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I've always been fascinated by Ireland. I think it might be something to do with it being the Emerald Isle although I'd never really seen myself going until I'd been awakened to how beautiful Scotland was last year. There's a Gaelic connection here somewhere but it was the similarities in scenery that prompted me to book a fortnight on the West Coast in August this year.
The journey from Northampton to Kerry, Ireland was a long one. We travelled by car to Holyhead in North Wales, caught the ferry with Irish Ferries to Dublin then drove across Ireland on the M7 and N7 to Anascaul. We left at around 9.20am and didn't arrive until after 11pm although the ferry crossing was 3.5 hours. If we'd have opted for the car hire option then I guess we could have tried to find a route by air, what with there being regional airports at Cork, Kerry and in Shannon.
I booked through the website at www.welcomecottages.com and we stayed at a bungalow that sleeps 6 people. The cottage cost around £1300 for a fortnight in August. Kerry is renowned for its tourism so there are plenty of options including hotels in the larger towns and bed and breakfasts in the smaller locations and on the coast.
County Kerry is steeped in ancient history and folklore. Against a backdrop of mass emigration in the 19th century, a tradition of Irish whisky manufacturing and the establishment of monastic orders in the early centuries A.D., Kerry is awash with archaeological and historical sites of significance. Kerry is most famous for the Ring of Kerry which is a circuit around the county taking in many of the villages en route and providing fabulous scenery for those taking a tour either by car, bike or on foot. The tour is 112 miles (179km) and follows the coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula along the banks of the River Laune all the way around to Killarney. We didn't actually attempt the Ring preferring to pick off towns as we saw fit.
The principal towns that we visited in Kerry were Tralee, Killarney and Dingle although both Anascaul and Castle Island also had things too offer as well.
Anascaul (Abhainn an Scail, The River of Shadows) is the village just a mile from our bungalow. Situated on the Dingle peninsula, Anascaul's main attraction was the pub! Not for the obvious reasons but rather The South Pole Inn is a tribute to Tom Crean being a famous local who was part of the 1912 expedition to the South Pole led by Shackleton. The pub hosts a statue to Tom Crean whilst there is also a fully-fledged exhibit at the Kerry County Museum in Tralee. One of the quaint charms of this part of the world is the number of pubs that look like small houses that have had their fronts painted and the front room converted into a bar. There were plenty like this in Anascaul with just an ordinary front door as the entrance. I never saw one single person in either Murphy's Bar or O'Reilly's Bar or any of the other tiny drinking establishments that thronged the main street of Anascaul. Maybe they are for decoration only, I'm not sure.
Just a few miles from Anascaul is the beach at Inch where we spent some of our days getting a suntan. Now I guess this is hardly synonymous with Ireland but amongst the predictable rain showers we did get quite a bit of nice weather and the various beaches in and around the Dingle peninsula were a welcome distraction from our other sightseeing activities.
Dingle was the nearest major town to us being approximately 10 miles away. Here there is a Sea Aquarium centre, which we visited, plenty of pubs and shops, a leisure centre and an active fishing port to see. We couldn't resist paying 36 Euro to go on the dolphin trip to see the famous bottle-nosed dolphin Funghi. This was a roller coaster hour of chasing the dolphin all over the bay, desperately trying to get a decent photograph of the elusive animal. The tour operator did guarantee us that we'd see Funghi or we'd get our money back. In 4 attempts I did get a piccie whilst my father-in-law struck out half a dozen times. Damn that slow sports mode on digital cameras!
Whilst we were on holiday, there was a 3 day horse racing meet in Dingle which looked well attended whenever we drove past. The Irish love their horse racing so you'll find courses dotted about Kerry and Ireland in general.
Drive through Dingle (An Daingean - The fortress) and you are soon on the Slea Head drive. This is a stretch of coast that is simply stunning. Marking the south-western end of the Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head is flanked by the Atlantic Ocean on one side including the wildlife sanctuary at Great Blasket Island and picturesque mountains on the other. There are regular boat trips to the island with it being the most westerly point in Europe. We did the drive a couple of times during our stay and couldnt help but marvel at one particularly secluded beach; it was backed by a steep cliff face overlooking large breakers crashing on the beach with great regularity. Even with no facilities present the beach was packed, as was the cliff face with back packers and tourists with its claim to fame being one of the sites used in the shooting of the movie Ryans Daughter. Its hard to describe just how beautiful this little haven was and it was at its best on the day we were there, glinting in the sunlight on a gorgeous sunny day.
If ever there is a tourist town then Killarney is it. Stacked out with hotels, Killarney is popular with American tourists keen to try out the local golf courses and re-discover their Irish roots. We visited the town on a number of different occasions simply because there is so much there. With the largest tourist information office we saw during our stay, there is a comprehensive shopping centre with a decent cinema and the National Park right on the doorstep.
Killarney (Cill Airne The Church of Sloes) took off around 1750 when Lord Kenmare developed tourism by building decent communication links. With a population of 9000, Killarney is best known for its national park which we spent a couple of days in. There is a huge range of activities possible there including fishing, swimming, golf, tennis, horse riding, rock climbing and so on but we went for the more civilised option of visiting Muckross House, Muckross Farm and Ross Castle.
What I particularly enjoyed about our tours of Ross Castle and Muckross House is that both were guided and the admission price included the guide. This added a lot of value and my lad found it particularly interesting often being at the head of the guided tour!
There was so much of the Killarney National Park we didn't get to see including the peaks of MacGillicuddy's Reeks, Lough Leane, Innisfallen Abbey and Knockrear House. We could certainly see MacGillicuddy's Reeks from where we were and the fact that the highest peak in Ireland i.e. Carrauntuohill at 3414 feet (1040 metres) was situated amongst them was enough to persuade any one of us to take up climbing (well, except my daughter who wouldn't have liked it).
Tralee (Traigh - Li is Strand of the Lee) is the administrative capital of Kerry and its here that we visited the Kerry County Museum. Kerry County Museum is located in the Ashe Memorial Hall and is named after Thomas Ashe, a Kerryman who was a member of the Irish Volunteers. He died on hunger strike while imprisoned in Mountjoy in 1917. With the Tom Crean exhibit on the ground floor, there was also displays of life in Kerry right from Celtic times BC through to the modern day Ireland we see today. Just as we were there, the town was gearing up for the Rose of Tralee festival with the town closely associated with that particular flower.
We couldn't help but spend a day in the state-of-the-art Aquadrome on the outskirts of Tralee. It cost 32 Euro for an unlimited family ticket and there's the customary explosion of wave pools, slides, saunas and the like. This was great for us as it...erm...persistently rained all day that particular day!
Castle Island is host to one of the biggest cave exhibits in Ireland at Crag's Cave. We took a day out to visit the caves. Discovered in 1983 and thought to be over one million years old Crag Cave is a wonderland of stalagmites and stalactites. Again we enjoyed a guided tour of the caves along with around a dozen other people. Tours were every 30 minutes and the caves themselves were well worth seeing.
Some suggestions I'd make would be to pack clothes for all weathers, as Ireland is renowned for its mountain ranges and therefore its rain and it's worth considering an itinery as there are so many things to do. I lost count of the number of back packers and tourists I saw and the peak months seem to be July and August.
Our time in Kerry was a wonderful experience. I did what I set out to do which was to stare out into the Atlantic Ocean and drink a pint of Irish Guinness (or two). I'm also now the proud owner of a gen-u-ine Guinness T-shirt which gets me admiring looks where ever I go (he he).
The West Coast of Ireland is an ancient land of woods and lakes, rivers and ocean and the views are simply breathtaking. Ireland has its own identity as do the counties and you'll note the endless green and yellow flags flying in Kerry dedicated to the Irish Football team who are the current all-Ireland champions. I'm sure I'll return one day and if you enjoy most outdoor pursuits love your history or simply fancy a chilling holiday then I can't recommend Kerry highly enough.
Thanks for reading