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Cliff falls into sea on scenic Kerry route
The Irish Times  (Dingle in the News)
One of the country's most popular coastal tourist routes, the Slea Head drive in the Dingle peninsula, is likely to remain closed for at least the rest of the tourist season after a dramatic cliff collapse below it at the weekend.
Hundreds of tonnes of earth and rock suddenly crashed into the sea below the road at Cuas na gColúr between Coumeenole Bay and Dún Chaoin shortly after 7pm on Easter Sunday.
The collapse was witnessed by a local ferry operator who was out at sea.
At the time, two people were on the Atlantic cliff top, believed to be taking photographs. They stepped back when a crack appeared beneath their feet.
Major cracks now line a 10m (33ft) stretch of roadway, which has been closed and diversions put in place.
The site is adjacent to the Dún Chaoin graveyard, where Blasket writer Peig Sayers is buried.
The 48km (30 mile) Slea Head circular route is one of the most dramatic in western Europe and attracts thousands of visitors. It passes by some of the richest archaeology in the State, including Bronze Age forts and early Christian beehive huts.
Ceann Sibéal (Sybil Head), the Great Blasket Island and the Blasket Island interpretative centre all line the route.
Local people say that 40 years ago the cliff and road in the area also collapsed. They believe the extremely wet winter weather followed by the recent dry period accelerated the collapse of the cliff.
Kerry County Council said yesterday it was clear coastal erosion was responsible. Its engineers were assessing the damage but the road would not immediately re-open.
In response to the development, the council was already negotiating with landowners for an entire new road further inland. It is also holding a public meeting today with business and media in the Skellig Hotel in An Daingean.
A council spokesman acknowledged the urgency of the situation, given that the beginning of the tourist season was "the worst possible time" for such an event.
However, the area was not cut off, diversions were in place, and places of interest were still accessible, he said.
The collapse was witnessed from the sea by eco-tour and Blasket Islands Dún Chaoin Pier ferry operator Michael Sheeran.
Mr Sheeran was skippering the Blasket Princess, having finished his trips to the Blasket Islands for the day, and was half a mile out at sea from the main land when he heard "an almighty bang" behind him.
"I looked behind me and the whole cliff had collapsed and there was dust rising. Within five to 10 minutes, all the water had turned brown around me," Mr Sheeran said. He alerted the coast guard immediately.
Manager of the Ionad an Bhlascaoid Mhóir, Micheál de Mórdha said thankfully the road was quiet at the time or a major disaster could have occurred.
Several local businesses fear they will be badly affected, including museums, restaurants, pubs, cafes, boat operators, pottery industries, B&Bs and other attractions which depend on passing trade on the circular route. The town of An Daingean would also be badly affected, Mr de Mórdha said.
The Slea Head drive from Ventry to Ballyferriter was the ultimate tourist experience and was what people came to see. "An Daingean is a base camp for Slea Head. People come to An Daingean to see the Slea Head area," Mr de Mórdha said.
The situation demanded an emergency response and he called on Minister for Arts, Sport and Tourism, Kerry South TD John O'Donoghue, along with the council, to lead it.
Further east in the Dingle peninsula, at Inch Strand in Dingle Bay, Kerry County Council is already dealing with a cliff collapse and is carrying out work.
Anne Lucey

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