The Ring of Kerry
Killarney in the summer months is a hive of activity. The town thrives on tourism, but manages to retain all of its charm in spite of the hustle and bustle. Flowers are everywhere – private gardens, neatly kept displays of bedding plants along the streets, and tubs and hanging baskets outside shops and businesses.
There is always something to do in Killarney, from visiting places of historical interest such as Ross Castle by the lake, or Muckross House, with its Gardens and Traditional Farms, to browsing through the shops or exploring the lanes and alley-ways of the town – not to mention the choice of entertainment available in the evening.
As well as its own attractions, the town is ideally situated to be used as a base when touring the rest of the county. The nearby lakes and mountains, the Dingle Peninsula, the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara can each be visited on a day-trip from Killarney, and even Cork and Blarney are not too far away.
The best way to tour round the Ring of Kerry is to start from Killarney town. Take the road to Kilorglin and follow the signposts for ‘Ring’ – this will lead you round the coast road in an anti-clockwise direction. Not only does this route provide the best views of the scenery, but since the big tour buses always go this way, you also avoid meeting one of them on an awkward corner!
This ritual is supposed to be in commemoration of an incident in the seventeenth century when Cromwell’s troops were surrounding the town, intending to ambush the unsuspecting inhabitants at dead of night. The alarm was raised by a flock of wild goats that ran through the streets and wakened the townspeople, so the Cromwellian army lost the element of surprise and failed to capture the town.
Take a detour to the right in the centre of the town to visit a reconstructed 19th century police barracks, which is open to the public.
On past the barracks and across the bridge, follow the road past the ruins of the 15th century Ballycarbery Castle, to reach two spectacular stone forts from the early Christian period, Cahergeal and Leacanabuaile. Leacanabuaile has been excavated and is believed to date from the 9th-10th century AD. There are three stone beehive huts inside the fort and also a souterrain passage leading out under the massive walls to provide both an escape route and a cool storage area.
Back on the main Ring once more, travel towards Waterville, the next town on the route. If there is time for another detour, it is worth while visiting Valentia Island (signposted to the right as the road to Portmagee, where there is a causeway across to the island).
Due to the effect of the Gulf Stream, the island is a haven for many kinds of sub-tropical plants.
Glanleam Gardens (open to the public) is well worth visiting to see exotic specimens of plants from all over the world.
The first transatlantic telegraph cable was laid from the USA to Valentia in 1858, and it is said that the very first message to be sent across the Atlantic read “Peace on earth, good will to all men.”
Waterville is a picturesque seaside town with a fine sandy beach. The town was one of film star Charlie Chaplin’s favourite holiday destinations, and there is a statue of him in the main street, opposite the Waterville Arms Hotel where he often stayed.
Another detour from the main route will take you to Ballinskelligs. During the Middle Ages, this little harbour was the departure point for pilgrims to the monastery of Scéilig Mhíchíl, perched precariously on top of a bare rocky island, one of the Skellig Rocks.
Daniel O’Connell, known as the Liberator, spent his later years at Derrynane House near the little village of Caherdaniel, a few miles round the coast from Waterville. The house is open to the public and is well worth a visit. It contains some lovely examples of early 19th century carved furniture, as well as some of O’Connell’s personal belongings.
The beach at Derrynane found fame for a different reason – according to legend, it saw the first military invasion of Ireland (on Tuesday, 14 May 2680 BC). The invaders were led by Parthalon, lately come from Greece, where he had killed both his parents!
Past Derrynane and now heading for Sneem, there is a narrow road signposted to the left, leading to Staigue Fort. This is a well preserved stone fort dating from about 1,000 BC and is well worth a visit. Inside the fort, stone staircases lead up to the top of the walls, where there is a fine view of the surrounding countryside.
Sneem is a colourful little town on the north coast of Kenmare Bay,
notable for its two main squares. The first is a green area containing
some interesting modern sculptures, while at one side of the other can
be found Dan Murphy’s pub, made famous in song.
“Those days in our hearts we will cherish,
Contented although we were poor,
And the songs that were sung
In the days we were young,
On the stone outside Dan Murphy’s door.”
The stone is still there too, and is a favourite place for tourists to take photos of each other!
There is a branch of Quill’s in the main square, with all kinds of knitwear, sportswear and household linens, including modern lace articles.
Kenmare was a centre of the lace industry in the past, and the museum has a collection of exquisite examples of old needlepoint lace designed and made locally during the 19th century.
The road between Kenmare and Killarney crosses the mountains amid some beautiful and rugged scenery as far as Moll’s Gap. On the approach to Killarney from here, the road leads down through the woods along the shores of the Upper and Lower Lakes and passes one of the most photographed scenes in the area, Ladies’ View. This beauty spot, overlooking the Killarney valley, was was named in honour of Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting, who visited it during the royal visit to Muckross House, Killarney in 1861.