In his latest article, Andy Mossack takes us on a driving tour around Ireland’s Ring of Kerry. Be sure to check back in for other insightful reviews from Andy’s travel exploits.
I’m sitting in The Red Lobster, a comfy little pub in the charming seaside village of Waterville about halfway around the Ring of Kerry, and Pat’s pitching me her fish chowder. “You won’t find a better one anywhere else,” she modestly announces, so I went for it. In hindsight, there really was no need to doubt her, because it was truly delicious. The Red Lobster was the perfect lunch interlude for my day trip around The Ring; a 170-kilometer roundtrip from Killarney that is an assault on all your senses.
Kerry’s spectacular landscape is often compared with the rugged beauty of New Zealand, and it’s very easy to see why; especially when you see how its spectacular mountains and valleys come to a screeching halt at the mighty Atlantic Ocean.
Even though you can drive around The Ring from either direction, it is best covered counter-clockwise, so that you can appreciate how the beauty builds to a grand climax.
If you set out from Killarney, you’ll be on the well-marked Ring Route in no time, but don’t forget to take time out to stop and enjoy a diversion or two as you come across them—it will be well worth it.
From a fairly languid beginning that rolls you through some pleasant moorland countryside, you will find that things start to get interesting once you hit Daniel O’Connell’s birthplace in Cahersiveen. A perfect pit stop, this interesting town has a few historic buildings including Ballycarbery Castle and Leacanabuaile, a 9th-century stone fort. To keep up your strength, grab a homemade scone at Helen’s coffee house on West Main Street, a homey and welcoming café. But make sure you ask for Helen of course!
Past Cahersiveen there’s Valentia Island to visit, and when you’re back on the main road again, see if can spot Charlie Chaplin’s sculpture. After that the drama really begins to build, because now you’ve hit the coastline and its wonderful views.
The route snakes around the cliffs here, and wherever you look there’s a Kodak moment. Visit Derrynane House, the home of Daniel O’Connell, and Derrynane National Park, a paradise for botanists and ornithologists. Here you will find various nature trails and access to another one of Ireland’s outstanding beaches.
Moving inland about three quarters round, the Ring’s main feature awaits – the National Park. The outrageously fantastic vistas you will find here include Killarney’s great lakes, which you can witness in all their glory from way above. In fact, a spectacularly windy route leads around them on the way back to Killarney. Just before you hit town and if you have the time, Muckross House and Gardens is also worth a visit. It was the Muckross Estate funding that created the National Park, and you can take a jaunting car, the Irish version of a sprung horse-drawn two-wheeled cart, around the extensive grounds.
The Dingle Peninsula
The Dingle Peninsula is another voyage of discovery. Some might even venture that it is more spectacular then the mighty Ring itself!
Inch Beach, with its miles of open sandy beach leading down to the rugged Atlantic, is a wonderful spot near the beginning of the drive. Spend a while just walking around here and let yourself think that the Big Guy upstairs was truly in a happy mood when he created this part of the world.
However the centerpiece of the drive is Dingle itself, a lovely little fishing port and the most westerly town in Europe. Here in the harbor you will find Fungi, a bottlenose dolphin that made Dingle his home over 27 years ago. The local fishermen frequently organize boat trips into the harbor to see him and, if he feels like it, he’ll come out and have a play with you. But remember Fungi is in the wild so, as the fishermen will tell you, “he’s his own boss and he’ll do what he wants.” The good news is that, if he doesn’t show up, you might not even have to pay!
Before you leave Dingle, treat yourself to lunch in any of the pubs along the harbor front; the fare is hearty home-cooked stuff, and it will set you up for the rest of the drive westward into the heart of the Irish-speaking “Gaeltacht” areas.
The Gap of Dunloe
On the way back to Killarney you’ll pass by The Gap of Dunloe. This is a stunning pass through a huge mountain range and another must-see that will take a day if you walk it, or an hour or so if you drive it. You can even take a jaunting car through it! Whichever way you do it, it’s an unforgettable experience.
In summary, Kerry’s riches are more than enough for a long weekend, and can certainly be stretched into a week-long trip if you add some golf or fishing to it. And, while travelling The Ring may not be as dangerous as Frodo’s journey, I can assure you it is just as memorable.
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Featured Image: Ross Castle (Shutterstock.com)