Roadtripping in Ireland | Ring of Kerry
To be honest I had mixed feelings about a vacation in Ireland. Yes, everyone and their mother, father, great-uncle, and second-cousin-once-removed who has visited loves it, but that was part of the reason I didn’t know what to expect. Almost everyone also loves France and Italy. And as much as I love France and Italy, they are not the countries I automatically think of when I think of “beyond ordinary” destinations. The same goes for Ireland. It’s on the beaten path. And as I found out, it’s on the beaten path for good reason. Everyone goes there because it is a fantastic place. The world famous pubs, rolling green hills, friendly locals and fresh seafood can make for a relaxing old-world vacation.
For our holiday, we flew into Dublin and road tripped to Killarney, Dingle, Galway, and then back to Dublin. Killarney, our first stop, is known for being the gateway to Killarney National Park. It’s also a good pushing off point to tour the Ring of Kerry. It’s a small town, as many towns in Ireland are, and was a great place to start our trip. We stayed at this bed & breakfast called the Copper Kettle, and for around 100 Euros a night, we had a charming room with pine floors and pine furniture, a large, clean bathroom with a tub and shower, and a fresh cooked meal made from local and mostly organic ingredients each morning. The Copper Kettle was a pleasant stroll away from the down town, making it a convenient, but quiet location. The only downside was that there were a lot of other Americans there. I am an American, so it’s not that I don’t like Americans, however, when I go on vacation, I like to meet a few locals and at least be with a diverse group of tourists back at the hotel. At the Copper Kettle, expect to eat breakfast with your fellow Americans, and their children. Perhaps it is because the Copper Kettle and its more upscale sister hotel, The Fairview Guesthouse (where you eat your breakfast), are listed in a number of guide books as a great place to stay, including Frommer’s and Let’s Go. Or perhaps it is because that both the Copper Kettle and The Fairview Guesthouse offer amenities that we Americans crave and expect while on vacation, that some of the smaller, more European-style B&Bs do not. For example, our bathroom was large – larger or the same size as most 3-star American chain hotels. The bed had a down comforter instead of one of those flat, scratchy blankets. The décor was tasteful and not too Victorian or old fashioned and everything was spotless. If you wanted an extra towel, you could ask for an extra towel without getting a look like, “Who do you think you are?” Not that anyone in Ireland would give you that type of look, though. The hosts at all of our B&Bs and hotels were more than gracious and kind.
After filling up on a full Irish breakfast, we decided to drive the Ring of Kerry. I say “we,” and we did jointly decide to drive the Ring of Kerry, but as far as the driving goes, my husband did all the driving. I “oohed” and “ahhed” from the passenger seat, which is on the left side of the car. I had accidentally forgotten my driver’s license in the states, therefore ruining our plan to split the driving responsibilities. The day before driving the 216 kilometer Ring of Kerry, Kelly drove from Dublin to Killarney which ended up taking about 4 ½ hours. Google will tell you it only takes 3 ½ hours, but the traffic getting out of Dublin will slow you down quite a bit. So, following a day of international travel and 4 ½ hours of driving, “we” decided to drive the Ring of Kerry. Honestly, we should have swallowed our pride and taken the tour bus. While it was great to be in our little car with just us, Kelly drove a total of about 6 hours on windy, narrow roads with the occasional sheep hazard. Had we taken the bus, we could have both “oohed” and “ahhed” out the window and neither of us would have had to focus on driving or directions. Yes, we would have taken mass tourist transit, but wouldn’t that sacrifice have been worth our personal and relational sanity?
Had we had more than a day to explore the whole Iveragh Peninsula, I think I would have gone for a self-guided bike trip. It’s slower paced, so you get to see more, and you get to be outside and be active, so you actually feel energized after a day of sightseeing.
Regardless of how you see it, the Ring of Kerry is beautiful. I expected the Ring of Kerry to look like I thought all of Ireland would look: ancient stone walls and rugged coastlines filled in between with an endless carpet of green. The scenery directly outside of Killarney, however, proved me wrong as we headed south on the N71 towards Kenmare, through Killarney National Park. To my surprise, conifers blanketed the surrounding mountains and mature pines towered over us as we wound through one of the most visited destinations in Ireland. The trees were so dense and tall in some places, I could barely see the gray sky above us.
Tucked in the forest is historic Muckross House, where we stopped to explore the grounds and stroll a short 1km to Torc Waterfall, which gets its name from the gaelic word meaning ‘wild boar’. Legend has it that the devil cursed a man to spend his nights as a wild boar. Each night, when he was turned into a boar, this man would hide in a grotto beneath some cliffs not far from Muckross House. One night, a local farmer discovered the cursed man’s fate and threatened to expose him to the people in the village. The boar begged and pleaded for the farmer to keep quiet, even offering him great riches, but the farmer revealed the man’s shameful secret to his neighbors nonetheless. In his fury at being ousted, the boar burst into a ball of flame and shot into Devil’s Punchbowl Lake on Mangerton Mountain nearby. Instantly, the lake spewed forth, tumbling down the mountainside and engulfing the cavern and cliffs that lay below, forever concealing the boar’s hideout beneath its rushing waters, and creating a waterfall which still angrily churns under the name Torc. With its mystical past, it’s no surprise that Torc Waterfall continues to enchant thousands of tourists each year. Like all visitors, we snapped a few photos. Unlike all visitors, I slipped off a moss covered rock and fell butt first into the crisp waters at the base of Torc while trying to capture a unique snapshot – a beyond ordinary moment if you will. The 10 or so other tourists snapping photos momentarily held their breath as I hugged a boulder nearby and regained my footing. After my slip and slide debacle, we decided to head back to the car so I could change into a pair of dry jeans. A piece of advice while traveling in Ireland, either wear full rain gear or keep an extra set of clothes in your car. You never know when the rain, or an accidental slip into water, will drench your outfit and put a damper on your Irish vacation.
Thankfully, I had come prepared, as all retired girl scouts do, and had packed a pair of jeans to change into. Off we rode to our next destination: a charming fishing village with rows and rows of colorful storefronts and pubs known as Kenmare.