The Ring of Kerry: sometimes those “Best of” lists have it right

Any search of “things to do in Ireland” will undoubtedly include a tour of the famous Ring of Kerry.  It’s often cited as one of Ireland’s top sights to see: #6 on this list,  2nd on this one,  and at the top of Frommer’s “best scenic drives in Ireland”.  What is the ring?  It’s a driving route around the Iveragh peninsula, hugging the Atlantic coast closely and circling through the towns of Killarney and Kenmare, as well as Killarney National Park.

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It’s also offers breathtaking scenery including the ocean, mountains, cliffs, lakes, waterfalls, fields, domesticated animals, and wildlife.  And although I’d been to Killarney before, I had never driven the full Ring around the peninsula,  only the bit near town and the Killarney National Park.  Here is a preview of a few of my photos from the area:

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See? breathtaking!

So you know I’m a planner,  but my plans usually leave a bit of flexibility. I was planning to drive the 111-mile Ring myself;  many tourists do it every day, and although there are  harrowing stories involving oncoming buses,  I figured my approximately 20,000,000 hours of commuting time spent on Rt 287 in New Jersey leaves me well prepared for just about anything.  I even made a map with scenic pit stops and approximate drive times. But, as the day approached, and as I spent as a passenger on the “wrong” side in Scotland, I realized that if I drove myself,  I would not be able to fully enjoy the scenery.  So when Dave, our Corporate Transfer driver from Dublin, offered us contact information for his friend Aidan at Killarney Chauffeur,  I took him up on it.  We booked a day with Aidan and never looked back.

Aidan arrived around 9 am in a beautiful BMW 5 series, which was a nice upgrade from the rattletrap I had been driving. The day started out a bit overcast, but the gloom added to Kerry’s atmostphere (and we eventually found the sun once again). After a brief stop at the Aghadoe viewpoint just outside of Killarney, we drove through the tiny town of Killorglin.

In the center of Killorglin is the statue of a goat,  named King Puck.  Aidan explained that the goat had warned residents of the approach of Cromwell’s army, earning himself such a royal title. There is an annual “Puck Fair” in his honor as well. A very accomplished goat!

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King Puck!

Just beyone Killorglin, we stoped at a roadside display of crafts that Aidan recommended, and once again came upon the sight of a dog… sitting on a donkey.  I guess this is a thing in County Kerry?

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Dogs + donkeys.  Why?

Next, we stopped by the beach in Rossbeigh,  which looks across to the Dingle Peninsula.  Somehow I’m still surprised to see beaches in Ireland.

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checking out a portion of Rossbeigh beach

Aidan offered us an educational tidbit here and there, including a brief explanation of common town name origins around Ireland:

Kill = church

Bally = Town of

There are a number of ancient ring forts around Kerry,  and we had told Aidan we were interested to see one.  He took us  to Cahergall Stone Fort, which we were able to climb and take a few fun photos:

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I’m the King of the World!
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Please don’t fall

Just outside the fort, I took one of my favorite photos of this trip.  This home is so peaceful looking,  I think I could live here, very happily:

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Serenity Now

Valentia Island was our next stop,  offering dramatic, steep cliffs and views back to the larger island.  Aidan took us by the Valentia slate quarry, bored deep into a mountain:qjs+mnnfqvyncme8hvdmua

You may or  may not have noticed in the photo above, but Mary watches over it all:

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Beyond the quarry, we stretched our legs by hiking up to Bray Head on Valentia:

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Skellig Michael, filming site for Luke Skywalker’s home in “The Last Jedi”, in the far distance
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Looking across toward Portmagee

After a stop in Portmagee at The Moorings for a very pleasant lunch, we arrived at the Kerry Cliffs.  By now, Aidan had figured out that we like taking photos on cliffs.  We worked off our lunch hiking to the top, which was only about 2/3 mile from the parking lot, but fairly steep. Also, the sun came out while we were at lunch!

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Skellig Michael, closer now, in the distance.

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On our way to put those calories back on at the Skellig Chocolate Factory, I spotted an abandoned cottage that I tried photographing from several angles.  I thought the sky, clouds, and shadows seemed almost surreal.   I do need to photoshop out the antennae, but I love these photos.  You tell me which is best:

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We completed our trip around the Ring with stops in Caherdaniel:

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Mary is very popular in Ireland
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Somehow, we will pass that car, and no one will fall off a cliff

The bright little town of Sneem:

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Just the cheeriest looking pub ever

And a few views across Killarney National Park:

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An overlook known as Ladies’ View, where Queen Victoria’s laides-in-waiting visited in 1861

Now, 111 miles may not sound like a lot –  here in America,  barring traffic,  it’s an easy 2 hour drive. But attempting the ROK in anything under 6 hours is a foolhardy endeavor,  due to a combination of low speeds; windy, narrow roads; and the absolute compulsion to photograph nearly everything in sight. My iphone says I took 133 photos on our trip around the ring –  and it wasn’t enough.  Guess I need to go back!!

 

Dingle All the Way

From our base in Killarney, Oldest and I next headed to one of my favorite spots in Ireland:  the Dingle Peninsula.  While it’s definitely worthwhile to spend more time here by staying in Dingle Town, about 1/2 way out the peninsula, it would have been too many overnight destinations for us on this trip. The drive from Killarney was a surprisingly easy and uncomplicated day trip.

Just past Inch Beach on the R 561 (“R” roads are very  narrow,  twisty, and “interesting!”, only to be surpassed in treachery by “L” roads),  we had to slow down for this lovely lady and her baby, who can barely be seen behind mama:

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Farmers mark their sheep with different shades of paint

Since my primary goal was to show Oldest the Slea Head Drive, at the peninsula’s tip,  we set our Google Maps directions straight for Dingle town, where one of the first sights we came upon was …. a dog … sitting on top of a donkey. Hey, why not?

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We wandered around the busy town for a bit,  enjoyed an early lunch, and downed a pint of Crean’s, the local beer.  Crean’s is named after Tom Crean, an Antarctic explorer who hailed from the Dingle Peninsula.

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Heading to the Beer Garden at Danno’s
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Glad it wasn’t Monday, but this sign is cute!

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Only one, though,  because I was back to driving –  and now the roads became quite narrow.  While it’s possible for two cars to pass,  it’s not necessarily advisable:

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Oldest took this one from the passenger side.

Slea Head marks the end of the peninsula, and, like many points on the west coast, the locals will tell you when looking east “The next stop is America!”.   We continued to benefit from nice weather, so we were fairly active in our exploration of the peninsula,  first walking from the parking area down to Slea Head Beach, at sea level:

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View of Slea Head Beach, from above. The “arrow” in the sand must be pointing to buried treasure.  Right?
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This sign did not stop the swimmers

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Then we hiked back up,  and further up, to Dunmore Head promontory. Nearby signs told us that some filming for Star Wars took place here, although it is not the more famous Skellig Michael island,which is off the coast to our south.

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Walking up to the Head required climbing over an old stone fence,  which didn’t work out so well for yours truly,  who lost her balance and skinned my knees in a pretty gruesome way (I’ll spare you the yucky photo).   It was still worthwhile, though, just for these photos, looking back at the peninsula.  It was my 3rd trip to this spot, and each time I want to lie down and never leave these soft, rolling, green hills.  Although I imagine I might feel differently in, say, December.

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Oldest with one of the two “Devils Horns” at Dunmore Head
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Beautiful, even when seen with bloody knees

In three trips to Ireland, I have managed to make it to the Slea Head drive on the Dingle peninsula every time.  It is truly one of the most peaceful places I have ever visited, and I truly enjoyed sharing it with Oldest.  I have no doubt I will return again.

When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or ….you are really entertained

This was a day Oldest and I had looked forward to for months.  Not long after deciding that Scotland and Ireland would be our graduation trip destination, we also decided that we needed to do a Game of Thrones tour.  In fact,  I arranged our entire itinerary around this highlight.

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Originally, I had thought of spending a couple of days in Belfast,  because the GOT sites are all located in Northern Ireland. Between difficulty finding a direct flight between Inverness and Belfast,  and planning for further destinations in southern Ireland, we ended up flying into Dublin and opting for this tour:  Game of Thrones Dublin Winterfell tour –  as far as I could find, the only one originating in Dublin. I promise to return to Northern Ireland and visit Belfast!  This was a very difficult decision.

Oldest and I are both very big GOT fans.  I initially read the books in 2007-2008, during that dark and dreary winter following the banking crisis that seemed to last a dozen years, like in the novels.  Now,  I am a big reader, but I am not generally a fantasy fan.  While I read an average of 30-40 books a year, I have not read all of the Lord of the Rings trilogy,  nor have I read all of the Harry Potter books.  It’s just not my thing;  I prefer historical fiction and crime/murder mysteries. In fact,  I tried at least 3 different times to start the series,  and couldn’t get past the first 50 pages.  Eventually, though,  I plowed my way through about 1/3 of the book and –  ta da –  I was completely hooked.   Finally, after two seasons of the HBO series,  I ended up re-reading all 5 books to jog my memory about the minor plot points skipped over by the TV version.  That’s how much I enjoy it.

**Rant warning**   Finish the d*mn books, George R.R.! **End rant warning**

So, it was quite a thrill to see the setting for Winterfell:

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Castle Ward, the setting for Winterfell. They use a lot of CGI to make the walls look larger
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The yard at Castle Ward

Dress up like a Stark:

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Oldest trying to look mean
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Getting my Stark on

 

and meet two of the beautiful dogs that played the Direwolves Summer and Greywind in the HBO series.

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BEAUTIFUL, and patient, dogs
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Me and Thor.  He looks a little bored
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Oldest and friend Odin

 

Our tour guide Lady Aenne was extremely knowledgeable about both the show and the settings.

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Lady Aenne showing us THE STUMP that can is visible in the series’ opening scene

She was also a FAST walker.  Winter may be coming, but I was sweating my butt off, especially with the heavy Stark-esque cape I wore.  I ended up carrying it for much of the walking parts of the tour.

We enjoyed lunch at The Lobster Pot in Strangford,  which hosts the tour group daily with this hokey but fun drink menu:

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Pretty much everyone on our bus was also a fan (there are always a few bored but willing tag-a-long partners). We played a GOT trivia game, the winner of which was crowned “King in the North”, to whom we later bent the knee and swore our fealty. Of course!  Oldest and I thought we did fairly well on the 20-question quiz,  but this guy was on a whole different level –  he got all 20 questions right.  Impressive.  I swear fealty, milord.

The tour was a long day –  we met at 7:45 am, and returned to Dublin right around 6:00.  There was a fair amount of time on the bus, but the tour kept us entertained with behind-the-scenes videos,  the trivia game, and,  on the way home,  the first two full episodes of GOT.

I highly recommend this tour and   tour company, Game of Thrones Tours–  offering the only GOT tour choice out of Dublin, literally;  when I return to Northern Ireland I’ll eagerly try one of their “Iron Islands” tours from Belfast.

Next up,  we will return to the 21st century and – gulp- drive on the “wrong” side of the road!

 

 

 

Delightful Dublin

After 8 days in Scotland,  now it was time to revisit an old favorite:  Ireland!

We had  a ride to the airport through Inverness Taxi. A cheery, punctual driver picked us up in the morning for a ride to Inverness Airport.  It’s a small,  easy-to-navigate airport, and we encountered no security line whatsover.  The tiny LogainAir plane required a walk on the tarmac –  thankfully, again, it wasn’t raining.  We climbed up the stairs and performed a royal/ presidential wave as we embarked.

 

After a short, pleasant flight to Dublin Airport, we opted for a taxi into the city.  My research told me that this was the lazy person’s way out – the Green 747 Bus would have taken us within 1/4 mile of our AirBnB – but we didn’t care.   The taxi ride almost became embarrassing, however,  when we found out that the driver didn’t accept credit cards, and didn’t think he could make change for my €100 bill.  Having just now entered the EU, we hadn’t had a chance to break our larger bills yet.   Um,  you’re charming and all,  but I’m not giving you a €70 tip!  As I prepared myself to make a big old Jersey Girl stink, the driver magically found change.

Another mention of politics vs. World Cup fandom from the cab ride.  Although our driver was 100% Irish,  he supported England in the World Cup.  This, honestly, surprised me.  I could understand the Scottish having divided loyalties.  His explanation:  “they helped us with cash when we needed it in the recession, no one remembers that”.  I think he is referring to the post-2008 banking crisis.  Oh, and also he is a Liverpool FC fan, and several Liverpool players were on the England team.  Now THAT makes more sense!

We were too early to check in to our AirBnB: AirBnB Sir John Rogerson’s Quay , so we had a pub lunch down the street at the Ferryman pub.  Guinness pie –  always a favortie in Ireland.    Once again, the AirBnB proved to be a hit,  on the first floor with two nicely sized bedrooms,  and walkable to all our Dublin targets.

Our next stop was the Jameson Distillery on Bow Street.  We’ve both done the Guinness factory before, and Oldest recommended this instead.  We enjoyed the short tour,  which was less cheesy than Edinburgh’s Scotch Whiskey Experience.

 

 

After a brief history tour, we got right down to business with our free drinks at the bar.  There they conconted some excellent and varied cocktails using Jameson’s.  Oh, and the bartenders were cute (whoops did I say that out loud?)

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Drinking having commenced,  we wandered toward Temple Bar.  We got a kick out of finding the famous Temple Bar webcam and waving to Dearest Husband, who we texted to look us up, and then sent us a screenshot of us.  Technology!  Yay!

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Look!  there we are on the webcam!

We enjoyed an excellent dinner at Fade Street Social on Drury street, which Oldest had picked out on Yelp.   It was a definite foodie joint, and a welcome upgrade from the heavy fare we had generally been enjoying. The venue includes both an upscale restaurant and a more casual, loud gastropub.  Since the restaurant was packed, and even the gastropub booths were full, we ate at the tapas bar overlooking the open kitchen and enjoyed drinks while watching the staff prepare the tapas-style meals.   When a man in a leather jacket arrived toward the end of the evening, observing the chefs, having discussions with the manager, tasting the food as it was prepared, and generally seeming in charge,  we googled the restaurant (technology! yay!) and found that he was indeed the restaurant’s proprietor, Dylan McGrath, a star of MasterChef Ireland.

A great day/evening in Dublin ended fairly early because we needed to rest up for …. DUN dun dun dun DUN dun dun dun DUN dun dun dun DUN dun dun dun duuuuunnnnnn

(what the heck is that? find out in my next post 🙂)  When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or ….you are really entertained