Taking a spin along the bendy Healy Pass is one of my favourite things to do in West Cork.
Healy Pass is often described as one of Ireland’s greatest drives, and for good reason! It is a mountain pass at an elevation of 334 metres that offers a unique experience from beginning to end.
The serpentine-like track weaves through isolated countryside and it lays just enough off-the-beaten-path to ensure that you’ll rarely encounter crowds.
In the guide below, you’ll discover everything you need to know about Healy Pass – one of the most unique attractions in Cork.
Some quick need-to-knows about Healy Pass in Cork
Although a visit to Healy Pass in Cork is fairly straightforward, there are a few need-to-knows that’ll make your visit that bit more enjoyable.
The Healy Pass is located in the Beara Peninsula, in the Caha mountain range, in south west Ireland. It straddles the Cork and Kerry border and although most of it lies in Cork, a section is in Kerry.
2. The route
The route starts at the Adrigole Bridge in County Cork and proceeds to the Lauragh Bridge in County Kerry. It is about 12 kilometres in length. You can explore it, and the area around it, on the Ring of Beara route.
The road is extremely bendy, twisting and turning through mountainous terrain. While the Healy Pass is perfectly safe, drivers need to be on the lookout for walkers and cyclists who also love the challenge the route presents.
4. Famine relief
The Healy Pass was created in 1847. Built during the Great Famine, the road was put in place to prevent starvation and was later named after Timothy Healy, who was the first governor general of the Irish Free State.
The History of Healy Pass
Now a popular tourist attraction that brings in drivers, walkers and cyclists every year, the original Healy Pass was called the Kerry Pass and was cut through during the famine years as a poor relief public works project.
Famine roads are common in Ireland. They were part of Robert Peel’s Conservative Government’s initiatives to improve Ireland’s infrastructure, strengthen its economy and provide employment for those who had lost their income as a result of the failure of the potato crop in 1845.
The scheme was beset with problems. Bad management, the lack of tools, the physical condition of the workers because of malnutrition and the terrible weather in the winter/spring of 1846/47.
Low wages and delays in payment led to their eventual abandonment, but not before workers died at the side of roads because of gross negligence on the part of the authorities.
Timothy Healy, for whom the road is named, died in 1931, shortly after the Healy Pass received its upgrade.
The Healy Pass drive/cycle route
For those of you who like a challenge – or a longer drive – the Healy Pass drive/cycle route is an 86-kilometre circuit. If you’re planning to do it by bike, it is not a route for the faint-hearted and you will need a good level of fitness.
However, the views will make it well worth your while. Start in Kenmare by crossing the suspension bridge and turning right on the R571.
At Tuosist, bear right on the R573 towards Kilmackillogue. At Lauragh, cross the R571 and head towards the high ground of the Healy Pass. Here, you will be afforded beautiful views over the Bantry Bay and the Kenmare river.
Descend to the sea at Adrigole and turn left towards Glengariff. Once you reach Glengariff, turn left on the N71 towards Kenmare. There is now another climb through the Caha pass and after that it is downhill to Bonane and then on to Kenmare.
Where to grab a mighty view at the Healy Pass
If you continue up the hill towards the highest point of the Healy Pass (on the County Cork side), you will find some space to pull in and park.
There isn’t a lot of room here, and the pull in area sits at the top of a hill, so it’s extremely important to ensure that you never leave your vehicle out on the road.
Next to this spot, there is a hill that is easy enough to walk up (although be careful when it is wet) and on the Cork side, you’ll be able to see the whole Healy Pass, while on the other side you will get incredible views of County Kerry (above).
Things to see near the Healy Pass
One of the beauties of the Healy Pass in Cork is that it’s a short spin away from a clatter of other attractions, both man-made and natural.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from the Healy Pass (plus places to eat and where to grab a post-adventure pint!).
1. The Beara Peninsula
Perhaps this counts among the top ten of Ireland’s most compelling locations. Backed by the Miskish and Caha mountains, the peninsula juts out into the Atlantic Ocean.
Subtropical trees and shrubs grow in the hedgerows lining the roads, and the peninsula is dotted with Bronze Age remains thanks to the rich deposits of copper that attracted our ancestors to the area, and later the industrial revolution in the 19th century.
In our guide to the Beara Peninsula, you’ll discover things to do along with where to stop for a bite to eat.
2. Bere Island
A short ferry journey from the Beara peninsula, Bere Island is one of seven inhabited islands on West Cork’s coastline.
Its backdrop features the Slieve Miskish and Caha Mountain ranges, and its size is 11 kilometres by 5 kilometres with a population of just under 200.
There are lots of archaeological sites on the island dating from the Bronze Age right through to the Medieval periods, and you’ll find tombs, ring forts, standing stones and burial sites.
3. Dursey Island
Take a gander at Ireland’s only overseas cable car that provides the main means of transport to Dursey Island. Many people will tell you the cable car is worth the trip to the island alone.
Suspended over the water as the cable car makes its slow and steady progress toward the island, you’ll be able to get plenty of fabulous pictures.
The island has no shops, hotels or restaurants, so take your own food. There are a number of interesting walks you can set out on and the island is a bird watcher’s paradise.
4. Gleninchaquin Park
This award-winning Gleninchaquin Park and farm in County Kerry is a long, narrow Coombe valley on the north-west side of the Beara Peninsula.
The delightful scenery is wonderful to walk around – mountain paths with carved steps, lakes and waterfalls and meadows are all there to be explored.
FAQs about visiting Healy Pass
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from is Healy Pass worth visiting to what there is to do at it.
In the section below, we’ve popped in the most FAQs that we’ve received. If you have a question that we haven’t tackled, ask away in the comments section below.
Is the Healy Pass worth a visit?
Yes – 100%! The Healy Pass is one of those drives that’s well worth experiencing for yourself. The road itself is incredible to admire from above and the scenery that surrounds it is breath-taking.
What is there to do at the Healy Pass in Kerry?
You can drive or cycle the road and then, once you reach ‘the top’, you can pull in and admire the view.
Is there much to do near the Healy Pass?
The Healy Pass is located on the Beara Peninsula, which is home to some of the best and most unspoiled scenery in Ireland, so there’s an endless number of things to see and do closely.
Emma Baird is a lifestyle editor and novelist. She has worked in the communications industry for more than 25 years, and loves animals, the countryside and lingering in a great pub for the food and the craic.