"Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness… Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime" – Mark Twain
At 2:45 pm, we touched down in Cork, Ireland. Fortunately, we had just come from Scotland, so we were not the least bit jet-lagged. We spoke with the super friendly people at the Europcar desk and got our rental car before driving straight to Killarney National Park. The sun was shining, making the green fields in County Cork about the brightest green I’ve ever seen. But weather in Ireland can be fickle, and it started to sprinkle once we arrived at Muckross. No worries though, as the house and gardens were beautiful without the sunshine.
Excited to be off a plane and out of a car, we walked along the water and through the gardens, and I did cartwheels through the open fields.
We then headed toward Kenmare, enjoying the stunning views along that small stretch of the Ring of Kerry.
That night, we explored Kenmare, a very charming little village, packed full of restaurants and pubs and shops. We went to bed early so that we could start the Ring of Beara nice and early the next day.
The following morning, we did indeed get an early start on the Ring of Beara which was a great decision, as some of the roads we were on were very narrow and we barely had to share the drive whatsoever. After leaving Kenmare, we turned right toward Lauragh. Our first stops were Gleninchaquin Park and Uragh Stone Circle. This drive was mostly a one track dirt road, so again, I was very happy no one else was out on the road yet. The park with the waterfalls was quite pretty.
The stone circle, though, was the highlight of this detour. It was the first stone circle I had ever seen, and the lake and waterfall backdrop was perfect.
After that, we decided more stone circles had to be seen. So, we found a little parking area to hike up to the Cashelkeelty Stone Circle. This walk was quite a bit longer than I had been expecting, but it was through a beautiful forest, so definitely worth it.
The stone circles at the top were nothing special, but the views were great, and we had a brief, pleasant chat with the owner who rode up while we were leaving.
We skipped the next stone circle I had planned on seeing, as well as the Pulleen Loop Walk to make up for lost time, and drove along the coastal road, getting lovely views of the Ring of Kerry before stopping at Kilcatherine cemetery.
And then the Hag of Beara.
And then the towns of Eyeries and Allihies. We stopped for lunch and visited with some locals, which is always entertaining. The Irish were very friendly and willing to help, in general.
We made a couple more stops before cutting across the Healy Pass, the best part of the Ring of Beara. The views along the pass were stunning, and we stopped at a couple different places to sit outside and enjoy them. You absolutely must do the Healy Pass if doing the Ring of Beara.
I know the route we took meant we missed Glengariff and Garnish Island, which I’m sure would have been fantastic, but we had planned on heading up and walking the Gap of Dunloe that evening instead. Turns out we were tired, so we just went out and enjoyed some ice cream and drinks and live music in Kenmare that evening.
The next morning, we were on the road nice and early again, driving along the Ring of Kerry to Portmagee.
And here, my friends, is where the magic really happened. We hopped on our little boat and braved the wild Atlantic sea for around 40 minutes to get to incredible Skellig Michael. Only around a dozen boats have permits to land, and it’s no wonder considering how difficult the landing was. It also keeps the number of people visiting Skellig Michael down which helps to protect the island and its birds.
Ah, the birds. Thousands and thousands and thousands of birds. There were 10,000 puffins alone while we were there, and if you’ve never seen a puffin before, they are the cutest damn things ever.
We climbed the 600+ steps, little slabs of rock built into the cliff sides with no rails, to get to the monastery at the top. We explored the little city, which was amazing, and got a history lesson of the island, starting with the monks who arrived in the 6th century, and how they managed to make a life on this crazy place.
We had a picnic and did some more exploring before we had to head back down to get back on the boat.
The sea was tossing the boats this way and that, and getting back on was even harder than getting off was. But alas, we all made it (though this took our boat two tries to get us all), and we ventured toward Little Skellig where we saw even more birds (the island is covered in them, and thousands circled overhead the entire time)… and seals!
If at all possible, try to go to Skellig Michael. Plan way in advance because those few boats book up quickly. They only land during the summer months, and be prepared even then for weather to get in the way and the trip to be cancelled. We were very fortunate.
So then it was only afternoon, so we drove along the Ring of Kerry some more before cutting across to the Dingle peninsula. We stopped at Inch beach, which was a lovely place to stretch our legs and relax.
We then drove through the most magnificent green rolling hills before arriving in Dingle town. We walked along the bay a bit, ate some dinner at a great restaurant that Anthony nearly burnt down (napkins and candles don’t always get along), and then drove about 10 minutes inland to get to our lovely house at the base of Mount Brandon.
The following day, we drove the Slea Head drive, but in reverse. We stopped at some beaches.
And we walked up some hills (and saw some new Star Wars filming locations).
And in general, enjoyed the views all the way to Dingle town.
We hung out in Dingle, eating lunch and visiting Dick Mack’s pub, which was awesome.
That night and the following day, we mostly just relaxed. We went on a hike along the bay to see Fungie the dolphin, where he played with the tour boats that came out to see him. We got some ice cream. Hung out at our lovely house. And we loved life.
On our sixth day in Ireland, we got on the road really early and drove the Conor Pass, which had incredible views, but in order to get those incredible views, it was a pretty frightening drive.
We caught the ferry over to the Loop Head peninsula, saw the Kilkee Cliffs, and started driving along the coast as much as possible toward the Cliffs of Moher.
The number of people at the Cliffs of Moher was insane, but the cliffs were really impressive, so I’d say it was still worth it. Make sure you walk along the path a ways (we went toward Doolin) to get away from the bigger crowds and have some more unobstructed views.
After that, we stopped in Doolin to eat and then drove through the Burren to get to our next base, Kinvarra, a great little village situated on the bay. It is home to lovely Dunguaire Castle which we got to see at sunset two nights in a row.
We took it pretty easy that evening, hanging out, having a pint outside a local pub.
The next day, we had planned on driving through Connemara, but we were tired of the car, so we decided to head into Galway and enjoy the city instead. We had perfect weather for walking around and listening to the street performers and sitting out on patios. Galway is a beautiful and lively city, and I was very glad we decided to visit it since it wasn’t part of my original plans.
In fact, we liked it so much that we went back to Galway on our last full day as well. I’m sure it’s less impressive in the middle of the week during winter, but on a beautiful summer weekend, it was pleasant as can be. I do wish we had had time for Connemara and one of the Aran Islands while we were so close, but now, we have an excuse to come back some day!