Priest's Leap South Bike Climb - PJAMM Cycling

3.5
FIETS
3.4 mi
DISTANCE
1,432 ft
GAINED
8.1 %
AVG. GRADE

FULL CLIMB STATS

INTRO

The most epic bike climb in Ireland and the 6th hardest.  This is the only climb we've encountered over the years that has it's own poem accompanying it.  

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CLIMB SUMMARY

bike parked against stone monument reading "Priest's Leap 1612 - 2012"

Cycling Priest’s Leap South, Ireland

Ride 5.4 kilometers gaining 436 meters at 8.1% average grade.

Priest’s Leap: Legend has it that in 1612, to escape Crown Forces chasing him, a priest on horseback leaped seven miles from the top of Coomhola Mountain across Bantry Bay to this point on this mountain.  The famous poem about this event is at the bottom of this climb page.

photo collage shows PJAMM Cyclists riding Priest's Leap South; yellow sign warns "Narrow, Steep, Mountain Pass Road, Not the Main Route"

PJAMM Cyclist Brad Butterfield stands with bike next to stone sign reading "Mill Big"

The climb begins just past the Mill Big stone by riding up Mill Little Road.

Climb summary by PJAMM Cycling’s Brad Butterfield:

Name your favorite mountain road in the Alps or Pyrenees, and Priest’s Leap Road does well to hold up against it - both in scenery and in difficulty. The opening mile passes farms and houses and there were a surprising amount of locals driving this lower part when we rode Priest’s Leap South. Past the 1.5 kilometer mark though, it is just you, the road, and the unbelievable rugged Irish mountains…and of course, sheep. As you can guess, this road is very narrow, but most roads out this way are. Pavement quality is good enough to enjoy a fast and fun descent, but do take caution. Should there be the odd car, you’ll likely need to unclip and let them pass. Much of the road has hair raising drop offs. Priest’s Leap South is a bucket list climb for any adventurous cyclist.

photo collage shows views near the start of the climb, Mill Little Road; wildflowers, greenery, fuchsias

Scenes on Mill Little Road near and just after the start of the climb.

Climb summary by PJAMM’s Tayler Hocket:

This was my favorite bike climb in Ireland. This road has a big mountain feel packed in a few miles. It starts at a bridge and quickly picks up, it’s really steep and real tight. Basically, a neighborhood road with a decent amount of friendly drivers. Though the sign marked ‘Steep Mountain Road’ indicates it will get steeper, the hardest part is done and the payoff begins. This one-lane road is clearly owned by the sheep and goats and really rolls up and down to the top where you can get epic views of the valley, farmlands, and sheer jagged hills. At the top, there is a cross marker and a “Priest Leap” sign. The descent is tight and bumpy and definitely be on the lookout for goats, they don’t move as sheep do. This is a hard three miles but goes by quickly, especially since you get the hard part done first. A must-do if you can!

photo collage shows the sheep grazing in pastures along road, narrow, one-lane mountain road, Steep Road sign

Narrow Steep Road sign is at kilometer 1.5.

For the first 1.5 kilometers we are in a rural setting with a smattering of homes.  For the last four kilometers of this magnificent bike climb we pass through pastureland with grazing sheep and sweeping views of the hills surrounding us.

photo collage shows gravel roadway, green pastures, stream

Much of the road is gravel and would be easily manageable on a road bike.

photo collage shows gravel roadway, green pastures, big horn sheep

Stunning views on this epic bike climb.

bike parked on roadway looking back down the road 500 meters from the finish

Top photo is the view back down the road 500 meters from the finish.

photo collage shows aerial drone views of the stark terrain along the last few kilometers of the climb

Aerial photos of the stark terrain along the final few kilometers of the climb.

small metal cross atop rock in pastureland

Cross at the top of the climb.

Priest's Leap stone monument, 1612-2012

Finish at the Priest’s Leap stone.

That’s a wrap!

But, wait, there’s more . . .

THE PRIEST’S LEAP POEM

From Bantry Historical Archaeological Society:

The priest is out upon the hill before the dawn of day;

Through shadows deep, o’er rugged ground he treads his painful way.

A peasant’s homely garb he wears, that none but friendly eyes

May know who dares to walk abroad beneath that rough disguise.

Inside his coat and near his heart lies what he treasures most,

For there a tiny silver case enshrines the Sacred Host.

Adoring as he goes, he seeks a cabin low and rude

To nourish there a fainting soul with God’s appointed food.

...

For so it is within the land whose brave and faithful race,

In older days made all the isle a bright and holy place.

Its temples are in ruins now, its altars overthrown.

Its hermits’ cells in cliff and cave are tenantless and lone.

The priest is out upon the hill before the dawn of day;

Through shadows deep, o’er rugged ground he treads his painful way.

A peasant’s homely garb he wears, that none but friendly eyes

May know who dares to walk abroad beneath that rough disguise.

Inside his coat and near his heart lies what he treasures most,

For there a tiny silver case enshrines the Sacred Host.

Adoring as he goes, he seeks a cabin low and rude

To nourish there a fainting soul with God’s appointed food.

...

For so it is within the land whose brave and faithful race,

In older days made all the isle a bright and holy place.

Its temples are in ruins now, its altars overthrown.

Its hermits’ cells in cliff and cave are tenantless and lone.

And then what course you’d better take ‘tis God alone that knows,

Before you spreads a stormy sea; behind you come your foes,

But mount at once and dash away; take chance for field or flood,

And God may raise His hand today to foil those men of blood”.

...

Up sprang the priest, away he rode, but ere a mile was run,

Right in his path he saw the flash of bayonets in the sun.

He turned his horse’s head, and sped along the way he came,

But, Oh! there too his hunters were fast closing on their game,

Straight forward then he faced his steed and urged him with his hand,

To where the cliff stood high and sheer above the sea-beat strand.

Then from the soldiers and the spies arose a joyful cheer,

Their toilsome chase was well-nigh o’er, the wished-for end was near.

They stretched their eager hands to pluck the rider from his seat,

A few more lusty strides and they might “swing him to their feet”.

For now betwixt him and the verge are scarce ten feet of ground,

But, Stay! Good God, out o’er the cliff the horse is seen to bound

The soldiers hasten to the spot, they gaze around, below,

No splash disturbs the waves that keep their smooth and even flow.

From their green depths, no form of man or horse is seen to rise,

Far down upon the stony strand no mangled body lies.

“Look up! Look up!” a soldier shouts, “Oh what a sight is there,

Behold, the priest, on horseback still, is speeding through the air”.

They looked, and lo, the words were true and trembling with affright,

They saw the vision pierce the blue and vanish from their sight.

...

Three miles away, across the bay, a group with wondering eyes,

Saw some strange speck come rushing fast towards them from the skies.

A bird, they deemed it first to be; they watched its course, and soon,

They thought it some black, burning mass flung from the sun or moon

It neared the earth, their hearts beat fast, they held their breadth with awe,

As clear and clearer still – the horse and then – the man – they saw.

They shut their eyes, they stopped their ears to spare their hearts the shock

As steed and rider both came down and struck the solid rock.

...

Ay, on the solid rock they struck, but never made a sound.

No horrid mass of flesh and blood was scattered all around.

For when the horse fell on his knees, and when the priest was thrown,

A little forward, and his hands came down upon the stone,

That instant, by God’s potent will, the flinty rock became

Like moistened clay or wax that yields before a glowing flame.

Unhurt, unharmed the priest arose, and with a joyful start,

He pressed his hand upon his breast; the Host was near his heart.

Long years have passed away since then, in sun and wind and rain

But still of that terrific leap the wondrous marks remain.

On the high cliff from which he sprang, now deemed a sacred place,

The prints left by the horse’s hooves are plain for all to trace.

And still the stone where he alit whoever likes may view,

And see the signs and tokens there that prove the story true.

May feel and count each notch and line, may measure if he please,

The dint made by the horse’s head, the grooves sunk by his knees.

And place his fingers in the holes for they are there today,

Made by the fingers of the priest who leaped across the bay

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