Ireland: Jungles & Ruins on the Ring of KerryOn September 22, 2017 by admin
A few years back, Global Gran and my beloved Dad went on holiday to Ireland with my brother and his young daughter, and she had been raving about it ever since. I’d heard the scenery was amazing so was more than happy to join her, Big Brother and the Nifty Niece on a repeat visit. And, of course, the Kid Explorers jumped at the chance to go on a 2-week adventure with their cousin.
There’s a lot to see in Ireland and Global Gran advised that it would take a while to drive around some of the more rural coastal roads, so we decided to concentrate our trip on two specific areas: we would spend one week exploring the Ring of Kerry and another on the Dingle Peninsula.
Flying from Birmingham to Cork took 1.5 hours, then it was just a matter of picking up the rental car and driving to our accommodation in Waterville on the Iveragh Peninsula. Sounds straightforward, right?
Well, all I can say is that driving Irish roads was an experience in itself. After 3 hours of poorly surfaced, winding lanes where we were either stuck behind farm vehicles or slamming on the brakes to avoid oncoming overtakers with a death wish, I was a nervous wreck. Just the year before, I’d driven the Trollstigen in Norway, which has 11 hairpin bends, but that was a piece of cake compared to this! I found it hard to believe anybody would be able to drive at anything like the speed limits displayed, but perhaps they figure if people drive fast enough they might just fly over the potholes.
Having said that, when we reached the coast it was clear the drive had been worth it. Vibrant green countryside strewn with craggy rocks led down to a white shore at O’Caroll’s Cove in Caherdaniel. In the distance, across shimmering Kenmare Bay, loomed the hills of the Beara Peninsula. It was – in a word – breathtaking.
The town of Waterville is located on a narrow strip of land between Ballinskelligs Bay and Lough Currane lake. Its claim to fame is that it was a favourite holiday spot of Charlie Chaplin and his family. There is a statue in the town centre dedicated to his memory.
When we awoke the next morning, it was foggy and cold, so we decided to check out the town’s other attraction: the Sea Synergy Marine Awareness and Activity Centre. Despite its small size, it was well worth a visit, as the staff were very enthusiastic and brilliant at answering the barrage of questions the Kid Explorers fired at them. There were interesting, informative wall displays and tanks filled with creatures taken from the morning’s tidal pools for us to examine.
Afterwards, we popped into the Beachcove Café for milkshakes. The weather forecast for the afternoon looked more promising further down the coast, so we decided to visit Glengarriff on the Beara Peninsula to see the seals.
From Glengarriff pier we caught the Garnish Island Ferry, which was small but sheltered. The 15-minute journey took us past Seal Island where we saw lots of the cute creatures basking in the sun.
We spent an hour or so wandering the tropical gardens on Garnish Island. Due to its location in the gulf stream, this part of Ireland benefits from a warmer micro-climate where exotic flowers and plants thrive. There were lots of interesting structures to wander in and out of, including a temple. As we climbed the steps up to the cylindrical Martello tower we could see Bantry Bay and the hills beyond.
The following day was overcast but dry, so we decided to visit Ballycarbery Castle, which is just across the bridge from the town of Cahersiveen, in an area known locally as ‘over the water’. It only took 20 minutes to get from Waterville to Cahersiveen and it was another 3km on Castlequin Road to a car park beside the ruins.
What happened next may just be the most surreal thing that has ever happened to us. Having parked our car, we were greeted by a ruddy-faced farmer (at least, I hope he was a farmer) in a tweed cap and wellies. He had the whitest teeth I had ever seen and seemed not to want to move his lips, presumably in case his teeth fell out. Grinning and uttering something completely unintelligible, he pointed to a small pen in the corner of the car park. Curious, we trotted over to have a look and found two sheep standing next to a sign that said, “Photos €2”.
“Mary and Joseph,” said the farmer, giving an even wider grin. And before I had a chance to protest, he promptly plucked Mary from the pen and deposited her into the arms of Kid Explorer #1.
Of course, that made Kid Explorer #2, who is a little obsessed with animals, want to hold one too. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen him look so happy – or a sheep look so bewildered! Nifty Niece and Global Gran opted out, but Big Brother and I were somehow persuaded to have a hold.
As I stood there awkwardly, I was reminded of the time we were walking down the Las Vegas Strip and got cajoled into posing with a guy in an Optimus Prime costume, who then asked us for $10. Except this was a sheep, and I was sure this guy must have something more important to do than hang around the car park all day waiting to foist farmyard animals on unsuspecting tourists. What made it even stranger was that he seemed to enjoy posing with us. I remember think I would look back on those photos for years to come with a sense of complete bafflement.
We paid him the €2 , of course, (what else could we do?) and hurried over to look at the ruins.
Ballycarbery castle was built during the 15th century and was once home to the McCarthy Clan. Sitting on a grassy hill overlooking the water, the ivy-covered remains were very atmospheric. The Kid Explorers and Nifty Niece scampered around happily, and Big Brother and I even climbed a few of the old steps.
When we learned that there were also two stone forts close by, it was clear we had a theme for the day. Apparently, local legend suggests there might be an underground tunnel linking Ballycarbery to the nearest one, Cahergal, so we headed there first. It was very impressive.
Dating back to 600AD, Cahergal is a ring fort with walls approximately 6m high and 3m thick. It had evidently undergone quite a lot of reconstruction work, but we didn’t mind that, as it gave us a better feel for what the fort would have been like back then. The Kid Explorers had a great time walking up and down the walls.
Leacanabuaile fort, a short distance northwest from Cahergal, is thought to be older. The walk from the car park was longer and the path took us past meadows filled with wildflowers and sheep, and up a steep grassy slope. The fort had the same circular shape and thick stone walls as Cahergal, but inside we could see the layout of the houses and a soutterain (underground tunnel). We wondered if all 3 structures – the castle and the two forts – had been connected by an underground tunnel system. Again, there were steps at various places in the walls, so we walked along the top of them and marvelled at the view until it started to drizzle.
With the weather not much improved the following day, we decided it was a good ‘cave day’ and ventured inland to Crag Cave just outside Castleisland. I had to coax the youngest Kid Explorer into coming on the tour, but once we got down there he was so fascinated by all the stalagmites and stalactites that he forgot to be nervous. The whole system was well lit anyway. There were lots of different passageways to chambers named after locations from Lord of the Rings, and a beautiful Crystal Gallery. Afterwards, we enjoyed a delicious lunch at the Garden Restaurant.
We visited the town of Killarney the next day for morning coffee and a spot of shopping. Although it was busy, we managed to find a parking space and spent a couple of hours pootling around its quirky little boutiques. While we were sitting in a café discussing where to go next, a wasp landed on Kid Explorer #2’s ice-cream smeared face and stung him right on the cheek. There were lots of tears, but he was incredibly brave as I whisked him off to a pharmacy to find some Anthisan cream. Although, I think it’s the only time I’ve ever seen him not finish his mint-chocolate-chip cone.
We had passed signs to Kells Bay House and Gardens between Cahersiveen and Glenbeigh, so on the way back we stopped for a look.
It was a plant-lover’s paradise.
We followed the trails through lush vegetation, past moss-covered trees and along boardwalks across bog gardens. At one point, the path took us up to some cliffs and across the fantastic Skywalk rope bridge. Every so often, we would come across a dinosaur or other scary beast carved from an uprooted tree. Global Gran discovered a throne made from an old stump and declared herself ‘Queen of the Forest’. We felt like real jungle explorers! And at the end there was a beautiful waterfall.
It really was a lovely place. Unfortunately, the wasps seemed to have it in for us that day and Nifty Niece was stung on the leg after one crawled up her trousers.
Not far from Waterville and linked to the mainland by a bridge at Portmagee is Valentia Island. It is just one of the many scenic places on the Wild Atlantic Way, which encompasses 2,500km of coastal road stretching from Derry in the north right the way down to Kinsale in County Cork. You can walk, cycle or drive the island and there is plenty to see.
We stopped firstly for tea and ice-creams in Valentia’s quirky Knightstown at a wonderful café with a secondhand bookshop. Then we drove up a country lane to find the tetrapod trackway. These are the fossilised footprints of one of the first water-dwelling creatures to emerge from the sea some 385 million years ago. The site is very important internationally, as it is just one of 4 such in the world that date from the Devonian Period.
We parked and walked down a steep track to where we could just about see the tracks in the rock. It was incredible to think that all those millions of years ago the transition of aquatic creature into land-going animal was taking place only a few feet away.
Afterwards, we drove to the top of Geokaun Mountain and the Fogher Cliffs viewpoint.
The weather got much better as the week went on and we spent our last couple of days checking out the local beaches.
Ballinskelligs Beach is a stretch of golden sand situated in Ballinskelligs Bay. A small castle called McCarthy Mór Tower overlooks the shore from the end of a strip of land. The shallow waters were perfect for splashing about in, and we spent a lovely afternoon there with our buckets and spades.
The highlight of our week on the Ring of Kerry was Derrynane Beach. It was so wild and beautiful with windswept dunes and rocky islands protruding from beneath the blue-green waves. We stayed for ages, wandering up and down the shore collecting shells and drawing patterns in the sand.
The Ring of Kerry has many treasures to discover. We were glad we managed to fit in so much. The one thing that struck me the most was how green everywhere was. It’s easy to see how Ireland picked up the nickname ‘The Emerald Isle’. It did rain a fair bit, but it was a soft rain, almost mist-like, and it kind of added to the ‘mythical’ atmosphere of some of the places we visited.
If we’d have had more time, I’d have liked to have visited Skellig Michael, a craggy island 8 miles off the coast from Portmagee. It’s home to a well-preserved monastery and was used as a location in the most recent episodes of the Star Wars saga. Still, it’s a good excuse to visit again. And anyway, the Dingle Peninsula was waiting…