The Priest’s Leap

The metal cross at Priest's Leap and the view along Borlin Valley towards Bantry Bay.
The cross at the Priest’s Leap and the view along Borlin Valley towards Bantry Bay.
Winding road leading up towards the Priest's Leap
Winding country road leading towards the Priest’s Leap.

The Priest’s Leap is set in the most magnificent, open hill country. The views from the top of the pass are simple breathtaking. Bantry Bay lies to the south and the picturesque Sheen River Valley to the north. Prior to the opening of the ‘New Line’ between Glengarriff and Kenmare in 1842, the Priest’s Leap (pronounced: Lep) was one of only two links Bonane had with West Cork. The cartographer, the Rev. Daniel Beaufort wrote in 1788: “This Leap is the most crooked, narrow, intricate, irregular path between and over vast crags of rocks on the top of a high Mount broken into hollows. […] No man in his right senses would ride it – few horses could carry a rider safe over.”

According to legend, when Catholicism was prohibited by Ireland’s British occupiers in penal times, a priest was on the way to a sick person in the area. As pursuing soldiers drew near, the priest managed to escape when his horse made a miraculous leap from the mountain’s summit to safely land near Bantry town. Both books listed below give fabulous accounts of the legend in much greater detail than I can fit here, including the lovely poem by West Cork poet T.D. O’Sullivan.

Plaque in Bantry, commemorating the Priest's Leap
The memorial plaque in Bantry.

At the Leap, a rock shows the imprint of one of the horse’s hooves, left behind from the force of its take-off. To ensure horse and rider’s secure landing, the rock on which they descended turned to soft clay. Here, the imprints of the horse’s head and knees, and the priest’s fingers can be seen to this day. In 1972, the community in Bantry erected a memorial plaque at the rock in memory of the holy event.

Carved stone at the Priest's Leap, reading 1612 to 2012.
Commemorative stone at the Priest’s Leap

The Bishops of Kerry and of Cork joined the celebration of the communities of the Sheen River Valley and the Coomhola Valley in commemorating four hundred years of the Priest’s Leap, when a beautiful stone marker was unveiled on this sacred mountain top in 2012.

Winding country road leading from Priest's Leap down into Borlin Valley
The road descends from the Priest’s Leap into the wild-romantic Borlin Valley.

To walk, cycle or drive to The Leap, you follow a minor road from the N71 secondary national road. This is a narrow, windy road with bad visibility in parts, so drive with great care. The road is not suitable for large vehicles such as busses or campervans! On your journey to The Leap you will pass through Bonane’s beautiful landscape. You will eventually arrive at a simple steel cross, marking the spot from which the priest leaped to safety back in the 17th century, and the memorial stone.

Sunset over the Bonane mountains, as seen from the Priest's Leap road.
Sunset over the Bonane valley, as seen from the Leap road.

(Sources: Bonane – A Centenary Celebration, Edited by Fr John Shine; A Guide to the Sheen Valley Heritage Area, by Bonane Community Council)