Ring of Kerry Attractions Run Circles Around Irish Countryside
Ring of Kerry tourist attractions line a popular trail that explores the wide diversity of Ireland’s beautiful countryside.
The attractions range from golden beaches to bare desolation to rolling hills with remarkable shades of green. Grazing white sheep dot the landscape and sometimes are the only signs of life for miles.
But the ring has more to display than just scenic beauty that fills a camera memory card with hundreds of landscape photos. It also has prime examples of Irish history that date back hundreds and even thousands of years.
The sheer variety of things to see and do make the ring a worthwhile journey.
Ring of Kerry Route
The ring is a 111-mile or 179-kilometer route in County Kerry that begins in Killarney, circles west around the rugged coast of the Iveragh Peninsula and ends back at Killarney.
If someone were driving on a highway in Ireland, North America or parts of Europe, they might take one and a half hours to go the entire distance.
But exploring the entire ring could easily take one and a half days depending on the number of stops and the amount of time exploring and taking photos.
Best Ring of Kerry Attractions
The ring has more tourist attractions than anyone could see in a single day trip. Some of the most popular fall under distinct categories that allow people to choose what type of attractions they like to see the most.
Muckross House and Gardens has been called the best Victorian mansion in Ireland. This large estate and extensive garden sit beside Muckross Lake in Killarney National Park, just south of Killarney.
Derrynane House and national park on the south coast is the ancestral family home of Daniel O’Connell, the 19th century politician who championed Irish interests and Catholic Emancipation in the British parliament.
Torc Waterfall is small and a short walking distance from the N71 road. Although it is popular with visitors because of its convenience, it is a secondary attraction because of its small size and may be worth skipping for other destinations.
A much better stop takes place at the highly photographed Ladies View, a scenic point high up on N71. Visitors often find a rocky outcrop, take a seat and contemplate the scenery. Ladies View also has a small cafe and car park.
Rockier views are available further down the road on N71 at Moll’s Gap, which also has a cafe and parking lot.
Ross Castle sits just outside of Killarney and is a quick and easy visit for anyone just starting on the ring. Ross is the best and most well-preserved castle on the tour.
The other castles on the ring are mostly in ruins and best suited for castle and history lovers.
The freely accessible Ballycarbery Castle is located across the water from Cahersiveen on the far west coast. The picturesque ruin, covered in ivy, was home of the McCarthy Clan and built sometime in the 15th century. From N71, take the Castlequin road across the water. Be sure to visit the nearby Cahergal Stone Fort, which dates back to about 600 AD.
The 16th century ruin of Dunkerron Castle is located two miles west of Kenmare on Sneem Road. It was home to the O’Sullivan clan.
The late 18th century ruin of Wynn’s Castle is near Glenbeigh and known for its views of the surrounding area.
The Ring of Kerry has a surprising number of large beaches. Four of them are worth considering for a stop. Two of them -- Derrynane and Rossbeigh -- have been named among the top five beaches in Ireland.
Derrynane is cozy, rocky and has some ruins and gravesites as well. It is located near Derrynane House for anyone who wants to combine both attractions in one stop.
Ballinskellig is close to the village of the same name, which also is known for its devotion to the original Irish language. The beach offers a long and wide stretch of golden sand.
White Strand is across the water from Cahersiveen, which means visitors can see it along with Ballycarbery Castle and Cahergall Stone Fort at the same time.
Rossbeigh is located at Glenbeigh and is six miles long.
Muckross Abbey is one of the better preserved structures on the ring. The abbey, located close to Muckross House, was founded in 1448. The ruins include a church, courtyard, square tower and vaulted cloister. It bears some similarities to the Rock of Cashel.
Skellig Michael, a small and desolate island eight miles off the southwest coast, is where a small community of monks lived from the 6th until the 12th centuries. Fit and energetic visitors have to climb 600 vertical steps to see the monastery. Tour boats leave from the villages of Portmagee and Ballinskellig on a trip lasting about three to four hours.
Staigue Stone Fort is another secondary attraction that is often mentioned in tourist literature. It is a quick side journey just two miles north of the village of Castlecove along the southern coast. The ring fort is 18 feet high and about 90 feet across. It provides good views of Kenmare Bay.
Somewhere on N70 along the southern coast, drivers will abruptly come upon a small sign advertising the entrance to some hillside land with ancient stone huts, also known as beehive huts because of their shape. The small entrance fee is a worthwhile one-hour stop to see and wonder how a few families lived more than 1,000 years ago.
It is wise to plan on the timing of reaching certain towns and villages to fill a car with gas and to check out their restaurants, pubs or attractions.
Kenmare is the first town on the trip south of Killarney and sits on the juncture where the ring goes from N70 south to N71 west. It is known for its brightly colored buildings and shops like the seaside town of Kinsale. Visitors who start from Killarney in the morning may want to time their trip around Kerry and make a stop there for lunch and a tour.
Sneem, next on the trip, may have one of the most interesting names for a village in all of Ireland. This seaside destination has a full range of watersports plus hiking, two nearby golf courses and boat trips to Skellig Michael.
A 20-mile drive begins a northward curve up the coast to Waterville, aptly named because of its location next to both Ballinskelligs Bay and Lake Currane. It also offers two golf courses along with beaches.
Another 10 miles north is Cahersiveen, which provides the access to Ballycarbery Castle and Cahergall Stone Fort. White Strand Beach is three miles west. Another local attraction is the Cahersiveen Barracks, an attractive 1996 restoration of the police station that was destroyed during the Irish Civil War.
Glenbeigh is the final town before the return to Killarney. It is known for the six-mile-wide Rossbeigh Beach. It also has the Dooks Golf Links.
Driving to the Ring Attractions
It is important to know that the roads often are quite winding and narrow.
It also is important to know that gawking tourists may be looking at the attractions and not at an oncoming vehicle whose driver is wondering if he will get back the $3,200 deposit at the rental car agency.
The reason for the high rental deposit becomes clear on the ring.
Even more challenging for visiting drivers are the day-trip tour buses. While tourists in rental cars are encouraged to drive clockwise on the ring, tour buses must drive counterclockwise to avoid causing backups.
They often cross the dividing line -- when one can be found -- because they may be too wide for a short stretch of the lane. An oncoming tour bus crossing the line on a narrow road can raise a driver’s heartbeat.
Then cars take a sharp turn with no line of sight and abruptly come upon cyclists struggling mightily on the climb up a steep hill.
For these reasons, one highly stressed person on the trip dubbed the Ring of Kerry as “The Ring of Scary.”
Yet on this day, no accidents took place. Maybe the ghosts of Franciscan monks from the nearby Muckross Abbey have blessed the ring.
Fortunately, the ring has many tourist attractions that allow for frequent and soothing stops.
© 2015 Scott Bateman