Treasures of Ireland:
The Ring of Kerry
Story and photos by Tom Weber
minutes after our jaunting
car ride through Killarney National Park, Big Mike, our larger-than-life
tour director/concierge/storyteller, charged with shepherding the "band
of merry media" 18 intrepid travel writers and photographers
invited by Insight
Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Treasures
of Ireland journey lures us back onto the motor coach with
small, ribbon-wrapped boxes.
"Inside is a sample of artisan chocolates
made right here in Killarney," Big Mike informs us as we nestle
into our business class-legroom seats. He adds, "It's what Insight
calls a 'flourish,' little tokens doled out during a journey by the
tour director to his or her guests." He concludes, "Consider
this little 'flourish' the sugar rush just before the adrenaline rush
that awaits you."
And, what awaits us is a 179 km-long drive
around the curvaceous Ring of Kerry, the 57th most scenic drive in the
world, according to National Geographic's prestigious Top 101 list.
The Ring of Kerry, a true jewel along the Wild Atlantic Way, is heaven
on earth and must-see on anyone's visit to the Emerald Isle.
One piece of chocolate already consumed,
we make the first of many planned photo-op stops as Eugene, our pilot
aka, The Quiet Man brings the sleek Mercedes coach
to a halt up in Aghadoe Heights for a panoramic view of Killarney National
Park, its lakes and islands, and Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest peak,
at 1,038 m, inside the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountain range.
Traveling counter-clockwise, like all motor
coaches are obliged to do when circumnavigating the Ring of Kerry (passenger
cars travel clockwise), we head down the winding and narrow N70.
Passing through the town of Killorglin
famous for its annual Puck Fair, the oldest gathering festival in
Ireland at 400+ years, where a male mountain goat is crowned king and
rules from up on high in a suspended cage for three, long raucous days
we come to an anonymous overlook in the bogs, stop and get out to
stretch our legs and soak in the natural beauty.
A group of Irish Travellers (aka Gypsies),
along with their itinerant livestock, have set up a makeshift open-air
market showcasing their local, handmade products, including the iconic
St. Brigid's Cross, named after Ireland's female patron saint.
According to Big Mike, "St. Brigid's
Cross is as much a symbol of the Emerald Isle as the shamrock and harp."
He adds, "We place them in our homes to keep all inside safe."
I take Big Mike's explanation to heart
and buy two of the hand-woven crosses from the roadside vendor who nods
his approval and plays a little ditty on his squeezebox.
Pulling up just short of Cahersiveen, the
main town on the Iveragh Peninsula and the birthplace of Daniel O'Connell,
The Liberator, a 19th century politician who paved the way for
Ireland's independence from Great Britain, Eugene brings the Insight
motor coach to a full stop at a large parking lot fronting the Thatched
Cottage Restaurant in Stransend.
"Time for another 'flourish',"
Big Mike announces, as we gather up our gear and head inside this quaint
"You're about to taste Ireland's signature
late-morning and late-afternoon snack," Mike adds, smacking his
lips, "piping-hot scones and a cup of tea, or coffee or, if you
prefer, a shot of Jameson."
I order a strong coffee, well, the strongest
the Thatched Cottage can muster, slice my freshly baked scone in half,
and smother both sides in Kerrygold butter and homemade raspberry jam.
Quicker than you can say, "Darby O'Gill and the Little People,"
my scone's a goner. Mm, mm, mm!
Rugged and untamed, just the way The Almighty
intended, the Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland's most beautiful regions.
Around every bend in the road a new panorama
comes into view just a bit more fantastic than the previous, like Ballinskelligs
Bay, where we take five and stroll around the beach at Waterville, a
seaside village where Charlie Chaplin and his large family vacationed
for many a summer.
In his honor, a statue of the Little
Tramp looks out to sea and the town hosts the annual Charlie
Chaplin Comedy Film Festival.
Handling the controls like a F1 Grand Prix
pilot, Eugene steers the Insight motor coach through all the twists
and turns with ease, as if the Ring of Kerry was just another mundane
Passing by Catherdaniel, we head through
the Coomakista Pass, where the views out over Kenmare Bay to the Scariff
and Deenish Islands are just sublime, and then down into Sneem, a colorful
little village known affectionately as "the Knot in the Ring of
Kerry," where we make a pit stop for lunch.
Transitioning off the N70 and onto the
N71, we bid our final farewells to the incomparable Ring of Kerry and
make our way back to Killarney and the Plaza
Hotel and Spa, our base camp for the past two days.
Along the way, Eugene makes one final photo-op
stop at a picturesque spot made famous by Queen Victoria of England:
Ladies View. As Big Mike explains, "During a royal visit to Co.
Kerry by Queen V back in 1861, her ladies-in-waiting were brought to
this very spot and were immediately awestruck by the stunning panorama.
Ergo, Ladies View."
For complete information on Insight's 100+
premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, including the Treasures
of Ireland, where there are plenty of photo ops for both ladies
and gentlemen, just click HERE,
or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you soon around the 19th Green, a family-run
B&B on the outskirts of Killarney, where, if you'll pardon the golf
vernacular, we'll learn how to dine for show and pan-fry a darne for
Jaunty-Good Ride Through Killarney National Park; Dinner
at Killarney; The
Rock of Cashel; The
Kilkenny Way; A
Donnybrook of a Feast; Dublin
and the Book of Kells