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The Ring of Kerry

In Ireland we have found a beautiful country, met really nice people, and even managed to take in a couple sights along the way.   One of the most staying memories I will have of Ireland is the roads. I have never driven so white knuckled for so long in my entire life.  Roads that are just a bit bigger than one car but have two-way traffic. As you might remember, in Scotland we had our 1-lane, 2-direction roads; the ones in Ireland are more frequent and narrower. There is definitely no texting and driving on these roads. There is driving and only driving, with sightseeing only what is ahead of you.  We realized that any road with more than 2 numbers in the name, e.g., N67, had a 50/50 chance of having no lines on the road and barely large enough for two cars.  If the road had 4 numbers, it will probably at some point have grass down the middle of it. 

So, our journey so far after Waterford took us to Cork, Kinsale (only on a day stop between, Cork and Killarney), Killarney, Waterville (tip of the ring of Kerry), Tralee, and Doolin with Kildare left to visit before we leave. If you would look at a map of Ireland you would see we did a big circle around the country.  We did little ‘sightseeing’ during this part of the journey other than the country itself.  As I have told my grandson, and others before him, God created every color of green when he looked at Ireland.  It is no wonder it is called the Emerald Isle; what a beautiful green country it is!

One of the sights we did spent some time at was Charles Fort in Kinsale. Charles Fort is a massive star-shaped structure of the late seventeenth century.  Because of the strength of the fort, it withstood a 13-day siege during the War between King James and King William in 1689-91 that decided the fate of Ireland. This was my second visit to Charles Fort and it was just as wonderful this time as the last.  And the views of Kinsale countryside and harbor from the fort are breathtaking.  I remember my last visit to Kinsale was in May and there was a wonderful open market at the shore that sold cheeses and olives of all kinds.  We had a wonderful lunch that day on our way to Dingle.  This time the market wasn’t there but we still enjoyed a quick lunch down the street from the monument to sailors along the harbor before moving on to Killarney.

Our stays in Killarney and Waterville were only an evening each but the stops afforded us wonderful sights and, of course, much more of white knuckled driving.  As our trip took us down the East Coast and up the West Coast, we entered the Ring of Kerry at Killarney.  The only two things I had planned to see in Killarney was St. Mary's Church of Ireland and Ross Castle.  Much to my grandson’ delight, we happened upon St. Mary’s at the beginning of their daily mass so we were unable to go in (other than a quick peek) to see it’s infamous stained glass windows and organ.  However, the outside was  beautiful, and I, for one, was glad we stopped by.  It is off early the next morning to begin the drive around the eastern half of the Ring of Kerry and toward our accommodation of the night in Waterville. 

Before we leave Killarney proper, we head into Killarney National Park and Ross Castle.  As the castle sits in a national park, like so many other parks worldwide, you see folks walking, fishing, boating, and in this park riding in horse-drawn carts and taking boat rides off the shore of a castle. Ross Castle is a 15th-century tower house and keep that sits on the edge of Lough Leane. While I have seen some beautiful castles during this trip, the beauty of this castle is not so much in the structure, but the surroundings.  Not the manicured gardens of so may we have seen, but the beauty of the natural park, the water of the lough, and the noises of those enjoying a pleasant day after so many days of rain. 

Castle seen, park enjoyed, and off we head down the Ring and the sights of the green fields, coasts, and more sheep and cows than some will ever see in the lives.   One of the many benefits of visiting Ireland in the fall instead of the summer is there is a lot fewer tour buses driving on the very narrow roads around the Ring and the curvy roads.  Fortunately, there are many places to pull over when the road gets too narrow, or the sights are too wonderous to miss.  

The Ring of Kerry is a sight to be seen, but a drive not for the faint of heart. As we were travelling the Ring on a holiday weekend, we were able to split the trip into multiple days and take the trip a little slower and not hurry from one side to the other. 

With that, we stopped for the night halfway around at the little village of Waterville. Waterville (An Coireán) is a small coastal village located between the Atlantic Ocean and Lough Currane.  The beautiful coast greets you in this quaint village with a resident population of around 500.  Along the main street into the village you can walk along the shore and see a number of monuments in the span of less than a 1/4 of a mile.  First you will come across is Arthach Dana. This  6.4m high bronze sundial is dedicated to countless generations of seafarers that navigated Europe’s Atlantic seaboard since Mesolithic times.  Next you will see the Charlie Chaplin Statue.  The town it seems is loyal to those loyal to them. The statue was erected as Waterville was a favorite holiday spot of Charlie Chaplin and his family. They first visited the town in 1959 and came back every year for over ten years.  The town even has a Charlie Chaplin Comedy festival each year in August.  Third on our tour is the statue honoring  Mick O'Dwyer.  While I have never heard of him, to Waterville, he is a favorite son. It seems that as manager of the Kerry Senior Football team from 1975 until 1989 he was the most successful manager of all-time.   Our last monument of the tour is Butler's Monument, a large Celtic cross erected in 1889.  This cross sits at the edge of the first major intersection of the town and welcomes those heading further.  

Our accommodations for the night is a small B&B with attached seafood restaurant; the B&B run by a lovely couple Margaret and Dan, while their daughter runs the restaurant.  As my grandson refuses to any seafood, it is back into the village for dinner at a local pub. Our dinner included not only some good food, I had a wonderful conversation with a lovely lady from Dublin visiting her sister. Dinner done but still early in the day, it has been a long day of driving so off to the B&B to reading for me and video games for my grandson.

With another day to travel during the holiday weekend, we are off the next day continuing our trip north on the western side of the Ring toward Tralee.  While the road got no wider or straighter, most of our trip was along the coast and the beautiful sights that the Ring is known for.  If you ever have the opportunity to travel to Ireland, which everyone should at some point, I recommend seeing the Ring of Kerry.  The coastlines are a sight that should not be missed.  

Our next stop Tralee is a town that sits at the western top of the Ring of Kerry.  I had little planned for Tralee other than to relax in the luxury of our accommodations for the next two evenings, Ballyseede Castle.  While my grandson has probably seen more castles that he might like in the last 45 days, he is fine with sleeping in one that has been brought to include modern comforts.  Ballyseede is a castle that must be stayed at.  With beautiful grounds, luxurious rooms, the most accommodating of staff, delicious food, and if you need more, the joy of seeing Einstein and Hope, two of three resident dogs that roam the main level of the castle added to the charm.

While there was no reason really to leave the castle, we did anyway for a short afternoon in town to see a couple of sights.  Our first stop is another church, this time St. John the Baptist, a catholic church built in the mid-19th century.  My grandson was in luck again and we arrived at mass so I was only able to peek in for a quick look; what I did see was beautiful.  As we were leaving the church we happened by the Tralee Town Park.  A beautiful park with hundreds, if not thousands, of rose bushes.  There is also a tribute to ‘Rose of Tralee,’ the international festival celebrated among Irish communities all over the world. The festival, held annually in the town of Tralee in County Kerry, takes its inspiration from a 19th-century ballad of the same name about a woman called Mary, who because of her beauty was called "The Rose of Tralee."   Leaving the park in search of a warm cup of tea, we walk toward town center and the pedestrian walking area.  We ended up in the end of the street and an indoor shopping center just to look around.  Unfortunately, we saw sights we had seen too many of in Ireland so far, and that was of closed shops.  In the shopping center, I would estimate that at least 85% of the shops were closed.  It was sad to think about the number of lives that have been changed by the closings.  A little less cheerful going out of the shopping area than we came in, we head back to the car and back to the castle to lift our spirits w Our time too short at Ballyseede but we must move on and we head toward our next stop, Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher.  

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