A key visitor attraction, which is renowned world-wide as the breath-taking tropical jewel on the Ring of Kerry, is about to become even more popular with the opening of Ireland’s longest rope bridge.
Five months’ work at Kells Bay House & Gardens culminates in the opening within the next fortnight of the aptly-named ‘The Skywalk’ visitor attraction. The Skywalk rope bridge spans 112 feet and has been erected over the stunning Delligeenagh River at a height of approximately 36 feet. The new attraction is just an hour from Killarney on the Skellig Coast on the breath-taking Wild Atlantic Way.
Planted 160 years ago, the Kells Bay estate already includes a profusion of rare, Southern Hemisphere plants, a breath-taking waterfall, tree sculptures and bamboo gardens and is home to Ireland’s largest palm tree, an 11 tonne specimen with a 7.5 metre trunk.
While Kells Bay House & Gardens is already a haven for gardening enthusiasts, The Skywalk is set to further broaden its appeal to younger visitors, families and tours. It will be a major boost to the site which already attracts 10,000 plus visitors annually and provides up to 10 jobs in the local community at peak times. It is hoped that visitor numbers will exceed 15,000 with the addition of The Skywalk. It will be officially opened on April 7 by Sir Tim Smit, famous for his work with The Lost Gardens of Heligan and the world-renowned Eden Project in the UK, and opens to the public the following day, April 8.
Owners, Billy and Penn Alexander, say the inspiration for The Skywalk came from trips they made to the rainforest and jungle plant exploration over several years. Similar constructions are popular throughout South-East Asia where this type of bridge is often referred to as a Burmese Rope Bridge, Billy Alexander explained.
“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,” Billy added.
The multiple Gold medal winner at the Annual Bloom Garden Festival says they continue to invest in the attraction and they hope it will further boost tourism in what is an exceptionally beautiful and unspoilt part of the world. Since they bought Kells Bay House & Gardens in 2006, they have invested €2 million plus in the site.
The Gardens at Kells Bay are situated at the start of the Skellig Coast, at one of the most spectacular vistas along the Wild Atlantic Way.
“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. 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,” Billy added.
Billy’s wife, Penn, was born in Southern Thailand and began cooking at an early age. She opened the Sala Thai restaurant in the refurbished hunting lodge on the site in 2013. It is now renowned as one of Kerry’s finest dining experiences and offers breath-taking views of Dingle Bay from the Terrace Café. Numerous visitors, attracted by the wonderful food on offer, have become frequent visitors to the garden. Under Penn’s direction, both it and the guest house accommodation have been a major contributor to ensuring the viability of the gardens.
The hub also includes Kells Bay Gardens Plant Centre. It is very much an enthusiast-owned nursery that specialises in the import of Tree Ferns and other rare and unusual exotics from around the world.The current plant range is comprised largely of unusual and rare plants from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Brazil, China, India, Mexico and Chile.
All of the plants on sale are growing in the gardens and the staff have first-hand experience of all the plants in stock.