Day 4: Into the Wild
I woke up on New Years Day miraculously cured from my illness. Hubby’s advice to slow down was the trick, and once my body had the rest it needed, I was ready to get going.
We went to the Dublin airport to pick up our rental car before heading on our way. Today was the day that we relocated from the metropolitan Dublin to the small, winding roads of Western Ireland. Our first stop was in Wicklow Mountains National Park. This was our first real taste of just how beautiful Ireland could be.
I wish we’d been able to see more, but a heavy fog rolled in, so we pushed on. Using a pretty basic map, street signs, and common sense, we made it to Killarney just after nightfall. If you want to talk about the cutest little town, Killarney is it. We stayed in an apartment over some shops right in the middle of town. We were a stone’s throw from all the restaurants and shopping we could ever want.
We walked down to a place called The Shire, which is a Hobbit-themed bar. And I mean it was themed. You entered the door to a blast of heat and a sign that reads, “Welcome to Mordor.” There’s Elvish inscriptions all over the walls. Seriously, if you love LOTR, come here.
While we munched on some small food and had a pint of Murphy’s (Western Ireland’s answer to Guinness, and dare I say, it’s better than Guinness), we watched the World Dart Championships. Did you know this was a thing? I didn’t. But everyone at the bar including the bartenders was totally into it. We rooted for the underdog even though we had no idea how the thing actually worked. But we were told it was a big thing in Ireland and the Netherlands especially. I mean the costumes everyone in the audience was wearing–Super Bowl parties pale in comparison.
Feeling warm and fuzzy from the Murphy’s, even though the underdog lost, we walked back home to get some sleep before the next adventure.
Day 5: The Ring of Kerry
We ate breakfast at a cute cafe somewhere in the heart of Killarney before setting off to drive the Ring of Kerry. If you have no idea what that is, it’s a scenic drive around the peninsula that is County Kerry, and also part of the Wild Atlantic Way. If you have no idea what that is, it’s more than 1,500 miles of coastline stretching from County Cork in the South of Ireland all the way to County Donegal in the North. The roads are narrow and the views are spectacular.
We followed the advice of Rick Steves and went “backwards” around the loop (clockwise). In the winter there wasn’t much traffic, but in the summer, tour buses are everywhere and they drive around the loop counterclockwise.
Anyway, to get to the loop from Killarney, you have to drive straight through Killarney National Park, which is definitely worth a few scenic stops. We drove and pulled over where it suited us for photo ops and just to be amazed by it all. I definitely do recommend stopping to see the Torc Waterfall, which is about a 5-10 minute walk from the road on a well-worn path into the forest.
After Killarney National Park, we headed through Kenmare to the true start of the Ring of Kerry. This was another bit of driving where we stopped when we felt like it. We pulled off to see Staigue Ring Fort. This is a stone fort from the Iron Age, built around 300-400 CE, with some amazing views. Definitely worth the stop. (The caretaker there told us we must be Scandinavian because they’re all beautiful people, and that’s when I fell completely in love with Western Ireland.) These stone forts are all over Ireland, but this is one of the most complete.
After Staigue, we stopped at Derrynane House. The house itself was closed due to the holidays and seasonal hours, but the grounds were open for the public to walk around. There’s another stone fort on this property, but it’s clearly seen some hard times, and the forest has begun to reclaim it. I was so surprised walking the grounds to find faerie houses everywhere. I remembered turning to hubs to tell him, “I can see why forests like this are always settings in fantasy novels.” There’s also an old abbey on the property, and a nature trail that leads down to the beach.
When we reached a fork in the road, we once again took the advice of Rick Steves and turned out onto the Skellig Ring. The views out this far are the best yet. Off shore you can see the Skelligs for which the route was named. We didn’t have time to visit them, but ferries go in and out daily. After a late lunch in Keel, we stopped at the Kerry Cliffs, from which you could see the Skelligs and the Dingle Peninsula to the north. We were fortunate to have clear views all day.
The sun was starting to get low in the sky as we departed the cliffs, so we made our way back to Killarney for dinner. After a fabulous vegan course at Lord Kenmare’s Restaurant, we walked back to the shire for some more LOTR atmosphere and a pint of Murphy’s before bed.
Check out days 1-3 here