The Ring of Kerry is a stunning Irish coastal ring route and a national natural treasure. We found a man who knows the Ring as intimately as we know the drive home. Tour guide and general Kerry know-it-all, John Hickey, takes us on a detailed view-by-view tour of this enchanted stretch of Ireland’s landscape…
Depart Killarney with its lakes and jarveys and follow the N72 in a north-westerly direction towards Killorglin. Depending on what access road you take on leaving Killarney, you may pass St Mary’s Cathedral. This stop is a personal favourite of mine and, to my mind, it’s well worth a visit for its stained glass windows and impressive stonework on the spire’s interior. It’s an excellent example of where old and new are coupled to create a harmonious whole. Directly opposite the entrance is a cedar tree, which marks the spot of a massed grave of famine victims. A sober reminder of Ireland’s tragic past.
Guided by the River Laune, famous for its wild salmon, move on to Killorglin, where road and river diverge, with the river following its course to Dingle Bay and the road now taking you into the town itself. Killorglin’s claim to fame is its famous Puck Fair, which takes place annually on August 10, 11, and 12. The 10th being “gathering day” and the 12th “scattering day”. The 11th doesn’t actually have an appellation. Perhaps “half way mark and still going” might work. The centre-piece of the fair, raised high above the populace on its elevated throne and draped in royal regalia, is the Billy Goat (yes, you read that right). Adorned with crown, its hooves polished, the goat receives its subjects with regal aplomb, who pay homage over the three days. He always looks rather pleased to be placed above the bustle of the madding crowd!
Should hunger pangs be making themselves noticeable, make for Waterville and the old-time luxury of lunch at The Butler Arms Hotel. Pause to look at the photos that decorate the interior. Several show Charlie Chaplin and family enjoying holidays in the town. The Chaplins spent several summers in Waterville and one of his daughters loved it so much, she settled here permanently. Lunch of lobster and shrimp accompanied by a light Pinot Grigiot (if you’re not behind the wheel, of course) corrects the imbalances caused by hunger, and you’re off again, waving goodbye to Charlie’s statue as you leave town and make for the village of Sneem.
Approaching Sneem you may be faced with a dilemma. Firstly, Sneem, a little village divided in two by the River Sneem, is famous for having played host to some of the world’s presidents. Charles De Gaulle, Chaim Herzog and our own President Cearbhall O’Dalaigh, to name but a few. Various monuments are evidence to their sojourns here, most noticeably that of Charles De Gaulle. Our dilemma: In Sneem, we can follow further along the N72 to Kenmare or shoot cross-country to Moll’s Gap. Let’s go to Moll’s Gap. If you can’t decide then come back next year, or cut yourself in two.
From Sneem, on your way to Moll’s Gap, travel 15 minutes uphill to Coomakista with your camera at the ready. Pull into the car park and just gaze. This is time to give yourself a 10 minute “think about nothing stop” and enjoy the view. Now you’re cruising along the southern bank of the peninsula, your gaze is constantly drawn seaward by views that transport body and soul to levels of spiritual bliss.
Upon reaching Moll’s Gap, you are greeted by a view of the Black Valley. We wind downhill towards Killarney for the last leg of our tour, passing through rows of Rhododendron invasively climbing the mountain slopes of the McGillycuddy’s Reeks, occasionally catching glimpses of the once ancient Irish forests with their saline oaks, yews, mountain ash and holly.
Proceed through the Killarney National Park, home to several hundred Red Deer, Sika and hybrids of both, and finish in style at the resplendent Muckross House and gardens, sitting idyllically on the shore of Muckross Lake, before coming full circle back to Killarney.
A simple enough route, I have to admit, but the soul-soaring rejuvenation you’ll experience on your travels will reach far into your memory bank long after you’ve left our pretty little county.
So shall we see you soon, then?