Daily Archives: November 21, 2010

A Tour of Ireland ~ Episode 11

I almost feel I should print the words KEEP LEFT at the top of each episode.  It is particularly important on the narrow roads we cover today.  For most visitors driving on the left hand side of the road will seem strange.


So continuing at Kenmare, a short distance from where we left off last week I will take you inland to Killarney. Before taking you in an anti-clockwise journey through the famous Ring of Kerry

The picturesque town of Kenmare, was the first planned town in Ireland, built from the ground up in the 17th century.  It was built by Sir William Petty, on the instructions of the first Marquis of Lansdowne. The limestone facades and ornate plasterwork of some of the buildings pay tribute to the craftsmen of a bygone age. Kenmare and its Gaelic name Neidin (Little nest) so named because of its fine setting nestling as it does among the mountains of Cork and Kerry.

To the north are the Macgillcuddy Reeks, rising to Carrantuohill (Ireland’s highest Peak – 1,039 meters) to the East are the Derrynasaggart Mountains while to the South are the Caha Mountains. To the West is the fine expanse of the Kenmare Bay.

Anyone with an appreciation of the exquisite and intricate skill of lace-making, can see examples of Kenmare Lace in the town of Kenmare.  Fortunately, the skills and traditions of lace-making were preserved by the sisters of The Poor Clares.  The convent now closed, has passed on all samples, history and knowledge to the Heritage Centre.  Keep in mind that the very old samples were made by the light of day or that of oil lamps.

Killarney National Park is a nature lover’s paradise with some beautiful scenery, including the famous lakes of Killarney and a backdrop of the Macgillcuddy’s Reeks.

The Lakes of Killarney are one of Ireland’s most famous tourist attractions. There are three, Lough Leane, Middle Lake and Upper Lake. The best way to see the lakes is by one of the organised tours as getting around can be a little confusing and you don’t want to miss any of the beauty spots. Don’t try and drive though, the road is very narrow.
There are many organised trips –

  • In the summer season by pony or pony trap through the Gap of Dunloe – about 6 miles west of Killarney a wild gorge about 12.8 kilometre’s long with Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Tomies mountains on either side.
  • By boat down the three lakes, a full day’s trip, not to be missed in good conditions.
  • All year, the jaunting car trips, principally the 2.5 hours trip through the Muckross Estate.
  • 1/2 day bus trips and boat trips.

Splendid panoramic views of the Lakes are available from Aghadoe at the northern end and from Ladies View, near the southern end.

The long road which meanders around the Iveragh Peninsula, mostly skirting the coast, is known as the Ring of Kerry. This route takes at least a day to drive and longer if you intend to spend time visiting some of the sites along the way. 176 kilometre’s in circumference, it takes about 4 hours to complete, without stops.  But what is the point of that?  You want to be able to see, touch and smell the real Ireland and meet the people, that way you can bring home true memories and stories to dine out on for years to come.

NB: DRIVERS Are asked to please travel anti-clockwise round the Ring of Kerry to minimise traffic problems on the very narrow sections of road. Be aware some sat nav systems direct traffic in a clockwise direction.

The Ring provides an amazing insight into the ancient heritage of Ireland – Iron Age Forts & Ogham Stones, Old Monasteries and a landscape carved out of rock by the last Ice Age 10,000 years ago, with wonderful mountain and marine scenery it is one of most picturesque routes in Ireland.  At regular intervals you will come across restaurants, cafes and gift shops.

Glenbeigh is a delightful village set below the Seefin mountain, with a couple of hotels, a good selection of pubs and shops, and not far from the 6km long Rossbeigh Strand. The strand, has a fine sandy beach backed by high sanddunes, and is used for horse racing during the Glenbeigh festival.

Killorglin is a small but busy town, overlooked by Ireland’s highest mountains, the Mac Gillycuddy Reeks. It is home to the famous Puck Fair, probably the oldest festival in Ireland. There is a good selection of pubs, some fine restaurants and has its own sports centre open to non-members.

Cahersiveen town is half way round the Ring, and lies at the foot of Beentee mountain, on the river Fertha overlooking Valentia Harbour.  Traditional Fair days or market days are still held on the streets where young and old, visitors and locals meet and chat.  The town contains many heritage sites. Five of these are seen close to the town.  The Heritage centre is situated in the old Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks adjacent to the town centre.  The Barracks was designed and constructed with its turreted structure during the period 1869-1871   Carefully restored it provides services such as restaurant, craft workshops, audio-visual display, display of archaeological remains and a tourist information point.

The Skelligs website encompasses an area to the west of the Ring of Kerry, it comprises Valentia Island, the Skellig Isles, Puffin Island and the mainland south of Valentia Island and north of Ballinskelligs Bay, including the towns of Portmagee and Ballinskelligs.

Valentia Island is joined to the mainland via a bridge and is also accessible by ferry, sailing from Reenard near Cahersiveen. It is an interesting island, displaying many moods and outstanding natural beauty. To the west the dramatic cliffs of Bray Head prevail against the Atlantic Ocean and offer outstanding views of the Kerry coastline. The shores are washed by the Gulf Stream so the climate is mild, evidence of which can be seen at the gardens at Glanleam House and are open to the public. Knightstown is the main centre of population on the island, named after the Knights of Kerry, an hereditary Anglo-Irish knighthood.
Portmagee, a quite and sleepy fishing village, is named after a famous smuggler, Captain Theobald Magee. Close by is Reencaheragh Strand and the harbour is the main departure point for the Skellig Islands. The village has many fine restaurants, serving fish straight from the boats, and its traditional pubs.
Ballinskelligs boasts miles of excellent sandy beaches and is a mecca for surfers and all forms of watersports. It is an ideal base for anglers, divers, hill walkers, cyclists and those who enjoy pony trekking.

Waterville (An CoireÁn) ‘The Little Whirlpool’, nestles between Lough Currane and the Atlantic. This is a world famous game angling resort.  The artist, archaeologist, antiquarian, botanist and the general holiday maker will find numerous attractions to delight them. For the sportsman, angling and shooting are available locally. Waterville is known worldwide for its 18 hole championship golf course, it has been played by many the worlds top golfers. They include Tiger, Els, Furyk, O’Meara, Snead, Faldo, Player, Floyd and Stewart. Payne Stewart accepted the Captaincy of Waterville; the last golf honour he would receive before his unexpected death.

Traditional fairdays or market days are still held on the streets.

One wonders in this place why anyone is left in Dublin or London or Paris, where it would be better one would think – to live in a tent or hut with this magnificent sea and sky and to breathe this wonderful air – which is like wine in ones teeth ~ John Millington Synge.

Overlooking Derrynane Bay, the charming and secluded village of Caherdaniel is blessed with views of golden beaches and small islands nestling in a turquoise sea. To the rear, the village is sheltered by undulating mountains, once mined for copper, they reach towards the sky.  Just 1 mile away is Derrynane beach, house and gardens. The house was the home of Daniel O’Connell, famed in Ireland as “The Liberator” (1775 – 1847), who won Catholic representation in Parliament in 1829. The house is now a museum and contains many of his personal belongings, as well as his famed Triumphant Carriage.

A diving and sailing school is located at Derrynane Harbour. The area is a walkers paradise with a long walking trail, The Kerry Way, to the north of the village and many other shorter routes along seashore and old paths. There is an Equestrian Centre in the village, with horses and ponies to suit all levels. There is a wide choice of watersports available, including, waterskiing, windsurfing, canoeing, kayaking, sailing, diving, surfing and wakeboarding. In the village there are two pubs and one restaurant, serving excellent fresh fish. Close to the Kerry Way, lie the remains of a stone fort. Named “Caher” archaeologists date the fort to 600 B.C.

Set within 300 acres of magnificent gardens, which benefit from the near sub-tropical climate of the Gulf Stream, the Parknasilla is a classic hotel built in 1879. A proud stately building, the hotel’s interiors maintain the old world charm with large log fires greeting you in the grand reception rooms.

Sneem is a village divided into two halves by the river of the same name. Each half of the village is symmetrical to the other with matching triangular greens surrounded by houses, pubs and shops. There is a relaxed feel to the village ideal to sit and watch the daily lives of the locals.  Steve ‘Crusher’ Casey who is immortalised in a life-sized bronze statue dominated world heavyweight wrestling for over a decade in the 1930’s and 40’s. Such was Caseys’ reputation that few other European wrestlers would take him on.

Leaving Sneem the road takes us back to Kenmare where we started and the Ring of Kerry is completed.

Heading north again to Killarney we make our way to Castlemaine, the gateway to the Dingle Peninsula. It is smaller than the Iveragh Peninsula but holds much for the visitor to see.  Castlemaine is celebrated in the song “The Wild Colonial Boy”. The lyrics run “There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Duggan was his name, He was born and bred in Ireland in a place called Castlemaine.”

Driving westward is Inch Beach The film ‘Playboy of the Western World’ was shot entirely at Inch Strand as was scenes from the film ‘Ryans Daughter’.
At Anascaul look for The South Pole Inn, it is named for the former proprietor, Tom Crean, a member of the Scott expedition to the Antarctic.  Anascaul Lake is well worth a short detour, time permitting.

Further on is Dingle the main town of the peninsula.  The port of Dingle (officially renamed An Daingean in 2005) has narrow streets and lanes bustling with activity.  From earliest times the town has maintained an important trading position. It has been sacked, looted, burned, chartered and walled. Its harbour has seen many trading vessels from Spain and France. Today, visitors can enjoy an atmosphere in which the new and the old integrate. Modern shops vie with artisan markets and the restaurants are famous for their fish dishes. Dingle is famous for “Fungi” a friendly dolphin which has lived in the harbour since 1984. He loves human company (escorted visits only) and his playful antics are a daily tourist attraction.  Evening entertainment is centred around nightclubs and traditional music found in the many pubs and bars.

Ventry is the next bay along the coast. The area west of this lovely beach-side village, as far as Slea Head, contains numerous beehive-type cells (clochauns), souterrains, ogham stones, crosses and headland forts. Visitors interested in these historical objects should allow extra time to travel slowly, stop and view.  The ‘Fahan Group’ holds the largest collection and is 3 miles west of Ventry.

The loop from Dingle town to Slea Head and through Ballyferriter is highly recommended. It is spectacular no matter what the weather. There are several small towns on the route for snacks and meals, but the route isn’t long unless you choose to linger. Dunquin is a good stop for the history, scenery, and historians will find the grave of Peig Sayers in the nearby cemetary. Peig is famous for her traditional stories. The area is a thriving pottery centre.

In Ballyferriter, is a summer-school that enrols students of all ages to study Gaelic and live with the local families, who use the language in their daily lives.  The Gallarus Oratory is not far and one of the earliest churches in Ireland.

The Conor Pass just over 4 miles north of Dingle, is the highest mountain pass in Ireland. This takes you to the northern side of the peninsula. Astounding panoramic vistas – lakes, ocean, rivers, mountains, beaches, boglands and farmlands all combine to form the ultimate in scenic views. Further on Castlegregory is unique in having on its doorstep the fresh-water game-fish Lough Gill and also a golden beach.  The road follows the coast back to Tralee.

Northern Kerry borders the estuary of the River Shannon and gives the visitor a different experience to the rest of the county.

TRALEE the capital of Kerry is world famous as the host of the Rose of Tralee Festival in early September. It is a strong market town and shopping centre houses the Kerry County Museum, a narrow gauge steam railway, and Blennerville Windmill. In ‘Scotia’s Glen’ About 3 miles south of Tralee is the grave of Queen Scotia, a Pharoah’s daughter who was slain in early battle. A large flagstone marks her grave.  Located in the town is a Gaelic Football Stadium, a Greyhound Track and a Horse Racing Track.  Evening entertainment is centred around nightclubs and traditional music found in the many  pubs and bars.  Tralee is also the home of Siamsa tire – the National Folk Theatre of Ireland – a centre for folk theatre, mime and dance.

The Medieval Ardfert Friary ruin to the east of the village is also a National Monument.

Near Ballyheige is Banna Beach, where Roger Casement was landed from a German submarine in 1916 to take part in the Easter Rising. Shortly afterwards he was captured and later executed.

North Kerry is the birthplace of many of Ireland’s most prominent writers past and present including Dr. John B Keane, Dr Bryan Mac Mahon, Professor Brendan Kennelly, Gabriel Fitzmaurice, George Fitzmaurice, Maurice Walsh and Robert Leslie Boland.  Listowel Writers’ Week festival was established in 1970 and held annually in late May or early June to celebrate those writers and to provide an opportunity for aspiring writers, poets and playwrights to develop their talents and meet new audiences.  It includes workshops, lectures and theatre productions.

Tarbert is where a ferry crosses the mouth of The Shannon River to Killimer in County Clare. It is at the northern-most part of Kerry. The ferry runs every 30 minutes or so and there is no need to purchase a ticket in advance. Fares are collected on board.