After driving around Ireland for a few days, we learned that the roads had 3 categories:an M road is a major highway, an N road is a smaller highway, and an R or L road is a country road. After Galway, our next stop in Ireland was Killarney, County Kerry. We packed our little red Toyota, took some Google Maps screenshots (21st century navigation), and headed south along the rugged Atlantic coast. We ventured down a lot of Rs and Ls during our travels around Kerry! Some of the lanes were so narrow we had to pull onto the shoulder to avoid being run off the road by buses. Driving on the opposite side of the road and sitting on the opposite side of the car was so disorienting!
On the way to Killarney, we stopped to see the Cliffs of Moher. The cliffs are about an hour and a half south of Galway and look out at the Aran Islands, where we’d been a few days before. It was cloudy, windy, and rainy when we got there (of course), so we didn’t stay long. I wasn’t too upset about the dismal weather because we’d had such beautiful weather and clear views at the Aran Islands. I did get a postcard in the gift shop with photos taken on a sunny day though! After walking around on the cliff edges and narrowly avoiding being blown over by the gales, we got back in our Toyota and pressed on to Killarney.
We got to Killarney and checked in to our hotel, Murphys Inn. One of the cons of having a car was figuring out where to park it. We were lucky that the hotel in Galway had a garage attached to it. We weren’t that lucky in Killarney, however. I had emailed the hotel before to ask where to park and they gave us the location of a car park where we could leave the car overnight. Somehow during our entire stay in Killarney, we never could find that exact car park. We did find another place to park it, but before dropping it off for the night, we drove through town to Killarney National Park to visit the Ross Castle.
Ross Castle was my first castle! It was built in the 15th century and had all kinds of cool castle features, like a backwards spiral staircase (designed to make invaders trip), tiny windows, and lookout points where castle guards could drop rocks or boiling oil on attackers (seriously). The castle’s original occupants, the O’Donoghues, all slept in one room on straw mats. They also had a long narrow chamber for the bathroom, where they would hang their clothes to be purified from the gases releasing from the waste…gross! The windows were very small, partially as a precaution from attacks and partially because glass was expensive and subject to taxation, so very little light was let in. At night, they used candles (I can’t remember exactly how they were made but I know they involved the rushes from the nearby lough) that only burned for about 10 minutes each. After touring the castle, we went back to town and had pizza for dinner and ice cream for dessert-a refreshing change from all the pub dinners.
We also stopped by a local pub, called Courtney’s! I’d read about Courtney’s in the guidebook and was instantly excited. Apparently Courtney is a surname in Ireland-who knew! I got some awkward pictures outside (for some reason I felt very self-conscious standing outside a bar having my picture taken) and asked for all the Courtney’s swag they had. Tim has a whiskey flight and we bought two whiskey glasses with the Courtney’s logo on them!
The next morning we had a quick breakfast at the hotel and headed back to the park to tour the Muckross House. The owners of the Muckross House in the 1850s did extensive renovations and improvements to the house in preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit to Ireland in 1861. Unfortunately, all the money they spent improving their house sent them into financial ruin! The house was beautiful to tour though and a firsthand example of how important it was for the Queen to have visited Ireland back then. We walked around the grounds and gardens of the house and of course had a scone snack in the cafe. We also hiked through the park to see a waterfall!
One of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland is the Ring of Kerry, a loop you can drive around to see beautiful views. We decided not to drive the ring because we didn’t want to spend that much time in the car (as entertaining as Irish radio was) and because we wanted to go to Dingle, a little fishing town on the Dingle peninsula. We left Killarney and made the drive to Dingle, which offered plenty of beautiful views! When we got to Dingle, we found a car park and wandered along the main road for a few minutes (one of the fun parts about not having Google Maps is all the time you spend hoping you’re walking in the right direction!) until we found the Dingle Brewing Company. Tim and I love touring breweries so we’d been looking forward to this the whole trip. The tour was self-guided so we walked around and the exhibits and then went back to the bar for the real reason we’d come: the beer! Their beer was called Tom Crean, named after an Arctic explorer who was born in Kerry. We had a fun time talking to the bartender, who had lived in Houston for many years. We walked through town to the marina and had a delicious seafood dinner at The Boat Yard. Our waitress told us that all the seafood was caught or farmed locally. We enjoyed the late sunlight and made a quick stop at Inch Beach to watch the sunset on our way back to Killarney.
After several lovely days in the Irish countryside, we were ready for the last leg of the trip: Dublin!