Touring Southwest Ireland – Kerry

As US-based traveller Saul Schwartz continues his roadtrip of the southwest of Ireland, he reaches the westernmost of the Irish counties and tours the renowned “Ring of Kerry”; a scenic drive through perhaps the most beautiful part of Ireland, offering sparkling seascapes, mountains dotted with brightly coloured farmhouses, winding lanes bordered with subtropical vegetation and a breathtaking panorama of the Lakes of Killarney. Discover why this may well be “One Ring to Rule them All”.

By Saul Schwartz

My wife Fern and I, joined by four relatives, planned our South of Ireland Escape months prior to our March 2020 trip. Unfortunately, the last two days of the trip were disrupted by the travel ban, but nevertheless we really enjoyed our time in the South of Ireland. After Touring Southwest Ireland – Limerick, Clare & Galway, we were about to discover the charm of county Kerry.

Ring of Kerry

On our third day of the tour, we stopped briefly in Adare. Quaint Adare is full of pretty, thatched cottages. This day focused on a long bus ride through the splendid scenery of the Ring of Kerry. The Ring is Ireland’s most popular scenic drive.

The southwest of Ireland is one of the most beautiful regions of the country. The area is largely made up of peninsulas. The stunning Dingle Peninsula is in the north. Loads of sheep wander the hills.

Prior to lunch we stopped at the Kerry Bog Village and Museum. The Bog Village is an 18th century village focused on the Boglands. This little cluster of thatched-roof cottages effectively demonstrates what life was like in Kerry long ago. Areas where peat accumulates are called bogs. In Ireland, high rainfall and poor drainage contribute to the existence of bogs. Bogs cover more than 17% of the land area of Ireland. In the Bog Village, we were able to marvel at the Irish Wolfhounds and Kerry Bog Ponies who live in the village. The Wolfhounds are the world’s tallest dogs and are an ancient Irish breed. The bog ponies are a native Irish breed.

In the village, we were able to enter inside a turf cutter’s dwelling containing a roof thatched with river reed, an old forge, a stable dwelling, a laborer’s cottage and the thatcher’s dwelling. We also looked over an actual nineteenth century Romany caravan used by travelling people who navigated the roads of Ireland without a permanent dwelling. Cost for admission was 6 Euros for an adult, but there is a group discount which reduces the price to 5€ each.

At this stop, we sampled Irish Coffee and Coffee with Baileys (6€ each) at the Red Fox Inn which is next to the Bog Village. The Inn is a traditional Irish pub with an old-time atmosphere.

We had lunch at the Scarriff Inn above the beautiful Dingle Bay. The Inn advertises that it has Ireland’s best view. The service is cafeteria style. We ordered a vegetable soup with bread and a salad. Other family members ordered more traditional Irish fare, such as Irish stew.

The Ring of Kerry ride included sparkling seascapes, mountains dotted with brightly coloured farmhouses, winding lanes bordered with subtropical vegetation and the breathtaking panorama of the Lakes of Killarney from Ladies View. The journey from Limerick to Killarney covered 254 kilometres / 158 miles. We saw many sheep, marked with colours to identify their ownership.

We then made a very brief stop in the town of Sneem. This pretty village is backed by the Knockmoyle Mountains. With its houses painted in all different colours, the town resembles something out of a children’s picture book! The colours – blue, pink, yellow and orange – burst out on this rainy day. In the town center, a time capsule was buried in year 2000 which will be opened in 2100. There is also a memorial located in the corner of the North Square devoted to the memory of Charles de Gaulle who visited Sneem in 1969 shortly after he resigned as President in France. The memorial is a bronze plaque mounted on a large boulder of local stone, created by Alan Hall. The square also contains a Tree of Life sculpture.

In the popular resort of Killarney, we first took a walk to Saint Mary’s Cathedral. This limestone cathedral is designed in the gothic revival style in the shape of a cross. Construction began in 1842 and concluded in 1855. The towering spire was added in 1912. Inside there are a series of beautiful stained glass windows.

Killarney National Park and Gardens

We also went into Killarney National Park and Gardens. We attended a free fifteen minute tour of Killarney House. The House was once the stable block of a French chateau style residence built by Valentine Browne in the mid-1720s. The tour was without a fee. We learned that the rest of the mansion was destroyed by fire in 1913, so the stable house became the Browne’s residence. The house was purchased by John McShain, a successful building contractor from Philadelphia in 1959 and later dedicated to the Republic of Ireland, along with the surrounding gardens.

The guided tour of the downstairs rooms provided us with information on the history of the House, the Gardens and the Park.

The Killarney National Park is an experience in itself. The park is 103 square kilometres / 40 square miles and one entrance is located across from the town center. Just outside the National Park, there is a memorial sculpture for Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty from Killarney. The memorial was unveiled in 1963. The memorial consists of a life size bronze sculpture and a series of boards that identify how O’Flaherty saved the lives of many Jews and Allied prisoners of war during World War 2.

Just down the road, another sculpture marks the World Ploughing Contest which took place in Kerry in 1954. The monument was unveiled in 2019. The Ploughing monument contains stones from each of the 13 countries that participated in that contest. Also, just outside the Park there is a fern garden with a magnificent slate sculpture in a circular design that represents the world, while the steps and stones represent the journeys undertaken by missionaries. This memorial is called the Mission Road Commemorative Garden.

After breakfast the next morning, we went on an excursion into the Killarney National Park on Jaunting Cars. In nice weather, the quaint Jaunting Car excursion into the National Park would have been more enjoyable. The “cars” are old fashioned pony driven carts which clip-clop around the lanes and around the lakes.

As part of the buggy ride, we stopped to see Ross Castle, built on the shore of the famous park lakes. This 15th century fortress guards the edge of the Lower Lake. Built by the O’Donoghue chieftains, all that remains is a tower house, surrounded by a fortified wall garden with rounded turrets. The drivers called jarveys entertained us as we rode with interesting information about the park, its development and its trees and wildlife.

During the ride we saw many sika deer; they were introduced into Ireland from Japan. About 1000 sika deer live in the national park. The cost of this excursion was 14€ per person.

We stayed one night at the Killarney Avenue Hotel on East Avenue Road. The hotel had access to a fitness center nearby, but we could not use it because it did not open until 7 a.m. Just outside the hotel stands a large Celtic Cross. Across from the hotel, stands a very large statue of Christ the King. Killarney is on the doorstep of the Ring of Kerry.

In Killarney, we had the best salads of our trip at O’Briens Irish Sandwich Café on Beech Road. The café offers hearty, healthy and wholesome foods at reasonable prices. We had an early dinner at O’Briens, as the café closes at 6 p.m.

Touring tips

The Emerald Isle is very green due to the frequent rain.  During our March trip, it rained every day, with occasional breaks in the clouds, but no sun.  The temperatures ranged from around 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  The weather was windy, rainy and quite cool during most of our trip.  Layered clothing with warm socks, hats, scarfs and gloves kept us comfortable.

The customary tipping policy in Ireland is around 15 percent.  However, hotels and restaurants often include the tip in the bill as a service charge.  It is not customary to tip in bars or pubs unless you have table service.  Tipping of taxi drivers and porters is at your discretion.

Cash and credit cards
Ireland’s currency is the Euro.  Cash was needed for tips, some excursions and some meals.  Most restaurants and tourist sites accepted credit cards, but not all.  For example, the tours of several cathedrals were cash only.  Some sites only accepted credit cards above a minimal fee.

March travel
Our trip took place shortly before the start of the tourist season, around April 1.  As a result, tourist attractions were not crowded and the lines were short.  On the other hand, many stores and restaurants were closed or had limited open hours.

Filming is not always allowed inside sites.

An adapter is needed as Ireland is not on the same voltage as the United States.  The Ireland adapter is also good in the United Kingdom.

Emergency numbers
Instead of 911, the phone emergency number is either 999 or 112.

Time difference
When the United States is on Daylight Savings Time, Ireland is four hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone (i.e., Washington, D.C.).

Cars are on the left sides, with the driver side being on the car’s right.  Speed limit are metric.  It is very important to look both ways when crossing the street if you are not used to this difference.

Everyone speaks English and the signage includes English throughout the area.  Irish speaking and signage is more limited than we thought in advance of our trip.

Off season
By going to Ireland prior to April 1, the sites and attractions are far less crowded.

Hotel breakfasts
Each of our hotels included a full Irish breakfast buffet.  The buffet included cereals, fruits, and a variety of hot and cold offerings.

Our South of Ireland escape was memorable for the sights and scenery.  Fern and I hope to return to Ireland to see Dublin, Belfast and other locations that were not part of this trip.

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About Saul Schwartz

Saul lives in Alexandria, Virginia and has lived in the Washington, D.C. area since 1984. He loves to travel throughout Europe with his wife and family and particularly enjoys interacting with local residents and learning about life in their city and country. 

This is his 2nd article about ireland. Check out his first about Touring Southwest Ireland – Limerick, Clare & Galway.

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