The Ring of Kerry: A Visitor's Guide
Kerry is the Kingdom, so the saying goes around these parts, and it's true to say that the magical Ring of Kerry is most certainly one of Ireland's top tourist attractions. The raw beauty of this scenic route is sure to lift the spirits of the most jaded traveler. Starting from Kenmare at the southeast corner of the peninsula, the route (here on the N70) runs west to Waterville and then north and northeast to Killorglin; from there the R562 goes inland to Killarney, from which the N71 leads back south to Kenmare. The Ring of Kerry traces the stunning coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula. Be prepared for panoramic Atlantic Ocean views, stunning islands, wild sweeping mountains, and many picturesque villages en-route. The entire journey can be completed in around three hours non-stop, however that really doesn't do it justice. Take your time; you're in Ireland after all, so what's the rush?
Kenmare, a friendly little seaside resort at the southwest tip of Ireland, lies at the outflow of the River Roughty into the long inlet known as the Kenmare River. The town is noted for its high-quality lace, and also for excellent woollen goods. The principal source of income, however, is tourism. Although tourism makes its mark in Kenmare, the town still has much of the atmosphere of 1775 when it came into being. The two main streets intersect at right angles and traverse beautiful scenery. Not far west, on the bank of the River Finnihy, there's a Druid's Circle of 15 standing stones with a dolmen in the center.
Roughly a seven-minute drive along the N70 (direction of Sneem) is Templenoe with a church dating from 1816. Beyond this, at the ruins of Dromore Castle, is a viewpoint and parking lot. The valley of the Blackwater with salmon and trout fishing opens up on the right hand side, and the river plunges down to the sea in a deep gorge. From the road here, a footpath leads down through dense, almost tropical vegetation to the shore. A charming little road ascends the valley over a pass scaling 250 meters and leads to Glencar and Lough Caragh.
A little over 16 kilometers from Templenoe brings visitors to this historic, upmarket, and beautifully situated holiday resort of Parknasilla. The mild climate all year round means, somewhat incongruously, that palm trees, pines, bamboos, and jasmine all flourish here. There's a world-class golf course set within 500 acres of grounds as well as miles of walks, tennis, archery, and clay pigeon shooting. A newly designed spa features superb views overlooking the ocean and lush landscape. Literature and history buffs may be interested to know that the hotel was a favorite with Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw.
The road turns inland from Parknasilla, coming in at three kilometers to Sneem, a fishing center situated in a narrow inlet. The 16th-century Protestant church has an unusual weathervane in the form of a salmon. There's excellent walking and climbing in the hills to the north and west, which rise to some 660 meters. At Castlecove, 13 kilometers west of Sneem, a very narrow road leaves the N70 on the right and extends for two kilometers to a large stone fort on a hill between two valleys. This is Staigue Fort (National Monument), a circular structure of dry stone walling 27 meters in diameter and more than five meters high surrounded by a ditch. The walls are four meters thick with staircases on the inside and small chambers in the thickness of the wall.
Derrynane House & Park
Around a 30-minute drive further on, and just southwest of Caherdaniel, is 120-hectare Derrynane National Park. Nature trails with explanatory signboards bring visitors through the sand dunes, which are bordered by a beautiful, long sandy beach. The tiny Abbey Island offshore can be reached at low tide and the ruins are well worth exploring. Within the grounds stands a fine mansion, the ancestral home of 'Ireland's Great Liberator' the lawyer, statesman, and politician Daniel O'Connell (1775-1847). The building now houses a museum where relics and mementos of O'Connell's career and life are displayed.
Hours: Open daily May-September 10.30am-6pm, seasonal variations
Admission: Adults €3, seniors €2, children & students €1
Address: Derrynane, Caherdaniel, Co. Kerry
Skellig Islands Editor's Choice
After fringing Lough Currane and heading through Waterville, it's well worth veering off the N70 and making for Portmagee. Here, visitors can take a boat trip out to the Skellig Islands, the largest of which, Skellig Michael, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Around 23,000 pairs of gannets nest on every available ledge on the smaller islands making it the second largest gannet colony in the world. Rising majestically from the sea, Skellig Michael towers 218 meters above the water. On the summit of this awe-inspiring rock there's a remarkably well-preserved 6th-century monastic settlement. The strenuous hike (670 steps) to the summit rewards visitors with panoramic views of the coastline and surrounding Atlantic as well as the chance to explore the unique monastic settlement with its otherworldly beehive shaped huts.
Hours: Daily departures from Portmagee pier 10am (approx.) weather permitting
Just under 16 kilometers from Portmagee is the small town of Cahirciveen with a magnificent old barracks and, somewhat surprisingly, a statue of Charlie Chaplin who was once a regular visitor. Facing Cahirciveen across the broad Valentia River are the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle. To the northeast of the castle, reached on a side road that leaves the N70 on the left, are two good stone ring-forts (both National Monuments). Cahergall measures 32 meters in diameter with two stone structures within the walls, and the hillside fort Leacanabuaile has staircases, chambers within the thickness of the walls, and underground rooms. The N70 continues northeast from Cahirciveen up into the wide valley of Kells.
A further 27 kilometers along the N70 brings visitors to the idyllic little holiday resort of Glenbeigh with excellent fishing. Just two kilometers west is a pristine sandy beach, Rossbeigh Strand. The village hugs the surrounding horseshoe of hills and the Seefin Mountains. The Caragh and Behy rivers flow at either side into Castlemaine Harbour. As well as magnificent scenery and beautiful mountain walks there's fishing, hang-gliding, horse riding, bird watching, and golf.
From Glenbeigh, it's 15 kilometers through an undulating landscape to the little town of Killorglin, where the famous Puck Fair is held every year in August. The annual three-day event dates as far back as 1613. A goat named King Puck is the festival's main feature, a statue in town commemorates the creature in question. The goat is paraded through the town on opening day and is put on a platform for the rest of the festivities. Events during the three days include a livestock sale as well as informal dances and concerts.
Around 20 minutes by car from Killorglin is Killarney with its magnificent National Park, scenic lakes, and world-famous Jaunting Cars. Must-see sights include magnificent Muckross House and Gardens, The Gap of Dunloe, Innisfallen Island, and numerous traditional live music venues. Killarney's considerable appeal lies in the beautiful surroundings, which should be explored at leisure. Queen Victoria visited here in 1861 and was a guest at Muckross House. Apparently she was very taken with the place and understandably so. The traditional farms at the same location are a time capsule of life in rural Ireland a mere 60-70 years ago. How times have changed. The Ring of Kerry starting and finishing point, Kenmare, is a further 35-minute drive away.