Priest’s Leap in Cork is a twisty mountain pass that’s not for the faint-hearted.
In fact, we’d advise you to avoid this drive unless you’re a very capable driver (and avoid it ALTOGETHER in poor weather conditions).
Below, you’ll discover why Priest’s Leap is regarded as many as one of Ireland’s scariest roads.
Some quick need-to-knows about Priest’s Leap
Before you stick Priest’s Leap in the sat-nav, please take 30 seconds to read the below as it’ll save you hassle in the long run:
Priest’s Leap crosses from the village of Bonane in County Kerry to Coomhola Bridge in County Cork. It’s certainly not the main road between the two counties in this area, though it shaves off some miles compared to the larger Kenmare to Bantry road that lies to the west. From Kenmare, the start of the Priest’s Leap is about 10-minute’s drive away.
2. Highest pass road in Munster
Cutting through the surrounding mountains at 463 metres high, Priest’s Leap is the highest road in the province of Munster. The summit of the nearest mountain is 519 metres, so you’ll feel right among the clouds as the road climbs up.
3. The road is very narrow
This is a mad aul road and it shouldn’t be taken lightly. Inexperienced drivers can find it massively stressful and once you’re on it, it’s hard to turn back. The surface is loose gravel, which can make braking tricky if you’re not used to it. Meanwhile, the road for the most part is only wide enough for one vehicle at a time, with only occasional passing points.
4. Weather warning
The mist can roll in fast here and it’s a very bad spot to be with poor visibility. We recommend only visiting when the weather’s fine and to use extreme caution. If the mist does roll in, find a safe spot to stop for a bit until things start to clear up.
The story behind the Priest’s Leap
So why is such a mad road called Priest’s Leap? Because there’s an equally mad story behind the name of course! Local folklore tells the story of a priest, let’s call him Father Archer, who was on his way to visit a sick person in the area.
Incognito, he held the ‘Sacred Host’ beneath his cloak. As he neared his destination, a peasant approached and informed him that spies had betrayed the priest and soldiers were in pursuit.
Offering his horse, the peasant urged the priest to fly, but the soldiers were soon upon him and had him surrounded.
The horse charged on regardless and made a mighty leap across the canyon, carrying rider and steed three miles just outside the town of Bantry.
The rock the pair struck was instantly turned to clay, capturing the imprints of the horse’s hooves and head, as well as the priest’s fingers when they safely landed and made good their escape.
It stands to this day, just a few miles outside of Bantry, and curious visitors can still see the marks left by the priest and his horse. Want to hear the full version of the myth? Check out this wonderful poem by T.D. Sullivan.
The Priest’s Leap drive
Running a total of 40 km, the Priest’s Leap drive is definitely one of the more unique things to do in Cork. This a challenging, exciting, and rewarding road trip to tackle.
Or, if you’re up for it you can try cycling or walking the route! Along the way, the road becomes a narrow track that twists and turns up the steep, narrow mountain pass.
Things to be aware of
It gets pretty hairy at times, but as you go you’ll be rewarded with fantastic scenery all around.
Please make sure to keep a close eye out for both cyclists and walkers (you’ll see more of the latter) and drive very carefully.
The mid way point views
As you reach the mid-point of the pass, you’ll enjoy views over Bantry Bay and the distant mountain ranges of the Cahas and MacGillycuddy’s Reeks.
After soaking it all in, you then begin the descent through ever-more moody, craggy, and boulder-strewn scenery.
Extending the drive
Finally, once you’ve completed the pass, you’ll loop back to the start on the larger, more modern, but equally as beautiful main road (the N71) between Bantry and Kenmare.
We advise you start on the Kerry side of the track since there are more passing places as you climb up the Priest’s Leap.
Either the village of Bonane or the Bonane Heritage Park are both good starting places that are easy to reach from Kenmare.
Things to do near Priest’s Leap
One of the beauties of the Priest’s Lead is that it’s a short spin away from many of the best places to visit in West Cork.
Below, you’ll find a handful of things to see and do a stone’s throw from Priest’s Leap!
1. Bonane Heritage Park (15-minute drive)
Boasting 5,000 years of stories, Bonane Heritage Park is a must-see. A landscape strewn with ancient monuments such as stone circles and bullaun stones, it’s rich in both history and natural beauty. There are several walks to enjoy, including the epic fairy walk, a favourite among kids and adults alike.
2. Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve (25-minute drive)
With rivers, lakes, ancient forests, and mountain views, the epic Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve is a superb place to enjoy a little hiking as you take in a wealth of natural wonders. There are a number of walking trails with something for everyone, including the epic waterfall walk.
3. Bantry House (25-minute drive)
Overlooking Bantry Bay, the gorgeous stately Bantry House is a fascinating place to explore. You can take a look around the house and gardens, enjoying a number of walks, guided tours, and exhibits. There’s also a wonderful little tea room for afternoon tea or grab a picnic basket to enjoy on the grounds.
4. Gougane Barra (35-minute drive)
The superb Gougane Barra boasts stunningly gorgeous scenery, with the highlight being the epic lake. Surrounded by a moody mountainous backdrop, the sparkling lake is home to a small chapel that sits on a tiny island.
FAQs about Priest’s Leap
We’ve had a lot of questions over the years asking about everything from ‘Is it worth doing?’ to ‘How safe is 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.
Why is it called Priests Leap?
The name comes from an old Irish legend about a priest escaping a group of soldiers. The story goes that his horse leaped three miles from the pass to Bantry.
Is Priest’s Leap dangerous?
Yes, it can be. The road is extremely narrow, there’s little to no room to turn and poor weather conditions can make conditions treacherous.