A tourist in my own county
Quick Bio: I’m Leonie, a proud Kerrywoman, based in Tourism Ireland’s Dublin office. I love to travel and have been lucky enough to explore much of South East Asia, South America and Australasia…however, the two most beautiful and inspiring places I have ever been are the Beara Peninsula in West Cork and the stretch of strand between Bal…
Quick Bio: I’m Leonie, a proud Kerrywoman, based in Tourism Ireland’s Dublin office. I love to travel and have been lucky enough to explore much of South East Asia, South America and Australasia…however, the two most beautiful and inspiring places I have ever been are the Beara Peninsula in West Cork and the stretch of strand between Ballyheigue and Banna in North Kerry. I love Dolly Parton, Kerry football, sing-songs, dancing, dresses and dinner, witty banter, red wine and the craic!
I am of Kerry – a child of ‘the Kingdom.’ Although I have now lived out of the county longer than I lived there, I am still a proud and passionate Kerrywoman. I might be biased, but I do believe that the beauty of the county is unmatched anywhere in the world.For many years the Skellig islands have been on my ‘must-see’ list, and this summer I finally got the chance to visit. In early August I embarked on a tour of the Ring of Kerry with my Cork-based Aunt and my Cork-born Mum. (It’s always enjoyable to prove to Cork people why Kerry is truly the Kingdom!) We headed off from my home village of Tarbert to Cahersiveen – where we took the short car ferry journey from Renard Point across the straight to Knightstown, on Valentia Island. After a round of seafood chowder and freshly baked brown bread in The Coffee Dock restaurant we were suitably sustained for an afternoon of exploration.
The first stop on our itinerary was Valentia Slate Quarry, which has supplied slate to numerous historic state buildings worldwide – including the British Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Cathedral, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Paris Opera House. The views of the island and its surroundings from here are really fantastic and the history of the site is very interesting.
Next stop was the viewing area on top of Geokaun Mountain -Valentia Island’s highest point. There’s a fantastic loop walk up here, offering spectacular views of the Blasket Islands, the Skelligs, Valencia Lighthouse, Dingle Peninsula and the Macgillycuddy Reeks. There are plaques dotted throughout the walk with fascinating information on the social and cultural history of the area, as well as the landscape surrounding you. Be sure and take the short walk to the Fogher Cliffs while you are up here – the viewing deck offers beautiful views of the cliffs and out over the Atlantic! Sturdy shoes and a windbreaker are in order here!
Back on the mainland, via the bridge, we spent the night in The Moorings in Portmagee, a gorgeous little guesthouse, restaurant and bar. Our delicious seafood supper was fresh off the local fishing boat and cooked to perfection. The serving staff managed to combine consummate professionalism with genuine charm – as anyone who has ever visited Kerry knows, you don’t get away without an exchange of banter and craic with the locals! After supper we enjoyed a great night of Irish music, song and dance in their adjoining bar. The proprietor, Gerard Kennedy, plays music and rallies the crowd, making it a uniquely enjoyable evening. Between the Irish dancing, the sing-song, the hot toddies and the fresh air we were worn out when we hit the hay and slept very soundly indeed!
I was up early the next morning for a hearty full Irish breakfast and a quick 30 second sprint down to Portmagee Pier to catch my boat to the Skelligs. Togged off in the latest saffron oilskins I really was working the “deadliest catch” look! As luck would have it (!) I picked one of the worst days of the summer to visit, with choppy seas and driving rain my constant companion as I crossed the 13km stretch of Atlantic Ocean.
Lying off the coast of Portmagee, this UNESCO world heritage site is one of the ultimate icons of Ireland. Home to an astonishingly well-conserved monastic settlement, dating from the sixth century, Sceilg Mhichíl (Skellig Michael) is remarkable in its uniqueness. Accessible by boat from either Portmagee or Ballinskelligs, there are limited numbers allowed on the island each day so it’s advisable to book well in advance and pray for great weather!
When you arrive it’s a short walk from the small jetty on the island, up to the bottom of the trail to the Monastery. Here we were given a safety talk by an OPW guide, at the bottom of the 670 steps, and this only added to the drama and excitement! While you don’t need to be a triathlete or supremely fit to climb the steps, it’s advisable to be fairly fit and healthy as it’s quite a tough climb, especially in inclement weather. However, the mist and rain only added to the experience for me and gave a great insight into what life must have been like for the monks (albeit without the latest North Face gear!). The beehive huts are amazing structures, round on the outside and rectangular on the inside and constructed in such a way that they are entirely waterproof. It feels so peaceful and special up there, you can appreciate why the monks sought solace here. It’s very easy to spend an hour or two exploring the Monastery site with loads of photo opportunities and, if you’re not claustrophobic, chances to inspect the inside of the beehive huts.
The smaller Skellig is home to the second largest gannet colony in the world, 23,000 breeding pairs, who nest on every available spot of rock providing a pretty impressive spectacle as you approach by boat.
When I got back to Portmagee I collected my Mum and Aunt and the three of us headed off to Waterville via the Skelligs Chocolate Factory. This is a great free attraction with lots of complimentary chocolate samples and delicious array of goodies available to purchase in their factory shop. You can watch the chocolate being made and chat to the chocolatiers – a lovely experience.
We spent the night in Waterville’s Butler Arms Hotel, a quaintly charming hotel right on the seafront. This traditional style hotel is perfectly located for a walk on the town’s fabulous beach and provides easy access to a host of local bars and restaurants. We ate in “An Corcan” which is a great option for an inexpensive and informal meal – the restaurant offers a traditional menu in relaxed surroundings.
The following morning we stopped off to see Derrynane House, the ancestral home of the great Daniel O’Connell. Here you can see a variety of historic artefacts relating to ‘The Liberator’ – including family portraits, documents, furniture and gifts he received from the state and international dignitaries. You can also view the opulent gold chariot that brought him triumphantly through the streets of Dublin when he was released from prison in 1844. The grounds surrounding the house are beautifully maintained and would be a wonderful place to picnic, and there is also easy access to Derrynane Strand.
From here we drove back to Tarbert through Sneem and Killarney. The views are simply awesome. If you can, I recommend you take your time to stop off and explore, your camera will be worn out from the multitude of vistas and sights along this section of the Ring of Kerry road! I highly recommend you enjoy a spot of lunch or afternoon tea in Avoca, Moll’s Gap…the retail therapy is pretty good there too!
All in all it was a fantastic few days. Sceilg Mhichíl has to be one of the most magnificent sites I have ever visited – every bit as impressive as Angkor Watt in Cambodia and Machu Pichu in Peru, but more soulful, less crowded and, thankfully, superbly protected. Start planning your trip today!
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