Located on the southwest coast of Ireland, the famous Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most popular attractions (it’s called the “Ring of Kerry” since Iveragh Peninsula is part of County Kerry). Like the Dingle Peninsula, it provides the tourist with a great combination of historical sights and natural scenery. On our fourth day in Ireland, we took the 120 mile drive around the peninsula.
Our base for exploring this area was the little town of Kenmare, south of Killarney, and a good jump-off spot for touring the Ring (see map below). Many people stay in Killarney to visit this part of Ireland, but if you prefer a little quieter location, try Kenmare. We stayed in a great B&B, just outside the town. No problem finding good food here. We found an excellent Italian restaurant right on the main street. In the town of Kenmare, just off Market Street is “Druid’s Circle” a prehistoric stone ring of 15 stones associated with human sacrifice.
Ring of Kerry
Since we were visiting in late March, crowds were not a problem on the Ring road, but from what we understand, there are LOTS of tour buses in the summer, so be prepared for slow driving and a lot of people. Rick Steves recommends going clockwise on the Ring (against the tour bus flow) in order to avoid the crowds if visiting in the summer, and this is probably a good idea. We went this way even though the traffic was light during our visit.
Below are a few of the sites we saw on this road trip.
We visited Staigue Fort (on the south side of the peninsula), and the Cahersiveen forts (on the north side of the peninsula, near the town of Cahersiveen). These forts were built between 500 BC and 300 AD. Not much is known about the builders, but apparently they were defensive shelters in times of tribal warfare. They were built without mortar, and are large structures—walls are 12 feet thick at the base and up to 20 feet high. All of these forts are just a mile or two off the main route.
At the western end of the Ring of Kerry is the jump-off spot to Skellig Michael, one of the three prominent “St. Michael” monasteries in Europe (the others being Mont St. Michel in Normandy, France, and St. Michael’s Mount in Penzance, England). St. Michael is the patron saint of high places, hence why these three sites are named after him. The downside of visiting Ireland in March is that no boats were operating out to Skellig Michael (about 10 miles off the coast). They do not begin service until after Easter, and even then, getting a boat is iffy, and dependent on the weather. Monks lived on Skellig Michael from 600 AD to the 12thcentury. If you are going to Skellig Michael, you will need to stay in Portmagee overnight, or awake VERY early and drive approximately 60 miles from Killarney or Kenmare out to Portmagee.
Close to Cahersiveen is this ruined, ivy covered castle, which is a fitting symbol of Ireland. We just happened to see a sign pointing to the castle and decided to check it out, one of the benefits of having our own car.
Near Killarney is Ross Castle. It has an imposing setting right on the shore, on an isthmus in Lough Leane, which separates this large lake into two parts. The castle was built in 1420. Inside the castle several rooms provide great examples of medieval construction methods for ceilings, showing the use of wood lath, plaster and the curvature of the wooden frame to provide strength.
Killarney is in such a unique perfect setting with mountain peaks (over 2000 feet high), lakes, Killarney National Park, and the Ring of Kerry. No wonder this is such a popular tourist destination.
References: Rick Steves’ Ireland, 2007, and DK Eyewitness Travel, Ireland, 2006.