Ireland: Ring of Kerry

Before you read beyond this sentence, the first thing you need to do is make yourself a cup of tea, go to Spotify, find the P.S. I Love You soundtrack, and hit play. I’ll wait…

Okay, now that you’re properly prepped for everything Ireland, we can get started. This post is a long one, but well worth the time. The theme is green. As well as tea, stone forts, cliffs, and castles. And chocolate…can’t forget that. Looking through these photos has brought back so many fond memories. The Ring of Kerry, which is located on the southwest coast, is a day long scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. There were many stops along the way that were on my list of things to see when we first started planning this trip in the winter of 2016, including the Staigue Fort, Kerry’s Cliffs, and Ballycarbery Castle. All the other things you see were welcome surprises. The drive did not take a full day – we were able to start in the morning and finish before the sunset (which was around 6:30 or 7:00 pm).

We started our drive in Kenmare and went clockwise (Rick Steve’s recommendation) around the ring. Tip for future visitors: Going clockwise will help you avoid being stuck behind tour buses if you get an early start! Tour buses go counter clockwise and stop frequently. We easily zipped by the buses on the other side of the road. All hail Rick Steves.

Our first two stops on the Ring of Kerry were one of those “Let’s check that out!” kind of stops. One looked like a river, while the other was a beach. Two completely different vibes in Ireland. They were the perfect stops to get out of the car, have an adventure, and stretch our legs. Sometimes it’s nice to allow unexpected twists and turns in your plans. They make for the best memories! Our first planned stop was Staigue Fort. We parked our car, walked past two quaint creeks, and came upon this huge ring fort that was probably 80 feet across. It was built sometime between 500 B.C. and 300 A.D. The most impressive detail about this fort is that it was built without mortar or cement. It’s a giant circle of stones perfectly stacked on top of each other. My handyman husband could not stop talking about that for days, and it ended up being one of his favorite things he saw. What guy doesn’t love a fort? Chase and I used to build blanket forts in college all the time.

The weather couldn’t decide if it wanted to rain or not. It was on and off for the twenty minutes we were there. The last 5 minutes was a downpour, so we decided to run to the car while laughing and having the time of our lives because we’re in Ireland! My bestie for the restie.
Our next stop was Derrynane House, the home of Daniel O’Connell. He was the most influential Irish politician in the nineteenth century. He freed Ireland from the oppressive anti-Catholic laws and gained equality for Catholics by using nonviolent methods. The street in the center of Dublin was renamed O’Connell Street in his honor. His house is at the bottom of a giant hill and has a small beach close by. We first walked to the house, then made our way to the beach and enjoyed the views. After spending some time at the beach climbing rocks and snapping photos, we headed back to the house and walked the grounds hand in hand, enjoying the lush garden. It was full of stone benches, random nooks, flowers, and what Chase called “dinosaur” plants (because apparently the leaves of these plants look like plants in the movie Jurassic Park).
The hydrangeas in Ireland are unreal. They were as big as my head. I told Chase I need a garden of hydrangeas on our future property.
We hopped in our car and began to drive more of the coast. Somehow, Ireland just got better and better with every winding turn. I was overwhelmed by the beauty – rolling green hills, small cozy homes, grazing sheep, and a deep blue ocean. I lived near the Southern California beach for four years while in college, and I can say without a doubt the Ireland coast knocks it out of the water. The California coast is beautiful. The Ireland coast is beautiful, but it makes you feel something too. You can feel the centuries of history embedded in those hills. There is nothing like it.
We turned off the main road to stop at the Butler Arms Hotel for tea and scones. This hotel sits right on the coast, and as soon as you walk in you see a beautiful empty sun room to your left overlooking the ocean. We walked past the sun room making our way to the front desk to ask the woman if there was somewhere to have tea and scones in their hotel. We learned that they had already started lunch, and tea and scones were no longer being served in the bar. Disappointed, we thanked her and started walking back to our car. We had just gotten outside the hotel’s front doors when the same woman ran after us. She proceeded to tell us that she wanted us to stay and asked what exactly we wanted. We said we just wanted to stop and have tea and scones, so she walked us back into the hotel, pointed to the sun room and told us that we could sit anywhere we like while she went and grabbed us a pot of tea. We sat down and enjoyed the entire room to ourselves. She came in with our pot of tea and began to apologize that they were all out of scones but explained that she had a plate of freshly baked cookies instead and she hoped it would suffice. Fresh cookies that she hoped would suffice? Bring on the cookies, lady! She needs to lead customer service training in America.

I also told Chase I wanted a sunroom in my future home. Ireland has inspired a lot of my home plans. After spending two hours at the Butler Arms Hotel we continued driving until we came upon a small cemetery. This was an unplanned stop, and it was Chase who noticed it. They are everywhere in Ireland, and this one was in the middle of nowhere. The weather was nice, and we strolled the grounds noticing how aged all the stone was. We only spent a short chunk of time there because we had plenty of other sights to see, so we drove to the next spot: Skelligs Chocolate Factory. Mmmmm. Chocolate.

Skelligs Chocolate Factory is a small, modern chocolate factory that has free samples of their own chocolate. I’m more obsessed with chocolate than I am with tea, so I was not about to skip over this stop. Those closest to me have witnessed me inhaling an entire bag of Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chips in one sitting. My niece never lets me forget that I ate their leftover Betty Crocker frosting by the spoonfuls. I am not ashamed.

We waited in the short line for the worker to let us try their tasty samples, and after scarfing those down we bought some chocolate, sat down in the small cafe and shared a bar of smooth, velvety milk chocolate. Yum.

Skelligs Chocolate Factory gets its name from Skellig Michael, a small island visible from the windows of the factory. Star Wars fans will immediately know what I am talking about. In the Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens,” Luke Skywalker is living on a remote island where Rae finds him. That island is none other than Skellig Michael in Ireland. You can go visit the island for a pretty penny, but because it wasn’t in our budget we decided not to visit it (it also takes an entire day and visiting is heavily dependent on weather conditions). What I do know of Skellig Michael is that it was first inhabited by  sixth-century Christian monks, is over 700 feet tall, and has 600 vertical feet of stone stairs leading to the ruins. Skellig means “splinter” in Irish.

Indulging in chocolate was just what we needed for our next adventure. We arrived at Kerry’s Cliffs, which- like I previously stated – was one of the sights on our list when planning this trip. They are also known as Kerry’s Most Spectacular Cliffs, and they were nothing short of spectacular. By this time it had gotten fairly windy, but fortunately there were railings at the edge of the cliffs. Chase would go “exploring” if it wasn’t for those railings. Mr. Mountain Goat, as some people like to call him…

We walked along the entire railing from one side of the cliffs to the other, and couldn’t believe the natural beauty of this coast. Some of my favorite landscape photographs were from Kerry’s Cliffs because of the green velvety grass, rugged cliffs, and never-ending horizon. It was about four dollars per person to go see the cliffs, and we only had six dollars and some change. The kind man working there let us go through two dollars short – we must have really looked like tourists! I was not only in love with the views we had seen all day, but I was impressed by the helpfulness of the people in Ireland. We seemed to be really lucky or the people are really that nice. As our trip went on, we learned there is no luck of the Irish involved. The people are as kind as can be.

Not wanting to leave, we slowly made our way back to the car to continue the drive. And how fitting it was to see a vibrant rainbow in the distance on the walk back to the car – I told Chase we should go find the pot of gold.

We came to our final destination on the Ring of Kerry: Ballycarbery Castle. This castle is privately owned by a woman who lives nearby. From what I read online, it was free entry to go see it. Unfortunately, the castle was fenced in and had a sign showing that it was closed to the public. We parked near the fence and got out of the car bummed that the end of the Ring of Kerry would end this way – this castle was a “must” on my list. An Irish man on a bike rode over and began to chat with us, explaining that six weeks before our visit a young boy had been playing in the ruins of the castle and was helicoptered out because of a long fall off the castle. The boy lived, thank God, but the woman closed the castle off because of the liability. This friendly Irish stranger then told us, “There’s no harm in running up there for a quick five minutes.”  So, after he rode off on his bike, my mountain goat husband (who is also the rule breaker between the two of us) convinced me to run up to the castle to snap some photos. After all, we were in Ireland. A beautiful green blanket of ivy covered much of the castle and inside there were old winding staircases. In the end, I was happy Chase pressured me to go, even if I was scared of getting caught and going to Irish prison. Now that I think of it, the Irish probably won’t take you to prison, but instead give you fresh hot cookies and send you on your way.

After my palms finished sweating and my heart rate slowed down, we left Ballycarbery Castle and headed back to our Bed and Breakfast in Kenmare to get ready for our dinner date in town. Since there was plenty of daylight, we opened up our Google maps and found an obscure route back home that took us straight across the middle of the peninsula. This was a real adventure. We had no main roads, just curvy two-lane roads that were usually unmarked. We relied solely on my ability to find a road that would connect to other roads that would lead us home. It was probably an hour and a half across the middle of the peninsula this way, but it just added to the thrill of the day. It was one of those “Why not?” ideas and we had no regrets about it. We drove through different gaps, saw rivers, desolate landscapes, and drove across stone bridges big enough to fit only one car. We finished off our evening enjoying fish and chips and a Guinness in the back corner of a local pub, letting the traditional Irish music drown everything out as we reminisced about the day. It was the perfect end to our most spectacular day.

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