Off the Beaten Path in Ireland: Escaping the Ring of Kerry

April 4 – 9
Iveragh Peninsula, County Kerry, Ireland 

Many things have been said of Ireland’s Iveragh Peninsula, which is better known for the (in)famous coastal road that circumscribes it: the Ring of Kerry.  The “inspiration of poets and writers”, “magnificent coastal scenery”, a “mystical & unspoilt region”, are the words of some.  In actuality, and outside a smattering of pretty beaches near the southern tip, the Ring is a tourist trail, plain and simple.  And it is one that is known to become so congested in the on-season that most travelers recommend self-driving it counter-clockwise, so as to avoid being run off the road by the massive tour buses that plough through from the opposite direction.

Having driven on the Amalfi Coast this past September, we no longer feared any tour bus on earth, so we chose to drive the Ring against the flow of traffic in the clockwise direction.  The parts “best saved for last”, Coomakista Pass with its views of the Skelligs and the beaches of Derryname Bay and Caherdaniel were indeed worthy diversions, but Ryan and I found ourselves questioning whether the entire 110 mile journey was indeed worth the cost of petrol.  Long slogs on bracken-hedged strips of roadway dominated most of the trip, and one small, dusty town after another appeared at random; their only apparent purpose to snare passing tour groups who paused en route for lunch. Ryan’s parents had arrived from California the week prior to accompany us through Ireland and, despite their good humor and excellent company, it was clear the long drive was taking its toll on them as well.

It was no surprise then, that when we pulled off near the “top” of the Ring in at our rented home in Treanmanagh near Glenbeigh, we considered moving on to the Dingle Peninsula sooner than we had planned.  That was when we met Owen, the cottage-owner’s father who would look after us during our stay.

We grumbled a bit about our road-weariness and the increasing number of people on the road but out of respect for our host, we discreetly kept our feelings of having been largely underwhelmed by the Ring to ourselves. Despite our best efforts at graciousness, Owen smiled and nodded knowingly.  His eyes glittered like the sea out to the Skelligs when the wind came across the bay from the mountains.  He knew much about this little pocket of Ireland, and he lit up a spark when he knew we were game to get off the path.

“Do yourself a favor now, lads.  Go up the road a bit left out of the cottage.  Follow it up a’ways; no matter the state of the road, you’ll be grand with that vehicle, until you see the lake down below.  Lough Caragh.  Up there, I promise, you will find God.”

So up we went, and Owen was right in every sense.  The road climbed between mountain pastures that could have been home in the wilds of inland northern Greece. The lake held the angle of the sun at its fullest and violet shadows edged into the valleys between Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountains.

For the remainder of our time, aside from enjoying the palatial expanse and modern conveniences of our temporary home – the finest accommodation we’ve had on our trip to date, bar none (equipped with a sauna, so spoiled were we) – we continued to seek out nameless roads scattered along the Kerry Way. One afternoon found us erecting cairns out of the curious purple and green stones that littered the blue-flag beach at Rossbeigh.

On another occasion, after an aborted tour of the stuffy Victorian mansion at Muckross on account of an irritable 21 month old, we wandered off into Killarney National Park and got hopelessly lost. After the Torc Waterfall and the panoramic stop at Lady’s View, our GPS simply told us to press on rather than turn back, and nobody seemed to argue.

Somewhere after Moll’s Gap, we doglegged in toward the coast, crisscrossed a moor that had all the flavor of the Scottish Highlands, cut a broad swathe around the “Black Stacks”: Cnoc na Peiste, Carrauntoohil and the rest of the Reeks, and slipped neatly through the pass at Ballaghbeama Gap.  An assortment of cattle tracks led us over the tri-arched Blackstones Bridge and wound us through ancient oak woodland before depositing us alongside the banks of our old friend, Caragh Lake.  Our “detour” out of Killarney had literally brought us straight to our back door.

With time, perseverance (including one grandfather’s willingness to take the long way home despite a bad back ache) and blind faith in our little GPS, we painstakingly unraveled the “other” side of the Iveragh Peninsula to discover that the Ring of Kerry was only that and nothing more…a simple road linking one point to another.  And anyone with any sense at all knows it’s always best to look between to look between those lines.


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