Day 6 – Bunratty and Swords

We shared another Irish breakfast at The Truffle Pig, and made our way through Killarney National Park to complete the Ring of Kerry. The lakes in the park were a beautiful sight, though the morning was wet and foggy. The roads through the NP were the most winding we had experienced yet, and Alexis was suffering from a pinched nerve induced by the hard mattress.

The lakes of Killarney NP

We were planning on driving back to Dublin for our last night in Ireland, but we figured we had time for one last castle on our way. The very nice Irish couple we had met on our Innisfallen tour suggested we visit Bunratty Castle, so we did just that. We made our way north to Limerick, and then west to the castle. Bunratty is an impressive sight, and tour tickets include access to the thatched village on the grounds. Bunratty has been meticulously restored, and it is possible to have dinner in the feast hall (for a hefty price). We also ran into the couple we had met at The Purple Heather once again, which was a pleasant surprise.

Bunratty Castle

Alexis’ back pain was worsening, and we had several hours of highway driving ahead of us, so we headed on to Swords, a suburb of Dublin where Dublin Airport is. We walked around Swords a bit, which also had a castle, though it was closed. Swords was a bit sketchy though, so we went back to our hotel, Travelodge Dublin Airport North Swords. The hotel was nice, and we had dinner at the diner inside the hotel. The food was passable, though not great. Our room was quite comfortable, though there was a group of people arguing loudly in the hall several times that night. Oh, the water in the shower could be set to burn-your-skin-off mode, which both of us experienced. We prepared to bid Ireland adieu the next morning.

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Day 5 – The Ring of Kerry and Kenmare

Well rested and well fed, thanks to the hospitality of Tim and Nora Moriarty, we headed out to drive the epic Ring of Kerry.  We decided to go counterclockwise, in the same direction as tour buses.  Some would advise doing the opposite, and this may be true during peak season, but we agreed with Fodor’s suggestion that you’ll get the best views going counterclockwise.

Kerry Bog Village

Alexis with the Irish wolf hounds

One of the first stops we made was at the Kerry Bog Village.  It was a neat little village that gave some insight into what living in the peat bogs would have been like.  The smell of peat smoke was pervasive (and a bit noxious).  There were also massive Irish wolf hounds there.  It was kinda cool, but all-in-all I would have to say it is not a must see attraction on the ring.

A man with his dog and donkey

 

Continuing on the ring, we were greeted by some gorgeous mountain scenery.  And a man with a little dog riding in a basket on top of a donkey.  Rocky hills and bright green valleys surrounded us on all sides.  It really is a bit overwhelming just how beautiful the mountains of Kerry really are.  And then we reached the ocean, and it became evident why the Ring of Kerry is Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction.

The mountains meet the ocean.

The views don’t stop there.  One could literally stop every 30 seconds and get a new, breathtaking view.  Rarely does the word “awesome” get used in such an appropriate manner.

Ballycarbery Castle

We made a stop in the small town of Cahersiveen because of signs pointing to a castle and ring forts. This became one of the highlights of the trip.  Just a short drive off the ring is the ruined Ballycarbery Castle, right in the middle of a cow pasture. There was a barbed wire fence around it, though it was clear that people went under it. We did just that, and got to climb around on the ruins of the castle, being careful not to do any damage to the ruins or hurt ourselves, of course.  Taking guided tours of castles is awesome. Walking around in a castle with not another soul around is awesomer.  Those vines growing on the castle? Those are full of bees, just fyi.

A short distance from the castle are some unmortared ring forts, where ancient farmers would have lived. Some believe these were the homes of fairies. On our trip we saw many of these ring forts, and were in awe at how something so old (they were built about 700 C.E.) could last for so long almost untouched by time.

Moving on, we stopped in Portmagee to have lunch at The Moorings Restaurant. I had fish and chips again, and Alexis had a sauteed Sole with lemon butter. This was the best fish we had in Ireland, and I highly recommend it. We were going to visit the little island of Valencia, but were sidetracked by a sign declaring “the best cliff views in Kerry”. We were not disappointed.

The Cliffs of Kerry

Seriously, go visit the cliffs of Kerry.

The Coast of Kerry

A bit pressed for time, we decided to skip Valencia. There was no shortage of beautiful coastal views however, and we made plenty of stops to snap more photos. The winds off the ocean are pretty biting, but the vistas are endless. Alas, the coastline finally gave way to the forest of Killarney National Park, and we made our way to Kenmare.

Kenmare is an interesting little town. If any place that we had visited in Ireland could be called posh, it was Kenmare. Everything was a bit more upscale than we had been seeing. Including the lodging.  This was the only night we had not booked a room somewhere, and most of the B&Bs were full. While we pondered moving on to Killarney for the night, we had a cup of coffee at The Truffle Pig (entirely because of the awesome name, though the coffee was very good) and dinner at Prego Restaurant. Yep, an Italian restaurant in Ireland. It was delicious.  Alexis got a shrimp pasta dish that was very good, and I ate an Irish breakfast pizza. Bacon, sausage and black pudding on pizza is great, seriously. We inquired about hostels with the staff, and they told us there was only one, Failte Hostel. They only had one private room left, so we took it. It was a nice hostel that seemed to cater to a more adult crowd, and we liked that. The beds were rock hard though.

We ended the night by listening to Irish music at Davitt’s Restaurant. We loved the music of Janet Dowd, a nice mix of traditional and contemporary Irish music, and purchased her CD.  You can read Alexis’ thoughts on it here.

It was a good day.

David and Alexis on The Ring of Kerry

Day 4 – Killarney

“Don’t mind me, I’m just a castle in someone’s back yard.”

Eileen cooked us a very nice breakfast, and we thanked her and headed out toward Killarney. We were completely off the highway the entire drive, and the roads weren’t very busy, so we took our time and soaked in the ubiquitous greenery of the Irish countryside. On our way, we saw a castle that appeared to be in someone’s back yard. History everywhere!

We arrived in Killarney mid-morning. We had heard that Killarney was one of the country’s worst tourist traps, but it wasn’t all that busy at all. We spent a bit of time wandering the gift shops. Alexis purchased some CDs of Irish music to set the mood in the car (why we had not done this sooner, I don’t know) and I bought a penny whistle to be annoying with. We had some very good fish and chips at Sceale Eile, and decided to walk through Killarney National Park to Ross Castle.

Ross Castle

On the boat to Innisfallen Island (Ross Castle in the background)

After a half hour walk we arrived at the castle. It is quite beautiful, nestled in the mountains of the National Park and on the edge of Lough Leane. We were a bit castled out, so we opted out of paying for the tour and just walked around it. We saw some men in motorboats giving rides to somewhere on the Lough. We asked how much, and were told ten euro each for about about a 45 minute trip, including a walk around some island. Completely on a whim, we paid the man and jumped on his boat with another Irish couple.

Ruined abbey on Innisfallen Island

Turns out he was taking us to Innisfallen Island, where there were the ruins of an ancient abbey on a deserted, tiny island. Awesome! He dropped us off on the island and told us to come back in about half an hour. Walking through the ancient, unmortared abbey with no one around, it was easy to see why the monks had set up here to live in isolation. Life would not have been easy, but there was plenty of beauty to be had. We walked the perimeter of the tiny island, and the views of the National Park were simply astounding.

View from Innisfallen

We were returned to Ross Castle, and made our way back through the Park to Killarney. We got a bit turned around and took the long way, effectively doubling the walk back.

The Gap of Dunloe

We had reservations at The Purple Heather, a B&B near the Gap of Dunloe, so we made the short drive and got checked in for the night. At the B&B, we met a nice couple from California who were doing a trip very similar to ours. They recommended the food and nightly live music at the famous Kate Kearney’s Cottage right at the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe. There was still some light left in the day, so we drove to the Gap. The roads here are clearly meant more for carriages than cars, and there is only room for one vehicle to pass at a time. The view, however is totally worth it. We only wish we had more time to do some hiking in the area.

We made our way back to Kate Kearney’s and settled in for a pint and some warm food. I had the roast leg of lamb and Alexis the lamb shank. Both were excellent. Kate Kearney’s has a warm, welcoming ambiance. There was a three-man band playing traditional music while two teenagers did some Irish tap dancing. It was a lot of fun! During intermission, we spoke to the musicians, and they were delighted to learn that Alexis was a violinist. They insisted that she play a song with them. She played “Wild Mountain Thyme” with them, and the whole audience loved it. It was a memorable experience, to say the least. You can read Alexis’ thoughts on the experience on her blog. We ended the night with some Banoffee Pie (banana coffee cake) and a hot Irish whiskey. It was the perfect Irish evening.