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Lakes, mountains, wild Atlantic beaches: County Kerry is a highlight of any tour of Ireland, packing some of the world’s most spectacular scenery into a small area.
County Kerry has been a tourist destination since the 18th century, when visitors saw in the beauty of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and the surrounding lakes an Irish equivalent of Great Britain‘s Lake District. Main hub Killarney developed to support the tourist trade, and is now an old-world resort, stocked with hotels, restaurants and gift stores.
Beginning in the heart of Killarney, and accessible via horse-driven jaunting car, Killarney National Park encompasses three stunning lakes, overlooked by the peaks of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. Ross Castle, by the lake, dates back to the 15th century, when it was the home of the O’Donoghue family. Grand Muckross House, built in the 19th century, boasts paintings by John Singer Sargeant; while visitors with an interest in Ireland’s history will enjoy the atmospheric ruins of Muckross Abbey, established in the 14th century and burnt by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers in the 17th century. Further afield, the star of Killarney National Park is the Gap of Dunloe, a scenic valley squeezed between Purple Mountain and Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.
More stunning scenery can be found on the Iveragh Peninsula, better known as the Ring of Kerry, though the term strictly refers to the 175-kilometre road that encircles this vast Atlantic Ocean peninsula. Part of Ireland‘s ‘Wild Atlantic Way’, The Ring of Kerry passes through mountains, quaint fishing towns, pristine beaches, and spots where sheer cliffs drop straight into the Atlantic Ocean. A particular highlight is Skellig Michael, a jagged rock island on which monks lived in exile from the 6th to the 12th or 13th centuries. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island was recently featured as Luke Skywalker’s refuge in the Star Wars sequels.
The smaller Dingle Peninsula, to the north of the Ring of Kerry, can match its bigger and more famous rival for beautiful country landscapes. Look for Celtic clocháns, dry-stone beehive-like huts, and Gallarus Oratory, an ancient Christian construction, the age of which is debated by archaeologists. Here traditional Irish culture remains strong: The Dingle Peninsula is one of Ireland‘s strongest Gaeltacht (Irish speaking regions) and the self-proclaimed ‘Brazil’ of Gaelic Football. Main town Dingle is a charming fishing village with an alternative bent, while the jaw-dropping Bay of Inch was featured in the 1970 David Lean movie, Ryan’s Daughter.
The Blasket Islands, off the coast of the Dingle peninsula, are the most westerly point in Ireland. People have lived on these remote and harsh islands from the Iron Age until as late as 1954, when the last islanders agreed with the Irish Government to relocate. In the early 20th century, the islands attracted extensive attention from linguists and folklorists, as one of the few entirely Irish-speaking communities left after British colonisation, and a number of locals wrote memoirs (in the Irish language), dealing with the islands’ mythologies and ways of life. Bay of Inch, Dingle Peninsula.
Most visitors to Kerry see the Ring of Kerry and the more distant parts of Killarney National Park by bus, as part of an organised coach tour. It’s possible to drive, but narrow, windy roads and sheer cliffs can cause difficulties for visitors unused to local driving. Though there are fewer organised tours of the Dingle Peninsula, particuarly in winter, it’s nonetheless easy to visit on a day tour from Killarney.
The stunning coastline of County Kerry forms part of Ireland‘s famous Wild Atlantic Way. Beginning in Cork, the Wild Atlantic route spans the entire island of Ireland, continuing through to Northern Ireland. North of Kerry, it passes through windswept County Clare, home to the Cliffs of Moher and the stark lands of the Burren, before heading into beautiful Connemara National Park in Galway, and remote, wild, Donegal. Finally, the Wild Atlantic ends with the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Odyssey Traveller visits County Kerry as part of our Tour of Ireland. Designed for the visitor who wants an informed experience of Ireland’s history and culture, our tour takes in a number of cultural and historic sites: the Blarney Castle (and the Blarney Stone), the Rock of Cashel, Kylemore Abbey, Bunratty Castle We also make a day trip to Glendalough, a monastic site in the Wicklow Mountains. Beginning our guided tour in Dublin, we see the city’s major historic sights – St Patrick’s Cathedral, Trinity College (and the Book of Kells), and Dublin Castle (once a hated symbol of the United Kingdom, now used by the Irish Government and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to entertain dignitaries). In Dublin city, we also make a walking tour of the city’s literary history, and enjoy a tasting at the Guinness Storehouse. Our escorted tour also visits Galway City, where we enjoy traditional Irish music, after we travel to the remote Aran Islands. Finally, our tour ends in Belfast, where we learn how everyday Irish people experienced the Troubles from a local guide.
If you’re interested in visiting the Emerald Isle, why not join Odyssey’s Tour of Ireland? We don’t just zip from place to place on our coach tour – Dublin to the Moher Cliffs to the Giant’s Causeway – but take the time to soak up the history and culture of our travel destinations. Our guided tour moves in genuinely small numbers – between 6 and 12 – so that you have the opportunity to meet like-minded people; and includes the cost of accommodation, meals, and entrances to attractions. For more information, click here, and please follow us on social media (Facebook) for more travel ideas!
Articles about Ireland published by Odyssey Traveller:
- History of Ireland
- Ireland’s Gems
- Learning about Ireland for Seniors
- How The Atlantic Ocean Shaped Early Life in Europe
For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.
External articles to assist you on your visit to Ireland:
An escorted tour to Northern Ireland & Ireland, with local guides and itineraries that give authentic experiences Ireland‘s capital, Dublin, including 1/2 day tour of St Patricks cathedral and Trinity college. Destinations also Aran islands , Kerry plus the world heritage site, the giant’s causeway.