Walking Mullaghanattin Mountain in Sneem on Ring of Kerry
If you’re looking for a breathtaking mountain walk, then look no further than Mullaghanattin in Sneem in County Kerry. As well as breath-taking Mullaghanattin is the tallest mountain in the Sneem Dunkerron range. At 773m Mullaghanattin stands proud above the Ballaghbeama Gap, the glacial breach that divides the Dunkerron range. Due to its triangular shape, some call Mullaghanattin Ireland’s Matterhorn or more precisely Kerry’s Matterhorn.
Let’s be honest when thinking of climbing Kerry mountains, most immediately think of Carrauntoohil and the Macgillycuddy Reeks. Yes, indeed Carrauntoohil is a wonderful challenge and in doing so you stand on the highest point in Ireland. For these reason (and more) I highly recommend it but if you get the opportunity definitely climb Mullaghanattin too. Just don’t attempt them on the same day!
Although considerably less known Mullaghanattin is one of those places that photographs don’t do justice. To experience its wonderful form and surrounding you simply have to walk there and trust me it does not disappoint. You can choose the same route to climb up and down or you can complete the longer Mullaghanattin Horseshoe. Once you’re done you’ll be able to travel into Sneem for refreshments and if you have time, a gorgeous meal.
Although Sneem is a popular village on the world-renowned Ring of Kerry route, most visitors are mostly passing through. Typically they’re spending the day driving the Ring of Kerry and exploring The Wild Atlantic Way. What you might not expect is that the numbers out walking and hiking in the area are relatively few. You may meet a few walkers on the Kerry Way or one of Sneem’s looped walking trails, but that’s all. These mountains, by which I mean the Sneem Dunkerrons, will in all probability be still and quiet.
On the subject of Sneem’s Loop walking trails, namely The Fermoyle Loop and Lománagh Loop, both are lovely walks and perfect for a group holiday activity. The Lománagh Loop will take approximately 2.5 – 3 hrs and the Fermoyle Loop 4 – 4.5hrs. Although enjoyable experiences in their own right, they also offer fantastic views of the taller Dunkerron Mountains. If you look to the North West of Sneem, you’ll see Beann and Mullaghanattin.
The Dunkerrons stretch from Waterville and Caherdaniel all the way to the upper lakes of Killarney. The Sneem Dunkerron Mountains are those that form the impressive and exquisite backdrop to the village. They are a remote place, a world away from its busier neighbours i.e. The Macgillycuddy Reeks (The Reeks). On a clear day you can also see The Reeks to the east in the distance.
Unlike the Reeks, you can scale the Sneem Dunkerrons’ heights and not meet another soul throughout the whole day. If you compare climbing Carrauntoohil to climbing Mullaghanattin, this will be the key difference in my view. Mullaghanattin and the Dunkerrons gives you more a sense of discovery. With nobody else around, it’s feels like you’re discovering these places for the very first time, thus intensifying the experience.
As well as savouring the panoramic views and natural beauty of this place, no doubt you’ll be feeling proud too. Why wouldn’t you, for walking to the top of a Dunkerron summit is a pretty big achievement. You’ve earned it.
The Dunkerrons, particularly the Sneem Dunkerrons are wild, rugged and rocky with hidden lakes and steep mountain walls. Just take a look at the type of contour lines of the Sneem Dunkerrons. Here you’ll find few smooth oval shaped contour lines. Instead you’ll find jagged, compact contour lines. These lines denote uneven, rocky and steep terrain – all typical characteristics of the Dunkerrons. That’s why navigating skills and the ability to use a map and compass and/or GPS are important.
The Sneem Dunkerrons are truly a geological wonder, hence their inclusion in the Kerry Geopark. Kerry Geopark stretches from Kenmare Bay into the mountains and encompasses the villages of Sneem, Castle cove, Caherdaniel and Blackwater. The Geopark recognises and promotes the unique way of life, traditions, culture and landscape of the area. In fact Kerry Geopark is an internationally recognised are of great geological significance. And these amazing geological features make it an amazing place to walk, explore and enjoy.
Now that I have contextualised the location and attraction of the Sneem Dunkerrons, let me return to Mullaghanattin. Firstly, let me state that the Mullaghanattin horseshoe is one of my favourite all-day walks. Not only do you touch Mullaghanattin’s summit but you also conquer Mullaghanattin East Top, Beann West Top, Beann and Beann South Top too. At 773m Mullaghanattin and Beann 752m are two of the tallest mountains in the Dunkerrons. Furthermore, they are the 25th and 34th highest mountains in Ireland respectively.
These mountains rise 650m above the valley floor and deliver the feeling of standing on top of the world. We often use the word Coom to describe a mountain valley surrounded on three sides by the steep slopes. Here, two long spurs flank the coom below forming a perfect horseshoe walk. We call this Coom, ‘The pocket’ and indeed it’s a deep one too. In fact, the views looking down from above are simply world class.
We begin our walk in area of Ballaghbeama (see post regarding the drive) disembarking before reaching the narrow gap itself. Our aim is to ascend to the Eastern spur just off the Mullaghanattin horseshoe itself. Slowly and steadily we start our 300m ascent on grassy slopes onto the spur. Stopping frequently allows us enjoy views of Lough Brinn, the eastern Dunkerron Mountains and the Macgillicuddy Reeks beyond.
Upon reaching the top of the spur (shoulder) at a height of 462m, the ground levels out. From here we continue our walk westwards for one-and-a-half km, crossing some map spot heights along the way. Ahead of us now we see the steep climb of Mullaghanattin (773m). Reaching the top involves a slow, steep climb but the grass on which we’re walking makes it seem friendlier. Before long we reach the top and it does not disappoint. The summit views across the entire Ring of Kerry’s Iveragh peninsula are superb. Very rewarding indeed!
As I mentioned some call Mullaghanattin the Kerry Matterhorn or Ireland’s Matterhorn due to its profile. It’s also distinctive as a trig point station marks its summit. In earlier time, prior to aerial photography and gps, mappers used these trig points for triangulation and positioning.
The 360-degree view from Mullaghanattin across the Dunkerrons, The Reeks, Kenmare Bay and the Beara Peninsula is simply stunning. I hope when you get there the weather is equally kind and the skies clear.
Although descending the far side of Mullaghanattin presents few difficulties, we take care to avoid a number of rocky outcrops. Ahead lies Beann North East Top which is our next target at a height of 692m. You can contour around this instead if you like and proceed directly to the grassy Beann ridge.
Beann’s grassy ridge walk with its precipitous falls on either side is a real treat. I say this because thankfully there’s sufficient walking room on either side of the fence running along its length. Still, it does require somewhat of a head and stomach for Heights!
The first time I reached this ridge was on a calm sunny day. I remember how surreal it felt standing atop a 750m exposed ridge, without the slightest breath of wind. It was so unexpectedly still and quiet that the sound of the silence was very real and strange to comprehend. The contour ring surrounding the grassy ridge is 360m long, which makes for quit a unique walking experience.
As we reach the ridge’s end, we now can safely view ‘The Pocket’ below in all its glory. Its steep walls rise 650m up to meet us, giving us a wonderful view of the horseshow.
Looking westwards now, we see Sneem Village in the distance and the Sneem River estuary flowing out into Kenmare Bay. Below is the idyllic valley of Coomyanna and its two lakes of Coomeen & Sallagh. The sun is shining on this spot, so we sit on the edge of the ridge and break for lunch.
The mountain walk descends gradually southwards from this point to a track leading into the valley farms near Coomyanna Bridge. This bridge marks the start of a minor road into Sneem and our transport pickup point back to Álaind Lodges.
In reaching Coomyanna Bridge we have walked 10 KM and climbed 850m upwards. I think you’ll agree that this walk is a delight rather than an endurance test. Of course if you prefer longer walks, you can walk to Sneem adding an additional 8 KM to the total.
Alternatively, you can lengthen the Mullaghanattin Horseshow by starting and finishing on the road leading into the Pocket itself. You can choose to complete the walk in clockwise or anti-clockwise, perhaps depending on the day’s weather. Thus lengthening the walk adds Cnoc Riabhach, the full length of Faha Mountain and 4 KM to the total. Enjoy!