The Ring of Kerry is reckoned to be one of the great ‘drives’ of Ireland. It’s a 179km circular drive around the Iveragh Peninsula, usually starting and ending in Killarney but as we were staying in a cottage near Killorglin that’s where we got onto the route. Now, it has to be said that Jane and I are not much ones for touring around by car; we’d rather drive to one place to do some walking or birdwatching (or both) but it was the only way we were going to get to see the views.
The advice generally is to travel the ring anticlockwise which all the buses are required to do. This means that you won’t meet a bus on a blind corner, of which there are many. The downside is that you can get stuck behind that bus and there is little prospect of passing it. We started our journey before the buses got going and only really came up against them towards the end of the trip, although there were plenty of other tourists doing the same thing as us. This is the shoulder season so things are still busy but quieting down. In the high season it must be hell.
Killorglin, which became our ‘home’ town as it was only 15 minutes away, is a great little place with a brilliant bakery called Jacks where we bought wonderful bread, cakes, pies and other goodies to take on our picnics. The road from Killorglin is part of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2,500km route stretching from Donegal to Cork. At Kells we headed down to the harbour to get a look at the aforementioned Wild Atlantic, though at this stage it wasn’t being particularly wild. In case you are wondering this isn’t where the Book of Kells came from – that’s another Kells in County Meath.
The scenery hereabouts was nice rather than spectacular but was about to change when we took off from the main route to tour a ‘ring within a ring’ – the Skellig Ring. Big tour buses don’t tend to come down these twisty lanes so it’s well worth turning off the Main route. The main village to which everyone heads is Portmagee, a pretty little place with plenty of pubs and cafes.
From here it is possible to book a boat trip out to the Skellig Islands after which the drive is named. There are three islands – craggy pinnacles which lie about 12kms offshore, though you can only land on one of them, Skellig Michael. Unfortunately, the weather was too windy on the day we visited for any boats to be making the voyage. Not an unusual occurance. It’s a shame because not only are the islands full of wildlife but Skellig Michael is a fascinating sacred place in its own right. Gaelic monks founded a monastery there between the 6th and 8th centuries.
We had to content ourselves with a little tour around Valentia island which used to be conected to Portmagee by a small ferry boat designed to be rowed single handed by the ferryman (and laterly, ferrywoman). People used to whistle the boat up to get across and if there was a dance in Portmagee there could be passengers going over at 2 am in the morning!
Driving out of Portmagee we followed a sign to ‘Kerry’s most Spectacular Cliffs!’, a rival to the Cliffs of Moher, or so it is said. A narrow lane led to a metal gate – which was firmly locked! So we can’t tell you whether Kerry’s Cliffs are spectacular or if that’s just hyperbole. Not to worry, there were some magnificent views further along the road and plenty of beautiful beaches to visit.
At Baskellings there is a lovely wide bay and the ruins of a medieval priory and castle.
At Waterville, which has a bronze statue of its most famous guest, Charlie Chaplin, it was time to rejoin the Ring of Kerry and by now the buses had caught us up so we followed them into the small village of Sneem. This has a beautiful river running through it but the village has become a stopping off point for the tours and is really overrun with cafes and gift shops.
From here the classic route takes in Kenmare before returning to Killarney but we’d had enough of the traffic by then and so cut across the peninsula via the Ballghbeama Gap. This took us on a very twisty, narrow road high up into the Macgillycuddy Reeks, the central spine of mountains which dominate the landscape of the Iveragh Peninsula. We climbed ever upwards through glorious scenery before descending towards our wonderful house in Beaufort.
The Ring of Kerry is undoubtedly over-touristed and I can’t imagine what it would be like in the high season. But the views remain the same despite the people and it is certainly rewarding if you get off the well beaten track a little.