Congratulations to the community of Portmagee as the winners of Ireland's Tourism Town 2012. Come and experience this beautiful vibrant fishing village.
Portmagee is a little bit special. It's often described as a picturesque and sleepy little fishing village on the south western tip of the Iveragh peninsula, just off the Ring of Kerry. It's true but the description only touches on the obvious charms of our seaside home. Portmagee is within reach of a huge number of activities from golfing to diving..
Here are some the things do in the area.
Deep Sea Angling - Boats available daily.
Entertainment - Traditional music and set dancing locally throughout the year. Special 'Irish Night' in July & August.
Cycling - Bikes available for hire
Watersports - South West Kerry is one of the best dive locations
in Europe. Kayaking, wind-surfing and surfing are available on Ballinskelligs strand
Golf - 18 hole links golf course in Waterville
Bird watching - Study the thousands of birds in the area.
Driving and touring - Portmagee is an ideal base to explore the beauty of Kerry.
We are the departure hub for trips to the Skelligs Rocks, the home of preserved monastic settlements from the 6th century, but this is just the jewel in a crown of beautiful scenery, historical sites and fascinating places to visit.
Here are a number of interesting places to visit within 10 minutes of Portmagee.
Scenic Skellig Ring The snug scenic ring off of the Ring of Kerry incorporating Portmagee, Ballingskelligs and Valentia Island.
Geokaun Mountain & Fogher Cliffs – Walk or drive to the top for 360° stunning views from the island’s highest point
Reencaheragh Strand - A safe secluded strand within walking distance of the village. Perfect for swimming.
Coomanaspig Pass - See the spectacular views of Iveragh, Dingle and the Skelligs from the highest point in Ireland accessible by car.
Illaunloughan - A small island in the Portmagee channel that was inhabited by monks in early Christian times.
Skellig Michael and Little Skelligs - Awe-inspring pyramid-shaped rocks 10 miles off the coast. They are accessible by tour boat and home to a monastic hermitage from the 5th century onwards.
The Skellig Experience - This interpretive Centre is just over the bridge in Valentia and covers the history and ecology of the Skelligs Rocks.
Skelligs Chocolates - Sample the delicious hand-made chocolates straight from the workshop floor in St. Finian's Bay.
Our past is far from sleepy and is demonstrated in the tale of how the village got its name, pirates, smugglers and political intrigue are all mixed up in it. Portmagee used to be known in Irish as 'An Caladh' or 'The Ferry' because of the constant traffic between the mainland and Valentia Island. The provenance of its English name however, is far less mundane Magee's Port is named after one of the most notorious smugglers of the 18th Century, Captain Theobald Magee. After serving in King James' army as an officer, Magee retired to a life of merchant shipping between France, Portugal and Ireland. Thanks to the chisled coast around the South West, his trade in contraband spirits, textiles and tea and tobacco, was hard to police and therefore profitable. He married Bridget Morgell, the widow of a rich Dingle merchant and also the daughter of the MP for County Kerry, Thomas Crosby. Being related to the best smuggler in Ireland can't have sat too easily on Crosby's shoulders and there is some suspicion that Magee's death in a Lisbon monastery was due to some exile imposed by the powerful MP. His wife, and his sons continued the family business of smuggling. Although many would view Magee's activities as smuggling, we like to think of him as a visionary of pan-European free trade.
Our New Year celebrations are based on a 160 year old tradition and have a colourful history. For 150 years,each new year is celebrated in Portmagee with a custom called 'The Old Year'. It's a little bit crazy, a little bit amazing and a fantastic time.
History of the 'Old Year' Celebration
The year was 1727 when, three days after Christmas, a Kinsale brig flying a French flag, landed Portmagee after coming from Nantes France. The boat's mission was a cargo that was not in the interest of the British taxpayer,since smuggling on this coast was a familiar feature. The boat remained until the New Year but what was to happen the people of Portmagee on New Year's Eve 1727 was to going to change their little village for evermore. As the locals were retiring for the night, a strange and eerie noise was coming from the vicinity of the local pier. Many thought it was the banshee (a female spirit whose wailing is said to warn the hearer of an impending death in the family) as the strange sound came up towards the village. To the locals amazement they saw the crew of the french boat holding torches and marching through the village.
History of the 'Old Year' Celebration.
The year was 1727 when, three days after Christmas, a Kinsale brig, flying a French flag, landed in the Port of Portmagee after coming from Nantes France. The boat's mission was a cargo that was, let's say, not in the interest of the British taxpayer, as smuggling on this coast was a familiar feature. The boat remained until the new year and what happened to the people of Portmagee on New Year's Eve 1727 was to going to change their little village.
As the locals were retiring for the night, a strange but eerie noise was coming from near the local pier. Many thought it was the banshee (a female spirit whose wailing is said to warn the hearer of an impending death in the family) as the strange sound came up towards the village. To the locals amazement they saw the crew of the french boat holding torches and marching through the village. They were led by a piper and in the centre of the torchmen a shaggy and staggering figure of an old man on his last legs was swaying as if his time was up. They went through the village making a racket and when they returned to the head of the pier a shot rang out and the old man lay on the road as if dead. Silence descended again but only for a moment when a newly-dressed man with white trousers, swallow-tail coat and top hat emerged from the darkness and he repeated the route of the old man with the piper leading him and the torches either side. The new man gave a speech to explain to the locals about what they had just seen and he went on to inform them that the old man had symbolized the year gone by and, come midnight, he was no more. The New Man symbolised all that was new and the youth of the year that had just begun. And so it was that the custom of the 'Old Year' began in Portmagee. Starting the next year, which was one of the hungriest the village had known, the locals re-enacted the custom in honour of the strange men who had entertained them the previous year.
This tradition has been repeated ever since in the village and, over the years, even with modern technology, very little has changed. Turf sods are always steeping in paraffin oil for a week in advance of the night. The local children go through the village at 8 o’clock rattling tin cans and making as much noise as possible to get locals out for a money collection for the paraffin oil. Everything has stayed the same with the carrying on of tradition being the primary motivator in organizing this every year.
In 2009, we really pulled out all the stops with the introduction of five pipers and two drummers from the New York Police Department Pipe Band. These musicians played on the streets of Portmagee on the night of the local pageant and lead the parade through the village. This was a wonderful occasion.
We think that, after this tour, you'll have a taste for why Portmagee is Kerry's best kept secret and why you'll simply have to come see for yourself