Kenmare is a lovely town, ideally situated between the Rings of Kerry and Beara. It’s outside the hustle and bustle of Killarney, but still has plenty of shops, restaurants and pubs. We rented a wonderful house a mile or two outside of town, called Dunkerron Lodge. With a manicured garden, wood (or peat) burning fireplace and historic charm, this was the perfect rental and base of exploration for the surrounding area. Over a week, we visited the following spots, all easily accessible from Kenmare, as a base of exploration.
Kenmare itself is fun to stroll through, complete with art galleries, a woolen shop, the token tourist shop, a French chocolatier and more. Visit the Kenmare Heritage and Tourist Center for local info, maps and more. Upstairs is the Kenmare Lace & Design Center. Lace making is a local tradition, and the center displays historical pieces, while also offering classes. The ladies told us they teach the skill to many of the town’s young girls, to preserve the tradition. They have pieces for sale too.
An easy walk from the center is the Kenmare Stone Circle. With 15 stones forming a circle around the center boulder, it’s the most accessible stone circle you’ll ever see, while it’s not as dramatic or large as others throughout Ireland. There is a box for entry fee/donations, along with informational brochures. Beside the circle is a small fairy tree, on which to hang your written wishes.
In the evening, a number of pubs have live Irish music, just look for the signs out front. After a failed attempt to hear live music in Galway, we finally had success in Kenmare! Sometimes, it’s a formal set with scheduled musicians. The evening we visited Crowley’s Bar, though, musicians gradually streamed in, joining together and playing impromptu sets. They even welcomed an American with his guitar to join in. It was so much fun! Irish beer and whiskey get all the hype, but try some Irish cider too! Bulmer’s was the most common I came across.
Our last night in Kenmare, we had dinner at the Brook Lane Hotel’s restaurant. It was delicious food, with live musicians playing traditional Irish music. If you’re looking for an upscale dinner, I definitely recommend this spot.
Just past the town center, the Star of Kenmare leaves for boat trips around the bay. We took the seal tour, which cruises around the bay and ends with a trip around the rock islands where the seals congregate. It was bitterly cold that day, but the boat has both an open upper deck and an enclosed lower deck. For 18 euros, it’s a fun way to see the cute bay inhabitants.
Molly Gallivan’s & Bonane
About 15 minutes outside city center is Molly Gallivan’s Cottage and Traditional Farm. I didn’t think much of visiting here, but I”m so glad we did! They have a tea room and craft shop, along with a complete farm. The cottage gained its reputation when Molly Gallivan began producing moonshine (Molly’s mountain dew), whilst selling baked goods to tourists. Now, you can stroll the farmyard and feed the critters. The small pot belly pig proved to be quite entertaining until he scared us half to death. He stuck his head through the gate bars and got stuck. He then proceed to ‘scream’. I didn’t understand the saying to ‘squeal like a stuck pig’ until I heard this terrifying noise! He managed to pull his head back through the bars, thank goodness. I didn’t want the shop keepers to think we were killing their pig!
There are free roaming sheep, a cow and donkeys. The donkeys were quite friendly!
In the farm parking lot sits a wooden carving, The Druid. She is said to look across the valley to the top of the peak, where an ancient chieftain is buried.
Headed back into Kenmare, pass through Bonane, a tiny ‘town’, home to Lorge Chocolatier. They also have a shop in Kenmare, but this is where they make the chocolates. It’s good stuff!
Sneem is along the Ring of Kerry, and roughly a 30 minute drive from Kenmare. During our first visit to the area, we blew through Sneem as the last leg of our drive around the Ring of Kerry. It’s a cute town, and drive is lovely from Kenmare. About half way along the drive, there is a pull off on the left side. At first, it just looks like a nice spot to view the bay. However, follow the rough dirt path down towards the water. It will end, and you’ll have to scramble or jump down a 4-5 foot ledge. It’s well worth it, with access to a beautiful inlet. We spent a good 30-40 minutes just enjoying the views and exploring the area. I found some of the best sea glass yet, including some sea pottery. I love sea glass, but never had I found sea pottery! The blue and white design suggested some type of china, and a bit of a research revealed that 18th and 19th century ships, carrying the china, often sank in the rough Irish waters. As such, it’s not uncommon to find bits of this history washed up on the shores.
In town, we grabbed lunch at a cafe by the river. It was a bit chilly to sit outside, but they have a lovely riverside deck. We strolled around the shops, where we started a chat with a shop owner. In passing, we mentioned during our last trip through Sneem, we had seen a large goat in the town square. He laughed and told us that was Puck, who is usually around in the afternoon with his master. Sure enough, we found them right there! Th gentleman and his goat are quite popular with tourists, so feel free to hug or pet the friendly goat!
Next, look for the Pyramids, or The Way the Fairies Went. You’ll see a wooden sign pointing the way just past St. Michael’s Church. While they look ancient, the beehive structures were actually built by a local artist in the 1980s. Past the pyramids is a wide open field and the river. The day we were there, two friendly dogs came across the river to greet us!
Lastly, we had afternoon tea at Kelly’s Bakery. Serving local artisan cheeses, baked goods and more, it’s a homey, cute place, complete with a cafe cat. He joined us at our table and promptly fell asleep.
A special note on Dunkerron Castle. It’s actually in Kenmare, and was practically across the street from our rental, but it is on the road to Sneem. It was absolutely beautiful, but it’s not the easiest to find. Off N70, pull into the Dunkerron Holiday Homes subdivision. Driving to the back, you’ll find the roads ends, turning into a dirt pathway. Follow it a short distance, and you’ll come to the castle ruins. I’m not sure if it’s technically a public stop, so if you do go, please be respectful. A private residence sits a few hundred feet away from it, and I believe it belongs to that property.
Killarney National Park
The national park is another example of why I found spring to be much preferred to late November visits in Ireland. Aside from the all around better weather, everything was open. This included Ross Castle. Sitting lake side, it’s been fully restored to it’s 15th century glory, my favorite castle I visited in Ireland. Tours are limited to 15 or so people, and can fill up quickly in the summer months. Unfortunately, interior photography is not permitted.
Springtime also allows boat trips from pier in front of the castle. Tours through the lakes, as well as service to Innisfallen Island, are offered.
We took a jaunting car tour through the park, with a guide who talked a mile a minute, providing stories and background on Killarney National Park. It was a nice way to see a bit of the immediate area, and we saw a herd of the Killarney deer. The jaunting cars leave just across the bridge from Ross Castle, as well as at locations throughout the park.
Muckross House Gardens were in full bloom, and we spent some time exploring those grounds.
Muckross Abbey is not to be missed. It’s less than a mile on a trail from the house, or, the abbey also has a parking lot off N71, the main drag into Killarney. The abbey was built in the 1400s as a monastery, although it’s in ruin now. The beautiful cloisters remain, with an ancient yew tree standing in the center. The tree is at least as old as the abbey, and it’s no wonder they often have myths surrounding them (sacred to the Druids). Can you see the face in it’s trunk?
We also spent Mother’s Day (the American date, not Ireland’s) at the Lake Hotel’s Lakeside Bistro. With lovely views of the lake beyond, it was a nice lunch. Behind the hotel sits the 12th century McCarthy Mor castle ruins. The hotel has a causeway to the castle, for further exploration.
Gap of Dunloe
Our last full day in Kenmare, we rose about 5:45am for an early morning hike. It’s always the best time to see wildlife, and today was no different. As we drove towards the Gap of Dunloe (also within the Killarney National Park), we encountered a herd of mountain goats in the road. It was a perfect, calm morning, and I could see the billy goat’s breath as he looked at us, as if deciding whether to challenge the car or not.
Onward, we parked at Kate Kearney’s Cottage and then began the trek up the road to the gap. We had come this way a few days earlier, and against the warning, drove across it. It was a nail biting drive, as the road is really restricted to jaunting cars and local traffic for those who live beyond the gap. There are tight turns and only room for one vehicle, so pray you don’t meet oncoming traffic, like we did! The road eventually crosses through the gap, into the Black Valley and will take you to Moll’s Gap (in a circuitous route). We decided to come back and hike it, for a more relaxed pace, allowing ourselves to enjoy the views, which are stunning. Sheep dot the landscape and fuchsia plants line the road, all backed by the lake and the Gap of Dunloe.
Ring of Beara
I would be remiss not to mention the Ring of Beara in our Kenmare itinerary. I felt it deserved it’s own full post though, so read about it here. I loved it- it was full of natural beauty and wild landscapes.
All told, this was a wonderful week in southern Ireland. I highly recommend a relaxed pace like this, allowing yourself to enjoy the small details and savor the sites. It was my second trip to Ireland, so the first was more like a scouting trip to determine what to come back to next time. Either way, see what you can and love every moment!