It was a little before noon when we left Liam and his birds behind, headed for the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. Tricia and I had a bit of a debate about whether to drive clockwise or counter-clockwise. Most travel guides and articles about the drive discuss these options, primarily as a means of avoiding the numerous tour buses that make this journey. I felt we were early enough in the year to be ahead of most tours and were unlikely to encounter many buses. Tricia was driving at the moment, and wanted to drive counter-clockwise, so I let her make that choice.
If you’re driving straight through, it’s a loop that probably takes about three hours. Stopping as often as we did, it took closer to six. The western side of the loop, takes in the towns of Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Cahersiveen, and Waterville. From this side you can take detours up to the Gap of Dunloe or to the Skellig Islands. We missed the signs for the Gap of Dunloe and the ferry service to the Skelligs wasn’t running yet. We did turn off the ring onto an even smaller road into Reenard Point, where we could see across to Valentia Island and daydream about getting out to the Skelligs.
The views of the coastline were stunning, even on this overcast and growing grayer by the hour day. We pulled over at probably every third turn off, never tiring of the rugged beauty. We had our first close up sightings of sheep during this drive, which made me nearly giddy and I’m not sure why. The largest pullout actually had a parking lot and is part of a dark sky reserve. I imagine it must be a beautiful place at night. With no cities for miles around, the sky must be filled with stars. There are a number of these reserve areas throughout County Kerry, but our entire trip we never had a night clear enough to see stars.
I think to do the ring properly, one would need to plan to stop for a night at a couple of points along the way, taking time to explore some of the quaint villages. In Cahersiveen, we toured the Old Barracks, built as a police station for the Royal Irish Constabulary in the 1870s to protect the Irish end of the transatlantic telegraph cable. There are exhibits inside on the Great Southern and Western Railway, The Life and Times of Daniel O’Connell, The Fenian Rising of 1867, The 1916 Rising and Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty. Also in this town, we could have visited Ballycarberry Castle ruins, the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church, or taken in two stone forts. Some of the places we passed through didn’t offer such an abundance of sights, but it would have been nice to take a walk along the main street, peek in the shops, and try a bit of local fare.
By the time we reached the southern point of the peninsula, though, we were starting to feel pressured to make it to the end of the ring before the sun set. The eastern side of the peninsula is more forested and had an entirely different feel. I had wanted to shop in Kenmare to visit the lace shops. I was hoping to pick up something locally made as a gift for my mom. Unfortunately, it was close to 4pm by the time we made it to Kenmare and we’d learned most shops close at 5pm.
We did stop at the Avoca Shop and Cafe outside Kenmare. It was getting ready to close so we didn’t spend too much time here, and the prices were well outside our budget anyway. The best part about this stop were the sheep crossing the road, and one was kind enough to pause in front of the shop for me to snap a photo. Avoca sells mostly woolen goods, so this scene made us giggle. Were the sheep checking out the place their coats would one day be sold?
Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey were places I had wanted to visit and why I’d wanted to do the ring clockwise, then they would have been our first stop as opposed to our last. By the time we arrived they were no longer admitting guests. As the rain turned from a sprinkle to a more insistent drizzle, we hurried from the car to take some pictures of Ross Castle’s exterior then set off in search of dinner.
Before we’d left our Hawk Walk experience, we’d chatted with Liam about life in Killarney and asked for recommendations on things to do and places to eat. He told us his favorite for boxty was Bricín Restaurant. Boxty, he explained, is a potato pancake and it can be filled with seafood, venison, corned beef, and vegetables.
Bricín was wonderful! The interior is beautiful, it was warm and cozy against the chill, wet night, and the food was amazing. I had the venison boxty and for the life of me I can’t remember what Tricia had. I was so glad Liam had made this recommendation and told us about boxty, I may never have tried it if he hadn’t already explained to us what it was.
Feeling revived, we wandered down the street. Most non-dining establishments were closed, but a couple of tourist shops were still open. I’ve taken to collecting Christmas ornaments from the places I visit and so far this trip I hadn’t purchased a single one. I found a cute ball ornament and Tricia purchased some more wool goods, a blanket this time. She’s going to have to move to Alaska to use everything she ended up buying!
Coming up, we will hit the road again and experience every variation of wet weather imaginable.