Kerry is the most westerly county in Ireland, with Brooklyn, New York, jokingly referred to as “the neighboring parish.” But its people don’t think of it as remote. For them, the rest of the world is to be pitied for being remote from Kerry.
> What to Do
The Skelligs, by far the most spectacular site in Kerry, are two jagged rock islands jutting sharply out of the Atlantic about eight miles offshore.
Irish priests established a monastery here between the sixth and eighth centuries, where they practiced a most ascetic form of monasticism. Visiting their beehive cells is difficult but worth the effort.
A maximum of 180 people are allowed on the larger island, Skellig Michael, per day. Boats depart (weather permitting) from Ballinskelligs, Derrynane, and Portmagee between April and September. The Skelligs also make an appearance in the new Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens.
Killarney is a 250-year-old tourist trap, yet for all the leprechauns and paddywhackery, it’s strangely tasteful. In the center of town is the entrance to Killarney National Park, 26,000 acres protecting the famous lakes and some of Ireland’s rarest species, including the endangered red deer.
Conor Pass, on the road between Tralee and Dingle, ranks as Ireland’s highest mountain pass and boasts a sweeping view of peaks, islands, and the Atlantic. Be warned: The road is very steep, and if it’s raining, the road is all you’ll see.
> Where to Stay
Spotless Súgán Hostel in the center of Killarney draws backpackers with its bunk beds, cozy fireplace, and eminently affordable rates.
The castle hotel Parknasilla Resort and Spa features 500 acres of manicured parkland running along the ocean shore.
> Where to Eat
Historic Doyle’s in Dingle is (probably) the best seafood restaurant in the county, famous for its fish stew and fresh lobster.
Jack’s Coastguard Restaurant in Cromane has a spectacular edge-of-the-world setting in a restored coast guard station.
Less exalted but no less wonderful are Murphy’s ice cream parlors in Dingle and Killarney. Homemade flavors include caramelized brown bread, Irish coffee (with whiskey), and Irish Rain (with Guinness and peat-smoked sugar among the ingredients).
> What to Read
The now deserted Blasket Islands off the coast of the Dingle Peninsula produced a crop of extraordinarily lucid memoirs of the islanders’ lives, including The Islandman, by Tomás O’Crohan; Peig, by Peig Sayers; and Twenty Years A-Growing, by Maurice O’Sullivan.
> Travel Trivia
- Kerry has won more Gaelic football trophies (“All-Ireland”) than any other county in Ireland.
- The first commercial monorail in the world, the Lartigue, ran from Listowel to Ballybunnion between 1888 and 1924.
- Dingle Bay is home to Fungie, a lone dolphin that interacts with humans.
This piece, reported by John Grenham, first appeared in the February 2015 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine to accompany a feature written by Andrew McCarthy entitled “A Song for Ireland.”