The Ring of Kerry is one of the most memorable road trip itineraries in all Ireland. A must-do trip either if you are Irish or a foreign living in or visiting the “Emerald Isle”.
If you are still wondering why, read through this article and you will have no more doubts.
First, it will help you answer a lot of questions you might have and, then, plan a 2-day road trip you’ll never forget, taking inspiration from the one we had last summer.
Why is the Ring of Kerry famous?
The Ring of Kerry is acclaimed for being a circular route passing through many of the most internationally recognized Irish historical buildings, heritage attractions and natural sceneries. A full immersion in the Irish essence: charming countryside, prehistoric remains, lovely little towns and fairy tales.
Is the Ring of Kerry worth it?
Totally! If you love breathtaking natural landscapes, medieval castles and World Heritage-listed prehistoric monuments, the Ring of Kerry is definitely a road trip worth your while. A great way to escape the stress of everyday life and reconnect with your inner self.
How far is the Ring of Kerry from Dublin?
It depends on which you decide your first stop on the Ring of Kerry to be. If you choose to start your road trip from Killarney, as we did, it will take you almost 4 hours from Dublin (306km/190mi).
How far is the Ring of Kerry from Cork?
Again. It depends on which you decide your first stop on the Ring of Kerry to be. If you start your road trip from Killarney it will take you less than 2 hours from Cork (81km/50mi).
Where is the start of the Ring of Kerry?
You can start wherever you want, but, generally, people choose Killarney as their first stop. From there you can decide to move forward on the ring clockwise or counter-clockwise. Someone advises that you only drive counter-clockwise around the Ring of Kerry since apparently, it minimises traffic problems facing tour buses on the narrower sections of road. Most recommend driving clockwise to avoid being stuck behind tourist buses, though.
We decide to drive counter-clockwise.
Is the Ring of Kerry one way?
Not really. As already mentioned, it’s up to you which way to drive, if clockwise or counter-clockwise.
Is the Ring of Kerry dangerous to drive?
The road narrows at some specific points and, especially during the tourist season, you may encounter tourist buses straight ahead of you or forward-facing you. This may mean that your trip could be slow-down or that you need to stop on your way and let them pass. The same could happen with other cars in the country lines leading to most of the prehistoric monuments secluded in the countryside.
If you maintain the car speed within the recommended limits and remain prudent, I don’t think you should worry too much about it.
Be extra careful, though, if it’s the first time you drive on the left side of the road!
After some time, in fact, you may already feel confident, but I promise, as soon as you get lost in your thoughts or a little distracted, your first instinct will drive you on the right side of the road, simply because it’s an automatism. That’s the only danger.
How long does it take to drive around the Ring of Kerry?
They say it would take you about 3 hours without traffic to do the full loop without stopping. But I don’t see the point in doing it.
Stopping your car, having a look around and taking pictures is the best part of the whole road trip experience. Not to mention, having a stroll in the superb Killarney National Park.
What do you do on the Ring of Kerry?
You stop your car, get out and admire the magnificence of the Irish countryside and its monuments. You can also have long walks if you are more a hiking person.
Where do you stop on the Ring of Kerry?
As already said, our first stop was Killarney, a colourful little town on the shores of Lough Leane. We parked our car and had a stroll through its vibrant main streets. We had lunch at the Genting Thai Restaurant on Main Street.
2. Ross Castle
From there we drove to Ross Castle, a 15th-century tower house and kept on the edge of Lough Leane. Legend has it that O’Donoghue, the Irish chieftain who built it, still slumbers under the waters of the lake. Every seven years, on the first morning of May, he rides on his magnificent white horse. If you manage to catch a glimpse of him you will enjoy good fortune for the rest of your life.
Ross Castle was amongst the last castles in the Emerald Isle to surrender to Cromwell’s forces during the Irish Confederates War.
It was closed to visitors (I think due to COVID-19) but you could still have a cruise on the lake if you liked.
3. Killarney National Park and Muckross House and Abbey
Killarney National Park was the first national park in Ireland, created when the Muckross Estate was donated to the Irish Free State in 1932. It encompasses 10,236 hectares (26,000 acres) of a distinctive combination of mountains, lakes, woods and waterfalls. The park was designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1981 due to the quality and high ecological diversity, extensive habitats and range of species found in the park, some of which are quite rare. It has the only red deer herd on mainland Ireland and the most extensive covering of native forest remaining in the Emerald Isle.
The focal point of the National Park for visitors is Muckross House and Gardens. The house is a late 19th-century mansion featuring all the necessary furnishings and artefacts of the period.
Don’t take off without visiting Muckross Abbey. Founded in 1448 by Dónal MacCarthy, it was built as a Franciscan Friary to cater for the Observant Franciscans. The Abbey was vandalised and reconstructed many times. The final battle was at the hands of Oliver Cromwell in 1654 that persecuted the remaining friars under Lord Ludlow. It was subsequently burned down and today the ruins remain largely roofless but very well preserved.
The cloister and its associated buildings are complete and an old, magnificent yew tree, which is said to be at least as old as the friary itself, stands in the centre. The cloister might even have been planned and built around the tree.
Amongst the many 15th century friaries the remains of which survive extensively across the Emerald Isle, Muckross holds a special place, as it is the only one where the upper floors of two of the three domestic ranges are accessible to visitors. Offering a more complete experience of the buildings where the friars worked, ate and slept 500 years ago.
The grounds of Muckross Abbey became a burial ground during the 17th and 18th century for the infamous Kerry poets; O’Donoghue, Ó Rathaille and Ó Súilleabháin. Today the cemetery also consists of many priests and local families.
4. Torc Waterfall
From the parking, a few miles away from the Killarney National Park entrance, a short walk of approx 200 metres brings you to Torc Waterfall, which is approx 20 metres high.
The word Torc is from the Irish translation of a “wild boar” since the area is associated with legends involving wild boars.
One legend is of a man who was cursed by the Devil to spend each night transformed into a wild boar. When his secret was revealed by a local farmer, he burst into flames and disappeared into the nearby Devil’s Punchbowl on Mangerton Mountain from which the Owengarriff River emerged to hide the entrance to his cave beneath the Torc Waterfall. There is also the story of how the legendary Irish warrior, Fionn MacCumhaill, killed a magical boar on Torc mountain with his golden spear.
5. Ladies View
Probably the best-known view of Killarney and one of its major attractions for visitors, the name “Ladies view” stems from the admiration given by Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting during Victoria’s 1861 visit to Ireland. They were so taken with the view that it was named after them.
The viewpoint has a small car park, and a cafe called Ladies View Industries.
At the head of Kenmare Bay, sometimes called the Kenmare River, where the Roughly River (An Ruachtach) flows into the sea, and at the junction of the Iveragh Peninsula and the Beara Peninsula, we found the fairy-tale town of Kenmare.
Apart from the beautiful bay view, Kenmare is known locally for its bronze age stone circle (2200 – 500 B.C.), referred by the locals as “the Shrubberies”.
This egg-shaped stone circle is one of the largest in south-west Ireland, measuring 17.4 x 15.8m (56 x 49ft). It’s believed to be for ritual and ceremonial purposes. Some, though, think it might have burial purposes as many of the stones are orientated to solar or lunar events.
It is composed of 15 heavy boulders with an impressive boulder-dolmen with a giant capstone (2m x 1.8m ) at its centre.
We stayed the night at Muxnaw Lodge. A traditional family-operated lodge with an incredible view on the bay.
1. Staigue Stone Fort
Staigue Fort is one of the largest and finest ring forts in all the Emerald Isle. It consists of a massive circular rampart surrounded by an external bank. The wall is up to 5.5m (18ft) high and 4m (13ft) thick, surrounding a circular area of 27.4m (90ft) in diameter.
It shows great skill and craftsmanship in the technique of dry-walling which has a long tradition in Ireland. The most startling thing about the interior of the walls is the X-shaped stairways that give access to the ramparts.
Dating this site is difficult, but it may have been built during the Celtic period and may possibly have functioned as a tribal centre.
Some of the beliefs regarding Staigue Fort may have contributed to its survival, prohibiting it from being dismantled in the previous centuries by neighbours wishing to use its stones for their own building projects. For instance, in 1979 a man, who lived down the road from the fort, reported that he heard his home “bombarded” each night until he returned the stones he removed from the fort.
2. Derrynane Beach and Abbey
Derrynane is an extensive sandy blue flag beach in the homonymous Bay from which, if the tide is out, you can walk to Abbey Island where Derrynane Abbey (now in ruin) is located.
It is believed to have been built on the monastic site founded by St Finan Cam (aka St Finian) in the 6th century. With its magnificent view onto the Atlantic ocean, it must have been one of the most beautiful possible locations for a graveyard and one of the most beautifully located monastic sites in Ireland.
All that remains of the abbey are a Romanesque church and two other connected structures believed to be built in the 10th Century.
3. Loher Stone Fort
Recently reconstructed, Loher Stone Fort dates back to early Christian times around the 9th century. It would have been built as a defended farmstead.
According to folklore, it is connected to other forts (cahers in Irish) on nearby hills by a network of underground passages.
4. Kerry Cliffs
Kerry Cliffs offer spectacular views of the Skellig Islands and Puffin Island with their impressive height of over 1000 ft (305 m), which makes them higher than the more touristy Cliffs of Moher (702 ft/214 m). They formed over 400 million years ago.
The Cliffs are open from 9 am to 9 pm daily with an entrance fee of €4 euro per person.
5. Fogher Cliffs and Geokaun Mountain (Valentia Island)
Fogher Cliffs, on the north face of the Geokaun Mountain (270 m/888 ft), form the edge between this mountain and the Atlantic Ocean. They are sea cliffs of 180 m (600 ft).
Geokaun is the highest mountain on Valentia Island as well as being one of the highest points in County Kerry.
From their spectacular panoramic viewpoints, visitors can see the Skellig Islands, Bray Head, Blasket Islands, Dingle Peninsula, MacGillycuddy Reeks, several other mountain ranges, Valentia Harbour and out across the Atlantic Ocean.
Visitors have the option of walking or driving to the peak. The walk is not particularly long but very steep. There are three car parking areas on the way up, the last one leaves you about 10 ft (3 m) from the viewpoint.
There is an entrance fee of €5 per car.
6. Ballycarbery Castle
Ballycarbery Castle is located in an area known as “over the water” by the locals in Cahirciveen. It’s an impressive looking castle with an ivy-covered tower house once home to the McCarthy Clan and built sometime between the 14th and 16th century.
Though on the County’s historical buildings list, you will not find any gates or signs or paths into the castle as the state seems to have completely forgotten about it. In August 2020, when we tried to visit it, not only was entrance not allowed, you can’t even get close to it since all the perimeter was surrounded with hazard tape. So sad!
7. Cahergal and Leacanabuaile Stone Fort
At a short distance from Ballycarbery Castle, you can find Cahergal and Leacanabuaile Stone Forts both worth a visit.
Cahergal Stone Fort was built around 600 AD. The current structure has undergone some reconstruction. With its dry stone walls approx 6 m (19 ft) high and 3 m (10 ft) thick, it is one of the best examples of early medieval stone forts on the ring of Kerry.
Leacanabuaile Stone Fort, on the hillside, was as well partly-reconstructed. It rests upon a massive rock foundation and its stone walls enclose an almost circular area of 70 ft (21 m) in diameter. Protected on three sides by steep grassy slopes, the entrance is on the eastern side. The walls, mostly 10 ft (3 m) thick and with irregular steps leading up on the inside, contain the remnants of a square dwelling house built on top of earlier circular ones and of another clochan (stone house) on the western side that has a cavity leading to a long subterranean. Excavations produced Iron and Bronze Age objects, suggesting the existence of an early Christian farming community.
8. Rossbeigh Strand Beach
Rossbeigh Beach is a beautiful white sand beach extending for over 7 miles (11 km) on the Iveragh Peninsula. It is located near the village of Glenbeigh. It is ideal for family days out, horse trekking, long walks and water sports. There is ample parking at the beginning of the beach and a lot of space to pitch camp tents.
From there we decided to crash in Castleisland at the River Island Hotel and to go straight back to Dublin the following day.
All road trips are fun and special in their own way, but Ring of Kerry left something special inside us. The mystical vibe surrounding this land captivates you and leaves you with a longing to return.
Ring of Kerry is way more than incredible landscapes, prehistoric sites and breathtaking cliffs; it’s a truly unique experience, it’s the green hills, the feeling of forgetting all your problems and immersing yourself in the midst of Irish folk, the people, the Guinness and the fairy tales.
I know one thing for sure, whenever life becomes tough to handle, I’ll head towards the Ring of Kerry.
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