So you’ve heard of the Ring of Kerry. But what about the Ring of Beara – one peninsula to the south? In a nutshell, the Ring of Beara is the scenic route from Kenmare to Glengarriff (or vice versa), a 138km loop taking in some of the wildest nooks and crannies in the southwest.
You can circuit the Caha Mountains entirely, or take corkscrew roads through the breathtaking Healy Pass. Time-permitting, you could even divert to Bere Island (by boat) or Dursey Island (by Ireland’s only cable car). In other words, it can be as long or short as you make it.
Its intricate coast and sharp-featured mountains are a geologist's paradise of exposed and contorted rock strata, making for dramatic scenery at almost every turn of the road.
Highlights? No shortage here. They include seaside towns such as Castletownbere and Allihies, where a Copper Mine Museum tells the unlikely story of an industry that once dominated the area. Artefacts like old drills, boots and the remains of abandoned towers and engine houses lie in stark contrast to the surrounding fields, beaches and fuchsia-strewn country roads.
A tale of two towns
Kenmare is more of an understated proposition than nearby Killarney, but this classy town has a knack for winning visitors’ hearts. Nestled at the mouth of Kenmare Bay, its collection of colourful shopfronts, sizzling seafood restaurants and luxury hotels is remarkable for a town of its size. Our tip? Stay over. Kenmare is the kind of place where you can kayak on the estuary, sup afternoon tea, lose track of time in a gallery and crack open a lobster – all in the same day.
The rough and rocky Caha Mountains rising to the north and west make for challenging hill walking, despite their small size, but there are plenty of gentler strolls in and around town, too.
Glengarriff is the Beara Peninsula’s other gateway town. Translated from the Irish for “rugged glen”, it’s ensconced in ancient woodlands, and has been a tourist stop since Victorian times.
The summertime buzz is infectious, there’s a tempting clutch of pubs, and Glengarriff also makes a great base for hiking in the Caha Mountains. If hiking isn’t your thing, try a gentler stroll like the ascent to Lady Bantry’s Lookout – leading to a mouth-watering panorama of West Cork.
Garinish Island (also known as Garnish and Ilnacullin island) is Ireland’s Garden of Eden. Squirreled away in Glengarriff Harbour, the island is home to a series of ornamental gardens first planted by former-owner John Annan Bryce and the Edwardian garden designer Howard Peto.
Thanks to its sheltered position and almost subtropical climate, a rich variety of plants can still be seen today – along with a colony of basking seals on its southern rocks. Oh, and plenty of quiet solitude. Just like the rest of the Beara.