh, contains remnants of an early Christian monastic settlement, said to have been founded by St. Senan in the 7th century AD.

The peninsula is a sandy spit for much of its length, with sand dunes giving way to earth and rocky ground towards the northern end. The peninsula is dotted with campgrounds and caravan parks and contains three hamlets Fahamore Kilshannig and Candiha which are home to local pubs and restaurants popular with visitors to the area.

The area abounds in beaches! The longest beach in Ireland stretches from the Maharees westwards through Castlegregory to Cloghane village – 12 miles in length. There is a Blue Flag beach in the Maharees. All of the beaches are sandy, and many are suitable for surfing and other watersports. The sea water is clean throughout the entire area.

In the Maharees area, there is pony trekking along the beaches, as well as scuba diving, one of the best in Kerry, surfing, windsurfing, canoeing and waterskiing. Equipment and instruction are available locally.

During the summer months, a wide variety of entertainment is available, from curragh racing to a week-long carnival in July. Castlegregory Pattern Day is celebrated on 15 August, when the tradition is to eat locally-made mutton pies and wash them down with plenty of Guinness. On summer evenings, traditional music can be heard at several pubs in the village.

There are a number of restaurants, cafes and pubs in Castlegregory and the Maharees, offering everything from take-away to fine dining, with local seafood a specialty.

Lough Gill is just a quarter-mile from Castlegregory village and is of considerable significance as a major breeding ground of the rare Natterjack Toad. On a fine summer night, the natterjack can be heard for miles. Lough Gill is also one of the few places where Bewick's, Mute and Whooper swans can all be seen.

For golfing enthusiasts, Castlegregory Golf and Fishing Club a superb links golf course is located just a few short miles from Castlegregory village between the scenic Lough Gill and Brandon Bay, at Stradbally, near Tralee, Co. Kerry. The magical colours of Mount Brandon act as a magnificent backdrop to this 5876 yard par 68 nine-hole course.

As I said before The Maharees is one hell of a place to enjoy yourself on an amazing holiday, Everything in nature here seems keyed up to enjoyment. The windsurfers cradled in the perfect curve of Scraggane Bay, oblivious to the power and glory of the surroundings as they strain every sinew to keep their fluttering little crafts leaning upright on the wind.

Then there is the entertainment and the scrumptious sea food. Search out and find Spillanes bar, an old style, family owned pub run on the Maharees peninsula and Harbour House and Leisure Centre ranked in the top three places to stay in Co Kerry and its Islands Seafood Restaurant is excellent and astonishingly well priced.

The Maharees also has a very interesting history. This material is excerpted from The Dingle Peninsula, History, Folklore, Archaeology" by Steve MacDonough, copyright 1993, published by Brandon Book Publishers, Ltd., Dingle, Co. Kerry, Ireland. In its entirety, it makes very interesting reading. The book is widely available for purchase throughout the Peninsula.

Castlegregory is the capital of Lettragh, the northern side of the Dingle Peninsula. Its population is little more than a quarter of what it was shortly before the Famine, but it remains the only place of the area that possesses the unity and proportion of a real village.

The castle from which the name comes was built in the mid 16th Century by Gregory Hoare, but it is no longer standing. There haslong been a tradition that the name derived from the late 6th Century pope, Saint Gregory the Great, known as Gregory Goldenmouth and claimed to be of the Corca Dhuibhne people.

However, Pope Gregory was probably confused with another Saint Gregory who was Irish and associated with the Iveragh Peninsula; Gregory Hoare is the much more likely source of the placename.

There is a story associated with the castle which is reminiscent of the relationship between the Montagues and Capulets in Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet". Gregory Hoare had a feud with a neighbour called Moore. In the face of parental fury Hugh, Gregory's son, married Moore's duaghter Ellen in 1566. As they returned to the castle from the wedding, Gregory stood at the gate but his son pushed past him and the unfortunate Gregory fell dead on the spot.

In 1580 part of Lord Grey of Wilton's army – including, it is said, Edmund Spenser, Walter Raleigh and Edward Denny – stayed at the castle on their way to besiege Dún an Óir. Outraged at her husband entertaining the enemy, Hoare's wife, Ellen, went to the cellar and ran off all the wine from the barrels there. Hugh Hoare attacked her and stabbed her to death. Next morning he was summoned to appear before his overlords to answer a charge of murder, but he fell dead as he passed the very place where his father had died 14 years earlier.

A later marriage, of "Black" Hugh's daughter, transferred the castle to Walter Hussey of Dingle. He supported the Knight of Kerry in the Cromwellian wars and was pursued by Wilmot's forces from Castlegregory to Minard across the mountains. He died in the destruction of Minard Castle and the Husseys were ruined. The castle – "slighted" by the English army – and the estate at Castlegregory were settled first on a Cromwellian soldier, then passed to a Derry man who settled locally, and were bought by the first Lord Ventry in whose family they remained until 1913.

There is a particular large gallán – about 14 feet above the ground – at Candiha, standing near the road amidst vegetables. Kilshannig, out in the Maharees, boasts a much later development of the standing stone – a cross-slab of the 7th Century with an interestingly designed cross.

In common with slabs at Kilfountain and Knockane, the Kilshannig cross includes a representation and chi-rho – the Greek initials for Christ – and in this case it is a cryptically formalised loop out of the top of a Latin cross. There is a pagan-derived divergent spiral at the base of the cross. The church here may date in part to the 12th Century but it is mostly a 15th-16th Century reconstruction.

For those interested in the early Christian settlements, it is especially worthwhile to try to persuade someone to take them over to Illauntannig – Oileán tSeanaig. The best thing to do is simply to enquire locally. The early settlement of Seanach is one of the finest of its kind. The enclosing wall, or cashel, is exceptionally strong – about 18 feet thick – though part of it has fallen to the erosion of the sea.

In the larger of the two ruined oratories there is an altar and the window survives; there are clocháin, from one of which a souterrain runs to a chamber in the enclosure wall. There are cross-slabs; and particularly prominent features are three quartz-covered leachts, rectangular burial platforms.

By the shore, a hundred yards from the cashel, is a bullán with an incised cross. A two-storey farmhouse on the island was occupied until the 1950s; and it is known locally as Learie's Island after the people who lived there.


South of Castlegregory are mountains and valleys. Glanteenassig – Gleannta ana Easig, the valleys of the waterfall – has a substantial forestry development and is one of the most beautiful places on the peninsula on a fine day. It is possible to drive right into the deep valley, which resembles the scenery of Killarney and of County Wicklow more than that of the rest of the peninsula. Peaks and corrie cliffs rise steeply from lakes, and the river meanders, forming oxbow bends, through a long valley which is by turns bleak and rocky, brown and green with planted trees.

Lough Slat, Doon Lough and Lough Caum, which attract local anglers, possess a sense of calm amidst the power of massive corrie headwalls. Much of the surrounding forest is pine, but there are other trees and shrubs, especially holly, a characteristic of what was oak forest before the 17th Century, by which time the forests had been cut down to provide timber for building the British navy and to an extent also for fuel for industry.

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Deep in the valley a house stands at a bend in the road; walkers can take the well-built stony track, which winds up the hill of Doon from beside the house. This track continues as far as a turf- cutting area, but an earlier track swings southwest to a low point on the shoulder south of the mountain ridge where it then drops down into Ballynahunt, near Annascaul. According to some accounts, it was by this route that the Cromwellian forces crossed the mountains from Castlegregory to Minard Castle, though others favour the route by Maghanaboe; but for the walker who likes to get up into the hills it is simply an excellent route to take across the mountains.

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