We just returned from our third trip to Ireland. As you may recall, we spent a weekend in Dublin last October and celebrated St. Patrick’s day weekend in Northern Ireland. This time we wanted to check out a different area that is known for its natural beauty: the southwestern peninsulas. This includes the “Ring of Kerry,” which is basically a circular route around the Iveragh peninsula, in the county of Kerry. We also checked out the other two peninsulas to the north and south of the Iveragh peninsula: the Dingle peninsula and the Beara peninsula, respectively. This was a bank holiday weekend, which meant that Monday was a national holiday, so we had the day off work. Our 3 day weekend consisted of exploring one peninsula per day, although we only had a half day on Monday because we were were flying out that afternoon. We flew in/out of Cork, which was about a 1.5 hour drive from our B&B accommodation in Kenmare.
After arriving on Friday evening, we picked up our ‘hire car’ (rental car) and headed to Kenmare. Doug was the sole driver on the trip, so props to him for doing all the driving, especially on the narrow, curvy roads. He did a total of 431 miles, at an average of 40 mph, which makes for 10 hours of driving. Luckily, he just took a 5 hour course on how to be a better driver (he got a speeding ticket within his 1st year of having his UK license), so he was well prepared for all that driving. I think I did a good job as navigator and DJ. We had a burnt orange Corsa, which I liked for the color (especially with football season starting up this coming weekend – Hook ’em Horns!), and Doug didn’t mind too much because at least it was better than our Panda in France.
Our B&B was one recommended in the Rick Steve’s Ireland guide book, and we somehow got a lower rate than quoted in the book. It was a lovely B&B, with ample parking, an extremely comfy bed, delicious Irish breakfast complete with wholemeal soda bread, and the friendliest hosts. Other people might complain because toiletries weren’t provided or because you could hear their small children crying or playing in the morning, but I think that only added to the charm. It was also a short walk into town, far enough away to get some quiet, but still really accessible.
After dropping our stuff, we walked into Kenmare and were pleasantly surprised. The town’s city center was full of restaurants, shops, and pubs, all painted in different bright colors. Even though it was after 9pm, there were actually shops open – something unheard of in England! All the shops here tend to close at 5pm, which makes getting anything done after work almost impossible. Most of the pubs had live music going on, so as we walked by each one, we listened in a bit to decide which one we liked the most. I think we made a good selection and spent the rest of the evening enjoying some local music at O’Donnabhain’s. Not to mention we enjoyed some authentic Irish beverages, such as Guinness and Bulmer’s Cider. This became our ritual every night of the trip: live music and local drinks.
Saturday, August 24th: Iveragh Peninsula (Ring of Kerry)
After a hearty full Irish breakfast, we got off to an early start on Saturday morning to tackle the Ring of Kerry. This is a very popular tourist route, especially with huge tour buses, so we made sure to leave Kenmare by 8:30am. We followed Rick Steve’s itinerary which did the route in the clockwise direction, while most of the tour buses do it in the counter-clockwise (or anti-clockwise as they say over here) direction.
The main sites on the Ring of Kerry are the landscapes and viewpoints, the ancient stone forts, and the Skellig Islands. Unfortunately, we had a very dismal weather day, so the landscapes and viewpoints were pretty much a complete miss. It was so rainy and foggy that we couldn’t see anything on our scenic route.
Even though the weather was bad, we weren’t going to let that stop us. Not because we are super brave or anything, but just because we didn’t have days to spare on our short trip!
Our first stop was a town called Sneem, which was also painted colorful like Kenmare, and was home to a world champion wrestler back in the day (Steve “Crusher” Casey from 1938-1947).
Fun fact: A lot of the towns in Ireland are painted with bright colors due to a “tidy town” initiative that prompted towns to clean up and improve their spaces with a friendly competition.
Next on the tour was the Staigue Ring fort, which was a circular fort built around 500 B.C. The stones are held together by nothing at all – no cement or mortar, but they are still solid constructions lasting to this day. The original purpose of them is still a mystery – they could have been defensive protection against rival tribes, or they could have been important meeting places for ceremonial rituals. We saw two more ring forts that day, one that was more impressive, and one that was less.
Along the drive we also saw a nice looking beach called Carroll’s Cove. The water still looked pretty clear despite the weather, so I imagine if it was sunny, this place would be an oasis. Despite Doug’s advice, I had packed a swimsuit for our trip. I’m actually bringing a swimsuit on every trip we go on and the only places I’ve actually gotten to use it was in Portugal and Spain. Well, also Munich if you count the hotel steam room. I’m always optimistic that we’ll get sunny weather and we can go for dip, but seem to always be let down. We’re headed to Greece in September, so I better be able to go swimming there!
We also stopped by the home of Daniel O’Connell (famous Irishman who is known as “the Liberator” for fighting for the rights of Catholics in the first half of the 19th century), Derrynane house. We fully planned on paying the entrance fee and exploring the house. However, we arrived at 10:25am and after entering the house, we were told they were not open yet (open at 10:30am), so we were kicked back out into the rain. We were not sure why we couldn’t start touring 5 minutes early since they were obviously already there, but even more confused as to why we had to wait out in the rain instead of the warm, dry lobby. The lady wasn’t too mean when she kicked us out because she said we could go look at the chapel and the coach house while we waited for them to open. However, we couldn’t understand her thick Irish accent, so it was the other couple that got kicked out with us that told us what the deal was. So yeah, we explored the chapel and the coach house, and headed back to the lobby at around 10:35, a good 5 minutes after the official opening time. However, after standing around for another 5 minutes, nobody came to help us. We were loosing precious time before the tour buses would catch up to us, so we decided to skip the house and get back on the road. We saw the huge chariot in the coach house, and that was probably the coolest thing anyway.
Next up was the Skellig Chocolate Factory, which was probably my favorite stop of the day. No matter the weather, chocolate is always good! We had some coffee and hot chocolate, and also got some chocolatey snacks for the rest of our trip. It was truly delicious, too bad we have none of it left!
We drove through the town of Portmagee, and then crossed the bridge to Valentia Island. The Skellig Islands were nearby, which includes Skellig Michael, a remote island that is 7 miles offshore that used to be a monastic settlement. You can get a boat ride out and tour the island, or you can learn about the islands at the Skellig Experience Center on Valentia Island. We did neither. I would much rather tour the island than go to the experience center, so since we didn’t have time for that, we just skipped it altogether.
To leave Valentia island, we had to take a ferry. It was pretty fun and surprisingly quick. I think crossing took less than 5 minutes.
Next we saw two more stone ring forts: Cahergal and Leacanabuaile. My favorite was Cahergal because it seemed more intact and was also empty when we were there (we saw some tour buses driving away as we arrived).
Eventually our tour made it to Killarney, which seemed like a decent size city, but was also overrun with tourists. There are a lot more hotels there, as well as a train station, which would explain all the huge groups of tourists, which reminded us of zombies. They would show up in huge numbers completely out of the blue. They would slowly take over a site and make you want to run for your life. Their mode of transport was a giant tour bus. Whenever we saw one unloading its passengers, we made a beeline in the other direction. Anyway, since Killarney was so touristy, we took the opportunity to do a little souvenir shopping. Kerry Peters – we thought of you a lot on this trip! Your name was everywhere! We may have gotten you a little something as well.
On our drive from Killarney back to Kenmare, we actually passed the Irish Cannonball race, which is basically a 3 day driving circuit with a convoy of really expensive and unique cars. Here is the collage of the car pics we managed to take while driving. We also passed a whole lot of tractors, but I’m pretty sure they weren’t part of the Cannonball race.
Kenmare also has an ancient stone circle that is over 3000 years old. Although it’s not as big as Stonehenge, I actually enjoyed it a lot more than Stonehenge because we could actually walk up and touch the stones. It made it that much more interesting to be able to walk in and among the stones.
That evening, we had a nice dinner and enjoyed more live music. I’ll just do a food and music collage at the end.
Sunday, August 25th: The Dingle Peninsula
On Sunday we had some better weather for our drive around the Dingle peninsula. We toured some more ancient monuments, and a modern visitor center for the Blasket Islands. To start the tour, we had to drive 1.5 hours from Kenmare to Dingle, and part of the drive included the same road we did in the opposite direction the day before (Killarney –> Kenmare). This meant that we passed by the same “Ladies View” which looked a lot better than the day before.
After we made it to Dingle, we did a nice tour through town. It was also painted colorfully, but I think Kenmare seemed brighter. Dingle is famous for a dolphin named Fungie that lives in the bay. Apparently he showed up in 1983 and has stuck around ever since. You can take boat tours to go see him and you can even go swimming with him. We did a walk around the harbor, but unfortunately weren’t able to spot him. Apparently since he’s getting up there in age (how long do dolphins live anyway?), he doesn’t come around as much anymore.
We left Dingle to continue our Dingle peninsula loop trip and we actually had some good views compared to the Iveragh peninsula. Ireland gets hit by the gulf stream, so apparently it has an almost sub-tropical climate. Although I find that hard to believe since we were in the 50sF during our August trip, it apparently stays very temperate through the winter and hardly ever snows. This sort of tropical climate supports some plants that seemed out of place, such as palm trees and fuchsias.
We stopped by an ancient “beehive hut” which was actually another stone fort with an intact stone igloo-type structure.
We visited the Great Blasket Center, and although it got 2 out of 3 triangles on Rick’s scale (2 triangles means “Try hard to see”), we weren’t all that impressed. Although it is a modern building, with big windows and skylights offering grand views of the Blasket islands, we didn’t really understand the appeal. We were also a good 30 years below the average age of the other visitors there, if that tells you anything. But basically we learned that the Blasket Islands were a small group of islands on the west coast of Ireland with a small community living there until 1953 when they were officially evacuated off the island. The center had an “audio-visual demonstration” (aka movie), a couple interactive exhibits (including one that involved learning to speak Irish), and lots of pictures and first-hand accounts of life on the islands. However, there was free wifi, so that was a plus. Doug put it succinctly on his Foursquare tip, saying “People used to live on the Blasket Islands… Pretty much sums it up.”
Next, we hit up some more ancient monuments including the Reasc Monastery, dating from the 6th-12th centuries; the Gallarus Oratory, an early-Christian church built 1,300 years ago; and the Kilmalkedar, a ruined 12th century church. I actually enjoyed seeing all of them, probably because the sun had come out. I found them all awe-inspiring and not boring at all.
I was really intrigued by the ogham stone. Not only is it much older than the church, dating from the 3rd-7th centuries, but it also has notched lines, which was the type of script they used back then. Additionally, the hole at the top was used for touching your thumbs through the stone in order to swear an oath. It’s kind of crazy to think that for centuries people have touched their thumbs through this hole in order to make a commitment or promise. As Rick suggested, Doug and I renewed our marriage vows here. 🙂
Pretty soon after saying “I do” the
zombies tour groups showed up. We took that as our signal to get out of there!
We headed back home to Kenmare, and we still had some daylight left to do a bit more exploring in Kenmare. We checked out Cromwell’s bridge, which is a unique shaped bridge dating from the 17th century. We also went down to the pier and caught some of a local regatta.
That night was more live music and local drinks.
Monday, August 26th: The Beara Peninsula
On Monday we only had a half-day to explore since our flight was out of Cork that afternoon. Although I really wanted to see the cliffs of Moher, those were too far away to be doable. We settled on doing the Beara Peninsula, which is just south of the Iveragh (Ring of Kerry) peninsula. There wasn’t much on the agenda, except to see some nice views and maybe stop in a cute, colorful village. We accomplished both of those before heading back to Cork.
The Healy Pass turned out to have some incredible views. This narrow road cuts straight through the peninsula, with some high altitude views. We were lucky we had a clearish day!
Overall, I really enjoyed our trip to Ireland. In fact, I think this was my favorite Ireland trip yet. I really liked the rural countryside, and the ancient monuments. Even though we’ve seen plenty of ancient and old stuff while touring Europe, I liked that most of the sites in Ireland were both free and empty of people (until a tour bus showed up). They felt extremely remote and desolate, and it allowed you to reflect more on what life might have been like for those people. And when the sun came out, the Emerald Isle really showed what it was made of. The green was so bright, that it even put England to shame, which I typically think is very green. The people were extremely friendly, or at least we think they were, but we couldn’t really understand their thick accents. The drinks were refreshing, and the food, although not amazing, was at least better than England. The amount of live music on every night was just incredible, and we even got a take-home souvenir CD. I think I would like to spend a longer trip on the west coast of Ireland, taking it easy, doing some walks, and seeing some ancient monuments. This was just a small taste of the Emerald Isle, and I definitely want more!
Oh yeah, and I must mention that last weekend was the Rolls-Royce Tennis Club championships. I successfully defended my title as the Ladies singles champion, but unfortunately my new mixed doubles partner (Doug) and I couldn’t claim the mixed doubles trophy, although we made it to the finals which I thought was quite an achievement. I also lost in the Ladies Doubles finals to the same pair as last year, Alex and Margaret.