In February 2016 John and I embarked on our first European vacation to Ireland! We booked through Great Value Vacations totally on a whim (fully explained in the Day 1 post) and it ended up being one of the best trips we’ve ever been on. We’d spent the last nine years seeing as much of the US as possible (38/50 states!) but it was finally time to go abroad. Éirinn go Brách!
Day 3 began at 7AM; we got up, showered, packed up for the day, and headed down to breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant (Killarney Towers Hotel) at 8:30AM. It was a buffet again and the options were slim for me, though it was nice that this was included in the cost of our trip. More brown bread it is!
After breakfast we headed out at 9AM. Our first stop was a jaunting cab ride (horse drawn carriage) through Killarney National Park.
We piled nine people into our carriage and were led around the park by our driver, Michael, and horse, Susie.
The ride took us through the forest, bog, woodland, swamp, grassy fields, etc. Such a diverse landscape and we definitely saw another 40 shades of green! We also saw several indigenous red deer (Ireland’s only remaining wild herd of native red deer live here in the park) and sika deer as well. (They are too fast for pictures, unfortunately!)
Killarney National Park was the first national park in Ireland, established in 1932, and is over 25,000 acres. It is one of the very few places in Ireland that has been continuously covered by woodland since the end of the most recent glacial period (roughly 10,000 years ago).
From the park we has sweeping views of the lovely Lough Leane (Lake of Learning) and the McGillicuddy’s Reeks mountain range, including the highest peak in Ireland – 3,400+ feet!
Across Lough Leane we could see the Innisfallen Abbey on the island of Innisfallen. The monastery was founded in 640AD and was occupied for approximately 850 years. During this time the monks of the abbey wrote the Annals of Innisfallen, which chronicles the early history of Ireland. The location of the monastery on the island is thought to have given rise to the name Lough Leane, which in English means “Lake of Learning.”
We had a spectacular view of St. Mary’s Cathedral from inside the park as well.
Our carriage ride ended around 10AM. Tony picked us up in the bus at the park’s entrance and, from there, we headed out to begin the journey around the Ring of Kerry.
The Ring of Kerry is a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry, on the southwest coast Ireland. It is 100+ miles long, in a circular route, and covers a diverse landscape including the rugged coast, seaside villages, beachfronts, and rural towns. It is described as a journey through 10,000 years of Ireland’s history and was unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.
For the first hour of the bus ride we drove westward through fields and farms, and so many peat bogs. We had a great view of the snowy McGillicuddy’s Reeks range whole time.
On the way we passed through the small town of Killorglin. Killorglin is most famous for holding the Puck Fair every August, which is the oldest traditional fair in Ireland. In Irish folk lore King Puck, a badass goat with the ability to talk, warned locals of impending danger from raiders, allowing them to protect themselves before they met certain doom. The Puck Fair celebrates the heroic King Puck and, though the origin date is unknown, it is thought to be a story from pagan times.
Killorglin has this awesome King Puck statue right on the main road as you pass through town:
After about an hour we stopped at the Kerry Bog Village Museum. The village museum is an 18th century famine village replica with cottages with authentic thatched roofs, farming equipment, two extremely smelly Irish wolfhounds, and two ponies.
The Irish wolfhounds were amazing – so sweet and gentle, but so smelly. These babies need a bath!
The village was so impressive. They researched every last detail to get the replicas perfect and it really shows. There is such authenticity and attention to detail here. From the burning peat to the thatched roofs, everything was historically accurate and provided a really unique window to the past.
I love places like this – where you can go and see what life was really like by interacting with the environment. It’s so much more immersive and salient than a museum or looking at a picture. You could sit in the cottages, smell the burning peat, touch the farming equipment, pet the ponies. I felt like I was there, that the past wasn’t too far away, that I had a deeper appreciation for the people who were there by putting myself in their shoes.
These ponies were awesome…and liked to bite fingers (ow).
After our visit to the village museum, we went next door to the Red Fox Inn for a warm beverage – I got tea and John got a hot chocolate and Bailey’s. Yum!
Back on the road! More ruins, more gorgeous views. This particular ruin (on the left) was Glenbeigh Towers, built in 1867 by Lord Headley of Aghadoe. It was the home to Lord Headley’s estate staff and he eventually abandoned it after going bankrupt. During World War I the castle and grounds were used by British Military Command as a training center. In 1921 the Irish Republican army burned the castle down and it’s stayed that way since.
30 minutes down the road from Glenbeigh we made our first stop on the Ring of Kerry to check out the magnificent view across Dingle Bay. We stopped to take a few photos and make many dingle jokes.
Onward we went. We were able to see the Skellig Islands out in the Atlantic Ocean (right photo, two islands in the background). The sculpture (left) is called “To the Skellig,” and depicts four Monks taking a boat to the monastic island of Skellig Michael. The Skellig Islands are a UNESCO World Heritage Site, home to a 6th century monastery, a wildlife preserve, and is where the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens was shot (on Skellig Michael, no big deal).
40 minutes due south we stopped again in Waterville to take pictures on the beach and dunk our hands in the Atlantic Ocean. Waterville reminded me of Cape Cod: a quiet, pastoral, colorful beach town.
The air smelled so salty and wonderful, and the beach was unbelievably beautiful.
You know I brought a handful of those rocks home to remember this gorgeous place.
We got back on the bus and continued on our southeasterly journey along the Ring of Kerry.
In the foreground, a 1,000 year old Celtic stone circle burial site:
We stopped again at another scenic overlook in Caherdaniel where we took panoramas and enjoyed the crisp, ocean air. The view from Caherdaniel reminded of Cannon Beach, Oregon and our honeymoon.
Along the Ring of Kerry we saw so many sheep and ancient rock/stone formations – some from the Celts, some from the Bronze Age, and others unidentified. It was totally magical. The stones in the picture below are the Eighercua Alignment, a megalithic stone monument, estimated to be from the Bronze Age, roughly 1700BC.
At 1PM we stopped at the Scarriff Inn in Caherdaniel for lunch.
The views were incredible and the food was pretty good. After this 35 minute pit stop, we headed back to the bus and continued east along the Ring of Kerry.
At 1:45PM we stopped at another scenic overlook in Castlecove, another beautiful vantage point along the Ring of Kerry. No one view of the coast was alike; it never became repetitive and never stopped amazing us. Such beauty out here.
I’ve spent my whole life looking out on to the Atlantic Ocean but from the opposite direction. This whole trip refreshed and inspired me. It encouraged me to take a new perspective on life; experiencing gratitude for what I have, but with new eyes – just like I was doing with a different view across the ocean.
At 2PM we stopped in the little town of Sneem to stretch our legs. How cute is this?
On the way out of Sneem we were treated to more sweeping views of the Ring of Kerry, crystal blue water, and snowcapped mountains. It reminded me of Lake Tahoe.
Between Sneem and Kenmare, going now west to east, the landscape became more rocky, less green, and dipped into deep valleys.
The clouds started to come back after having gorgeous sunny skies all day. The road winded perilously and we bobbed and weaved in the bus on our way back to Killarney. Hello, carsickness!
Our final stop was at Ladies View in Killarney National Park. Queen Victoria made a royal visit to the park in 1861 and her ladies-in-waiting were so taken with the view here that it was named after them.
We got back to Killarney at about 3:30PM and were wiped. We decided to relax and watch parliament election coverage for a few hours before dinner. At 5PM we went for a walk around the shops downtown. We walked for an hour – John bought a new hat, we got some souvenirs, and stocked up on more delicious Cadbury chocolate (sorry not sorry).
We got back to the hotel at 6:15PM and headed down to dinner in the hotel restaurant at 6:30PM. We had another group buffet dinner, all different food from the night before which was really nice (also included in the cost of our trip). After dinner we took another walk around the neighborhood. We went back to our room around 7:30 PM, changed into pajamas, and continued watching election coverage until we fell asleep.
Stay tuned for Day 4 where we explore Killarney, Adare, and Dublin!