Releagh Bridge was built by the Board of Public Works (today’s OPW) in 1836 as part of the construction work for today’s Kenmare to Glengarriff road, the N71 national secondary road. Prior to construction of this road, the Priest’s Leap and the Esk Bridle Path were Bonane’s only links with West Cork. Both these steep mountain roads were not suitable for carriages.
The Bridge allowed the new so-called ‘New Line’ to cross the Beaurearagh River (downriver named ‘Sheen’) in the townland of Releagh, just below today’s Bat House. It was, obviously, initially designed to carry nothing heavier than horse carts and carriages but to this day, this historical bridge displays formidable strength. Releagh Bridge is Bonane’s only 19th century stone bridge expected to stand up to the continuous flow of a main road’s heavy traffic in the 21st century. Each and every day, it is traversed not only by cars but agricultural machinery, commercial and construction lorries, and ever larger buses.
Despite its strength, Releagh Bridge is a very picturesque and, indeed, graceful stone bridge with three arches. It is thought to be one of the highest stone bridges in Munster. Its abutments and two piers seem to ‘grow’ out of the natural rock beneath it. The voussoirs are of alternating, different colour stone; this is more noticeable on the western side. The keystones of each arch protrude slightly.
The keystone of the bridge’s central arch on its eastern side was revealed in recent years, when Kerry County Council commissioned a cleaning of the bridge. Chiselled into the stone are the abbreviations ‘BPW’ (Board of Public Works) and the year 1836. Underneath, the stone bears the names of what is thought to be Releagh Bridge’s master stonemasons, one of which was J.B. Farrell. Unfortunately, the second name is illegible from a distance. Charmingly, Mr Farrell added a bit of 19th century graffiti to the keystone by scratching the word ‘Óg’ behind his chiselled name, possibly in a bid to distinguish himself from his father’s work.
Releagh Bridge is now on Kerry County Council’s list of Protected Structures and its Council reference number RPS KY-102-002 can be seen from the road.
The true height of the bridge and the skill of its builders can only be appreciated by walking down a track alongside it, leading down to the river. Visitors please note that this track is on private property and is not a public right of way. Its use is entirely at the landowners’ discretion and at the visitor’s own risk. Please respect the landowners and our environment by not littering!