The second leg of our journey along the Wild Atlantic Way brings us to the beautiful Kingdom of Kerry. Starting from Mizen Head in Cork, we made our way across the beautiful Bantry Bay, through Glengarriff and up into the Kerry mountains via the N71. There is no mistaking the beauty of Kerry. When you first enter the County you are greeted by the stunning views of Kenmare Bay. There are several great spots to pull in and enjoy the views over the beautiful landscape and coastline. Our first stop was the town of Kenmare, the southern gateway to the Ring of Kerry.
Kenmare – Gateway to the Ring of Kerry
The Ring of Kerry is a 179 km loop of road that circulates around the Iveragh Peninsula. The trail includes some of the most spectacular and scenic views the Irish coastline has to offer. Along the way are numerous maritime villages, sandy beaches and rocky islands. The most famous of these islands being, of course, the Skellig Islands. Our journey around the ring began with a night stay in the bright and colourful town of Kenmare. The buildings here are brightly painted and there are loads of great bars and restaurants to choose from. We camped in the Faungorth campsite just outside the town. This is a lovely and quaint site that offers loads of activities including yoga, tennis, board games and more. If you’re looking for something a bit more upmarket there are loads of hotels and lodges to choose from including several 5-star hotels.
Visiting the Skellig Islands
The Skellig Islands are a pair of islands off the south-western coast of Kerry. The larger and more famous of the two islands is Skellig Michael, home to an ancient monastery site with ‘beehive huts’. The site dates back to around the sixth or seventh century where Irish monks lived in solitude on the island. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the islands are home to various fauna and wildlife, including the puffin birds.
Unfortunately, all of the tours were fully booked when we arrived at Portmagee, so instead, we settled for viewing the islands from Valentia Island. On Valentia Island is an information centre where you can learn about the Skelligs if you are unable to make your way out to them yourself. Ferry tours to/around the islands leave from Portmagee Village at 9.00am weather depending.
Killarney National Park
We finished our loop around the Ring of Kerry in the bustling town of Killarney. On our way, we stopped off in Killorglin to see one of Ireland’s oldest festivals, the Puck Fair. For three days a wild mountain goat is crowned ‘king’ of the festival and sits high above the crowds in a tower constructed for the festival. After a quick visit to the stalls and markets, we headed on towards Killarney to our campsite.
There are several campsites around Killarney but we chose the Flesk campsite because of its location. It is cheap, clean and ideally situated beside the Gleneagle Hotel, across the road from Killarney National Park. There is also a bicycle rental facility on site, ideal for day trips to the park.
There is so much to do and see in the park it’s almost impossible to summarise. On the grounds of the park are most notably Muckross House and gardens and Torc waterfall. The park also hosts several lakes and islands, woodlands, mountains, and flatlands for you to roam. The park is free for everyone to use and see. I highly recommend renting bikes to navigate the massive site. It is the quickest and most enjoyable way to get around the grounds.
Ireland’s largest mountain, Carrauntoohil is part of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks range located just outside Killarney. The mountain stands at 1,038m tall and there are three different routes to take up it.
From Killarney, your best starting point is Cronin’s Yard. It is the ideal spot from which to begin your journey. There is a free carpark (donations welcome) and a small coffee shop with toilet facilities.
The devil’s ladder
The most direct (and most adventurous) way up Carrauntoohil is via the Devil’s ladder. That said, it is also the most difficult route to the summit. Climbing the ladder involves ascending slippery rocks, loose pebbles and scree and climbing boulders. This route is only suitable for experienced and capable adventurers. Descending Carrauntoohil via the Devil’s ladder is ill-advised. It’s a very steep descent so an easier route is to cross over to Cnoic na Toinne and come down its northern face. Another option is head back down the mountain using the Brother’s O’Shea Gully route.
Unfortunately, when we got to the top the weather was very foggy so we couldn’t really see much of the views. We did, however, manage to get in a quick selfie with the enormous cross that stands on top of the mountain. If you’re planning on climbing up the mountain, make sure to check the weather in advance and start your hike early in the morning.
Kerry has so much to offer but we simply didn’t have enough time to get through it all. The gap of Dunloe is a rugged valley that passes between two mountain ranges, famous for its unspoilt landscape and corrie lakes. Walking is the best way to see and appreciate the gap but the full walk is almost 11km long so another option would be to take a jaunting cart tour up through the passage (at a cost).
Tralee and Dingle are two highlight towns to get to if you have time. Tralee is the capital town of Kerry and is home to the internationally famous ‘Rose of Tralee’ festival. To the far west of Ireland is the small but lively town of Dingle. Located right on the edge of the Atlantic ocean, Dingle is a great location to see the famous bottlenose dolphin Fungie. Not far away is Inch beach, a great location to partake in a variety of water sports including surfing, kayaking, windsurfing and kite surfing.
Tips and tricks
- Book your ticket for the Skellig Islands well in advance. The sellout weeks and even months in advance.
- Ferries for the Skelling’s leave at 9.00 am from Portmagee. I suggest you spend the night previous in the village or certainly nearby.
- Climbing Carrauntoohill is not to be taken lightly, especially if you are taking the Devil’s ladder. Bring PLENTY of water and a small lunch to have at the summit.
- The bike rental store beside the Gleneagle Hotel requires a deposit and/or photographic ID with each rental.
- Accommodation (particularly hotels) in Killarney are limited so book well in advance.
Thanks for reading,