Welcome back! Thanks for joining me for part two of our week in Ireland. If you haven’t yet checked out part one, you might want to do so here before reading on. If you’re all caught up, let’s set off on the Ring of Kerry!(Note: some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which means that I may earn a small commission from your purchase at no additional cost to you. Thank you for supporting Full Life, Full Passport! You can find the full disclosure here.)
Day 5: Killarney and the Ring of Kerry
On our first morning in Killarney, we awoke to heavy gray skies and steady rain. It was hard to be upset, though, because Frank’s Airbnb was so cozy that we were more than happy to stay inside! Frank’s wife’s scones were the perfect breakfast as we sat reading, journaling, and admiring the rain-soaked mountains through the big picture windows. It was the perfect lazy, restful morning. We didn’t realize it at the time, but the rain would actually end up working in our favor when we finally set off to do some sightseeing.
By lunchtime, we were ready to find something to do. Killarney has such a wealth of activity and sightseeing options that it seemed foolish not to try to experience something, no matter the weather. Thus, we headed out to the lovely Lake Hotel to get some lunch and discuss our plans. Happily, as we ate, the rain slowed and cracks of sunlight began showing through the heavy clouds. Hopeful that the clouds would continue to clear, we decided to try to conquer the famous Ring of Kerry.
The Ring of Kerry is a drivable loop around the Kerry Peninsula. Along the way, it travels through the wild mountains of Killarney National Park, along the azure-blue waters of the Atlantic coast, through colorful little towns with names like “Sneem” and “Dooks,” and past prehistoric sites like the ring forts of Cahergal and Leacanabuaile. It’s one of the most common reasons that people visit Killarney and well worth a drive.
Unfortunately, the popularity of the Ring of Kerry also means that its narrow roads are often crowded with tour buses. Knowing this, we had arrived in Killarney fully expecting to share our sightseeing time with a lot of other people. Our rainy morning, however, changed everything. By the time we set out from the Lake Hotel, many of the buses were completing their circuits. We passed a number of them on our way through Killarney National Park – no easy thing considering the narrow roads and blind corners! – and by the time we reached Moll’s Gap, it felt like we had the whole Ring to ourselves. We couldn’t believe our luck.
Our first stop on the Ring was Torc Waterfall in Killarney National Park. It was by no means the most impressive cataract I’ve ever seen, but it was pretty. The forest that surrounded the waterfall and its resulting river w
We didn’t stay long since there was so much more to see along the Ring and nightfall would be coming before we knew it. By the time we left, though, the sky had cleared and it had turned into an absolutely gorgeous afternoon. We wound our way through the mountains and hills, stopping for photos at serene lakes and stunning valley vistas. All the way, we marveled at our good fortune at experiencing such a beautiful day after such a wet, gray morning.
We left the national park by way of Molls Gap, a wide valley filled with rolling hills, rocky outcrops, fluffy sheep, and a smattering of trees.
From there, we pressed on along the coast, relishing in the beauty of the teal-colored water. I’m not one to turn down a wide, sandy beach, but I love the drama of a rocky coastline.
The only downside to starting the Ring so late in the day (and with no chance of returning the day after) was that we couldn’t tarry like we otherwise might have. We didn’t rush, per se, but we also didn’t have the opportunity to linger. We passed through towns where we might have stopped in a charming shop or cafe, and we missed out on hikes and walks that could have brought us up close and personal with the stunning scenery. If I’m every fortunate enough to return to Ireland, you had better believe that Killarney will be at the top of my list and I will be taking my time around the Ring of Kerry.
As we rounded the northwestern corner of the peninsula, however, we did take the time to explore some historic sites. First were the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle. Dating to the 1500s, Ballycarbery is now a crumbling ruin. Its towers rose like jagged teeth against the blue sky, and ivy had overtaken large swaths of the walls, finding footholds in the gaps left between the weathered stones.
We’d visited a lot of castles by that point in our trip, but we still really enjoyed this one. There was something haunting about it, and it felt as if we had stumbled into a storybook. That feeling only got stronger as we moved on to the ring forts of Cahergal and Leacanabuaile.
Ring forts are stone and earth structures that date back to the Bronze Age. They were used not only as defensive fortifications but also housed farmsteads, corralled livestock, and more.
The sun was setting as we explored the ring forts, casting a golden glow on the timeless rocks. It was easy to feel the weight of Ireland’s history as we stood on a structure and admired a landscape that both seemed older than time itself.
At last, it grew too dark for us to continue wandering the forts. We returned to our car and wound our way along the narrow roads back to Killarney. Although I’m sure we missed a lot in our limited time on the Ring, we were so happy with how our day (and the weather!) had turned out. I can’t wait to come back to this part of Ireland and give it the time it deserves.
Tips for the Ring of Kerry
- I highly recommend devoting more than a day to Killarney in general. You could easily spend a week enjoying the town, the national park, and the various scenic drives around the nearby peninsulas.
- Starting early or waiting until later in the day to set off along the Ring of Kerry may help you avoid the crowds. Regardless of the time you leave, it’s wise to drive clockwise around the peninsula because the tour buses travel counterclockwise.
- There are plenty of hiking opportunities at Torc Waterfall and in Killarney National Park if you have more time.
- The rest stop at Molls Gap is great for refreshments, especially if it’s not crowded with tour buses. I had a caramel ice cream that was absolutely divine.
- Ballycarbery Castle and the ring forts can be accessed by turning left onto Bridge Street in the town of Cahersiveen. Signs will direct you.
- Cattle graze the grounds at Ballycarbery Castle, so watch out for cow pies! I ended up spending a good bit of time washing my shoe out in a nearby stream. The castle is just so distracting!
- Leacanabuaile is the smaller (and some would say more authentic) ring fort. Cahergal has undergone some reconstruction but is still very impressive.
Day 6: Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle, and Enniskerry
As if to ensure we left hopelessly in love with the place, Killarney wowed us one last time with a brilliant rainbow on our final morning. The vivid arc stretched from horizon to horizon over the valley in front of Frank’s place, at times joined by a second rainbow just above it.
Reluctantly, we tore ourselves away from that cozy cottage and, after a quick breakfast in town, set off eastward toward Dublin. Our destination for the night was Enniskerry, a town about a half-hour south of the Irish capital. We had booked two rooms at the Coolakay House, which would turn out to be one of our favorite accommodations of the entire trip.
On the way, though, we had our eye on a couple of interesting sights that were conveniently located at about the halfway point of our four-hour drive. First was Cahir Castle, which dates from the 12th century and sits in the middle of a charming town.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive castle that doesn’t take long to visit and can still impress, Cahir is it. Admission for adults is only €5, and you can see everything in an hour or two. That said, we were told that it is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles, and its location along the river Suir certainly adds a fairytale feel to the place. I also get the feeling that it is a little off the beaten path as castles go, so if you want an alternative to the crowds at Blarney Castle this is
There are a lot of interesting rooms and battlements, including a creepy dungeon accessible only by some rickety metal stairs. When we visited, there was also a museum with information on World War I and the Irish fight for independence, though I have not been able to find confirmation that the exhibits are the same.
From Cahir Castle, it was a short thirty-minute drive to our next stop, the Rock of Cashel.
I will readily admit that, prior to researching this trip to Ireland, I had never heard of the Rock of Cashel. Especially when compared with places like the Cliffs of Moher, the Giant’s Causeway, and Temple Bar in Dublin, it doesn’t seem to get much press at all. To be honest, I put it on our itinerary purely because it seemed like a moderately interesting spot would make a convenient stopping point halfway between Killarney and Enniskerry.
Imagine my surprise (and delight) when we arrived to find that the Rock of Cashel is absolutely massive and one of the most important historical sites in Ireland.
The Rock’s history is long and storied. While most of the structures date to the 12th and 13th centuries – already impressively ancient to my American mind – lore about the site reaches as far back as the 400s AD. St. Patrick (yes, that St. Patrick) was said to have converted the local king to Christianity here in the 5th century. Those kings ruled from the Rock for hundreds of years before it was given to the church, who built most of the surviving buildings.
Now, parts of the Rock of Cashel have fallen into ruin. The cathedral roof is missing, and many of the walls have crumbled. Even so, the place is still awe-inspiring in its height and grandeur.
There is also a cemetery filled with lovely sculptures and high crosses, which are elaborately decorated Christian stone crosses. With views out over the verdant countryside, it’s a pretty and peaceful place.
One of the most interesting features of the Rock of Cashel is the round tower. It was built in the 12th century, which is absolutely mind-blowing considering how well-preserved it is. On the day we visited, crows were circling it, which added to the ominous and evocative feel of the place.
Another must-see spot at the Rock of Cashel is Cormac’s Chapel, also from the 1100s. Again, I was awed by the skill and craftsmanship of the 12th-century builders. It amazes me how our ancestors were able to create such ornate structures without the benefit of modern tools and technology.
When visiting Cormac’s Chapel, keep an eye out for fragments of frescoes on the walls and ceiling. The place was once covered with them, and some weathered sections remain to provide a glimpse of what must have been truly remarkable works of art.
After exploring the full extent of the site, we left the town of Cashel behind and continued onward to Enniskerry. The drive took about two hours, and before we knew it we were pulling up to Coolakay House. A bed and breakfast located on a working farm, Coolakay House is cozy, welcoming, and situated in a beautiful location among the green hills. We knew we’d made a great choice.
At our hosts’ recommendation, we had dinner at a place called Pluck’s just down the road. There, M had what he lauded as the best fish and chips of his life and we shared a lot of laughs with our fast-talking, quick-witted server. Such a great end to the day!
Tips for Cahir Castle and the Rock of Cashel
- Guided tours are available at Cahir Castle, as well as an audiovisual presentation about the castle and others in Ireland. We did not take advantage of either, but there does not seem to be an additional cost.
- Cahir Castle is free to visit on the first Wednesday of the month.
- The village of Cahir is a heritage town and worthy in its own right
ofbeing explored. If you have the time, take a stroll, stop for lunch, or even consider staying the night.
- A guided tour of the Rock of Cashel is highly recommended. While you can certainly appreciate the architecture and sweeping views on your own, a guide can really help you understand and appreciate the historical significance of the site.
- From the grounds of the
Rockyou can see the ruins of the unfortunately-named Hore Abbey. We didn’t have time, but a visit to the Abbey does seem to be worthwhile. It’s less crowded than the Rock of Castle, free to enter, and very atmospheric. These photos will certainly convince you to add it to the list!
- The Rock House restaurant is located within easy walking distance of the Rock of Cashel if you need a bite to eat.
- Despite my ignorance of it, the Rock of Cashel is a popular destination for tourists. Expect some crowds, especially in summer. Adult admission is €8, with an additional €3 charge to visit Cormac’s Chapel (by guided tour only).
- Dublin prices got you down? Check out Enniskerry. The Coolakay House was our favorite bed and breakfast of the trip and allowed easy access to some beautiful countryside. While the half-hour drive time isn’t exactly convenient if you want to spend a few days exploring the capital, you could easily stay there the night before the beginning of your Dublin adventure, as we did.
Day 7: Glendalough
Our last full day in Ireland was all about getting out into nature. We’d spent a lot of time in the car over the past week and were looking forward to doing some hiking in nearby Glendalough.
Glendalough is a glacial valley about an hour south of Dublin. It holds the ruins of a monastic settlement, two lovely lakes, and lots of hiking trails, among other diversions. It’s located within a national park and includes a section of the famed Wicklow Way walking trail.
After the best breakfast of our trip thus far, and before setting off south toward Glendalough, the four of us spent a little time checking out the Coolakay House’s property. Just beyond the bed and breakfast were some fields that led up to the top of a little ridge. Armed with some carrots for the farm’s three friendly ponies, we trekked up the hill to take in the view.
And let me just say, that view did not disappoint. I never quite got over the fact that Ireland is every bit as green as they said.
It was only the beginning of a day filled with great scenery. Our hosts recommended taking the “old military road,” or Route 115, instead of the main road (Rt. 755) to Glendalough. We took their advice and found ourselves winding through wild and lonely hills covered in heather.
Soon, we arrived at Glendalough. After a quick stop at the visitor’s center, we set off to visit the monastic ruins. It was a short walk to the site, which is fairly small but chock full of stone buildings and ruins. A round tower keeps
It wasn’t long before we were ready to hit the trails. We stuck to a fairly easy route that we chose because it promised some sweeping valley views. It was wide and well-maintained, and even though we gained altitude the hike never felt too arduous. This allowed us to really relax and appreciate the scenery as we walked along.
Everything was lush and green, and even though it was a cloudy day we weren’t bothered by any rain. The air was cool and fresh and perfect for a walk in the woods. The scenery was interesting as well, ranging from silvery forests…
… to little waterfalls rushing through rocky gorges…
… to the panoramic views of the glacial valley and lake…
… and even a birds-eye view of the monastic settlement. Seeing it from this angle really gave me an appreciation for the height of that round tower.
We walked slowly, reveling in being out of the car and getting a little fresh air and exercise. It was the perfect way to spend our final full day in Ireland.
At last, our trail looped back toward the visitor center and we said goodbye to lovely Glendalough. By that point we were pretty hungry, so we headed back north toward Enniskerry. Our search for food took us to the seaside town of Bray, where we ended up at the Ocean Bar and Grill*. There, we rewarded ourselves with some Irish brews and toasted our great day in the countryside.
*Note: The Ocean Bar and Grille has since ceased operations, presumably as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tips for Glendalough
- Glendalough would also make an easy day trip from Dublin if you’d like a break from the city.
- Guided tours of the monastic settlement are available from the visitor’s center.
- There are a number of hiking trails of varying lengths and difficulty levels throughout the valley. You can pick up a trail map at the visitor’s center for €0.50.
- There aren’t many restaurants near Glendalough, so consider bringing your own snacks or a packed lunch. The few options may get crowded in the summer.
Day 8: Dublin and Depart
Even a delicious Coolakay House breakfast couldn’t fully erase the twinge of sadness we felt upon waking up on our last morning in the Emerald Isle. We had had an unforgettable time over the past two weeks in Scotland and Ireland. Most importantly, it was so special to share that time with M’s parents. If you ever get a chance to take a multi-generational trip, I encourage you to take it.
We planned to use the hours before our flight home to briefly check out Dublin. Although we knew that there was no way we could possibly experience everything the city had to offer in so short a time, we didn’t want to leave without at least a quick visit.
Highest on my list of priorities was to visit the library at Trinity College. For years I had stared longingly at photos of the famous Long Room and couldn’t wait to see it for myself. Luckily, M and his parents were happy to indulge me. Mama and Papa M headed off to do some souvenir shopping while M and I headed to Trinity’s 400-year-old campus.
The Long Room is an incredibly impressive, two-story room that holds 200,000 of the library’s oldest and most priceless books. Guarding them are marble busts of great thinkers and writers, from Aristotle to Shakespeare, that line the room. It’s rich, warm, and weighty with history and knowledge. The whole place is a shrine to learning and the written word, and I’m not ashamed to say that this bibliophile teared up a bit when I first stepped into the room. It’s just beautiful. Anyone who felt a pang of jealousy when the Beast gifted Belle that fabulous library in Beauty and the Beast (just me?) would find this place a paradise.
In addition to the Long Room, M and I also took in the exhibition about the Book of Kells. Described on the exhibition website as “Ireland’s greatest cultural treasure and the world’s most famous medieval manuscript,” the Book of Kells is an ornately decorated book of the four Gospels. Written in Latin, it dates to the 9th century.
The exhibition not only described the history and importance of the book itself but also offered lots of detail about the bookmaking and illustration process in medieval times. I found it fascinating. (My sister, who hates both history and reading, would have been bored to tears, so to each her own!)
After our visit to Trinity College and some shopping of our own, M and I rejoined his parents and the four of us spent time wandering the streets of Dublin. We meandered out toward Dublin Castle, dodging raindrops along the way. We also stopped into the Chester Beatty, which has an exhibition that features sacred texts and artifacts from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and other major world religions. (Again, fascinating. And again, my sister would have been unimpressed.)
Finally, it was time to head to the airport. Our weeks in Scotland and Ireland were at an end, but we were already talking about what to do on a follow-up visit. Ireland is a truly unforgettable place. I’m so grateful that I got the chance to see it for myself, and even more grateful that I was able to do so with my family. I can’t wait to go back.
Tips for a Quick Stop in Dublin
- The Book of Kells exhibition and Long Room at Trinity College costs €11 – 14 for adult admission.
- Visiting Trinity College is very popular, so consider arriving early to beat the lines. Information about opening times and tickets can be found here.
- It goes without saying that there are a ton of things to do in Dublin. We only barely scratched the surface, preferring to spend our time elsewhere in the country during our week in Ireland. If you have more time, though, I do encourage you to devote some of it to the city!
Need some help planning your trip to Ireland? Full Life, Full Passport offers customized vacation planning for all kinds of trips and budgets!
This article was originally posted on October 22, 2019, and was last updated on October 25, 2020.
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