I’ve travelled extensively in Europe, in fact, the only countries I’ve never visited are Malta, Azerbaijan, Russia and San Marino. Until recently, that small group of unvisited countries also included Ireland. Despite being on the doorstep of the UK and having been home to numerous of my ancestors, I had never been there.
My wife picked up a couple of flights with Ryanair from Warsaw-Modlin to Dublin as a birthday present for me. The weekend of our visit, the city played host to the All-Ireland football final which meant Dublin accommodation prices were through the roof. We decided to head out to see rural Ireland. I hummed and hawed over whether to visit County Galway, County Clare, County Donegal or even Cork and eventually we settled on County Kerry.
We did not shop around much for the best price, we rented a car from Europcar, in the ‘mini’ bracket for a little more than 50 euros for 3 days. An additional driver costs 30 euros. If you’ve got a big allowance on your credit card, then you can avoid paying insurance and they’ll take a deposit of 1400 euros from your credit card, if you don’t want to do that or don’t have the credit allowance, then the minimum insurance is an additional 17 euros per day.
Driving on the left
Those of you who are used to driving on the right might wonder what it’s like driving on the left. The transition is surprisingly easy, particularly when there are plenty of cars around. You may find yourself automatically heading to the right side of the road when you leave a petrol station or try joining the motorway in the wrong direction but Ireland is full of signs reminding you in English, French, and German, that people drive on the left and chances are, you won’t come to much harm.
Why County Kerry?
Though relatively small in size, Ireland is full of history and its wild, rugged coastlines offer up lots of beautiful scenery. Travelling across the countryside and round the narrow coastal roads takes a lot longer than you’d think. I chose County Kerry, because of the amount of places to visit within reasonable proximity to each other.
Getting to County Kerry
It takes about 4 hours to get to the heart of County Kerry from Dublin airport. The M50, the ring road around Dublin is quite hectic and we were stuck in traffic until the suburb of Rathcoole. The traffic slowly thins and by the time you get close to Limerick, you are driving along on an almost empty motorway with rolling farmland on both sides. The road from Limerick to Tralee is relatively fast, occasionally slowing down for villages.
There are no two ways around it. Ireland is expensive, even from a British perspective. Notably, expensive items are small things in shops like chocolate, crisps, and alcohol. You will struggle to find a can of Guinness for less than 2 euros, in most cases, it will be 2.50 euros or more. Wine is heavily taxed.
On our travels, we stopped off at Super Mac, a fast-food joint that was present at a service station just after Kildare. Super Mac turned out to be reasonably good value and the food was actually quite tasty.
Although Irish prices are high, we thought that the B&Bs were good value, particularly when taking into consideration the slap-up breakfasts on offer.
The Dingle Peninsula, Skelig Way or Ring of Kerry
There are well-prepared tourist trails throughout Kerry, the three main routes are The Dingle Peninsula, Skelig Way or Ring of Kerry. Some people choose just one and decide to go at a slow pace; we checked out all three and each offers something a bit different. Dingle has dolphin tours, a brewery-come-museum and lots of pubs and restaurants. The Skelig Way has unspoiled cliffs and the picturesque island of Valentia. The Ring of Kerry has a multitude of stopping off points, some scenic, some historical. It’s also a more popular one with tourists and is, therefore, a bit busy at the weekend.
The Irish are famously friendly and we were able to witness it first hand at our first B&B of the trip. Our host, Mary was a lovely lady who catered to our every whim.The service and comfort on offer at Beenoskee were spot on. We arrived late at night and woke up to some beautiful views over the bay, which we enjoyed over a wholesome Irish breakfast.
Glanteenassig Forest Park
The next morning we doubled back on ourselves slightly to get to Glanteenassig Forest Park. A forest road leads from the main car park and wriggles its way around the hills before finally descending between the two lakes. A boardwalk leads around the lake. We didn’t see any people, but plenty of sheep. To those from heavily forested countries, you may be wondering where the trees are. Trees are sparse in Western Ireland, partly because they were cut down for grazing but also because the majority of ground is limestone, with only a sliver of soil on the top. The limestone makes the grass calcium-rich and ideal for horses and sheep. The moorland and glens were beautiful and the autumnal colours lent themselves to being photographed.
The view from Beenoskee B&B had been of Castlegregory beach; we drove down to the shore and had a walk on the beach. Desolate and windswept, the sand was strangely bouncy, clouds and a grey sky blocked out the view of Mount Brandon and the bad weather seemed to be looming. On a bad day, it was impressive, on a good day, it must be spectacular.
Connors Pass and Mount Brandon
We’d toyed with the idea of climbing Mount Brandon, it’s not particularly high but the fact it wasn’t visible did not bode well. Mary did not particularly seem to approve of the idea of climbing it that day and as we got up to Connors Pass, we could see why. The weather down by the shore was completely different to up at the top. It was cold, wet and foggy and peering down to the loughs below was like looking into an abyss. Mount Brandon is Ireland’s second biggest mountain and was a regular crash site during World War ll. At the time of World War ll, Ireland was still very much a fledgling nation and although some men volunteered to fight for Britain, generally Ireland remained neutral. RAF planes would fly between bases though and several of them encountered navigational issues near Mount Brandon, including RAF Wellington, where all six Polish airmen died. A plaque in nearby Cloghane commemorates the crashes.
Having crossed the pass, the weather deteriorated drastically. Sightseeing in Dingle in the rain would have been miserable. Fortunately, Crean’s Brewery is located on the outside and proved an interesting enough place to stop while the weather subsided. For seven euros, you get a self-guided tour and a pint of Irish premium lager – Crean’s. The building, today a museum and brewery, was once a creamery and played an important role in bringing money to the area. The first section of the museum focuses on the beer making process, the second room is dedicated to Kerry’s favourite son – Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean. Tom Crean was the first man to visit the South Pole on his own and spent two years on a ship entrapped in ice. The final room shows the buildings history as a creamery.
Slea Head Drive
We decided to explore what’s known as Slea Head Drive, a route which circles the part of the peninsula after Dingle. Though, a pleasant route with several stopping points such as the Beehive Huts or Dunbeg Fort, it would be upstaged later in our trip by our drive around the Skellig Ring.
Dolphins of Dingle
By the time we made it back to Dingle, we had missed the chance to go out on a dolphin tour, the last boat goes out at 3.45pm. Fungie the dolphin has been visiting Dingle bay since 1984; this bottlenose dolphin regularly nuzzles bathers and plays alongside boats. Minke whales and other aquatic mammals can also be spotted in the area. We went for some fish ‘n’ chips in Reel Dingle but were left disappointed. The dripping that was used to deep fry the fish was quite disgusting and the batter was far too thick.
Our last port of call that day was Inch beach. Inch beach is a favourite with surfers, the drive from Dingle is really scenic and windy. By that time in the day, it was getting a bit dark and the sea looked fierce.
After spending the day on the Dingle Peninsula, we drove down to Portmagee. Catch up with us soon to find out about Valentia Island, the gorgeous Skellig Ring and horse riding on the beaches of Caherdaniel.
on the doorstep – very near
to play host to – to provide the things that are needed for (an event, meeting)
through the roof – very high, dramatically increased (prices)
to head out – depart
rural – in the countryside
hummed and hawed – took a long time to decide
settled – to agree upon
to shop around – to visit a number of shops to look for something
bracket – a group, classification
rugged – rough jagged service
hectic – busy
no two ways around it – there is no doubt about it
fast food joint – fast food restaurant/cafe
slap up – large and sumptuous
to cater to our every whim – to give the customer what they want
spot on – exactly right
to double back – to turn and go back in the direction you came from
boardwalk – a path made of wooden boards
sparse – small in numbers
sliver – a small slice
desolate – empty
looming – of something unwanted or unpleasant about to happen
to toy with something – to consider something but not in a very serious way
to bode well – if something bodes well – it looks good for the future
to peer down – to look down
abyss – a bottomless pit
fledgling – someone or something that has just started an activity
commemorate – to exist to remember and honour people
to subside – to become less strong or intense
creamery – a place where butter and cheese are sold, and cream is made
entrapped – to be caught in
to upstage – to steal the show, to be better than something/someone else
to nuzzle – rub up against or push gently with a nose
dripping – animal fat used for frying
batter – a liquid mixture made of flour, used to coat food
windy – curvy
fierce – aggressive