As the designated driver for the Ring of Kerry, I left the itinerary up to Viv and concentrated on driving the winding, scenic roads that have made this route so famous.
“They cannot be serious?” I kept commenting as we passed another sign stating that the speed limit was 100 kmph. Seriously, these were some of the bendiest and steepest roads I’ve ever seen; I was probably going at about 5 kmph. Just trying to stay alive here, guys! Not sure what the rest of you are doing.
I loved our day in the Kerry countryside but due to my focus on driving, I wasn’t sure where we drove nor what we saw. Cue lots of frantic texts to Viv: “So you know that time in Ireland. What did we do again???”
The night before, we had arrived in Killarney, a town renowned for its twee yet satisfyingly Irish charm, located beside the Killarney National Park and just outside the famous “ring”. This makes it a perfect base if you want to spend a day driving the route and then return to the town for the evening, or in our whistle-stop case, drive onwards to Cork. Killarney was cool: we had an excellent dinner at The Stonechat restaurant (hello, Irish stew and Killarney craft beer), had fun wanders through some classy art shops and discovered a multitude of live music performances in the many pubs that line the streets of the small town.
Early the next morning, we set off on our drive, anti-clockwise round the ring, as advised by Lonely Planet in order to avoid being stuck behind any of the tourist buses. Check out our highlights below:
(1) Ross Castle
Our starting point was Ross Castle, a 15th century tower house, just outside Killarney, where we stumbled across a UK fishing competition. Yes, I will embarrass myself and ask some Scottish people if I can pose with their Scottish flag. We didn’t go into the castle but the location, beside the lake Lough Leane and overlooking Killarney National Park, made for some very picturesque wanders.
(2) Ballycarbery Castle and the Cahergal and Leacanabuaile Stone forts
Almost at the most westerly point of the route stands the ruins of 16th-century Ballycarbery Castle. I, alongside many a small child, had a great time clambering about the stairs and different levels of the construction that remain today. Love a castle, I do. Very nearby, you can find two stone forts, Cathergal and Leacanabuaile, dating back to the Iron Age. Stone forts are most commonly found in the west of Ireland. I’m not going to lie, the photos below may or may not be from the stone forts I’ve named but they are definitely from somewhere in Kerry. Five months later, it’s hard to know, but you get the idea!
3) Skelligs Chocolate Factory
After a rather anti-climactic lunch at the “colourful” seaside town of Portmagee (I think that, in sunshine, it would be magical), we stumbled across Skelligs Chocolate Factory, located in the middle of nowhere in Cahersiveen, on the Skellig ring branch of the Ring of Kerry route. We say stumbled because somehow Viv’s Lonely Planet book had failed to mention the existence of the factory. So many samples. As soon as we went inside, we were called over by a chocolate woman (I’m sure that’s her job title) who launched into a detailed explanation of the different kinds of chocolate. Ten pieces of chocolate later. Loving life!
(This experience was so great that would you believe it, we didn’t even take any photos).
(4) Fogher Cliffs/Kerry Cliffs
Now as we know, the Irish love their cliffs. If the Cliffs of Moher didn’t quash your appetite for risking your life on a cliff-edge, then don’t you worry, the Ring of Kerry has some more. North of Portmagee, on Valentia Island, you have the Geokaun Mountain and Fogher Cliffs, and south of Portmagee, on the way to the amazing afore mentioned chocolate factory, you have the Kerry Cliffs. Both worth a stop (I can definitely remember which was which…) but be prepared to part with some cash – tourism causes erosion and we want to keep these cliffs forever. Points for spotting the misuse of an apostrophe below.
(5) Ice cream at Annie’s in Sneem
Our last stop on the ring was Sneem where we spotted a rather delightful ice cream joint. Hmm yes, it was raining at this point, and we did have to run down a street in the pouring rain, but we’re on our summer holiday, ok? We must have ice cream!
We arrived back in Killarney just in time to pop into the Killarney Brewery before it closed and casually crash the end of a brewery tour. Yes, we will have some free beer, thanks very much. So kind of you to ask. Turns out that when you try to pay for a souvenir beer glass in the Killarney Brewery, they’d rather just fill your glass with free beer. What can you do, Viv? After our wee energy boost, we jaunted back to the car and made our merry way to our final county and our final destination: Cork!