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The Full Shilling’s Guide to Kerry

The Full Shilling’s Guide to Kerry

Summer holidays as a kid in Ireland can be a tense affair. Back when I was child our summer holidays were spent in the back seat of the car heading south or west, fighting for space in amongst everything our Mum packed (was there any need for the half of it?) while Dad swore he wasn’t lost when we all knew he definitely was. Most summers would be wash-outs but I only seem to remember the good ones when the sun beat down and we spent what seemed like eternity outside – mostly in the nip if our childhood photos are anything to go by.

One particular holiday that stands out is the trip to Co. Kerry. We made our way there by car of course, following the Atlantic coast through counties Mayo and Galway before stopping in Clare for a night in a B&B. We all kipped in the one room, all of us kids spread out on the floor at various angles while our parents got the bed. We didn’t mind though because at that age it felt exciting to sleep on the ground despite the hundred or so crucifixes gazing down at us from the walls.

When we finally reached Dingle it felt like we were a million miles away from our home in Co. Armagh. Tracing the map with our fingers over the pages (we had one of those maps which had a page for each county), we lost track of all the roads and coastline we took to get there. The mountains loomed ahead in the distance so we would make short trips to them, renting out ponies at the Gap of Dunloe and stuffing our faces with the freshest fish we ever tasted.

I remember one particular day we were driving the Ring of Kerry when we pulled over to a lake which was catching the last bit of sunlight of the day. I stood on the edge of the road just drinking every bit of the view in and I started to well up with tears because I realised I’d never seen anything so beautiful. I was only about 9 (sensitive wee soul) but even then I knew how lucky I was to be from this island.

To this day Kerry can still take my breath away. I’ve been numerous times since that holiday, all with people who are over visiting from overseas because it truly is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I have this deep need for foreigners to see it, nod with me and understand why I love Ireland so much, why I could never live anywhere else.

When my cousin was visiting from Australia a few weeks ago I knew we had to take her to Kerry. She is hugely proud to be half-Irish but to understand all those old songs that she listens to about Ireland we wanted to show her the places that inspired the songwriters to begin with. For that there is nowhere better than the Kingdom of Ireland!

While my knowledge of the whole county isn’t the best, I’ve highlighted a few spots that have given me great joy and know for sure that you would love too.

Best Drives

While the Ring of Kerry is breathtaking, it’s a route that can be very busy with tourists and can take a fair bit of time. Slea Head is a stunning drive out of Dingle with fantastic beaches and turquoise water. The last Star Wars movie was filmed in Ballyferriter, a village on the drive that is now bustling with a few more tourists than before. It’s still peaceful though and we managed to get the most beautiful beach all to ourselves for an entire morning before the buses arrived. If you make it here then you can take the boat out to the Blasket Islands for an excursion that will really blow the socks off ye!

Another drive is the Skellig Ring which takes you through Waterville, Portmagee and Glencar. You can even get to Valentia Island from here which is worth a day trip all on it’s own. Skelling Michael alongside Little Skelling tower in the distance turning completely white in the summer as the gannets take over to nest.

Ladies View is not far from Killarney and offers a glimpse of the Ring of Kerry without having to drive too far. The views here are one of my favourites in Kerry no matter the season but in the summer the drive there is incredible. Ferns grow ferociously, spilling on to the road and even through the windows of your car! There’s a multitude of photo opportunities on this drive alone so take it slow and stop as much as you can.

Best Beaches

Clogher Strand, Ballyferriter

My favourite beach in Kerry hands down. My cousin, sister and I spent nearly an entire day here with the beach mostly to ourselves save for the odd tourists coming and going. It’s not a great swimming beach due to the rocks and rip currents but the view alone is enough to keep you there – we had to drag ourselves away!

Derrynane Beach, Derrynane

Just off the Ring of Kerry drive this stunning beach is worth dipping your toes in to and feeling the white sand to calm you down.

Coumeenoole Beach, Slea Drive

On the Slea Drive route this narrow beach is perfect for swimming in the shallows. Just mind the currents because they can be a bit strong if you go too far!

Rossbeigh Beach

This beach has class views out towards Dingle and turquoise waters to swim in. It’s one of the best Blue Flag beaches in the region with a whole 8km so no worrying about feeling crowded!

Where to Eat

Out of the Blue, Dingle

We tried to get a table here but they were fully booked so unfortunately I can’t actually claim to have eaten here BUT I’ve been told by numerous locals that it’s the best spot in town. If you’re wise unlike me then make sure to book ahead!

Reel Dingle Fish, Dingle

A good spot if you fancy quick food and fish caught practically on the doorstep.

Páidi Ó Sé’s, Slea Drive

If you’re here in the winter this is a gem of a place to hole up in with great comfort to warm you up.

O’Carroll’s Cove Beach Bar, Ring of Kerry

The perfect stop if you’re tackling the Ring of Kerry drive and need to refuel.

Pantrí, Dingle

The perfect place for lunch and the most instagrammable too! The garden out the back even has a double seat swing where you can sip on your elderflower prosecco – yes, that is a real thing you can drink here.

O’Neill’s The Point Seafood Bar, Cahersiveen

If you’re on the Skelling Ring drive then be sure to call in here for delicious seafood and a spot to get cosy for an hour or two.

Murphy’s Ice Cream, Dingle & Killarney

If you’re still peckish after lunch or dinner then a cone from Murphy’s can never go wrong. The ice cream is made in Dingle and the staff are super friendly too offering advice on what flavour to go for.

Where to Drink 

J M Reidy’s, Killarney

This is my favourite pub in Ireland never mind Kerry! It’s an absolute labyrinth of nooks and crannies to hide in with the most delicious cocktails you’ve ever tasted. It used to be one of those typical Irish establishments back in the day when the grocer was also the hardware shop, sweet shop and bakery all rolled in to one. They’ve kept the old till amongst heaps of other gems from the old days which are just fascinating to look at but mostly it’s just a great place for music and a bit of craic.

Dick Mack’s, Dingle

A bit like JM Reidy’s with a huge range of whiskies that could do some damage. There’s also a pizza place and brewery out the back and even a leather shop at the side just in case you dance tap too hard to the music. Before you nab a wee seat behind the saloon doors though make sure to have cash because they don’t take card.

The Shire Bar, Killarney

Just for the sheet weirdness of it all this pub deserves a mention. They’re very much committed to the theme here with low ceilings and even some Hobbit juice to sip on while you wonder what the hell is going on. Worth it for the ‘gram if anything!

Kate Kearney’s Cottage, Gap of Dunloe

If there was ever an award for beer garden with the best view then this place might take it. Grab a pint and sit outside if you’re lucky before hiring a pony cart up the mountain.

John B Keane, the famous Irish playwright had this to say about being from Kerry,

“Being a Kerryman, in my opinion, is the greatest gift that God can bestow on any man. When you belong to Kerry you know you have a head start on the other fellow. In belonging to Kerry you belong to the elements, to the spheres spinning in the Heavens. You belong to History and Language and Romance and Ancient Song. It is almost unbearable being a Kerryman and it is an awesome responsibility”.

As a blow-in from the North I might not be able to experience the weight of being a native of Kerry but every now and again, just for a wee while, I can pretend that I do.

The Beaches of Connemara

The Beaches of Connemara

To be barefoot on a Connemara beach in April is the closest I think I’ll ever get to a miracle. We had driven down to the west coast from Belfast the night before and the weather had been wild as we arrived in to the mountains. The wind was howling and the rain turned the landscape in to a muddy watercolour painting with hundreds of waterfalls washing across the roads taking us to Letterfrack. April showers take on a new meaning in Connemara and it was safe to say that expectations for the weekend had taken a back seat as we finally approached Rosleague Manor, our base for the weekend. We ran up to the entrance to avoid getting soaked and when entering the hallway it felt like the antithesis of outside. There was an instant feeling of warmth from the open fires burning in the drawing rooms to the friendly welcome from Mark (a third generation member of the Foyle family who runs Rosleague) and I thought to myself, “even if it rains all weekend I reckon we’ll be just grand in here”.

We had gone to bed early that night, weary from the long drive and hours of conversation on the road. While I was delighted to be curling up in a beautiful bed in a manor house, I secretly hoped for a miracle, just a patch of blue sky so we could see the views that I knew were around us. The next morning I was woken up by the sunlight streaming through the curtains at about 6.30am and it took me a moment to register why I was awake so early. I eventually realised that it was sunlight, SUNLIGHT, that woke me up! I bounced out of bed and practically ran to the lake to soak in the morning (you can hear more about this walk and see photos in my previous post here).

After breakfast we set off on our drive, energised by the sun that continued to beat down with no cloud in the sky for competition. We took the Sky Road, an obvious choice on a day like this which provides the most amazing views of the Atlantic and the hundreds of islands that seem to hug the coastline like barren satellites. We stopped off at as many beaches as we could as the temperatures started to rise to a balmy 15 degrees and that’s when I found myself at Mannin Bay, barefoot without a cardigan or goosebump to be seen!

Blue skies met even bluer waters and I had to keep reminding myself that I was in the same part of the world I fell asleep in. Connemara is truly a land of contrasts with a clear day completely transforming the coast and the mountains that loom over it. The mountains became golden with the few clouds creating shadow shows as they drifted lazily across the sky.

We drove most of the day beach-hopping and stopping off for seafood when our stomachs began to rumble. We ate outside on the streets of Roundstone at O’Dowd’s; me wolfing down crab claws and Andrew his staple of battered fish and chips. I drank a glass of white wine and could feel my chest burning a little as the sun bore down and not a trace of wind could be found in the air. I felt unashamedly smug as I closed my eyes and soaked up every ounce of vitamin D I could manage since it had been about 6 months since my poor bones felt anything like it.

Connemara is famous for its wild weather and landscape but few know the Connemara we got to experience last weekend. The turquoise waters, the white beaches, the burned cheeks from the Spring sun. If you ever find yourself as lucky as I was then please make sure to visit the beaches I have listed here. I’m sure they’re just as beautiful when weather is bit more turbulent, the seas furiously stormy and the wind blowing because that is the romantic view most have of the west coast but when the winds settle, the clouds part and the sea calms, well you have a pocket of paradise right before you.

THE BEACHES OF CONNEMARA

Mannin Bay

The water here is spectacular so no surprise that it’s a favourite spot for water sports. If you’re not too keen to brave the water by snorkelling then you can take a kayak out and spy the marine life swimming beneath you in crystal clear waters. It was empty when we were there and incredibly peaceful too so you might just get the water all to yourself.

Omey Island

The island is connecting to the mainland by a tidal strand that is only permissible during times of low tide. The strand is popular for families who fancy a bit of sand castle building and beach combing but we ventured on to the island itself with hardly a person in sight. There’s a beach on the far side of the island which was deserted and felt incredibly private save for a few neighbourly heifers and their calves.

Dog’s Bay

This is probably the most popular beach in the area and for good reason. The bay provides safe calm waters for young kids to splash about it and the water is just as clear as Mannin too. The long white sandy beach is great for walking off a lunch and the mountains behind you provide a stunning backdrop to gaze up at when you walk back to your car. Roundstone is close by too and a lovely harbour town to grab some lunch in.

Coral Strand

Typical of Ireland this beach is known for its folklore since it’s said that if you pick up a fistful of coral sand in each hand you have two choices. If you want to have luck in love then you through the sand in your left hand over your left shoulder. If you want luck in money then you should through the sand in right hand over your right shoulder. You can’t do both though, sure ye can’t have too much luck! Apparently this beach has some of the warmest waters too so shouldn’t be too terrifying to take a dip in if you’re feeling the need to cool off from the Connemara heat.

Stepping in to Spring in Connemara

Stepping in to Spring in Connemara

It was Friday last week when we found ourselves making the 5 hour trek to Connemara. We’d deliberated over the trip for a while because it was a fair jaunt to go for only two nights and since Andrew is a freak when it comes to devaluing his car he worried that his precious might suffer with the distance (is this a guy thing or what?!). What convinced us though was our desperate need for a change of scenery and there is truly nowhere else for scenery in Ireland but Connemara! So off we went with the car packed and lovingly checked over by Andrew (she gets treated nicer than me sometimes) with podcasts at the ready to keep us occupied while we made our way south west.

We had been invited down to Connemara by Ireland’s Blue Book who I had worked with before when I had visited their beautiful Castle Grove property back in February. They have a collection of 54 historical houses, castles and manors scattered across the most romantic locations in Ireland and they had asked us to visit Rosleague Manor House, a pink ivy-clad piece of gorgeousness found just outside Letterfrack on the banks of Ballinakill Bay.

Before our trip we tried to plan for all sorts of weather since Connemara is well known for it’s unpredictable climate. You might as well forget any sort of forecast checking because it seems to change every hour and you kind of just have to roll with the punches be it rain, hail or sunshine. We hadn’t our hopes set very high coming in to Co. Galway that evening since the wind was howling through every gap in the car and the rain was lashing against the windows making the mountains look like sad brown smudges. Andrew wasn’t too impressed after having driven half the day but I had this doggedly annoying positivity that we might get a glimmer of sunshine, even a pocket of blue sky would make it all worthwhile!

We finally arrived at the manor just after sunset (or at least we thought so since we hadn’t seen the sun since we left Fermanagh) and were met by Mark at reception, a third generation owner and member of the Foyle family who took over the house 50 years ago back in 1968. Mark is incredibly warm and seeing how knackered we were from the drive, took us off to our room and organised a table for us to eat once we’d rested our bones for a minute or two.

The room wasn’t so much like a bedroom but more like a small apartment (my university flat was definitely smaller) with beautiful French windows that opened up to a private patio overlooking the bay. I looked at the huge bed and wanted to collapse in it immediately because who doesn’t need to sleep at least one night of their lives in a curtained bed?? But we had dinner to eat first so we dragged ourselves to the dining room which, to our sweet relief, was surprisingly casual given the surroundings.

We settled back and ordered some French wine before tucking in to some local dishes. The manor restaurant takes advantage of the landscape surrounding them so all their dishes include the freshest ingredients from the doorstep. I went for the monkfish and Andrew opted for the Connemara lamb rack which we practically inhaled after a day on the road. Feeling very relaxed after a few glasses we went all the way and ordered desserts; creme brûlée for him (always if it’s on the menu) and for me a chocolate piece of deliciousness that I can’t remember the name of (it sounded French!) along with caramel ice cream – YUM!

We trotted off to bed after we licked our plates and pretty much passed out as soon as our heavy heads hit the freshly plumped pillows. Having fallen asleep so early, I woke up just after sunrise much to Andrew’s annoyance. I think his least favourite trait of mine is the fact I wake up early when we’re supposed to be on our “holidays” while he wants to savour the lie-in as much as possible. My argument is I find quiet mornings to myself the biggest luxury of a holiday and when I woke up to see the sun beaming through the curtains I couldn’t contain myself!

To give the man some peace I threw on some clothes, grabbed my camera and opened the french doors to explore the grounds of the house. I found a garden path that took me down to the bay and followed it as the golden light of sunrise bathed everything around me. When I reached the water it was like glass, the mountains reflecting like a mirror. I was dumbstruck for a few minutes as I tried my best to soak every second in because I had it all to myself and that felt so special.

I watched the mist rolling across the far side of the bay for a while and kept walking along the beach to take a few photos. I was wearing pumps (rookie) and nearly lost them a few times in the beach which technically was more bogland in parts. I did as best I could to walk around but suddenly came to a stream that was pouring in the bay which was blocking my path. I was determined to see more of the view and I must have been still been half asleep because I just walked on through the stream like a complete eejit asking for a good dose of pneumonia!

It wasn’t so much cold as physically painful but I continued on because I’m a nutcase and tried to convince myself that this is what real photographers do. Or at least people with half a brain anyway. Wiggling my toes to bring them back to life I walked on round the bay and stood for about an hour in complete quiet, listening to the soft sounds of Connemara and smiling up at the blue skies that looked to be staying for the day. It’s times like this that I’m glad I’m a morning person.

Eventually I realised I needed to head back and get a hot shower to warm my wee hooves and after that I tucked in to breakfast which consisted of the following: 2 x croissants, granola with yogurt and berries, local salmon with scrambled eggs, local apple juice and lots of tea. While I was making my way through my feast (while Andrew was still tucked up in bed) I noticed that the same staff were serving me as the night before. Over the course of the two days the people who worked there became so familiar it was as if I joined a small family in this beautiful big house. They would chat away to us, filling us in on local favourites and where we should head off to. Even the guests became familiar (and as the hotel is dog-friendly, their pets too!), with one particular German couple being my favourites. Later that evening I would walk past them on the front lawn where they had parked themselves facing the harbour with a beer to watch the sun go down. They called out to me, “We are like a couple from the 1930’s!” as they both laughed together. My heart fell to pieces.

The rest of the weekend was spent exploring the beaches and roads of the countryside while we thanked our stars for the change in weather. Connemara truly shines when the clouds decide to part. l mean literally shines as the brown landscape dazzles gold in the sunlight. The colours that were muted on our arrival became saturated and I understood why so many poets and artists and writers have used this land as their muse. It awakes the dreamer, the wild restless soul seeking for something to make them feel alive. At the very least it made me feel so lucky to be able to call this island home and to have the bed at Rosleague to sleep in after a day of adventure.

I would massively recommend using Rosleague as your Connemara base if you ever find yourself tempted by an escape to the wild Atlantic coastline. I can genuinely say that we’ll definitely be back again and I can only hope that we have the sheer luck to have blue skies the next time too!

I’ll be posting more photos of our trip including all the secret and no-so-secret beaches we managed to squeeze in one day but for now enjoy some of our memories from Rosleague and the grounds we explored while we were there.