IRELAND’S LONGEST ROPE bridge is set to be opened at a garden estate in the Ring of Kerry.
The owners of Kells Bay House and Gardens have spent five months getting ready to open the Skywalk, which spans 112 feet and is located over the Delligeenagh River at a height of approximately 36 feet.
The new attraction is an hour from Killarney on the Skellig Coast on the Wild Atlantic Way, and was inspired by the owners’ trips to south-east Asia.
The Kells Bay estate has a particularly interesting history. Planted 160 years ago, it is home to many rare, southern hemisphere plants, a waterfall, tree sculptures and bamboo gardens – as well as Ireland’s largest palm tree, which weighs 11 tonnes and has a 7.5 metre trunk.
It was opened in 1837 as a small hunting lodge, and was home to a plant nursery from the 1970s, but when Billy and Penn Alexander took over, they set out to restore and expand the garden.
Billy would describe himself as a “plant explorer” who has spent a lot of time in south east Asia, South Africa and South America looking at plants. Penn is from Thailand, and both would have crossed a number of rope bridges in south east Asia in particular during their travels.
In south-east Asia, this type of bridge is often referred to as a Burmese Rope Bridge, Billy Alexander explained. The couple realised a rope bridge would work on their own site, and a plan was set in motion.
“Whereas all the site preparation, foundations and steel work from which the bridge is suspended was completed using local materials and expertise, the bridge was fabricated and hung by a team of specialists from abroad,” Alexander said.
The bridge is located in a “fairly spectacular v-shaped valley” and is surrounded by plants, in a part of the estate which is a wild garden.
The estate’s two walks are now being turned into one walk that will take visitors around the gardens, and includes a trip across the Skywalk.
The gardens at Kells Bay are situated at the start of the Skellig Coast, which is part of the Wild Atlantic Way. The current plant range is comprised largely of unusual and rare plants from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Chile.
The couple see the gardens as a tourist draw, and think the rope bridge will help to encourage even more people to visit the area.
While the estate already pulls in 10,000 visitors annually, it is hoped that numbers will exceed 15,000 once the Skywalk has opened.
“The gardens are the key driver in encouraging visitors to turn off the N70 Ring of Kerry road and discover the beautiful beach, the pier the mountains and seclusion that Kells has to offer,” said Alexander.
Over the last decade we have overcome many fiscal and floral challenges at Kells Bay and with the advent of the Skywalk, we stand on the cusp of securing the future of this fantastic place.
Since they bought Kells Bay House and Gardens in 2006, they have invested over €2 million in the site.
Admission to Kells Bay House and Gardens is €8 per adult, €6 per child and the centre offers a family pass for €25. There is no additional fee for using the Skywalk.
The Skywalk be officially opened on 7 April by Sir Tim Smit, who has worked with The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the world-renowned Eden Project in the UK. It will open to the public the following day, 8 April.