If you’re looking for fun and unique things to do in Ireland, then taking a ride on the Dursey Island cable car should be up there on your list. Originally opened in 1969, the cable car allowed residents of Dursey Island to cross to the mainland safely. Prior to that, they were often stranded for days at a time.
Dursey Sound, a narrow stretch of water which separates the island from the mainland has strong tidal waters and a rocky reef in the middle of the channel. Not exactly the perfect ingredients for safe passage by boat!
These days, the cable car is still the main way to get to and from the island, though there are only a small number of permanent residents on the island. However, there are also semi-permanent residents who grew up on the island and live nearby on the mainland or further afield. Some return frequently to farm, others to spend summers on the island.
So prepare for anything when you visit. You might find yourself sharing the cable car with animals or supplies for the islanders!
Signature Discovery Point on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way
Despite the declining number of residents on the island, the cable car is getting more use than ever and has become a huge tourist attraction. Visitors have also increased significantly due to Dursey Island being a Signature Discovery Point on the popular Wild Atlantic Way driving route. So, if you’re exploring the beautiful Beara Peninsula, don’t want to miss the chance to visit Dursey Island.
Experience the Dursey Island cable car
Half the fun is getting there! Taking the cable car across to Dursey Island is definitely a unique experience and something you really should do if you get the chance. On first glance the cable car has been described as rickety, scary, precarious and daunting. After taking the trip it’s more often described as “so worth it”, “not to be missed” and “a must do”.
So feel the fear and do it anyway! You won’t be sorry. Personally, I didn’t find the cable car scary at all but perhaps I was just too preoccupied with the jaw-dropping views out the window. In fact I think that they should consider opening a zip line here. How much fun would that be? You could get the cable car over and then take the zip line back. Best of both worlds!
When I arrived back on the mainland a couple at the ticket office were trying to decide whether they should cross or not. I gave them my two cents but despite my enthusiasm they decided not to go. They said there were plenty of ski lifts in their country which go much higher. That may be true but I’ve never seen a view quite like this from a ski lift!
As well as being the only cable car in Ireland, the Dursey Island cable car is the only cable car in Europe to cross the open sea. It’s pretty incredible to get a bird’s eye view of the waves pounding the rocks and cliffs as you pass by overhead. As you continue to rise to 250 metres above the Atlantic, the views looking back to the mainland are just stunning. Obviously, I got extremely lucky with the weather when I visited, which helped too!
It’s not just the scenery from the cable car that will blow you away though. The views and scenery around Dursey Island itself are amazing and even the drive to get to the cable car is just magnificent as you tackle the winding roads and rugged landscape.
Walking, birdwatching and wildlife
Dursey is just 6.5 kms long by 1.5km wide and popular with many day-trippers for walking. There is a loop walk of about 14km which will take you right around the island. Expect to take 3.5 – 4 hours to complete the loop and soak up all the stunning scenery the island has to offer. Unfortunately I didn’t have that much time to spend on the island but enjoyed a short walk out along the coast road before returning to the cable car.
It’s so peaceful and relaxing on the island. It seems that even in the summer, the majority of visitors only spend a short time on the island before returning. So if you’re doing the loop walk you probably still won’t bump into too many other people along the way.
Keep an eye out for dolphins and whales, which are regularly sighted in the waters around the island. Dursey is also a great place for keen birdwatchers. The island attract many migrating birds, including rare birds from North America, Siberia and the Far East. Offshore, Bull Rock is home to a large Gannet colony but also Razorbills, Puffins, Guillemots and Manx Shearwaters.
Tips for visiting Dursey Island
Bring snacks and water
If you’re planning to spend a significant amount of time on the island, remember water, sunscreen, snacks etc. There are no shops, restaurants or pubs on Dursey Island.
Its cash only payment for the Dursey Island cable car so bare that in mind. I was almost there when the thought struck me and I realised that I’d spent most of my cash back in Castletownbere. I really didn’t fancy driving all the way back to find an ATM. Luckily for me I was able to scrape together the €10 from what I had left and a quick check of my pockets, bag, the car doors and glove box! During the summer you can take a bus around the island and I think you need cash for that too.
Be prepared to queue during the summer
I visited in March and there was no queue at all for the cable car. I even had it all to myself on the way back too. However during the summer months it can be a very different story. People have queued for an hour or more (both ways) to take the cable car. The car holds 6 people and manages about 4 return trips an hour so a quick head count should help you work out how long you’re likely to be waiting. Island residents take priority too. There is talk of getting a second cable car so hopefully that will happen in the near future. In the meantime, get there early if you want to have enough time to do the walk and enjoy the island fully.
Smile, you’re on camera!
Not so much a tip, just an observation. Not that you’ll be getting up any mischief in the cable car I’m sure! I didn’t even spot the very obvious sign and camera until after my many selfie attempts in the cable car. With a bit of luck nobody was watching as I darted backwards and forwards trying to adjust my camera and strike a pose. Hehe, cringe!
Meet Dursey Island residents at the Summer Festival
What better way is there to learn more about living on Dursey Island than from the residents. If you visit the island during the annual Summer Festival you can do just that. There will be a number of free events over the weekend including a walking tour of the island, traditional Irish music and dancing session and a short film screening.
The 2019 festival takes place on June 15th and 16th. If you can’t make the festival you can still have a trial run at being a resident! Rent one of the few self-catering holiday homes on the island, including the old schoolhouse, and enjoy a more relaxed pace of life for as long as you want!