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You may find it helpful to view and print off a copy of the regional map and cross reference with the description below. The letters in brackets correspond to the biking routes.
The yardstick against which all other beauty spots in Ireland are popularly measured is Killarney in the county of Kerry. Nestling on the shores of Lake Leane, the town has McGillycuddy’s Reeks (Mountains) as a spectacular backdrop. Killarney National Park includes three lakes and the magnificent Muckross House which encompasses craft workshops and the National Visitor Centre. The Kerry Country Life Experience provides an insight into rural life in the 1930s. Ross Castle near Killarney is a ruined 14th century castle with a preserved 16th century tower house ((A, B, C, N, S).
The spectacular Gap of Dunloe separates McGillicuddy’s Reeks from Purple Mountain. The route up climbs past five small lakes fed by a swiftly flowing mountain stream. From the head of the Gap there are superb views of the surrounding countryside. Kate Kearney’s Cottage, on the way to the Gap, was once a shebeen (illegal drinking house) run by a local beauty (B, N).
Molls’ Gap on the road to Kenmare has stunning views over the lakes (B).
East of Killarney, the River Lee has its origins in the lake of enchanting Gougane Barra Forest Park. The lake is one of Ireland’s best known beauty spots. St Finbar founded a monastery on Holy Island. The nearby village of Ballingeary has fine lakeside views of Lough Allua (C, D, E).
Bantry at the head of Bantry Bay is a fishing port and market town. On the town’s southern fringe is Bantry House, an elegant Georgian mansion set in superb gardens. Opposite the house is the French Armada Exhibition recounting the ill-fated attempt by a French fleet in 1796 to land 16,000 troops to support the United Irishmen in their rising against the British (E, F, G, H).
West of Bantry the Sheeps Head peninsula juts out into the Atlantic like a long, narrow finger (E,F).
South of Sheeps Head is Mizen Head, Ireland’s most southerly point. The 700 ft cliffs are a marvellous vantage point to appreciate the views and the Mizen Head Vistors’ Centre is well worth a visit. Along the coast Skull has a popular yachting harbour and brightly coloured terraces of houses, shops and pubs. A little further along, Ballydehob is a charming crafts centre (F).
North around the coast from Bantry Glengarrriff (the rugged glen) is an oasis of lush woodland at the head of an island dotted inlet. The warming influence of the Gulf Stream allows palm trees and sub-tropical flowers to flourish in the sheltered parts of the valley. Just offshore, and easily reached by boat is Garinish Island. The island’s magnificent gardens were laid out in the early 1900s (G, H).
To the west of Glengarriff the rugged Beara Peninsula was once a haven for rum smugglers. The main town of Castletown Bearhaven is a busy fishing port. McCarthys Bar on Town Square features an authentic matchmaking booth where Cork families would negotiate and agree marriage terms. Dunboy Castle, just south of the town was last castle to hold out against the English after the Battle of Kinsale in 1601 (H, I).
At the western tip of the peninsula a cable car travels across to Dursey Island with its ruined castle and sea bird colonies. The cable car is licensed to carry 3 passengers or one cow (H, I, J).
The village of Eyeries is noted for its brightly painted cottages and craft outlets while Ardgroom is a centre for mussel farming (G, J).
From the Healy Pass which cuts a jagged path across the spine of the Caha Mountains, there are wonderful views of Bantry Bay and the rugged West Cork landscape. The ride up to the pass is superb. Near the village of Lauragh at the northern approach to the pass, Derreen Gardens have a magnificent display of wild rhododendrons, camellias, tree ferns and bamboos. Nearby is the Ardgroom Stone Circle (G, J).
Kenmare (Head of the Sea) at the head of the Kenmare River provides a link between the Beara Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry. A colourful town with attractive limestone houses, it is renowned for its traditional lace. During the famine of the mid 1800s nuns from the local convent introduced lace making to create work for the local women and girls. There is plenty on offer in the way of traditional music sessions. Amongst the town’s many antiquities is Druids Circle - a 3000 year old stone circle associated with human sacrifice (D, G, J, K, L).
Close to Kenmare the Kilgarven Motor Museum has a fine display of classic cars (K).
West from Kenmare the road that hugs the northern shore of the Kenmare River is part of the famous Ring of Kerry route that follows the coast around the Iveragh Peninsula. (L).
Close to the village of Sneem, the impressive Staigue Fort is the best preserved Iron Age ring fort in Ireland. Just southwest of Caherdaniel, Derrynane House is at the centre of the Derrynane National Park. The house was the home of Daniel O’Connor, a lawyer known as the Liberator in recognition of his determination to champion the cause of Catholic emancipation. The house is filled with period furnishings and a collection of his personal possessions (L).
The resort of Waterville on the narrow strip of land between Lough Currane and Ballinaskelligs Bay is a popular centre for both freshwater and sea fishing (L, M).
The road to Portmagee over Coolmanspig Pass gives great views of the offshore islands. A bridge at Portmagee crosses the narrow strait to Valentia Island. The Skellig Experience Centre has a wealth of information about the Skellig Islands and about the life and works of the monks who lived there. Another exhibition is devoted to the wildlife on and around the islands. From Portamagee there are sea trips to the Skelligs, 20 km off the coast. Weather permitting you can land on Skellig Michael, where a 500 ft climb up a 100 year old stone stairway gives access to one of the most magnificent monastic sites in Europe, with stone beehive huts, oratories, cemeteries, stone crosses, holy wells and the church of St. Michael. The first transatlantic cable was laid from the southwest extremity of Valentia to Newfoundland, Canada in 1866 (M).
Caherciveen, the largest town on the Ring of Kerry, has a unique heritage centre. The delightfully situated resort of Glenbeigh is home to the Kerry Bog Village, a cluster of reconstructed stone cottages dating back to the 1800s. Inland, the road around Lough Caragh amongst the wooded foothills of McGillicuddy’s Reeks travels through some of Killarney’s best mountain scenery (L, M, N, O).
Killorglin is famous for its Puck Fair, a horse and cattle fair held every year in August. During the festivities a goat is crowned as King Puck (O, P).
North of the Iveragh Peninsula the scenery on the Dingle Peninsula is sublime. Here is a wealth of fascinating antiquities such as Iron Age stone forts, oratories, beehive huts and inscribed stones. The highest point of the peninsula, Brandon Mountain, crowns a chain of hills that plunges straight into the sea in dramatic fashion at Brandon Head (P, Q).
Inch, a sheltered seaside resort from which a 5km ridge of dunes extends out into Dingle Bay, was the location for some of the most spectacular backdrops of “Ryans Daughter” (P).
Dingle Town is a jumble of attractive streets that tumble down the hillside to the harbour. There are plenty of lively pubs in the town (P, Q, R).
To the west of the town, Dunbeg Fort is one of the best preserved promontory forts in Ireland – the surrounding site has several early Christian beehive huts (Q).
From Slea Head and from Dunmore Head, Ireland’s most westerly point, there are great views of the Blasket Islands. The Blasket Centre overlooking Blasket Sound, explores the literature, language and way of life of the inhabitants of the islands. Gallarus Oratory is the most complete example of early Christian architecture in Ireland (Q).
North of Dingle, the Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland, links the north and south shores of the peninsula. From Dingle the road winds up the sides of a great green bowl to a height of 450m, giving wonderful coastal views all the way, before corkscrewing down to Brandon Bay past cliffs, lakes and a dazzling waterfall (R).
Tralee originally grew up as a fortified settlement around the 13th century Desmond Castle, before being destroyed by Cromwell’s troops in the mid 17th century. The reconstruction produced many fine buildings, including the impressive 19th century courthouse with its ionic portico. The region’s stone forts provided the inspiration for the design of the delightful Siamsa Tire Theatre, which features performances of traditional music, dance and drama (R).