When you research things to do in Ireland, the Ring of Kerry is always at the top of the list. We were already blown away by what we had seen on our first week on the Wild Atlantic Way. Next we had the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula to look forward to.
The village of Sneem was our first stop south of Kenmare. We had wanted to visit here ever since we discovered a campervan stop perched on the river in the middle of town. Sneem is divided into two distinct sections on either side of the Sneem River. Both areas have a main square with a garden surrounded by quaint restaurants and shops. Keep an eye out for sculptures scattered about as the town is known for them. There are also gardens by the river built with money from winning the Tidy Towns contest years ago. They were pleasant for an evening stroll as the sun waned. We of course loved all the colorful houses and shops and I couldn’t help but take a ton of photos!
The next morning we started out at Staigue Ring Fort, our first of several on this leg.
Built in the the 3rd or 4th century, it is a feat of engineering in that they use no mortar. All the stones are placed just so and were obviously chosen with care as it’s still standing. It was pretty cool to climb on and had great views of the valley around it. It was totally hidden down a one lane road which was a bit precarious to drive in the van, but we made it!
From here we headed to Patrick O’Connell’s estate, the Derrynane House.
He was a political crusader in Ireland, particularly for the rights of the Catholics back when they were still ruled by England. His estate is enormous. We enjoyed walking out over the dunes to the sea area and touring a large garden with plant species from all over the world. Inside the mansion we watched an educational film about Daniel O’Connell’s life. All the films we have seen by the Office of Public Works so far are lovely. They do a wonderful job bringing the Irish history alive for people visiting the heritage sites around the country.
A bit further south we turned off to explore the Skellig Ring at the Southern tip of the Iveragh Peninsula.
Ballinskelligs Beach was a great area for a picnic lunch. It reminded us of a tropical paradise but with castle ruins at one end. Skelligs Chocolate Factory is also a great little stop. You see the workers making the chocolate right on site while tasting a nice variety of samples. We especially enjoyed the whiskey truffles. Their hot chocolate looked really good too.
After a few more twists and turns the Skellig Islands came into view. They are located just off the end of the Iveragh Peninsula, the bigger of which used to have a monastery on it. Skellig Michael is now famous because part of the new Star Wars was filmed there. The local towns definitely capitalize on it too – lots of Star Wars memorabilia all over! Next up, a traffic jam courtesy of a Slovakian tour bus that tried to navigate roads clearly marked ‘no buses’. And after driving the road they came from a few minutes later we could see why – one lane switchbacks, straight up, then a brief crest near the Kerry Cliffs and it was all downhill again as Valentia Island came into view.
Our friend’s family is from Valentia Island, which made it special for us to explore.
We hiked up Bray Head where her grandparents used to court. This was another one of those places I had ‘end of the earth’ feelings once reaching the top. Watching a nasty storm come in from the Atlantic, we counted down the minutes until the sheet of rain approached. Luckily we found a shelter and managed to stay dry as the epic downpour passed over us. At this point in our trip we totally understand where all those shades of green come from! Later we had a wonderful evening out in Knightstown at Bostons Pub, listening to a local trio perform and meeting some of the regulars.
Valentia Island is also known for where the first Tetrapods walked on the earth. It was pretty neat to check out where major evolution occurred hundreds of millions of years ago! You can see the imprints on the rocks and just imagine something crawling out of the sea and heading for land for the first time. Quite the experience.
Heading back over the bridge through Portmagee, we cruised through Cahersiveen and crossed Valentia Bay to see a few more ruins before finishing our loop around the Ring of Kerry.
Cahergall and Leacanabuaille are two ring forts right next to each other that are worth the drive off the main loop. The views of Ballycarbery Castle and the bay from the forts is exceptional. It’s also easy to imagine how people lived in these forts since the rooms are still kind of intact. From there we drove over to Ballycarbery Castle and climbed around the ruins for a bit. Castle ruins never get old.
The drive back up the northern end of the Ring of Kerry was pretty. We passed by a lot of pastoral landscapes and some mountain ranges. For lunch we checked out Ross Behy Beach and watched some brave souls swim in the wind and rain and a lone wind surfer taking advantage of the conditions. In the right weather this would be an awesome swimming beach as it has some long sandy shores and great breaks. Unfortunately for us it was a whopping fifty five degrees.
We arrived on the Dingle Peninsula later that day.
It’s much smaller than the Ring of Kerry, but there is still quite a bit to see. We briefly stopped by Inch Strand. It’s directly across from Ross Behy where we ate lunch earlier but extends south from the Dingle Peninsula. We read that people camp on the beach but honestly the sand seemed a bit soft so we moved on, heading toward Minard Castle before the sun went down. This was a great choice. The parking lot was small and private with views of the castle ruins from a tiny beach. We stayed there overnight with a friendly German couple also driving around in their van (and who we happened to run into again and again as we went North).
The next morning was gorgeous! We hiked around the area a bit before taking off in search of more ruins. After exploring some beehive huts we enjoyed a great lunch overlooking Fort Dunbeg at the Stonehouse Restaurant. If you ever travel in Ireland, try the vegetable soup. There’s something about it especially when paired with homemade soda bread.
The rest of the Slea Head drive was gorgeous, especially the lookout approaching Dunmore Head.
If you are into history, the Blasket Center is wonderful. It profiles the small community of people who settled on Great Blasket Island and lived there until evacuation in 1953. The center focuses on the fishing and agriculture practices and also the many writers and artists that grew up there. You could while away an entire afternoon at this great little museum. We unfortunately didn’t have time to take the ferry out to the islands themselves – perhaps on the next visit!
We finished the day seeing the Gallarus Oratory, an old stone chapel that looks like an upside down boat. Then we rewarded all of our historical pursuits with a stop at West Kerry Brewery to try some local beers. We especially loved the porter and the musical selections playing on an old record player. The pub’s owner gave us a tip on where to stay the night and we delighted in the free spot at the end of Wine Strand, just a five minute drive from the pub.
We explored Dingle Town the next day.
I should say we did our best rather, as the weather took a turn for the worse. Torrential downpours followed by short periods of drizzle all day long was par for the course. We were disappointed the Dingle Distillery was closed but then noticed several other businesses were shuttered. Turns out the local Irish Football team (Kerry) was playing in the semi-finals against their rivals Mayo. This is like the NFL playoffs in the states and everyone was watching. So we toured St. Mary’s church and gardens, window shopped a little and then did what many Irishmen would do on a dreary Sunday. We went to the pub. Dick Macks is the place to be in Dingle Town, it’s a special kind of place and a bit hard to describe so if you visit, just check it out.
Later that evening after dinner in the van and a futile attempt to dry out, we ventured to where we heard the best local sessions went on.
Conveniently the Courthouse Bar was only a block from our parking spot. It’s tiny, but has a delightfully warm atmosphere and some incredible live music. We posted up on some stools and settled in for the evening, excited to see McGargles IPA on tap. Here is where we met Charlie and Dave, a really cool couple from Dublin. They were celebrating their engagement with a road trip and were a lively addition to our evening. We had a great night with them and headed over to The Mighty Session Pub after the music ended. It was definitely a wild Irish night on the Wild Atlantic Way!
The next morning we crossed over to the north side of the Dingle peninsula and sadly left it behind as we journeyed towards County Clare. Ahead of us we still had some amazing cliffs, the Burren, Galway and Connemara as we finished up our coastal road trip.