Grab a picnic and your favourite blankets, we’re going surfing and star-gazing at St Finian’s Bay!
‘The Skellig Ring should be on every traveller’s must-see list.’ said Lonely Planet, and it’s now in the Top 10 Travel Destinations for 2017. One of only 3 European picks, this remote and rugged location is special for so many reasons:
- A Gaeltacht area, where Irish is still spoken.
- In the Core Zone of Kerry’s International Dark Sky Reserve.
- On the coastline adjoining the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael.
- The filming location of the closing scene in Star Wars Episode 7, The Force Awakens.
The Skellig Ring is an 18km coastal drive off the Ring of Kerry, exclusively for independent and adventurous travellers who want a unique experience of the Wild Atlantic Way. Why’s that? Because the drive is impassable to tour buses, and when you drive, motorcycle or cycle this route, you’ll really understand why!
First of all, we want to tell you about our secret strand.
The tiny unspoilt beach of St Finian’s Bay (Bá Naomh Fhionáin) is located right in the middle of the Skellig Ring. The locals call this place The Glen, and it has an unbroken view of the Western horizon out to Skellig Michael.
We love to bring our own visitors here, all year round. Shaped by the Ocean, this gorgeous spot is just as remarkable in Mid-Winter as it is in Mid-Summer. As you’d expect, things can get quite spectacular with the changing weather of the Atlantic coastline. So, every time we visit, we just plan our day when we actually arrive there.
Here’s our typical list:
7 things to do in a day at St Finian’s Bay.
- Visit Skelligs Chocolate Factory and Puffin Café
- Take photos at Killemlagh Church (Cill Imleach)/ RathKieran (Ráth Ciarán)
- Surf Atlantic waves with Skellig Rocks as a backdrop.
- Walk the Bolus Head Loop and see the WWII USA Air monument at Duchalla.
- Enjoy a picnic on the beach at St Finian’s Bay.
- Wrap up in our blankets, watch the last sunset in Europe, over the Atlantic Ocean.
- See the Milky Way with the naked eye!
Visit Skelligs Chocolate Factory and Puffin Café for a late breakfast and plan the day
Just 300 metres from the beach to the South, you’ll arrive at Skelligs Chocolate Factory. This award-winning artisan chocolate factory is packed with delights and you could well get stuck in here for a while! There is no entrance charge, visitors can see the chocolate being made and taste free samples of their delicious treats. We’ll be back here later.
Right now, we’re headed straight to the Puffin Café. Darina, Linda and their team will make you a great coffee and a freshly baked scone. You’ll love their selection of delicious goodies – no savouries here, a real “treats only” café! We’ll take our order “to go” , sit outside on their terrace and plan our day.
So, how’s the weather’s looking?
Moody skies? Misty? Head on up to Killemlagh Church (Cill Imleach)/ RathKieran (Ráth Ciarán)
Looking North from the terrace of Skelligs Chocolate Factory, you can already see the Church. The original site is thought to date from 6th century, an early Christian monastery dedicated to St Finian. This Christian Monk, known as the ‘Tutor of the Saints of Ireland,’ was said to be the very same man who organised the Monastery out on the rock at Skellig Michael.
This site still has the ruins of a late 12th century medieval church, with the remains of a 19th century chapel addition still standing, too. It has a beautiful stone-carved “angel window” that has been battered by the Atlantic for centuries, yet still remains. Records of this church exist in the Papal Taxation List from 1302! Here you’ll have an opportunity for some stunning photography of the various Celtic Crosses outlined against the coastline from within the graveyard.
A holy well, also associated with St Finian, is a short distance to the West. Nearby is another early Christian site, Killabuonia (Cill Buane). This is dedicated to St Buonia, said to be a sister of St Patrick. South of the church stands a megalithic structure known locally as the ‘Pagan’s Grave’.
There are numerous sites in this area, we love to thumb through our old worn hardback copy of The Iveragh Peninsula: An Archaeological Survey of South Kerry (Archaeology/Medieval Studies) by Ann O’Sullivan & John Sheehan. Highly recommended!
Windy, bright? Go Ocean surfing with Skellig Rocks as a backdrop
Check the surf conditions, and head into the waves! Seasoned surfers and beginners alike love this spot. It can be challenging though, as St Finian’s is notorious for rip tides. Beginners will have the best experience by signing up with a local surf school for lessons. (This is not a safe beach for bathing, if you love to swim we’d recommend nearby Ballinskelligs instead)
There’s a fresh water tap near the parking for a rinse-off, most people just dry off and change discreetly at their cars.
Good weather for walking? Great, get your boots on and head up to the WWII USA Air monument at Duchalla and start the Bolus Head Loop Walk.
You’ll be rewarded with panoramic Ocean views right from the start, including Puffin Island and the Skelligs. Bolus Loop Walk is a 7.5km (approx. 2.5 hrs) coastal walking route which takes in the most breath-taking scenery in this area. At the head, you’ll reach an old military barracks and look-out post.
Park at the United States Navy Liberator 63939 Crew Memorial to begin. The monument itself is for Fleet Air Wing 7, VB – 110 Squadron, which fatally crashed into Skellig Michael on 27th February 1944. Incredibly, the complete story of this air accident was only uncovered in the late 1980s, by locals speaking with Gerard O’ Regan, an expert researcher into Wartime Aircraft Crashes in County Kerry . His labour of love ultimately led to the erection of this monument, and to him contacting all of the lost crewmen’s families back in the USA.
Head back to the Skelligs Chocolate Factory and Puffin Cafe to grab some goodies to go with your picnic. We like to pick up some hot chocolates in a take-away cup and some baked goodies. You can choose from hot chocolate flavours like caramel, cinnamon or our favourite – hot chilli! Get it topped with marshmallows too, sure you’re on your holidays. Yum!
Our guests always want to take some chocolate home for gifts. Picking them up later in the day really works for us. Simply put, gift purchases won’t be melting in the car all day, or, worse again, be eaten already! (Oh, so many times… 😉
Skellig Gift Store stocks an extensive range of Skellig Chocolates for online ordering here:
Our worldwide shipping is free!
Enjoy a picnic on the beach at St Finian’s Bay.
Grab your blankets and set out a feast on the white sand here. We love the Irish Aran Picnic Blankets from Skellig Gift Store, as you can see here. We usually pick up fresh supplies on our way to the beach, in the neighbouring villages of Waterville, Cahersiveen or Portmagee. Are you bringing a thermos-flask with you? Bring hot soup, and some Irish Soda or Wheaten bread. You’ll be glad you did.
There are plenty of rock pools and little places to explore or walk the dogs. Please keep a close eye on small children here. The tide is very strong and the beach is not suitable for bathing. There is a safe community playground just a few hundred metres away. It’s free of charge, and kids always enjoy the swings, climbing frames and the mini-zip-wire.
Wrap up in your blankets, watch the last sunset in Europe, over the Atlantic Ocean.
One of our favourite things to do here is to watch the sun go down over the bay. Hot chocolate and Aran-knitted cuddle blankets add a touch of decadence and style! At this latitude, we have very late sunsets in Summer – sometimes the sky is still bright around midnight. In Winter, it can be dark by 4.30pm. We check the sunrise and sunset times on our weather app.
Wrap up in your blankets, cosy up to a loved one and watch the sun sink over the Atlantic. Everywhere behind you is dark already. This is the last glimpse of the sun for today…
See the Milky Way with the naked eye!
If you stay around after dark, then you are in for the most noteworthy treat. St Finian’s Bay is in the Core Zone of the Kerry International Dark Sky Reserve. More visible stars than you’ve probably ever seen before, or are likely to see again!
See the moon here? We shot that ourselves, in the Core Zone, with just a Nikon Bridge Camera. We’ve never photographed such detail on the moon before. If you have a camera with you, the results will be really amazing, you’re going to be blown away!
Whether you are a serious astro-photographer, or just a star-gazing romantic, you’ll never forget this Dark Sky experience. For a sneak peek as to what to expect, check out the video below from the Kerry Dark Sky team:
So here you stand at St Finian’s Bay, with the wind in your hair and the scent of the salt spray all around you. From the roar of the waves to the sand beneath your feet, you’ll know you are on the Wild Atlantic Way. For centuries people have come here, for peace and for pilgrimage. They connected with the heartbeat of their ancestors over land, Ocean and time.
Can you feel it too?
We hope you’ve enjoyed our “insider’s guide” to St Finians Bay.
We want to inspire you to explore this area, whatever the weather! If you’re travelling the Skellig Ring, call in to see us at Waterville. You can pick up the gorgeous Aran blankets in our shop, and a wide selection of Skelligs Chocolates too.
For online ordering with free worldwide shipping, just click on the pictures below:
Have you ever been to St Finian’s Bay? Connect with us on facebook and twitter, and share your selfies!