Kerry is as close as you’ll get to the mythical Ireland: that Celtic kingdom of misty mountains promised by glossy brochures, Hollywood and our daydreams. Between the county’s snow-capped summits are medieval ruins, glacial lakes, coastal peninsulas, blustery beaches, deserted archipelagos, secluded hamlets, and larger towns where live music sparks up every night.
Most visitors touch down in Killarney. The townsfolk know how to run a mean hotel and serve an Atlantic catch or a rack of Kerry lamb. Instead of municipal gardens there’s a 10, 000-hectare national park, which can be explored by ‘jaunting car’ (pony and trap) and a boat across the lakes. In the nearby Gap of Dunloe, the road winds crazily beneath the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks range, which includes nine of Ireland’s 10 highest peaks.
Tourists often arrive at the coast with the idea that the iconic Ring of Kerry is a ‘place’ they can visit. In fact, it’s a 179km circuit of the Iveragh Peninsula, where the mountains-meet-ocean beauty makes for one of the world’s great road trips. To paraphrase one pub sign, you’ll enjoy Ireland’s best known views… fog permitting. Across a dolphin-inhabited bay, the Dingle Peninsula is home to one of the country’s highest concentrations of ancient sites and Mt Brandon, Ireland’s eighth highest peak.
Such magnificent scenery is, of course, a magnet for buses, but the hordes can be escaped by using back roads and mountain passes. As for the local folk, Kerrymen are famous throughout Ireland for their proud provincialism and country cunning. Just listen to the outrageous yarns told by the ‘jarveys’ who drive Killarney’s jaunting cars.