Counties Clare, Limerick and Kerry in 3 days

Journey around the peninsula in Clare voted top place to holiday by the Irish, take a tipple of Irish coffee history and venture into Kerry's lush vistas.

Sweeping from County Clare, through Limerick and into Kerry, this route is an eclectic mix of curious histories, food heroes and, of course, coastal views of epic proportions.

You can find more information on driving in the island of Ireland here.

Day 1

Loop Head to Tralee:103 miles / 3 hours 20 minutes at 30mph

Loop Head to Foynes

Welcome to Loop Head. Recently voted “The Best Place to Holiday in Ireland” by Irish Times readers, there are incredible scenes around every corner. On a clear day at the Loop Head Lighthouse, you can enjoy panoramic views that sweep from the Blasket Islands in County Kerry to the Twelve Bens in Connemara. This place is something special, and a night in the Lightkeeper’s House, surrounded by seabirds, churning Atlantic surf and rugged coastal vistas is something to remember.

The connection with wildlife carries through to the Shannon Estuary, where conservationists Sue and Geoff McGee of Dolphinwatch will bring you up close to the area’s resident dolphin population. Discover the incredible story behind the “Little Ark” at Moneen Church in the small fishing village of Kilbaha, before treating yourself to a traditional seaweed bath at the award-winning Kilkee Thalassotherapy Centre.

Body and mind refreshed, make for the Killimer car ferry and cross into County Kerry via the pretty coastal town of Kilkee, once a favored bathing place for the Victorian elite.

Leave the car ferry at Tarbert, and swing east into Foynes, County Limerick, where a chunk of aviation history and a very special coffee lie in wait. It was here, at Foynes airport, where Chef Joe Sheridan was asked to prepare something “to warm the passengers” whose plane had returned to Foynes after several hours flying in bad weather. The result: the first-ever Irish coffee.

The story is brilliantly told at the Foynes Flying Boat & Maritime Museum, which is housed in the airport’s original terminal building. And with a mix of clandestine war stories, a 1940s cinema and a meticulous replica of a Boeing 314 PAN AM Clipper Flying Boat, it’s definitely a unique and unexpectedly entertaining spot.

Loop Head

Meet Loop Head – and award-winning holiday destination. Pick your way along this rugged but welcoming peninsula taking in portable churches, dizzying cliffs and super-fresh seafood suppers along the way.

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RIB Tours on the Shannon Estuary

The folks at Shannon Estuary RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat) Tours describe the Shannon as Ireland’s longest river (which it is) “falling into the Atlantic after 200 arduous miles”. Before that, as you’ll find out on a RIB tour, it buzzes with bottlenose dolphins, Viking graveyards and crumbling monasteries.

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Foynes to Tralee

From Foynes, head due west to Fenit (via Ballyduff, headquarters of Samantha Jones and Sean Lyons’ North Kerry Heritage Trails) and explore the story of one of the most famous Kerrymen: Saint Brendan The Navigator. His story encompasses encounters with sea monsters and devils, and a grand quest for the “Isle of the Blessed”, which some believe to be North America. A truly dramatic statue at Fenit Pier and a lavish stained-glass window at Fenit Church have enshrined his legend.

From here, it’s a short distance to the well-known town of Tralee (famous for its Rose of Tralee festival in August). Traditional culture and entertainment is enjoyably celebrated in town at Siamsa Tíre, Ireland’s National Folk Theatre.

Day 2

Tralee to Glenbeigh: 112 miles / 3 hours 36 minutes at 30mph

Tralee to Dunquin (The Blasket Islands)

With Tralee at your back, all roads lead west to a place that National Geographic once called “the most beautiful place on earth”: the Dingle Peninsula. Creep along the north of the peninsula, tracking west past through the villages of Camp and Castlegregory. The hulk of Mount Brandon (named after Saint Brendan) looms large after tiny Cloghane village; it’s the highest peak on the peninsula and marks the end of a Christian pilgrimage trail.

Next, along what is known as the Slea Head Drive, stop at one of the peninsula’s most mysterious sights: Gallarus Oratory. Completely made of stone, and in the shape of an upturned boat, Gallarus Oratory (and its adjoining 15th-century castle) is an early Christian church overlooking Smerwick Harbour. The coastal scenery revs up the drama after the tiny village of Ballyferriter (and the very beautiful Béal Bán beach), as you head towards the pretty Gaeltacht village of Dunquin, with views that stretch out to the deserted Blasket Islands.

Dunquin (The Blasket Islands) to Dingle

Should Dunquin’s super-pretty harbour or surrounds look familiar, don’t be surprised. The film Ryan’s Daughter was predominantly shot in the townland here. Don’t miss a walk along Coumeenole Beach, with its little rock pools, tiny caves and surging blue Atlantic Ocean. The views of the deserted Blasket Islands are great from here – the last residents were evacuated from the islands on 17 November 1953, and most settled in Dunquin.

You can take a boat from Dunquin out to the Great Blasket during the summer months, to explore quiet, pristine beaches and heather-flecked hills. Be on the lookout, too, for “An Fear Marbh” (The Dead or Sleeping Man), a Blasket island called Inishtooskert eerily mimicking a sleeping (or dead!) giant on his back.

After Dunquin, move north making a point of stopping at Louis Mulcahy’s pottery workshop at Clogher. Take the opportunity workshop to throw your own pot, and treat yourself to some homemade Lemon Drizzle Cake in the café. Continue via the tiny village of Ballyferriter (Beal Bán beach here is among Kerry’s prettiest), taking a short, but very well signposted detour to one of the Ireland’s oldest churches: Gallarus Oratory. A slightly sagging roof is the only sign of wear on this stone building now close to 1200 years old.

Louis Mulcahy Pottery

Along with his son Lasse and his Danish wife Lisbeth (a weaver based in Dingle), Louis Mulcahy has put the Dingle Peninsula on the creative map. And for nearly 40 years, Mulcahy has been creating pottery inspired by the landscape around him. Visit the shop at Cloghar and you can throw your own pot before visiting the great little café upstairs.

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The Blasket Islands

Dominated by the Great Blasket, the largest of the islands, the Blasket Island group represent Ireland’s most westerly point (a claim held by Inishtearaght). Known as “Next Parish America” by former islanders and descendants, the Great Blasket is famed for its profusion of literary talent. Evacuated in 1953 due to the difficulty of living there, the island is accessed by numerous ferries and eco tours visiting on a seasonal basis.

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Dingle next and a town showcasing the best of both possible worlds. Blessed with an arty bohemian vibe (local weavers, cheesemakers, potters and jewellers call the town home), Dingle at the same time maintains a traditional heart that never seems to erode (unparalleled traditional pubs and friendly locals speaking beautiful Irish are two of Dingle’s claims to fame).

The town beats with a culinary heart, too, and its annual food festival (October) is one of the island’s finest. Savour excellent seafood at Out of the Blue and the Global Village restaurants; enjoy the “craic” at Foxy John’s, half-hardware store/half-pub; or get to know “real” Irish cookery at the Dingle Cookery School (from summer 2014).

Day 3

Glenbeigh to Kenmare: 102 miles / 3 hours 20 minutes at 30mph

Day three begins (possibly after a spot of horse riding on the dreamy Rossbeigh Beach) by stretching further into the scenic Iveragh Peninsula. Our first port of call, leaving Glenbeigh and heading west, is a view of the Skellig Islands.

The story of the monks who made Skellig Michael their home is engagingly told at the Skellig Experience on Valentia Island (connected via a bridge to the mainland) where exhibitions unravel the mystery of the monastery as well as introducing some of the island’s winged residents. You can take a boat to the Skelligs, but it’s always weather dependent due to the rocky nature of where you dock on the island! 

Valentia (Skellig Islands) to Derrynane

Continue along the peninsula towards Ballinskelligs Bay and the village of Waterville, where you’ll come across a bronze statue of Charlie Chaplin. The cinema legend enjoyed countless summers here with his family, and is remembered both with the statue and with a comedy film festival in August.

Beach Riding on Rossbeigh Beach

Inch Strand may be Kerry’s most famous beach, but in Rossbeigh it has competition for beauty. Just over a kilometre from the village of Glenbeigh, the beach offers an unmissable chance to take to the sands on horseback. Burke’s Beach Riding has you covered no matter what your level of experience.

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Skellig Islands

The Skelligs – comprised of the Great Skellig or Skellig Michael (Sceilig Mhichíl) and Little Skellig (Sceilig Bheag) – in their isolated glory, are icons of the Iveragh Peninsula with a location 12km off the coast. A Unesco World Heritage Site, Skellig Michael was once home to a community of monks who built beehive-type dwellings to withstand the harsh Atlantic conditions.

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Your next stop is Derrynane and the ancestral home of lawyer, statesman and “The Emancipator” Daniel O’Connell, Derrynane House. Derrynane Bay, where the house is located, is a dreamy vignette of vivid blue waters and fine white sand. Turn your gaze to the ocean and your eyes will fall on the island pair of Scariff and Deenish.

Derrynane to Kenmare

Derrynane’s effortless beauty will lull you into wanting to stay around, maybe even forever, but the lively village of Kenmare is waiting. Follow the twisting, turning Ring of Kerry through Sneem with its two picture-postcard little village squares. Before reaching Kenmare, stop off for lunch at the Boathouse Bistro at Dromquinna Manor, a lovely waterfront restaurant overlooking Kenmare Bay.

Kenmare's vibrant streets are lined with colorful knitwear shops, delis, cafés, pubs, and gourmet fish and chip shop. Framed by beautiful estate hotels, and with a lively atmosphere right throughout the year, Kenmare makes a great place to linger for a few days. Take tea and scones in cutsey Cupan Tae; feast on a bowl of wine-steamed Dingle mussels at Number 35 restaurant; and enjoy some traditional Irish music in O’Donnabhain’s pub. And while you’re at it, raise a toast to the Wild Atlantic Way.

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