Ireland Stories and Tips

Ring of Kerry to Blarney

Blarney Castle Photo, Cork, Ireland

It was a bit gloomy this morning and all day it was hazy with the sun breaking through now and then which was a pity for the views around the Ring of Kerry but it wasn't too bad. We caught the 9 a.m.ferry across the Shannon estuary. We drove into North Kerry from where the landscape was flat, boggy and uninspiring. Or perhaps it was the weather. The western part of the Kerry Mountains is called the McGillicuddy Reeks and we drove up into the beginning of the range on the way to our first stop, Tralee. We were due to go to the Kerry County museum complete with a medieval sight, sound and smell effects only the staff are on strike!

We were taken to a local windmill instead in Blennerville. Which wasn't working due to some maintenance problems. They had a video presentation on the restoration and had an emigration exhibition and we were invited to examine the inside of the windmill. The windmill was built in 1780 and fell out of use in 1850, restored in the 1980s. It is now the only working windmill in Ireland and still mills flour but just for demonstrations.

We were on a time constraint and I wasn't overly interested. Pressed for time seemed to be the order of the day, we ended up being rushed every time we got off the bus! Lunch break was only 40 minutes! Not all bus tours are like that, though.

Into the mountains and through a little town called Killorglin which has a Puck Festival every summer celebrating the goats of Kerry. There's even a statue of a wild horned goat with a crown on his head in the town center. They bring a wild billygoat down from the hills and crown him to preside over the weekend's festivities. Why? Two theories according to Bill. One was that a herd of goats warned the town of an impending dawn raid by Oliver Cromwell's men and the other has the goat revered as a holy animal by pagans.

We entered the Ring of Kerry trail that starts at Dingle Bay and weaves its way along the sandstone mountains, sometimes along the bays and inland around the Iveragh Peninsula. The views reminded me of the Scottish Highlands. We had a photo stop over Dingle Bay and lunch at one little bar about half way around. The narrow road was originally built for the military in the mid 17c I did notice, looking straight down over the edge of one stop, a lot of litter. Too bad people can't respect these places.

The sun was out at our lunch stop but was gone again when we continued. We had another stop near the end of the trail and then started down the mountains into the Killarney National Park, a large natural area of lakes and forest. We stopped at a lovely lookoff over the Killarney Lakes called "Ladies' View" named in honour of Queen Victoria's ladies in waiting.

We were offered the chance to have a Jaunting Car ride in Killarney (optional, you pay extra). This is a horse drawn buggy that seats 6. Most decided it would be fun since it looked as if the sun was emerging and it was a change from the bus. The ride took us around part of the National park.

We rode along the street to get to the park entrance. There was lots of trees, fresh air, birdsong. The drivers, called "Jarvies", point out things of interest, crack jokes and stop so we could take photos. It took over an hour to get to our meeting spot back in the town and we enjoyed it.

The Brandon Hotel in Tralee is very, very nice. Dinner was very good too and we sat at large tables of 8 which was nice until the conversation turned to the politics of the Middle East. I didn't have much to add and Carole was feeling a bit under the weather so we politely excused ourselves.

The Ring of Kerry was very scenic though we had hoped for better weather. I've heard the Dingle Peninsula is spectacular but the road is not suitable for the tour busses. We took a lot of photos out the window and at our stops. We didn't see much of Killarney which seems to focus mainly on the tourism industry which is so important to the economy of Ireland. We could have done without the windmill visit which would have given us a bit more time at our stops but that's the nature of tours sometimes.

The next day, weather not too bad but It's supposed to cloud over later and rain. This is our shopping day, or morning, that Bill has been on about all week, reminding us that the huge woolen mill shop will have the best prices for things we’d want to get. Considering the guide gets a percentage of purchases when we stop at most places like factories and visitor centers, the cut he gets from Blarney must be better than most. Rose told me that even she, as a taxi driver, will get a percentage or discount if she takes a customer there.

We drove across the south interior of Ireland through the Kerry Mountains, farmlands and the rolling patch-worked hills. We arrived in Blarney at 10:00 as expected. This was the longest stop of the tour, at 2.5 hours during which we were expected to get lunch as well. If anyone wanted to visit Blarney Castle and kiss the stone of eloquence they should allow 3/4 hour at least to walk through the park, climb the staircase and wait in the queue. All I wanted was a photo of the castle but you have to pay to get into the grounds along with the castle visit. We didn’t bother. I had no interest in kissing a piece of rock that millions of tourists had also laid their lips on.

Carole walked back to the Woolen Mill. I decided to see if I could get a photo of the castle in the distance from some vantage point. I crossed a small river or brook and walked along a brick wall. Over top of the wall, at one break in the vegetation behind it, I could stretch up and see the castle in the distance and with the tree branches framing it, it actually turned into a lovely photo.

I walked back towards the town and spotted a little cemetery so I had a look in there at the stones. There are a lot of Celtic crosses in cemeteries in Ireland. We’ve driven by some that seemed to contain nothing but!

Over to the woolen mill. The shop really is large, on two floors. Most of the wool and woven clothing is on the upper floor along with the book and music section. The ground floor has china, crystal, linen, some clothing, souvenirs, edibles and football strips. I ran into Carole who had already bought, paid for and shipped the pricey stuff. Now she was in search of general items.

I started to find a few things i liked and I realized I had better find a hand basket. The prices did seem reasonable, certainly no more expensive than some of the shops we’d been in outside of Dublin. I spent far more than I expected even with the 14% you get reduced for the tax and I have no idea where it’s all going to fit in my cases!

We had lunch in the complex which also houses a hotel, bar and cafeteria. The complex was in fact a mill at one time and there are artifacts around the grounds and in the stone buildings.

You should have seen the number of shopping bags that were carried back on board the bus! That didn’t count the stuff quite a few people had shipped! Everyone chattered amongst themselves, showing and telling about their treasures and bargains while we made our way over to the east and then north through Cork City and the country side heading north along the coast through some pretty towns along the route to Waterford.

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