In the great global lottery of spectacular scenery, County Kerry seems to have drawn the winning ticket. And Killarney is making the most of it, positioned almost at the vortex of two peninsulas – Iveragh and Dingle – that epitomize breathtaking panoramas. With only enough time left in Killarney to do one we toss a coin and find ourselves on the seriously gorgeous Ring of Kerry, or as it’s affectionately known around here, ROK – a 179 kilometer loop of the Iveragh Peninsula.
We had given some thought to renting a car for this junket but we had heard from locals about the notoriously winding and narrow roads. There are at least four companies offering daily tours of both peninsulas so it can feel a bit like being in a convoy, but seeing the side mirror on one of the tour company’s vans confirmed to us that a tour bus was a better option than risking a rental car.
Our first stop on the way out to the peninsula is Bog Village where I could see peat close up. Peat ‘logs’ are cut out of banks of boggy earth, formed over thousands of years into dense layers of vegetation. Peat is considered a fossil fuel because of it’s flammable qualities and because peat, over thousands more years eventually turns into coal. Like coal, it’s also considered to be unsustainable. This peat fire, in a reconstruction of a typical Irish peasant cottage of the 1800’s, will burn for three or four hours.
The drive out to the tip of the peninsula at Portmagee and Waterville is a feast of exquisite scenery. There is a walking trail of this peninsula called The Kerry Way. The 214 kilometer trail was developed by a local mountaineering club and can be completed in about nine days by a reasonably fit walker. It’s on my bucket list.
The coastline at the tip of the peninsula around Portmagee is not only scenic, it’s plethora of secluded coves and inlets made it a haven for smugglers bringing contraband tea, textiles, tobacco and alcohol into the country. It’s from one Theobald Magee, who had a vision of duty-free shopping well ahead of his time that the town gets its name.
The tiny village of Waterville, on Ballinskelligs Bay has a unique connection with Canada as it was at Valencia Island, just off this shingled beach that the first trans-Atlantic cable connected up with Hearts Content, Newfoundland in 1866.
You’d be forgiven if, on seeing this statue of Charlie Chaplin on the waterfront, you assume like I did that he must have been born here. Chaplin’s birthplace was a mystery that puzzled even the CIA and MI5 but it wasn’t Waterville. Recently discovered correspondence from Chaplin reveals that he was born in a caravan somewhere in the British Midlands. This statue was erected because Waterville is a place where he loved to vacation.
We stopped for ice cream in the colorful village of Sneem. The Gaelic word means ‘the knot’ in English and might have originated as a description for the whirlpool activity that forms where the Sneem River meets the incoming tides from the Kenmare Estuary. There’s a more romantic theory that Sneem is the knot in the Ring of Kerry. Either way, it’s a delightful spot.
We have circled around Macgillicuddy’s Reeks and as we head back toward Killarney our road takes us along the southern slopes of the beautiful mountain range. The paint on these AWOL locals is allegedly harmless and is used to help farmers identify their flocks.
The Gap of Dunloe connects the north of the peninsula to the south and is a very popular tourist attraction. One way to see The Gap is by boat and jaunting car from Ross Castle in Killarney. The franchises for pony tours are held by families who live near The Gap and have been passed down through generations since the early 1900’s.
When Queen Victoria visited Killarney in 1861 one of the activities planned for her was a picnic along the Ring of Kerry. Her ladies-in-waiting were sent along to the picnic site to ready the cucumber sandwiches and heat the water for tea before the royal arrival. The ladies were apparently so awestruck by the views that the set up took longer than expected, they were roundly chastised by Her Royal-ness, and the spot has been known ever since as Ladies View.
And with that last awe-inspiring view we are off again. We will pass briefly through Dublin tomorrow on our way down the east coast to Wexford and Rosslare, where we’ll catch the ferry to the Pembrokeshire coast in South Wales. Stay tuned!