Western Ireland was the most beautiful and scenic part of our journey. It has a lovely, rugged coastline — harshly beautiful! There are hundreds of ancient stone forts, stone circles and stone dwellings (it’s a rocky land!), and its citizens speak more Gaelic than anywhere else we visited. Western Ireland was the region least influenced by the British largely because it was so poor (for example, farmers had to make their own soil in the rocky land by mixing seaweed, sand and animal dung, turning it into something they could grow potatoes in). If a traveler has only a few days in which to visit Ireland (beyond Dublin), I’d recommend they head towards the Dingle peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.
Our entrance to Western Ireland was through the small town of Kenmare (in Gaelic, Naidin). Many people, especially those traveling by tour bus, enter the west through Killarney, a larger more touristy city (but still a nice place). They generally drive around the Ring of Kerry (also called the Iveragh Peninsula) in large motor coaches in a counterclockwise fashion. For travelers with their own cars, the clockwise approach is preferable as you have the outside lane and better views all the way around and don’t end up one small buggy in a convoy of huge buses. As Kenmare is just a minute from the southern end of the road that loops around the Ring of Kerry, it’s a great base from which to start this drive; it is also a fine gateway for driving tours of the Beara Peninsula (the one south of the Ivernagh Peninsula).
We had just a day to enjoy the small 18th century town of Kenmare, situated on Kenmare Bay, a small inlet of the North Atlantic. It’s a colorful, clean, pretty place of just under 2000 people, with brightly painted homes and storefronts; to us it was an extremely inviting place to explore. The town’s only a few blocks in any direction, making it easy to get around on foot. For foreigners driving car rentals it’s a nice place to spend the night as it’s all but impossible to get lost here. There are fun pubs many with nightly music, good restaurants, and pleasant small places to stay. We overnighted at the Lansdowne Arms Hotel and had a very nice room with an excellent breakfast.
Things to do and see while in Kenmare:
While lacking any “big name draws” (except the nearby Ring of Kerry), Kenmare has a pleasant ambiance. I felt very much at home here. There are a few things you might want to check out while visiting:
1) Go for a walk, and explore the town on foot. It doesn’t take long to circumnavigate Kenmare. Stop at some of the small shops, many of which sell local handicrafts, and enjoy interacting with the charming Irish people. It’s an easy place to buy some souvenirs.
2) Ancient Stone Circle: Likely constructed by the Druids. There are hundreds of stone circles in Ireland but few are as easy to get to or as large as this one. Over three thousand years old, there are 15 peripheral stones circling a central stone. No one knows much about these stone circles but they were probably some type of solar calendar and religious shrine. It’s definitely not Stonehenge, but still well worth a look.
3) Heritage Center. A small museum located behind the Tourist Information office. Provides a little history of the area. Worth a few minutes.
4) Kenmare Lace and Design Center. Located above the Tourist Information, it has some beautiful examples of Irish lace. Kenmare lace was developed by nuns and the girls they cared for during the impoverished post-famine years and became famous throughout Ireland and the UK.
5) Holy Cross Church. A lovely 150 year old Catholic church whose spire dominates the town. The church is said to have lovely carved ceiling timbers but we couldn’t see these as church services were being held.
6) Market: There’s a small street market several days a week in the square outside the Tourist Information building. Some interesting vendors and people-watching. Worth checking out if you’re there on market day.
7) Catch some Irish Music that night in one of the pubs. Traditional Irish music is at its finest in the west.
8) Outdoor activities. Besides serving as a springboard for driving trips of the Ring of Kerry and Beara Peninsula, there are lots of outdoor activities around like hiking, fishing, horseback riding and golf. And a lovely place in which be out of doors! Killarney National Park is not far and offers an expanded wilderness setting in which to explore.
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