Killarney & The Ring (Europe Adventure)

February 27, 2016 by kimeree13

All the guide books say visit the “Ring of Kerry” and I am not usually one to take the same path as all the tourists, but in this case I made a bit of an exception and we decided to hit a few of its many highlights! From our overnight location of Kinsale, we traveled northwest toward Killarney in County Kerry, a very touristy town and the hub for all the tours leaving to explore the Ring. It is also the best location to visit some key parts of Killarney National Park.

We parked our car about 15 km outside the city at a historic, family-run restaurant and shop area called Kate Kearney’s Cottage, the main entrance to the Gap of Dunloe. It was late morning and the sun was out in full force with a few fluffy clouds floating around in the sky. It was an idyllic Sunday morning for a small hike with my hubby and I loved every minute of it! The Gap is about 11 km long and within it are five lakes connected by the River Loe. These photos showcase the northern end of the Gap and was the location of our morning snack.

IMG_0920 IMG_0926The road into the park is unpaved and so narrow that most people visit this area exclusively by horse, bike or foot. We walked almost two hours into the Gap before we were ready to turn around and then opted to hire a pony and trap (cart) to take us back to our car. I enjoyed walking and taking in the sights on the way into the Gap, but I also loved talking with the native Irish gent and owner of our pony and trap. He was generally interested in learning about us and it was just one of many times on our trip that we got to experience true Irish hospitality. He didn’t plan to charge us for the ride (we did tip him generously), but was excited about us helping him “shorten” his trip back with some craic (enjoyable conversation). He had take some tourists to the end of the Gap early in the morning and was planning to ride back to the Cottage alone until we flagged him down, so it was a win-win for all of us!  Not to mention that I got an authentic taste of Irish culture that I wasn’t expecting! This is a photo of the Gap at midday facing toward its southern side (you can also see some of the park’s narrow, windy road on the left-hand side of this photo).

IMG_0924The tourist traffic leaves from Killarney on the N71 (Ring) every morning and travels counter-clockwise, so we traveled clockwise on the ring to avoid any heavy bus traffic. Thanks for this very useful tip, Rick Steves! From Killarney, we headed South and stopped at Ross Castle, a 15th century castle, which sits on the edge of Killarney’s lower lake, Lough Leane. Although the castle was amazing to look at from the outside, we didn’t take the time to venture inside. My primary purpose in being there was to hire a boat and visit the enchanting Innisfallen Island, the site of an early 6th century Christian monastery.

We took a short, 15-minute motor boat ride across the lake to Innisfallen and were given about 30 minutes to roam around the island before we needed to head back to the castle with the rest of the boat’s passengers. The island is so small that we were able to walk all around it very quickly. It is home to a large herd of red deer and we were lucky enough to walk past several of them grazing together in a little clearing along our way. The island is so overgrown with flora and fauna that we had to take the same trail the deer use just to get around!

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Our final moments on the island were spent walking around the ruins of the monastery near the shore, where monks lived for over 800 years. The largest ruins were of the abbey church and the smaller ruins were of an oratory, a place used primarily for prayer and communion, that had a spectacular brick doorway I really liked. This was such a charming place, I could see myself spending a longer afternoon here again someday with a picnic in hand and my one-and-only by my side!

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The photo below is a view from the island looking out and in the distance, you can see Ross Castle on the far left.

The next stop on the Ring tour for us was the Muckross House. A few months before we went on our trip, the Bachelorette was filmed here, so not only was I happy to be seeing a piece of Irish history, I was also pretty excited to be strolling the same grounds Kaitlyn had been on her group date just a few weeks before! It started to rain a little when we arrived, so we didn’t stay long, but long enough to see the 19th century Victorian mansion from the outside and some of the surrounding gardens.

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Our final stop on the Ring that particular day was the beautiful Ladies View. The name comes from the admiration Queen Victoria’s ladies in waiting gave it on their visit in 1861. Now they have a gift shop and a small cafe behind it that sits and waits to tempt all the people parking and stopping by for a peek of this stunning view. Ok, I’m a sucker, too, and bought a beautiful monogrammed handkerchief there! But, check out this view!

IMG_1067Just a few miles from this quick stop was our overnight location, Kenmare, a much smaller and less touristy city on the Ring than Killarney. My next post will feature the amazingly breathtaking Skellig Michael islands, a sacred site, nature reserve and UNESCO world heritage center. This is one post you will definitely not want to miss!

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