DRIVING IRELAND’S SEASIDE ‘RING OF KERRY’
Few places on Earth meet all of a traveler’s expectations. In my imagination, Ireland was colored by impossible greens, canopied in rainbows and peppered with clouds of tiny white sheep and gray, crumbling castles. Could it all be true?
I picked up my rental car at Hertz in Dublin City Centre. My requested Bentley had not yet arrived, so I settled on a little Opel. Disappointments aside, I had a nice talk with the guy working at the Hertz:
“Never ask for directions when you’re outside of Dublin” was his first piece of advice. I was intrigued. “You’ll be seen as shrewd. Instead, say to someone: ‘Good afternoon! Have you ever been to Castle Donovan? ‘ or ‘Would there happen to be a castle near here worth having a look at…?’”.
I knew I was going to like the Irish countryside before I even got the keys. First I’d have to figure out that whole driving part.
Driving in Ireland was not easy for me. First, the steering wheel is on the “wrong” side of the car. My new friend at Hertz assured me the wheel was functional, and that I would be able to turn it from side to side, just like in the USA. I’d have to trust him. As I set off down the “wrong” side of Dublin’s South Circular Road, I quickly realized everyone was driving on the “wrong” side of the road as well. Seeing that no one seemed to be exploding in fiery crashes (yet), I assumed that this method was working for the Irish thus far. I would have to acclimate.
Like most other foreign travelers with wheels, I was headed straight for one of the world’s most famous drives: coastal Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry is a 180km loop around the Iveragh Peninsula that begins in the town of Killarney, some four hours drive from Dublin. I had heard that October was a good month to visit Kerry, as tourism was slow and I’d share the road with fewer tour buses and rented Opels. I drove out of Dublin, stopped for dinner in Kilkenny and spent my first evening in the little touristic town of Killarney, in a pub playing darts with a traveling French trapezze act of some sort.
Back at my hotel and ready for bed:
me: “Good evening! Have you ever seen the sunrise at Kenmare?”
desk girl: “Yes! It’s magical.”
(long, awkward pause)
me: “What time does the sun rise tomorrow at Kenmare?”
desk girl: “About 7:45!”
“Thanks”, and I was off to sleep.
The next morning I woke up at 6am, if you can believe it, to begin the drive. I’d never seen 6am, but I wanted to wake early to catch the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and so I set off southward down highway N71. At this hour in Ireland I would have to compete with sheep. Herds and herds of white fluffy little sheep out doing their morning exercise. As I drove south, I considered running over them with the Opel. Perhaps they could survive the hit? They looked fluffy enough. But I let them pass, watching the clock and trying to make it to Kenmare by 7:45:, the time I’d been told the sun would rise.
As I’d hoped, I had the Ring of Kerry nearly to myself. There were no other tourists and only a few locals around. Just me, seagulls and the fluffy sheep. As I neared Kenmare I could see the sky beginning to lighten. I had made it just in time. I went around the bend and saw the greatest, and possibly the only, sunrise I’d ever seen sober. The light rain had given way and the wet road was illuminated and empurpled.
Now the day had begun.
- Because I hadn’t had a haircut in a year, my traveling companion in Ireland was a stuffed ninja bunny by the name of Zorro. I traveled with him because I was often too shy to get in my own photos and because I must have wanted locals to think I was batshit crazy. We took every opportunity to give them that idea.
We stopped at Derrynane Beach. This is a bit what a beach is like in northern California. It’s not Baywatch. It’s cold, sparse, vast and confrontational. It’s not the kind of beach you’d see in a Corona commercial, but rather the kind you’d see advertising Advil or Metamucil. Most beachgoers were there with big, fluffy dogs and most were dressed for, well, October.
One nearly naked man came out of the cold sea to talk to me. He’d actually worked in the little Ohio town I was born in- Medina. The Irish have a great knowledge of America and are happy to share the extent of their relationship with it. There really was always something to talk about. The (almost) naked man gave me some advice for my drive north to County Mayo and I was off in that direction.
As I mentioned before, I’d always imagined Ireland to be covered in rainbows. Growing up in the USA, all kids dream about the “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. It was on our cereal box. It was the first thing we’d associate with Ireland’s landscape. Well, October is apparently a very wet month in southwest Ireland. It would rain, then the sun would come out, then rain, then sun, rain, sun, rain, sun.
I had no idea I’d actually see 82 rainbows. I actually got tired of rainbows. They were really everywhere. I’d imagine it’s like kangaroos in Australia. They are cute, at first. Then, you take some pleasure in running them over.
As I continued to head north it became dinner time and I stopped for a great seafood meal in the little town of Waterville. Fisherman’s Bar And Skellig Restaurant was located right on the channel and I was able to take in some salty air with my shellfish. The day was nearly done. I spent that evening in the town of Killorglen at a little guesthouse. The following days I’d drive north through The Dingle Peninsula, County Mayo and County Galway, all of which would exceed my expectation. The drive up Ireland’s west coast was the most spectacular I’d ever had.
The impossible expectations I’d had for Ireland were met. For me, Ireland was perhaps the second place that delivered on each of its promises (New York City being the other). The images I had going in were all surpassed. In addition, I could see pieces of other places I loved in the landscape. The small towns of New England, the stone fireplaces of the taverns I’d visited with my family, the soft wet green hills of California and the .
Don’t make this an “attraction” tour. The qualities here are in the landscape, the people, the fresh Atlantic air and the little castles along the way. If you know what is coming, you’ll be doing yourself a disservice.
Fisherman’s Bar And Skellig Restaurant, in the town of Waterville
I had an awesome seafood meal here overlooking the beautiful sea channel. It is a traditional pub with prices between €10-20.