The Ring of Kerry is a 179km drive through one of the most picturesque parts of Ireland, past mountains, lakes and along the Kerry coast. This is our experiences on this famous looped driving route.
We rose early in anticipation of a long day and had a brilliant breakfast in the Randles Hotel in Killarney. The curse of the Ring of Kerry is with such a distance that certain sacrifices need to be made. Ideally a few days should be spent here. It was a blistering warm day with clear blue skies. Perfect road-trip weather. We choose to go clockwise around the ring as it suited our plan. It’s also the opposite direction of tour buses and so you have the added advantage of not getting stuck behind. However you will meet them head on and very possibly on some narrow roads.
Leaving the hotel Beata and I made a quick visit to Muckross Abbey a 15th century Franciscan Abbey. It’s a little walk from the car park and the abbey is completely free to enter. It’s in ruins but you can take the stairs up to the upper level. Highlights include the vaulted cloister around a yew tree, that is said to be as old as the abbey. A rundown graveyard surrounds the church, which amazingly is still used to this day. Jaunting cars run from here to Muckross House.
The historical Muckross House which is located within the Killarney National Park is only a fifteen minute drive from Killarney. Parking up we limited our visit to a stroll in the gardens and around the house. The grounds border Muckross Lake and as with any of the Killarney Lakes the views are alluring. The house was built in the 1830’s on the site of earlier houses for the Herbert family, and apparently this is a scaled back version of the original plans. Makes you wonder. It’s a magnificent stone mansion. The gardens which compliment the house were added over the next century. There is a host of activities from tours of the period furnished house which cost €9, to a visit to the traditional farm, as well as various craft demonstrations. We kept our visit limited.
The road makes an assent above the lakes and before long we had arrived at our next stop, 3.5km away. Torc Waterfall is fed by the Owengarriff River from Torc Mountain above. It’s about 25 metres in height and while not that impressive it’s worth the short five-minute stroll from the car park. There is a viewing deck to stand and practice your slow shutter speed skills. A number of more challenging walks take you alongside the waterfall for an impressive array of views over the lakes.
The road steadily increases in altitude with intermittent flashes of blue through the trees from the lakes below. Before long it open up to present a viewing point. This viewing point has become known as Ladies View, referring to the ladies-in-waiting of Queen Victoria, whom expressed delight at the sights when visiting here in 1861. We took a ramble out to the rocks which present the best perspective, through the valley floor and over the Killarney lakes. Photos don’t do it justice its a visual treat. It had been over an hour since my last coffee, so the conveniently located Ladies View Industries, a cafe a tourist shop, helped me refuel.
The ascent in the road continued and we made an unscheduled stop at Looscaunagh lake, as somehow this little lake seemed more beautiful to us than in the ones in the Killarney floor below. Finally the road reached Molls Gap which opens up into spectacular views of the valley beyond. From here the route gradually declines to sea level. The Killarney to Molls Gap section of the Ring, is surely its most picturesque until. We drove through the towns of Kenmare and Sneem without stopping, though these towns are good overnight locations with top hotels. Little inlets from the sea break the often wooded scenery along this stretch none more picturesque than the one I featured below.
We only made on stop along this section before we reached the extreme west coast. It is reached via the narrowest of lanes which is four kilometres long. Thankfully we didn’t meet anyone else on our way there, I would envisage it being a big problem. Staigue Fort is one of the largest stone ringforts in Ireland. It was constructed in the early centuries AD. Ringforts were an early defensive fortification with large walls to protect those who live inside. The walls here were up to six metres high and four metres thick, and these can climbed by a succession of stairs built into the interior. It’s a nice Celtic structure and is one of a number of forts along the route.
The most westerly part of the Ring of Kerry is also the one with the most distractions. Firstly its the springboard to the Scellig islands, including that one that was sold so well in those Disney movie. It’s not the easiest of places to reach (I never have in all my years), as it’s a full days boat trip out, and often the boats won’t sail based on the swell. There is also Valentia Island, the location of the Kerry cliffs and more of the wild views that Kerry is so famous for.
Derrynane is a town famed as the home of Irish statesman Daniel O’Connell. His birthplace Derrynane House can be visited with many relics from his life on show. We skipped the house and drove down to Derrynane beach, which is one of the most beautiful beaches in Kerry if not Ireland. Returning to the ring road up above you are indulged by scintillating vistas of the beach. Somehow I always prefer to view a beach from far. I’m not a sand between my toes kind of guy. I guess it’s the contrast between the sand, the sea and the general greenness. I was super grateful for the people who dissected my beach photo with their horses.
Adventures in food
We were now starving so we decided to eat in the next town that our paths crossed. This happened to be Waterville. Watervilles fame is that one Charlie Chaplin frequented the place many times on his holidays. If this seaside town was good enough for Charlie it was good enough for us. The Butler Arms had a conservatory in its restaurant overlooking the sea. Perfect. We entered the empty restaurant and after a few minutes one of the girls who was cleaning up invited us to sit. And we did. And some more. The waitresses cleaned, came in and out from the kitchen, did everything. Except approach the customers they had with menus. So after 15 minutes of frustration we got up and left. I guess the towns heyday was in that of Charlie Chaplins.
Waterville having had its chance we left. It was twenty minutes to Cahirciveen and by that time a hole the side of a moon crater had grown in our tummys. We passed the turn to Valentia island and adventures missed, but a man generally follows his impulses. Food. We picked the first restaurant we found in Cahirciveen, Camos which was thankfully just what we needed. We settled on paninis and big coffees. Our waiter who was clearly new, brought us somebody elses food first, but even on his first day he was infinitely better than the staff from the hotel in Waterville.
Just outside the town of Cahirciveen a bridge crosses the estuary to a headland. Standing guard at the entrance to the bridge is the impressive looking Old Barracks. A British army barracks constructed in 1875 to protect the newly laid telegraph cable between Britain and America, it is fabled that it was built to specifications for a building in India, but the plans got mixed up in haste. It is a little out of place. It now hosts a heritage museum for the surrounding area.
The bridge takes us to the ruins of Ballycarberry Castle, and to a couple of more stone ringforts. The bigger of these is the Cahergall stone fort, which was probably occupied up until 1000 years ago, and stood for up to 500 years. The lower walls of an interior building are still intact. The walls can be still scaled on this one too. Keep an eye out for the horseflys, as Beata was climbing the walls she became the victim of one. Its ok though, she survived. Adjacent to this area is the Leacanabuaile Stone Fort. this one is grassier and with a bigger collection of dwellings inside. Its stone walls are three metres thick. Its worth visiting both as they are drastically different to each other.
The biggest curse of the West of Ireland, is its a part of the world where time is best spent exploring the wilds of its countryside. And for that you need reasonable weather. And visibility. A thick cloud had started to form since we left our lunch and suddenly it rolled in over the hills until they appeared no more. It was beautiful but it detracted for our experience. It had been 27 degrees earlier in the day (that’s warm in Ireland) but the cloud brought a chill with it. We also lost all views while passing the MacGillycuddy Reeks and the relative might of Carrauntoohill, Ireland’s highest peak.
Our planned route had one more stop on it on the Ring of Kerry, to take the R564 road down to the beach at Rossbeigh. The narrow road presents astonishing views over the elongated beach…allegedly. We saw a few metres in front of us, which isn’t the best when navigating a sharp bended country road with steep drops. When we arrived at the beach all the sunbathers were deserting it in their droves so we sadly deserted with them. The rest of the route for us was one of traffic jams from here till we rounded to the Dingle Peninsula. And that’s another days story.
Day 1 of our three day Kerry trip is here.