Read about our previous adventures in Ireland here:
We spent the 5th and 6th days of our trip around Killarney and the Ring of Kerry. We stayed at the Hotel Killarney, which had a fabulous full Irish breakfast every morning and was clean and well-located, though finding our room was like navigating a maze it is so huge. If you are travelling with kids, you will definitely want to stay here–their kids amenities seemed top notch. We spent very little time at the hotel, however, because Killarney is so packed with things to do and see.
Ring of Kerry
FYI, The Ring of Kerry circumnavigates the Iveragh Peninsula on the west coast of Ireland. Everything on this list is situated along the Ring of Kerry.
We started at Muckross House, which is a heritage site, so free with an OPW card.
1. Muckross House
Whenever I tour homes, I am typically thinking about how I would remodel the property to better suit my own family, which walls I would move where, how I would redecorate, etc… it’s my nature. I can’t help it. At Muckross, all I could think was that it must have taken an entire army to keep the place clean and comfortable, and how grateful I am that I don’t have to clean it. It’s huge, and so ornate that the owners could probably spend their entire lives dusting surfaces and still not keep up. They don’t allow photos inside, so you’ll have to go here to see the beautiful interiors. The carved crown moldings boggled my mind as they were not mitered. Rather, the carving turned the corners. Does that make sense? If not, you’ll just have to visit and see for yourself.
Our amusing tour guide taught us the origin of a couple interesting phrases, such as ‘mind your own beeswax’, coined because women spread thick beeswax-mixed-with-talcum-powder makeup, designed to make them look extremely pale (why?), over their faces, and the makeup would melt if they sat too near a fire. Ornate screens were placed at face-level to protect the makeup from dripping down their chins. Can you imagine?
I particularly enjoyed the kitchen. Having toured other kitchens of this time period, which were usually in dark, dank basement corners or leftover spaces, I was impressed at the size, convenient placement and layout, and the light in the kitchen.
2. Ross Castle (tour of a 15th century renovated tower house castle) also an opw site
This ‘castle’ was not at all what I expected. I had read that it was a tower house castle, but still I expected so much more. I tend to forget that Castles were defensive structures and instead think of Disney princesses.
Tower houses are basically just square, stone towers with one room per level and a very narrow spiral staircase in one corner. They are very prevalent in Ireland, and some are still inhabited today. Ross Castle is one of the best preserved examples and has been completely renovated, even including period furnishings.
A couple of the levels would have had a wood-beamed floor in order to reduce weight, and the others would have been stone. Inhabitants would cover the stone floors in thrushes for comfort and the doorways would have raised ‘thresholds’ to contain the thrushes. Thus, the invention of the word threshold.
The sole purpose of the Irish tower house, which would have been the stronghold on an Irish chieftain during the Middle Ages, was defense against marauders. As such, the castle was far from comfortable. Windows were mere vertical slits in several-foot-thick stone walls, angled to allow those inside to aim and fire weapons at attackers, but prevent entrance and return fire from the attackers, so rooms were poorly lit. Staircases, narrow and uneven to throw off attackers, were built in a clockwise direction. Attackers, ascending up would have their sword in their right hand and would be impeded by the center structure of the staircase. Defenders, facing down, would have their swords swinging at the outer part of the staircase giving them an advantage. The front entrance was a small anteroom secured by an iron grill at the outer wall, which could be closed from inside via a chain that could then be secured even if the front door was closed. This room provided small side access holes and a ‘murder-hole’ above which allowed the defenders to attack anybody in the room. The front door, on the inside of the anteroom, was constructed of two layers of thick Irish oak, one layer 90 degrees to the other with the boards riveted together. If the door was a single layer with the wood fibres going in a single direction, it would have been possible to split the door. The second cross layer prevented that. The door opened inward and was backed by two heavy beams fitted into the stone structure.
Ross Castle, and other tower houses also incorporated machicolations, stone structures at the top of the castle protruding out from the wall with a hole in the floor. There are two on Ross Castle, one over the front door and another on the back wall. The one at the front would allow defenders to drop stones or boiling oil on attackers at the front door, the only entrance to the castle. The parapet at roof level is crenellated, providing ups, ‘merlons’ and downs, ‘crenels’, to allow defenders to hide behind the merlons while firing through the crenels.
During the tour I kept thinking how much my boys would have loved all of the strategic defenses. Sure enough, as we drove to our next destination my ‘oldest boy’ aka my husband could only talk about his ideas for modernization and improvement of the defenses, while my thought centered around improvement of comfort and aesthetics.
Again, we were not allowed to take pictures inside, thus the illustration I posted above.
The addition to the rear of the tower house was made during a point in time when the castle was used as barracks. It now houses a display about the history of Ross Castle.
We began our drive counter-clockwise, in order to be going the same direction as the tour buses so we wouldn’t have to pass them on the narrow roads. There are so many interesting things to see, you can’t possibly visit them all in a day. Unfortunately, we only gave ourselves two days–one to explore Muckross House and Ross Castle, and one to drive the Ring of Kerry. This is what we saw out the window of our rental car:
There were lots of tourist buses driving the same route as us, which stopped less frequently and only for short periods of time, so I can’t recommend seeing the Ring of Kerry by bus. In a car you can stop wherever you like, for as long as you like.
3. Ballycarbery Castle, Cahergall Fort, Leacanabuile Fort
We stopped first at Ballycarbery Castle, near Cahersiveen. The castle is high on a grass hill facing the sea and is a short distance from Cahergall Fort and Leacanabuile Fort, which are very worth spending an hour at. Both forts are within walking distance of the Castle and each other. The castle is fenced off, but you can enter and walk around the ancient forts and wonder about the families who built and used them. These two forts are similar to the many circular stone forts found along the Ring of Kerry, so instead of stopping at them all (unless you REALLY like stone forts) pick one or two to stop at and skip the rest. These two stone forts are my favorite because they show two different types of defense in such close proximity to one another and because they are so well preserved. We chose to spend a little more time here and skip the other forts on the peninsula.
Irish history is so interesting and it’s present so quaint! Portmagee, near Cahersiveen and the forts, and one of the cutest towns I’ve ever seen, made a great stop for lunch.
4. Eightercua Stone Row
We continued on, looking for Eightercua Stone Row, a megalithic tomb south of Waterville. We passed it twice while looking because we weren’t looking high enough on the hill, but some locals told us where it should be and we found it.
Our next stop on the Ring of Kerry was the Derrynane house, Derrynane beach and Derrynane Abbey, near Caherdaniel.
5. Derrynane House, Derrynane beach and Derrynane Abbey on Abbey Island
Unfortunately, we spent too much time touring everything else and just missed the last tour of the day at Derrynane House. We did get pictures of the exterior, and we explored the grounds, the beach behind it and photographed the Abbey from the beach, since the tide was in and we couldn’t go out and explore the island. The beach would be a wonderful place to spend some time playing/picnicking if you are travelling with kids!
We learned by sad experience that we should have hurried, or else planned more time in order to see all the things we wanted to.
Be sure to save plenty of time (and daylight!) to photograph all the spectacular scenery along the way, especially in Killarney National Park!
You could really spend a week or more just in Killarney National Park and not run out of things to see. We wished we had saved a couple of hours to take a boat ride from Ross Castle out to Innisfallen Island and explore the Abbey ruins there, and we also wished we had set aside at least a day to hike in the National Park. We had two full days, so I think we should have, ideally, planned 4 days in Killarney.
Some vacations are busily metropolitan, others are lie-on-the-beach in the sun reading, and others are all active, hiking, climbing, river-rafting and high adventure. Ireland is the perfect blend of all of those and you can direct yours toward whichever you prefer.
Here are the links to the rest of our adventure:
What are your favorite types of vacations–metropolitan, beach or high adventure?