Next to Dingle, Kenmare was probably my most favorite city in southern Ireland.
It was also the place we spent two whole nights out of our 9 day extravaganza, so I may be slightly biased. After single night stays and spending a ton of time in the car, it was hard not to feel sort of like a wandering circus (especially with all the sheep, horses, and whatnot).
Early on in the planning process, I had decided we were going to do as much as we could to see Ireland like locals. Not only is that my traveling style (I’m somewhat of an anti-tourist, if you will), but we were also going over Memorial Day weekend, during peak tourism time, and knew this would be a great way to try to avoid at least some of the crowds.
The 3-day itinerary for Kenmare and Kinsale? It began with the Gap of Dunloe, Ring of Kerry and two overnights in Kenmare and continued with a tour and stay in Kinsale detour to a teeny, tiny fishing village where some of my family is from in Courtmacsherry and ended with me kissing the Blarney Stone. Read one for some of my favorite highlights!
Gap of Dunloe
So as we drove from Dingle toward Kenmare, we saw that the Gap of Dunloe was somewhat on the way. Out of my notes from home and others who had gone before me, Gap of Dunloe kept popping up, so we figured we should probably not miss it. If you’re driving, you may run into some gentlemen on “horse and trap” – AKA buggies – that will tell you you’re not allowed to drive through. While that may be frowned upon, and the road can be difficult for cars to pass through at points, I can definitely tell you there were a TON of cars on the road that we walked, so I suspect it was probably a ploy to spend money on the horse & buggy. Just an FYI!
Anyway, as I mentioned, we ended up parking and walking part of the Gap of Dunloe. The gap itself was forged many, many years ago as a glacial path and is between MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and Purple Mountain. IT IS GORGEOUS! I know I’ve said it before, but I definitely felt like we were in Lord of the Rings. And if you can believe it, this topography was totally different from what we had seen in Galway, Bunratty and especially even Dingle! We opted to walk only about quarter of the way into the gap but we felt like we had seen enough and taken enough pictures to get our time’s worth. We also wanted to explore Kenmare while it was still light out.
As I mentioned, besides Dingle, Kenmare was probably my second favorite town in southern Ireland. If you’re looking for a good base to stay in while you take a day to explore the Ring of Kerry, this is it. It’s supposedly less touristy than the other popular option for a Ring of Kerry “Basecamp”, Killarney. Though we didn’t visit Killarney, I would most certainly return to Kenmare!
We stayed at the O’Donnabhain’s Bed & Breakfast (our first bed and breakfast experience, ever) and absolutely LOVED it. Not only was there a pub (one of the best known in the town) with great food below us, they also featured live music almost every night! And I know what you’re thinking – no, we could not hear the music or bar noise from our room at all. The owners are also very good about shutting things down at a reasonable hour (between 9 and 10). The full Irish breakfast, cooked by the B&B owners, for us every morning was one of the best we had while we were in Ireland. I would absolutely stay there again if I go back!
Another must-try is Crowley’s – one of the oldest pubs in town. It’s mostly a local hangout, so no need to worry about it getting too crowded. It was also the place we learned that many places in Ireland don’t serve alcohol past midnight! (which is a bit surprising, given my ancestor’s penchant for a good time). It was also the place where we learned we might be able to circumvent that… if you know the right people and aren’t being too rowdy. Like I said in my overview of Ireland – if you want the deets, shoot me an email!
One of the coolest things we saw (and one of the best to Instagram, if you’re into that sort of thing) in Kenmare was the Kenmare Stone Circle – aka a druid circle. Locally, it’s known as the Shrubberies! (cue Monty Python quotes here). Most stone circles were built during 2,200 – 500 B.C. and were thought to have been used for ceremonial and ritual purposes. This one is comprised of 15 gigantic boulders and is just really cool to stand in.
The Ring of Kerry
Since we rented a car for the trip, we knew that though it was a bit “touristy” – much like the Cliffs of Moher, driving the Ring of Kerry was definitely going to be part of our itinerary. Per the suggestion of our B&B owner, we got a fairly early start, filled up the tank and grabbed some snacks for the road at the nearby gas station, and headed out for a drive.
We also got a little confused. We had heard about Glengarriff from one of the friendly people we met at Durty Nelly’s in Bunratty and that it was definitely a place to check out. What we didn’t understand is that there are actually two “rings” and Glengarriff is situated in the Ring of Berea (or Berea Peninsula), which is actually in County Cork.
If you research both, you’ll see that a lot of people recommend skipping the Ring of Kerry in favor of the Berea Peninsula – but we opted to do ROK and loved it just as much. We opted for the counter-clockwise route and drove through Sneem, stopped for a quick peek at Portmagee (which was so adorable) and headed up through Killorglin.
One thing we did not get to do that I really wish we would have was to take a boat trip to Skellig Michael. The skelligs are two rocky islands off the coast, and you can only get out to them via private fishermen boats, which book up extremely quickly. You also have to arrange transport with the fishermen themselves and the excursion takes an entire day, (not to mention, is entirely dependent on the weather – the boats can’t land if the water is too rough) which just wasn’t in our itinerary. However, you can bet your bottom dollar I will be doing this the next time we take a trip here!
It was during this leg of our drive from Kenmare to Kinsale that Riley really proved himself to be the best husband – he allowed us to drive almost an hour out of the way to poke around in the teeniest fishing village of them all – Courtmacsherry. Prior to visiting Ireland, my family mentioned this was one of the places my ancestors were thought to be from.
Obviously, since we had a car and were down in the area, it made sense to stop. Though it was little more than a blip on the radar, it was an extremely special moment for me. We also stopped in a tiny café/shop called The Golden Pheasant – I highly recommend their hot chocolate! They also sell Irish wool sweaters, sea salt goods and other fishing village-like trinkets.
I was not surprised to find that the topography of Kinsale was yet again different from the rest of Ireland. Similar to our choice to stay in Kenmare over Killarney, we opted to stay in the quaint village of Kinsale rather than Cork. I am so glad we did! Fun fact: Kinsale is actually the official starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way, which runs up the entire west coast of Ireland, connecting seaside cliffs to rolling hills, and quaint villages to harbor towns and everything in between.
We stayed at the Old Bank Town House, our second bed and breakfast of the trip. It was amazing. Much like the name would suggest, it was indeed in a renovated bank house. It also had a bakery and breakfast restaurant downstairs – and yes, breakfast was included! They also left us fresh baked cookies on our bed when we arrived. The only issue we had was with parking – the lot outside the hotel was pretty small. However, after driving around for a few minutes, we managed to find street parking, all of a 2-minute walk away. The entire town is also completely walkable, so it wasn’t an issue.
Since it was one of our last nights on the go, we decided we wanted to treat ourselves to somewhat of a nicer dinner, so we headed to Man Friday. This was probably one of my favorite highlights from the trip. It was fairly warm when we arrived into town and the sun was out. Kinsale is right on the water – and the view from Man Friday overlooks the bay (which looks like something from the Amalfi Coast!).
When we arrived, they were still serving people out on the patio, so we asked if we might be able to sit outside. Despite giving us a warning of the cooler temperatures coming, they seated us outdoors. It definitely got so chilly that other people opted to sit inside – but we essentially got a private patio dining experience! I would definitely recommend asking if you don’t get cold too easily!
Kitty O Se’s
Kitty’s deserves a shout out because next to Durty Nelly’s in Bunratty, they had the best music of anywhere we went in Ireland. The night we visited the house was JAMMED – but through some clever maneuvering I was able to snag two seats with a great view of the musicians. During one of the songs, the group members actually handed out spoons and I got to play them!
The Blarney Castle & Blarney Stone
Much like visiting Courtmacsherry, because we had a car and were down by the town of Blarney anyway, I felt seeing the Blarney Stone was something we had to put on the itinerary. Legend has it that anyone who kisses the stone is bestowed the “Gift of Gab” (to which Riley always replies, “as if you needed any more.”) Blarney is essentially synonymous with clever or flattering talk. Everyone on my dad’s side LOVES to tell stories (sometimes the same story, multiple times) and thus I needed to visit it.
Since I had used up almost all of my allotted “culture credit” with Riley, though, I knew I had to go in with a game plan if I wanted to convince him to “drive 2 hours out of the way to see a rock”, as he put it.
Let me tell you, Big Macs do wonders in these situations.
I had done my research and figured out there was a pair of Golden Arches only a 15-minute drive away from Blarney. So, with full tummies and considerably more patience that we would have had otherwise, we headed to the castle grounds.
Though I would have liked to spend more time in the gardens, we did make it through the castle and up to the top – and I am pleased to say, Riley actually liked a lot of the tour. He was also pleasantly surprised – despite trying to explain the Blarney Stone to him, he didn’t know it was actually part of a legitimate castle. It took us about 2 hours to do the whole castle and stone. Again, just like Bunratty Castle, I would absolutely recommend the experience, but be careful if you have trouble moving or need to be careful of falling for any reason, as the stairs and walkways can be extremely steep.
PHEW! There you have it – 6 of the 9 days we spent in Ireland. Thanks for following along, guys! Have you ever been to Kenmare, the Ring of Kerry, Kinsale or Blarney? What were some of your favorite places? Let me know in the comments and stay tuned for my final two posts – an in-depth guide to Dublin and how to pack for a trip to Ireland in spring!