You may have heard of Kerry. Since Queen Victoria visited Killarney over 150 years ago, its mountains, lakes and coasts have been the picture-postcard image of Ireland overseas. And while visitors may argue about their favourite towns, everyone genuflects to the perfection that is the Kerry landscape.
It’s just drop-dead gorgeous.
Where to begin? Killarney National Park, that’s where. Nestling between Killarney and Kenmare, this little pocket harbours the 19th-century Muckross House (where Queen Victoria stayed), Ireland’s highest mountain Carrauntoohil and the glorious Lough Leane. It’s also privy to a reintroduced population of white-tailed eagles. And all within a patch of land measuring just 24km square.
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From there, choices unfold like the pages of a fantasy novel. You can let your trip be governed by peninsulas like Dingle or Beara in next door West Cork, or by touring routes such as the Ring of Kerry. You can hit festivals like Puck Fair, presided over by a goat-king, or walk the Kerry Way.
Nobody’s fully sure as to why Kerry is called “The Kingdom”, but the hat certainly fits.
A royal welcome
After all, this is a Kingdom where monks built crazy beautiful beehive huts on Skellig Michael. It’s home to the legendary Ring of Kerry, a 177km touring route that evokes scenes from the Lost World to Lord of the Rings – with rather a lot of gorse and green fields along the way.
It has no end of exports, too: from its GAA teams, serial winners of the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Championship, to Tom Crean, famous for his Antarctic exploits with Scott and Shackleton. It housed Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s Great Liberator, too. But in one form or another, they all come home. Tom Crean’s pub is still serving Endurance burgers in Annascaul. Daniel O’Connell’s home is on view in Derrynane. And Sam Maguire, the All-Ireland Gaelic Football Cup, returns south almost annually.
The heirs in waiting
As well as the big hits, there are hidden gems. You’ve heard of Dingle – home to Ryan’s Daughter and Fungi the dolphin. But did you know that every December, some of the biggest names in music make the pilgrimage to St James’s Church to play stripped-back sets at the Other Voices gathering? Amy Winehouse, Steve Earle and Snow Patrol have all performed there.
Or what about north Kerry? As well as surfing along the Atlantic coast, you’ll find the brand new Tralee Bay Wetlands Centre anchoring a nature reserve stretching right over to the wild Magharee Islands.
Oh, and you’ll also find a writers’ museum in Listowel. It celebrates a place “where it is easier to write than not to write”, as Kerry author John B Keane liked to put it.
Kerry will inspire either way.