For anyone planning a trip to Ireland, you will undoubtedly read over and over again about the Ring of Kerry. And especially how it is a “no-miss” destination. There will be some dissenting opinions about which direction to drive and how much time to allot for the 3+ hour drive in order to accommodate all of the mandatory stops. But there will be no doubt : you must spend at least one day driving in the Ring of Kerry.
So that is what we planned. One full day, starting from Killarney and ending in a town just a bit east, making the whole loop in one day.
Of course when you start to do your research, you will learn that some of the most well known stops are those found just around Killarney : The Gap of Dunloe, Ross Castle, and Killarney National Park. So we jumped up bright and early in the morning – the first in the dining room of our B&B – in order to make the most of the drive and to beat the traffic onto this scenic drive.
Opting to drive counterclockwise, as is usually suggested, our first stop was the Gap of Dunloe.
(Opinion: In the end, we suggest also starting the morning with the sights surrounding Killarney, but instead driving clockwise. This will put you the opposite direction as all the tour buses. We decided to go counter-clockwise because we had read that the road was too narrow to pass buses at some parts -which we did not find to be true.)
Setting the alarm a little extra early was completely worth it in order to be the first car up into the gap, before any of the slower tourist-favored horse carts. Only the sheep beat us to the pavement this morning.
We drove up before claiming one of the small, few turn outs to park and begin walking through the gap. There is a certain point where you will be forced to park your car and it becomes accessible to horse carts only.
After leaving our car behind, we had a fantastically joyful time walking up the empty roads, searching for 4-leaf clovers (no dice) and climbing up the canyon walls.
If you have the time, park your car at the very start of the road (obviously marked) and make a morning of hiking the entire road. It would be a beautiful and peaceful way to experience the Gap of Dunloe, as you slowly leave the cars and tour buses behind and slip into a world of still shimmering wide pools of water that give way into small falls over broken mounds of slate- crowned with unevenly stacked arches of stone bridges- just to land into another wide pool of dark, clear water.
The pictures hardly do this spot justice, as it is an experience for all the senses. As we processed through the landscape- ever more romantic around each corner- the mist was just clearing off the top of the canyon walls. It was dead silent. I listened to the sounds of the walls whispering as thousands of rivulets of water wept down into the streams below. Now and then a sheep would bleat from high on the hillside, or birds would call from beyond the mist.
An occasional horse cart would pass us by- a sturdy Irish cob on its way to perform its daily duties, back and forth along this road, driven by an equally sturdy wool-wrapped local on two large, rickety wooden wheels. Aside from these welcome passersby, we had the entire area to ourselves for at least an hour before it was, seemingly, discovered by the rest of the scenic drivers.
After a beautiful and very cheerful morning spent climbing grassy canyon walls, we reluctantly loaded back into the car to begin driving the loop, with the mind to be done sometime after lunch.
However, what they don’t tell you in those guidebooks as you are preparing for your once-in-a-lifetime road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way is to be very ready with tons of car games. Because pretty much the rest of our day looked like this:
(Goofy screwballs included!)
In fact, this picture was taken in one of the clearest spots. For a while as we were driving by what our handy guidebook was describing as one of the most spectacular scenic outlooks, where you could see the forbidding Skellig Rock jutting out of the Irish Sea, we were searching to find the car not 100 feet in front of us. The fog was so dense that we spent most of out scenic car drive in white-ish soup.
So I really have few recommendations for the Ring of Kerry. If the weather is fine and clear, it would be spectacular; make a day of it and be in no hurry. Stop at cute towns along the way. Snap tons of photos. However, be prepared for things to not go as planned, as this weather is more common than not on the coast of Ireland.
However, if it hadn’t been for the soup-y misty drive, we would not have thrown our hands in the air and decided to pull over for a drink at a random stop.
We were in Ireland, damnit! and if we couldn’t see the sights, we may as well have some beer!
In true “the journey is the destination” form, this stop became a highlight of the day. This little beach, lined with a restaurant and a few odd shops on one side and mobile homes on the other, was a great place to explore as the tide went out. We had battles with kelp, examined a dead jelly fish, and I wiggled my toes in the hard packed sand and even ventured to dip them into the cold Irish waters.
It was random, it was goofy, and it was off-the-cuff. It was awesome.
Inside the cute little restaurant -which was near empty of passersby on this misty Monday morning- the bartender and cook sat and entertained us with easy banter and their quick Irish wit. They even showed us a slide show of all the views we were missing out on (…..thanks?).
Wrapping around to the end of the Ring back in Killarney (having called our losses and taking a small short cut) we spent the remainder of the day at Ross Castle. Even being just a bit inland, the weather was clear and bright again- though we were treated to some ominous clouds!
Ross Castle, a recently renovated and well preserved shell of a castle, sits lakeside inside of Killarney National Park. It is easy to peruse the grounds in only a few minutes, but you can also board here for boat rides around the lake, or perhaps pack a picnic to enjoy on the grounds.
Or, do as Katie did and take the opportunity to find a deserted pier and take a refreshing swim. Because when else can you say that you swam in a lake by the ruins of a castle?
This night, we went on our BEST excursion of the trip. But I am not telling yet – I’ll be including that on the highlights post coming soon, that will include our routes, BnB’s and some of our small town finds. Keep on following- we are over halfway through Ireland!