Nobody seems quite sure why Kerry is called The Kingdom but it may have something to do with the Ciar who was a descendant of one of Kerry Clans. In 65 AD the area was known as Ciar’s Kingdom or the Kingdom of Ciar although there seem to be a few other political based theories. Whatever the reason, this was going to be the day of great place names that sound like an Irish folk song. Tralee, Dingle, Killcullin and Gap of Dunloe are but a few.
Before we started to research our trip to Ireland some of these names were familiar but I wouldn’t have had a clue where to find them on a map. Jon’s obsession with maps must have rubbed off on me because I won’t get in a car or explore a town without one. Using a highlighter on the map was a step too far for Jon though, he was not impressed. But here is a non-highlighted one to help you “get your bearings” as you read.
The Dingle Peninsula
We took a straightforward inland route to Tralee and then picked up the Wild Atlantic Way again around the Dingle Peninsula. Visibility was quite good to start with although the black clouds were looming. The plan had been to head along the coast and then cut up over the Connor Pass, which is Ireland’s highest road, before descending into Dingle. Hands up! I was enjoying the scenery too much and we missed the turning and we ended up in Dingle via a different route. Maybe the highlighter is the way to go.
Dingle is a lovely fishing harbour with a famous resident called Fungie. He is also know as the Dingle Dophin, is a bottlenose dolphin. According to locals, he was first seen in the harbour in 1983 and still likes to interact with swimmers, surfers, kayakers and there are regular boat trips out into the harbour to see him. In the wild dolphins usually only live till around 30 years old so he maybe on borrowed time. The skeptics may think it isn’t the same dolphin but evidently his markings are quite distinct. What will Dingle do without him? Are there such things as lookie-likie dolphins?
Dingle also has other less know claims to fame. Every December some of the biggest names in music make their way to St James’s Church to play stripped-back sets at the Other Voices gathering. Former acts have been Amy Winehouse, Steve Earle and Snow Patrol.
After a drive through the narrow picturesque streets full of art galleries, gift shops and coffee shops, we took a stroll around the harbour and just managed to beat the rain. Coffee and cake in Harrington’s hit the spot before we headed out of town. We would liked to have got further along to the very end of the peninsula, Slea Head but the weather was deteriorating rapidly so headed straight for Connor Pass.
The Connor Pass
The guide books had given warnings on pain of death for caravans, coaches or large vehicles to attempt this road. There were an equal number of warnings about potential bad visibility which ranged from not being able to see the road in front of you to being able to see glorious views.
The rain was lashing down so the road was quiet as we ascended a twisty turny road. It was narrow but still two cars wide at this stage and we could still see the front of the car so all was going well.
At the summit there was a large parking bay to admire the views to both the north and south coasts and we were amazed by how much we could see on even this dark, dreary day. Definitely worth the drive.
The descent was much narrower. Only one car wide in lots of places with overhanging cliffs and waterfalls but drivers were being sensible and lots of courteous giving way was taking place. If you are on this peninsula and the weather is on your side highlight it on your map!
Our route back took us past two large bays, Brandon and Tralee. The skies had brightened enough for us to dive down a very narrow track which had a brown sign with a sandcastle on it. Promising. The track let straight on the beach so after Jon doing a bit of a sand density test, we abandoned the car to go for a walk. We more or less had it to ourselves and it was wild and beautiful. Evidently is is one of the top windsurfing locations but we only saw one guy whizz by in his sail powered buggy.
The Gap of Dunloe & Kate Kearney’s Cottage
Only a few miles from our next airbnb in Beaufort, County Kerry was the Gap of Dunloe and Kate Kearney’s Cottage. The Gap is basically a pass between two mountains surrounded by five lakes. It is popular with tourists and they are deterred from driving down the narrow, winding road even though it is a public road. There are a whole car park full of horse drawn traps which can take you through the gap for a fee. The pony and traps are guided by men from local families who seemed to want to have a bit of a monopoly on the road. We did see a few cars who braved the waving men, maybe they were residents. Apart from that it was just cyclists and walkers. We declined the offer and walked a fair way along the 6 mile round trip to the lake. We had envisaged a very narrow pass, a bit like in the cowboy films but it was wider than we had imagined but still picturesque. One of the mountains is called MacGillycuddy’s Reeks – a name which I absolutely love.
The cottage at the entrance to the Gap, which is now a bar and gift shop, was originally lived in by Kate Kearney who lived in the years before the Great Famine. Apart from being a “fair maiden” she distilled her famous Mountain Dew which allegedly needed watering down seven to one to weaken it sufficiently to drink. Obviously a bit of a local legend.
The Inn Between
After meeting up with Mary our airbnb host and her lovely rescue dog, Freya, we headed off to the interesting named Inn Between for a hearty meal. The landlord was super friendly and tried to explain the Gaelic football which had Irish commentary. The food was good and the Guinness was even better so a perfect end to another day exploring the west coast of Ireland.
How could a severe weather warning for County Kerry possibly spoil anything?