Ring of Kerry Tour from Cork

If I learned one thing in my short time in Ireland so far, it’s don’t trust a weather forecast here more than ten minutes in advance. Before leaving Waterford to come to Cork, I looked at the Cork forecast for the two full days I’d be here. I booked a bus tour around the Ring of Kerry for the only predicted sunny day of the two, today. Sunny? Not so much.

Inside Killarney National Park, on the Ring of Kerry
Inside Killarney National Park, on the Ring of Kerry

When I left my hotel to head to the tour departure point, stopping at a coffee shop for a double espresso and pastry for breakfast, a deeply troubled sky loomed down on me. A few sprinkles of water dropped on my head. At least, I hope it was water. The area was not devoid of birds.

And unlike what the Cork forecast said a couple of days ago, when I looked this morning it called for a few hours of rain midday. Fortunately, it lied about that. Plenty of dark clouds covered the sky almost all day, but the rain stayed away after those first few sprinkles. Then again, I wasn’t in Cork for most of the day, so maybe it rained there.

Ring Of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry is the name given to a roughly circular tourist route in southwestern Ireland through County Kerry. The Ring officially starts and ends in Killarney, a bit over an hour and a half drive from Cork.

In his introduction at the start, the tour guide/bus driver told us that if anyone came looking for archaeology, they were on the wrong tour. People travel around the Ring of Kerry for the majestic scenery.

Bring it on!

Warning: I took a few pictures from on the bus, but not many. And the ones I took were particularly lousy. For one thing, I held my phone pretty much flush with the window to avoid reflections, but that limited my ability to angle the camera to best frame the shot. And a few of the sights were on the other side of the bus. What’s more, moving at highway speeds in a bus is not conducive to taking good photos.

Therefore, all of the photos in this post are from the stops. That means I have images of some of the amazing scenery along the way only in my memory. Consequently, much of it is already lost to me. Sigh.

Frequently during the trip, the driver went on-mic to tell us about what we were driving by and its history. If you expect me to remember and relay most of that information you’ll be desperately disappointed. I took notes about a bit of what he said and a lot about what I saw with my own eyes, but I didn’t write down much of his commentary. Some, but not most. So, my recommendation to you is to avoid frustration by severely lowering your expectations in that regard.

This will, nevertheless, be a long post. You’ve been warned.

Killarney, Start & End of the Ring of Kerry

The drive to Killarney went past fields, rolling hills, farms, some cows, some sheep, the occasional river, pond or lake, the rare rock face, a few towns, and some smaller clumps of homes.

Because, based on my limited experience here, the default weather in Ireland seems to be rain, the greenery we passed was deep, well, green. I didn’t see any people by the side of the road as the bus drove on, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were green too. Ireland well deserves its Emerald Isle sobriquet.

Killarney is a tourist town. About 15,000 people live there. But it’s lousy with hotels and shops. So a lot of temporary visitors pass through.

During the one-hour stop in Killarney, I opted for an hour-long horse and carriage tour through Killarney Park.

According to the driver/guide, the only other option in Killarney was to grab a coffee and browse the shops for an hour. For me, browsing shops compares unfavourably to rolling naked on coarsely crushed glass. I didn’t want anyone to have to watch me roll naked on coarsely ground glass for an hour. Hence, the horse and carriage tour through the park.

Killarney National Park

Deer at the entrance to Killarney National Park
Deer at the entrance to Killarney National Park

As the horse and carriage entered the park, a family of three small, red deer, two adults and one child, greeted us at the entrance. Some others fed nonchalantly near the roads the horse and carriage travelled along inside the park. And, no doubt, many more enjoyed themselves farther into the park, unseen by me and away from us damned tourists. Tourists don’t give the deer any tips, so why would they go out of their way to entertain us?

The park is beautiful. The trees, including oak and yew, are plentiful and the grass and shrubbery are lush.

Water features include a river and a large lake, Lough Leanne.

River in Killarney National Park
River in Killarney National Park

Off in the not-too-far distance, Ireland’s tallest mountains, the MacGillycutty Reeks, loom over the park. I don’t know why they’re called Reeks. They didn’t smell at all. Maybe the wind was in the other direction. Clouds shrouded the tops of the mountains today.

Killarney National Park spans about 26,000 acres, so I saw only a small fraction of it on the horse and carriage tour. According to the driver of that conveyance, you can rent bikes to explore the roads through the park and watercraft to journey out on the lake. There are also hiking trails through the mountains.

Kerry Bog Village Museum & Red Fox Inn Pub

The bus next stopped at the Kerry Bog Village Museum and the next door Red Fox Inn Pub.

Kerry Bog Village Museum
Kerry Bog Village Museum

The bus driver/guide told us that the half-hour stop gave us plenty of time to visit the museum and have an Irish coffee in the pub. He said it would take us only ten or fifteen minutes to go through the museum.

He was right about the museum. Ten or fifteen minutes was more than sufficient. It consists of about a half-dozen small, thatch-roofed buildings that represented structures typically used by bog turf-cutters back in I don’t know when.

The buildings were rustically furnished and bore a smokey, mildewed scent.

The museum didn’t offer much to see, but it did have a couple of handsome Irish Wolfhounds in an enclosure.

That left more than fifteen minutes before the bus continued. The place where the bus stopped comprised nothing more than a small parking lot, the museum, the pub, and some beautiful, but inaccessible surrounding scenery.

A quarter past noon is a tad early for me to drink alcohol. But the pub’s marketing bumf assured me that the Red Fox Inn Pub has world-famous Irish Coffee. Early for drinking though it may be, when in Ireland do as the Irish do.

Let’s just say that I boarded the bus almost verging on happiness, a rare state for me indeed. I sometimes think I’d make a great drunk, but I’ll try to avoid that.

After the stop, we got views of the Dingle Peninsula, Dingle Bay and the ocean. We also drove through the mountains, or so the guide said. I saw some low mountains, but clouds hid the higher ones.

Dingle Bay

Dingle Bay
Dingle Bay

The bus paused for a few minutes at the side of the road for us to get out and take pictures of Dingle Bay and the mountains. Even with the high cloud cover, the views were spectacular.

I guess I should be thankful. The driver/guide said that he’s had days when he’s told passengers, “Down there, if you could see it through the clouds, is the ocean.”

Waterville

Waterville

The bus then continued to Waterville for an hour-long stop so hungry passengers could get something for lunch. I don’t know what the passengers who weren’t hungry did there because I wasn’t one of them.

Waterville is a small seaside town on the Iveragh Peninsula, beside Ballinskelligs Bay. Small though it may be, it’s not without a history of note.

The Waterville shoreline
The Waterville shoreline

For one, it was the European landing point of the first transatlantic telegraph cable.

And a couple of statues sit down near the shore. One is of an octogenarian whose name I forget. He won a slew of sports championships and, according to the guide, is a living legend. Sorry, but I’m not familiar with Irish sports legends. I didn’t know the name and quickly forgot it.

The other statue is of a deceased American. He visited Waterville (while alive, of course) and loved it so much that he bought a property there and spent a lot of time in Waterville living like an ordinary local when he was here. After his death, the city put up a statue of him. His name was Charlie Chaplin. Yeah, that Charlie Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville
Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville

After a quick lunch, I had time to walk around a bit and look at the statues. Waterville is an attractive town, with little more than one street. But what a street.

Short, unassuming buildings line one side of it. For most of its stretch, the other side has a swath of grass, followed by a swath of stone beach, followed by a bay off the Atlantic. Low mountains sweep behind the town and around the rest of the bay. The views are gorgeous.

Com an Chiste

After leaving Waterville, the bus climbed up the mountains again. At one point the guide told us where to look to briefly see Skellig Michael, a pinnacled island out in the Atlantic. Only the base of the island was visible today. Clouds obscured the peak.

Com an Chiste

Skellig Michael played a role in the Star Wars movie,
The Last Jedi.” It’s the peaked island with stone steps cut into the rock leading to the pinnacle. Luke Skywalker retreated there when he went into hiding.

The bus continued until it reached a vista point called Com an Chiste. It stopped there so we could get out and take pictures.

The views from Com an Chiste are incredible. Small, much shorter islands that haven’t, to the best of my knowledge, yet achieved stardom dot the bay close by to the shore. It’s beautiful.

Sneem

Sneem
Sneem

After leaving Com an Chiste, the bus descended the other side of the peninsula. As it did so, it passed more amazing scenes consisting of mountains, rocks, bays, beaches, shrubs, greenery and wildflowers of purple and orange. A few houses dotted the way.

After driving past more beauty than the likes of me deserve, we made our next stop, in Sneem.

A river runs through Waterville
A river runs through Sneem

Sneem is a pretty little town with shops, homes and a picturesque, rock-strewn river running through it.

The driver/guide called Sneem “the ice cream stop.” Sneem has a few ice cream shops, including one that makes its own ice cream fresh every day, Sneem Cream.

The driver/guide said that most of the passengers usually needed a sugar fix at that point in the tour. I’m in a position to report that Sneem Cream’s pistachio ice cream is very good. (I had only a single scoop. So I can’t report on the other flavours.)

Ladies View

After leaving Sneem, the bus headed back into the mountains and through the Black Valley and what the driver/guide called the most remote part of Ireland.

This part of the drive took us past some forests, mountains, and valleys; through a gap; and past a few patches of blue carved into the clouds above. I don’t think the blue patches are permanent features.

Ladies View
Ladies View

A chunk of this section of the drive took us back into Killarney National Park and on a road that runs through it.

The next stop, again just a brief one to get out and take pictures, was at a vista point called Ladies View. It provided a panorama of mountains and a series of lakes.

And before you ask, no, I don’t know why someone named it Ladies View. And, yes, I checked Google Maps to make sure I heard the name correctly.

The only ladies I saw there were from the bus and other tourists who stopped there. I doubt those women are permanent features of the landscape. What’s more, I saw a roughly equal number of gentlemen there as ladies. And, let’s be honest. Alleged civilization being what it is, at least a few scoundrels and scamps probably mingled among the ladies and gentlemen.

Sometimes place names can be so inexplicable and serendipitous.

Torc Waterfall

Path to Torc Waterfall
Path to Torc Waterfall

The scenery after leaving Ladies View was equally stunning, but not significantly different from the landscape I described in the sections above. So I won’t burden you with the details. I commend and thank you for reading this far. That is assuming that anyone is indeed still here.

For the final destination of the tour, the bus stopped near Torc Waterfall. The said falls are about a five-minute walk from the lot where the bus parked.

The walk traverses a path beside a river and through a densely forested area.

Torc Waterfall is a small, but dramatic falls in a lush forest. it made for a very satisfying last stop.

Lost in Translation

Two women who I think were Spanish were on the tour. They spoke no English. This caused a few problems.

Torc Waterfall
Torc Waterfall

At the start of the tour, they arrived a couple of minutes late. The driver waited for the missing passengers, but they couldn’t get seats together.

After the first stop, they took seats together. This split up a family. When the family came back onto the bus after the two women, the mother started discussing, then arguing, then loudly arguing with the women that they couldn’t split up the family. The mother discussed/argued entirely in English. If the women responded at all, I couldn’t hear it.

Because we were still stopped, when the argument got loud, the driver/guide first softly, then loudly told the woman who moved to sit with her friend that she had to sit in her original seat. The woman didn’t move or respond. The driver/guide slapped his hand on the empty seat that was the woman’s original seat and told her she had two choices, either sit in that seat or leave the bus. (See the note about the driver’s original instructions in the Summary section below.)

The slapping of the seat worked. She moved.

After one of the stops, the woman came back and took the seat that had been empty beside me.

At a couple of points in the journey, she said something to me in her native tongue, which, as I said, I think was Spanish. I don’t speak Spanish. The calm, natural tone of her voice led me to believe that it was inconceivable to her that I couldn’t understand her. I shrugged and raised my hands in what I hope is a universal miming of, “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand you.”

Fast forward to Torc Waterfall. At the time the driver/guide said we’d leave, the women weren’t back yet. The guide/driver knew they weren’t there because he checked to make sure there were only two empty seats on the bus before he left each stop. There were four this time. He asked me if the woman beside me was missing. I responded that it appeared so.

Ten minutes after the appointed departure time, the driver/guide got off the bus and went looking for them. He couldn’t find them, got back on the bus, and started to drive off.

He barely got out of the small parking lot when some passengers shouted, “Stop the bus!” They spotted the two women running to catch the departing bus. The driver stopped and they got on.

My theory is they didn’t speak a single word of English and, therefore, didn’t understand the driver/guide when he told us when we had to be back at the bus. Why, considering they didn’t understand, they didn’t stick close to other passengers and go back when the other passengers went back is a mystery to me.

With the errant women collected, the bus then completed the Ring of Kerry route back to the town of Killarney. From there, it returned to Cork along the same route we came along to start the tour.

Summary, Ring of Kerry Tour

I quite enjoyed the tour. A bit of advice if you take it. Try to get a window seat on the right side of the bus. (Right as opposed to left, which also happens to be the correct side of the bus in this case.) Most, but not all, of the best sights are on the right. I didn’t know this when getting on the bus, but as luck had it, I did take a window seat on the right side of the bus.

In retrospect, because it meant that I got to keep my good seat throughout the journey, I was very happy that the driver/guide fervently insisted at the start of the trip that we had to keep the same seats throughout the tour. (Hence the driver/guide being annoyed that the Spanish woman didn’t do so. I don’t know if the driver/guide ever realized that they didn’t speak English.)

Of course, if the tour company you take does the Ring of Kerry in the opposite direction from the one I used (Paddywagon Tours) then the above advice is backwards.

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