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The Ring of Kerry

Posted on: January 25, 2018

The Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry

Off the beaten track – and under the Dark Sky

When the lights go out, don your miners’ helmet and wonder through Kerry’s International Dark Sky Reserve. Given the designated title for its awe-inspiring night skies, the 700 sq km reserve is centred on the Ring of Kerry, with its low light pollution, on a clear night, the stargazing is breathtaking.

the ring of kerry in Ireland

Whilst you’ve got your walking boots on, wait for daybreak, and wander a bit further off the beaten track to explore the interior of the peninsula along the eastern section of the Kerry Way from Killarney to Glenbeigh, or jump in the car and take the minor roads that cut through the hills, notably the Ballaghisheen Pass between Killorglin and Waterville, or the Ballaghbeama Gap from Glenbeigh to Gearha Bridge on the R568.

Footsteps in the rocks

From the peninsula,  we’d urge you to take in Valentia Island, The Emerald Isle’s most western point, accessible from ‘The Ring’ by road bridge from Portmagee and by car ferry (April – Oct) from Renard Point, Cahersiveen - the crossing only takes five minutes and the rewards are HUGE!

The northeast of Valentia Island is a rich geological site. Here you’ll find jaw-dropping evidence of the first four-legged vertebrates (Tetrapoda) starting to clamber out of the seas onto the land some 400 million years ago. Valentia is one of the very few places where the general public can get close up and personal at a site of such global importance.

Weather and footwear permitting, the site is accessed via a fairly steep but manageable path and, depending upon sea conditions, visitors can get down to see the actual trackway, in all its awe-inspiring, original glory – it’s hard to compute that these footprints were made when Ireland was joined to North America!  

Whilst you’re on the Island, check out Geokaun Mountain – the highest mountain on Valentia with the 600ft Fogher Cliffs on its north face. Here you can take in spectacular views of the Island, the wild Atlantic ocean and the mainland. There’s a 1,200-metre road/pathway to the peak; for a small entry charge, visitors can walk or drive to the summit.

In all, there are four viewing areas with 34 information plaques on topics relating to the views - Skelligs Rocks, Blasket Islands, The Lighthouse, Bray Tower, the Tetrapod Trackway, Church Island, Beginish, Portmagee, whale watching, flora and fauna, and riveting wildlife, including puffins and Chough, among others.

A boat-ride back in time

A visit to the island of Innisfallen is a Ring of Kerry must-do!  The ancient isle is reached by motorboat (for ‘taxi’ hire in the summer months) from Ross Castle on the glorious Lough Leane lake - just a mile offshore.  This magical island of only 20 acres or so is home to the ruins of Innisfallen Abbey.

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Here lie some of the most impressive archaeological remains from early Christian times to be found in the Killarney region.  History has it that the monastery there was founded in the 7th Century by St.Finian the Leper and evolved to be a ‘Mecca’ for monks is the search of a life of prayer and solitude.  Over the centuries, ‘the Annals of Innisfallen’ were written here by monks, giving a unique account of the early history of Ireland written in a combination of Irish and Latin. The Annals are considered of major importance by historians and can be found today in the Bodleian library in Oxford.

The Devil’s in the detail

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One way or another, water is a frequent and often inspiring feature along with The Ring of Kerry. One of the most dramatic is the sight of Torc Waterfall in full flow.  Just a five-minute stroll off the N71 along the Killarney-Kenmare road, through lush and scenic woodland, you come face to face with the 80 foot high Torc Waterfall. The Owengarriff river which feeds it rises in “The Devil’s Punchbowl” on nearby Mangerton mountain. Like all waterfalls, it’s best seen after heavy rains (not a problem in Kerry!).

For the best view of the lakes and surrounding scenery, push yourself a little further and climb the 100 or so steps to the left of the waterfall.

Either en route or on your return from Torc, swing through the picturesque town of Kenmare. Originally a plantation colony, Kenmare is an idyllic town set on a deep bay between the Macgillycuddy Reeks to the north and the Caha Mountains to the east.  From Kenmare Pier, you can see the stunning Kenmare Bay stretching for as far as the eye can see. Strikingly the buildings form an array of multi-colour houses and shops.  It was awarded the "Irish Tidy Towns” title in 2000 and was runner-up in 2003 and 2008. The town library is one of the "Carnegie Libraries" funded by philanthropist Andrew Carnegie.

Seafood – and eat it!

Being located on the southern stretch of The Wild Atlantic Way, with access to the best fishing waters,  Kenmare is renowned for it’s freshly caught seafood. There are some 40 eateries on the ‘Kenmare Food Trail’ - from pubs to cafés and top-notch restaurants, they all adhere to the town’s collaborative ‘Place to Plate’ philosophy by which chefs and proprietors take a special interest in quality and freshness. Insourcing from local suppliers, they not only know where the food is produced, reared or grown, the ethos sustainably supports the local economy.  The daily catch packs menus with mussels, oysters, lobsters and local fish caught and delivered fresh to shops and restaurants. Take a look at the many food award plaques displayed around town.

So whether it’s a pint of ‘the black stuff’ or a three-course meal, the quality and choice on the Kenmare Food Trail make it worth holding back for – then fill your boots!

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