The famous Ring of Kerry scenic route is a 180 km / 111 mile drive takes that you around County Kerry, past many historical monuments and to superb panoramic viewpoints. Starting from Killarney, it is a must-stop destination for most visitors to Ireland.
The Ring Of Kerry
The complete list of major attractions along the Ring of Kerry includes: Gap of Dunloe, Bog Village, Rossbeigh Beach, Cahersiveen Heritage Centre, Derrynane House, Skellig Experience, Staigue Fort, Kenmare Lace, Molls Gap, Ladies View, Torc Waterfall, Muckross House, The Blue Pool, Ross Castle, Ogham Stones, St Mary’s Cathedral, Muckross Abbey, Franciscan Friary, Kellegy Church, O’Connell Memorial Church, Sneem Church and Cemetery, Skellig Michael, Beehive Cells and the Stone Pillars marking an important grave.
As you can see, there’s a lot to visit on this route, and while you can do it in a day, you feel more connected with the historical landscape if you take a few days.
An interesting tidbit is that this route is so popular with tour companies, that all buses drive around The Ring of Kerry in a counter-clockwise direction. This is because the roads are so narrow, that often two buses would not be able to pass each other!
Killarney National Park
We started our tour from Killarney, and first headed to Ross Castle, Muckross Abbey, then Muckross House. From yet another Airbnb, we were less than a 10 minute drive to these places, located inside Killarney National Park. As it was early in the day, Ross Castle was still closed. A quick round of photos and on to Muckross Abbey. Muckross Abbey, founded in the 1440’s by Franciscan Friars and attacked repeatedly throughout history. Its coolest feature is a large tree in the central cloister courtyard.
Moving on to Muckross House, we signed up for the first guided tour of the day, once again included in our Ireland OPW Heritage card. The house was built from 1839-1843 and is a fantastic Victorian Mansion. The main rooms are furnished in the style of the period and they portray the elegant lifestyle of the nineteenth century landowning class. Surrounding the house is some very manicured gardens and the sizable Muckross lake. (creatively named too!) From here we could see a mountain range across the water covered in snow. It was chilly, but we didn’t think it was that cold!
With a great tour and a brisk early morning walk completed, we continued along the Ring of Kerry (along the N71 highway). We started climbing the hills we had seen earlier, and ended up at a viewpoint called Ladies View. Beautiful scenery, but a very chilly wind!
Is a mountain pass on the Ring of Kerry route. It’s named after Moll Kissane who ran a sibin (or unlicensed tavern) when they were making the roads in the area. It’s known now mostly for the high quality sheep wool.
Staigue Stone Fort
Staigue Stone Fort (or Staigue cashel) was our first ancient stop. Constructed entirely without mortar, Staigue cashel encloses an area of 27.4 m (90 ft) in diameter, with walls as tall as 5.5 m (18 ft) and a sturdy 4 m (13 ft) in thickness. It has one double-linteled entrance, a passageway 1.8 m (6 ft) long. The building dates from the 5th-11th century. Very cool considering there’s nothing holding it together.
Driving in Ireland
Is very tricky for many people. Unless you really like cars, most people tend to find Irish roads very narrow and scary to drive. The majority of the cars in Ireland are manuals, or standard transmission. There are some autos, but it’s not a large part. You need to have a good idea of how big your car is, be comfortable driving stick and be ready to deal with rain, fog and many blind corners! Lucky for us, we had no issues, and our rental car (albeit a little slow) did a pretty good job.
What didn’t we do?
We didn’t visit the Skellig Islands. The weather was terrible, so we visited the ticket/sales office. They suggested that it wasn’t worth it, so we moved on 🙁 Oh well.
Panoramic Viewpoints and other photos
We experienced many scenic viewpoints along this route. They are not always tourist attractions, just great views.
Geokaun mountain and Fogher Cliffs offer a great viewpoint for Great and Little Skellig Islands. Great Skellig is where they filmed the final scene of Star Wars 7. Unfortunately, it was a little windy/hazy/difficult to get a photo. The incredibly windy video from Ireland – Part 1 was actually taken up here, I was just a bit out-of-order.
Gap of Dunloe
Our last stop before heading home was the Gap of Dunloe. This is a narrow mountain pass between the MacGillyCuddy’s Reeks Mountain Range and the Purple Mountain. Arguably the most scenic mountain pass in Ireland, this area is heavily frequented by tourists, and horse and buggy services alike. Along the 11 km / 7 mile pass are 5 lakes, ruined houses and plenty of sheep. NB: Don’t expect to drive through here unless you’re on the shoulder of tourist season.
The Dingle Peninsula
A night’s rest, and a brief drive to the Dingle Peninsula. Home to 100 inches of rain each year, the area seems constantly wet, even when the sun is shining. Dingle is another day tour from Killarney, with a nice 45 km / 30 mile loop to keep you busy.
Surrounded by deadly black-rock cliffs that plunge to the depths below, the jagged coastline has been home to Bronze, Iron and Dark Age monks, travellers, fishermen and English Landlords.
First we visited the Iron Age Dunbeg Fort. This fort perches atop the Dingle Peninsula and commands an impressive view. Once having walls up to 7 m / 22 feet thick, the building will soon be lost to erosion (most of it has already been lost to the collapsing cliffs). Entry fee is 3€, but includes a good video/information center.
This 1,300 year old church/school-house was constructed with local rocks that are cut on every side to fit perfectly together. All the rocks slope slightly to the outside, so that all rain also drains off naturally! It has a single doorway at one end around 1.70 m / 5′ 4″ high, and a small window at the other. While dark inside, it’s in remarkable condition and dry; even after the rain!
No drive around Dingle is complete without heading up the Conor Pass. The highest mountain pass in Ireland, it provides dramatic views in and around Dingle! Again, the roads can be narrow, so make sure you are comfortable driving and potentially turning around in tight spaces!
Before returning to our accommodation, we stopped at a random collapsed church/monastery. Clusters of bricks and framework littered the grounds, but the walls of the church remained. If you ever visit this area, please stop and explore places like this.
Next up, Part 3!
Also published on Medium.