I’m no stranger to the Ring of Kerry, though as a tourist it’s an unusual destination for me. My father was born in the small town of Cahersiveen, my mother’s parents not far away. For most of my childhood, I spent at least a month each year running around the mountains behind my grandmother’s house or up the road to the local sweet shop, enjoying a freedom to roam that I wasn’t allowed back in London, with its abundance of cars and other dangers.
This year I returned as part of a press trip to find that much has changed, though I’m glad to say many of the traditional attractions remain as appealing as ever.
Ireland’s fifth-biggest county, Kerry sits in the south west and is famed for its scenic drives, particularly along the Ring of Kerry road, a 179-kilometre route which takes in small towns such as Cahersiveen, Sneem, and Waterville, but also the larger towns of Kenmare and Killarney, well known for its beautiful national park and its lively nightlife.
Like many natural wonders, the Ring of Kerry road has to be seen to be truly appreciated. It can be enjoyed by both car and coach, but in my experience car is by far the best option as you can stop to take photos whenever it suits you. Moreover, the roads in this part of the world are narrow (coaches only travel in one direction as a result) and, while the drivers are highly experienced, it does lead to a few hair-raising moments as they meander around tight bends.
The good news for those uninterested in either option is that a number of cycle tours operate around the Ring of Kerry, and a new green way is set to open in 2017. Many of Ireland’s railways fell into disuse in the second half of the 20th century, and are now being repurposed for cyclists. The route will provide a safe passageway for those on bikes, as well as stunning views.
However, it’s not just the scenery that makes the Ring of Kerry road worth travelling to. Visiting the local towns is a must, and another reason to avoid coach travel if possible.
Cahersiveen may be a sleepy place these days, but it is brimming with history. An old barracks beside the river resembles an Indian-style building (legend has it plans for a base in the Punjab were mixed up with this one) while the town is also the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell, a key figure in Ireland’s history and a man known as ‘The Liberator.’ Meanwhile, Portmagee was a sleepy fishing village until recent years, but with scenes from Star Wars: The Force Awakens filmed on the beautiful Skellig islands, interest in the area has soared.
Visiting the islands is a once in a lifetime experience and both the views and sense of peace are stunning, which may well explain why a group of sixth-century monks decided to make it their home. Make sure to book ahead though, as the islands are only accessible by boat and are limited to fifteen visits per day (up from two). Moreover, they are often booked up three months in advance and are weather dependent.
For those in search of a little more stardust, Waterville was once a favourite of Charlie Chaplin, and the town centre has both a statue and comedy festival in his honour. To be honest, though, the above places are merely the tip of the iceberg and, despite the relative small size of the region, you could spend a couple of weeks travelling around and stopping in at various towns and villages. You’ll just have to go and find out for yourself.
TRAVEL TO THE RING OF KERRY
You can discover the Ring of Kerry yourself by travelling to Cahersiveen and booking a stay at one of the many popular hotels in the region. Take a look at the great deals available below.