The Ring of Kerry

Picture the scene. In the gorgeous surrounds of Killarney National Park in County Kerry, a young girl struggles with her camera.

Killarney National Park, County Kerry
Killarney National Park, County Kerry

She’s trying to fit a giant pink rhododendron plant into her shot. There's a click.

A guide walking past spots her taking the shot and offers a slice of local insight: “It’s a weed, you know. They have to cut it back in the summer. The bushes totally take over the mountains.”

On the Ring of Kerry, it seems, even the weeds are worth photographing.

Muckross House and Gardens, Killarney, County Kerry
Muckross House and Gardens, Killarney, County Kerry

As the name suggests, “the Ring” begins and ends at the same point: Killarney. Queen Victoria visited here in 1861 and stayed in Muckross House, the grand Victorian mansion at the centre of Killarney National Park.

The Queen and her ladies left a legacy: on a peak above the park, overlooking glittering lakes, is Ladies View. Apparently the ladies' appreciation of the spot was so great, the location was renamed after them. Today, the viewpoint is accompanied by a soundtrack of clicking cameras.

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Tour guide John Hickey knows the Ring like the back of his hands. For him, one of the real gems is found before leaving Killarney.

“Depending on what access road you take on leaving Killarney, you may pass St Mary’s Cathedral – a personal favourite of mine. It's well worth a visit for its stained glass windows and the impressive stonework on the spire’s interior. Directly opposite the entrance is a cedar tree, which marks the spot of a mass grave of famine victims. A sober reminder of Ireland’s tragic past.”

Gems on the ring

When describing the Ring, it’s easy to skip through the particulars. Towns like Sneem, Waterville and Killorglin are homes to famous folks and crowned goats (at the annual Puck Fair).

On the coastal stretches, the sight of monastic marvel of Skellig Michael out in the Atlantic could be THE camera moment of your trip. Jagged Valentia Island is unique in its importance: it’s Ireland’s prime weather station. The foodies of the Valentia Island’s King Scallop Festival in July never have far to go for a forecast.

Time is of the essence on the Ring. The more of it you have, the more you’ll enjoy it. As John Hickey explains, long lunches are a must:

“Should hunger pangs be making themselves noticeable, make for Waterville and the old-time luxury of lunch at The Butler Arms Hotel where a long lunch of lobster and shrimp accompanied by a light Pinot Grigio [if you’re not behind the wheel, of course] corrects the imbalances caused by hunger.”

While you’re there, keep an eye to the walls for a clue to Waterville’s most famous visitor.

“Pause to look at the photos that decorate the interior," advises John. "Several show Charlie Chaplin and family enjoying holidays in the town. The Chaplins spent several summers in Waterville and one of his daughters loved it so much, she settled here permanently.”

History and heritage

Time also gives you the option of weaving off the Ring. You’re free to jump off where the whim takes you.

Make the home of Daniel O’Connell – a 19th-century political figure often referred to as “The Liberator” – one such stop. Derrynane House, his childhood home, is a fittingly handsome abode for a man held as a hero because of his role in Catholic Emancipation. The countryside isn’t bad, either.

Tony O’Callaghan is a native of Tralee and another guide to Kerry’s unbeaten paths. He tells a story of his father taking him and a friend there as children. On seeing Derrynane in sunshine, the friend turned to Tony’s father and asked, ‘Uncle Tony, is this heaven?’”

In a place where weeds look like rhododendrons, it certainly comes close.

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