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Ring of Kerry
Treasures of Ireland:
The Ring of Kerry
(Dispatch #8)

Story and photos by Tom Weber

artisan chocolates made in Killarney

ust 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."

panoramic view of Killarney National Park

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.

the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountain range

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.

scenery along the Ring of Kerry

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.

makeshift open-air market with livestock and local products

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.

handwoven St. Brigid's Crosses for sale and vendor playing a squeezebox

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.

Thatched Cottage Restaurant in Stransend

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 rest stop.

"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."

freshly baked scone with Kerrygold butter and homemade raspberry jam at the Thatched Cottage Restaurant

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!

rocky beach at the Ring of Kerry

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.

statue of Charlie Chaplain at Waterville

In his honor, a statue of the Little Tramp looks out to sea and the town hosts the annual Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival.

view of the coast including the the Scariff and Deenish Islands along the Ring of Kerry

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 straightaway.

the Sneem River with the village of Sneem in the background

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.

Insight Vacations bus along the N70

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.

Ladies View

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."

Insight Vacations brochure

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.

salmon at the 19th Green

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 dough.

Related Articles:
A 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




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Let Tom know what you think about his traveling adventure.

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Feedback for Destination Bosnia: Inside Sarajevo's Tunnel of Hope

Spent time in Sarajevo in the fall of 1973…beer was excellent!

--- David

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Hi Tom,

I must say, you're photographs are always amazing. They are top notch. You bring so much class to Traveling Boy. It's photographs like yours that make me want to go out and do my own traveling. Please don't get tired of sending us your amazing adventures. It's such a delight for the soul.

--- Raoul, Whittier, CA

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Hi Tom:

I'm also an American living in Italy. I've read with interest your blog and articles. I'd like to speak with you regarding residency and citizenship for Americans in Italy as you do seem to have a great deal of knowledge on all of these subjects. Would it be possible to give you a call on the phone? If so, please let me know how to reach you. If not, I can ask my questions via email.

Thank you!

--- David

* * * *

Hey Tom – Wow! Love those photos – they are so super that they make me A) Want to start eating NOW. B) Go there myself. C) See all that pristine beauty that looks so restful and peaceful. Great story, superb pix!!! Bravo!!

--- John, Los Angeles, CA

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Feedback for Destination Southwestern France: Saint-Émilion

Good job, Tom, and timely info. St. Émilion is in the list of places Jim Hayes and I will visit in September 2014. If we get the chance, we will exploit your experience to enhance the trip!

--- Bobby Harper, Dameron, MD

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Feedback for Vicenza Walks – Monte Berico

I lived in Vicenza for 4 years in the U.S. ARMY from 1963 to 1967. A wonderful place to explore. Palladio’s works are amazing. Have been back twice since and find new places to visit. My favorite is MONTE BERICO where I have some wonderful photos of my family.

--- Dr. Albert Pizzi, Hanover, MA

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I liked the new TB particularly the Vicenza article that took me back as a youth when we lived in Naples and travelled up there for a baseball tourney (U.S. Military Bases dependent schools played each other.)

Took me back to the plaza.

--- Bill

Feedback for A Canterbury Trail (Sutri)

Very interesting note. I have wedroned which route the early pre-Christian and Christian pilgrims travelled to Rome from England. Is it still possible to travel the Francigena trail?

--- Pawel

You can find out more info on walking tours of Via Francigena at this site: http://www.compagniadeicammini.it/en/. Thanks for stopping by and commenting..

Tom

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Good article, enjoyed reading it. Saved your recommended sights for future use.

--- Dardenne Prairie, MO

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You're going to be great at this Tom. Congrats.

--- Donna Vissa -Montreal




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