A Travel Director’s guide to Killarney and the Ring of Kerry

As a Travel Director I love rolling in to Killarney, because I know that a great time awaits all of Trafalgar’s guests here. Killarney is a buzzing town full of warmth and vitality. It sits amidst some of Ireland’s most glorious countryside with the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks mountain range, Killarney National park, Muckross House and the lakes of Killarney right at its doorstep.

Killarney itself is a small town but a truly global one. It is self-confident, friendly and very social, where locals and tourists alike mingle freely in the many excellent bars and restaurants that populate its streets. There are many wonderful bars in the town itself to choose from, but my personal favourite is “the Grand” where everyone mingles together, enjoying both traditional Irish music sessions as well as more formal amped up gigs. The atmosphere is always fantastic.

Another of my favourite spots to bring groups, located a little outside the town itself, is Kate Kearney’s.

This iconic pub sits at the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe and is famous among tourists, locals and hikers for its quality food and music. I’ve even played a few tunes myself here, as you can see in the video below! I can’t wait to get back to both touring and playing music in pubs again! Music is such a big part of the culture here and a huge part of my life. I love playing traditional Irish music and it’s always wonderful to play for groups when the opportunity arises!

The people of Killarney and the wider Kerry region take great pride in the natural beauty and rich culture of the area and refer to it simply as “the Kingdom”. The cultural richness comes from the same beautiful, mountainous hinterland where the Irish culture of music, dance, song and story thrived throughout the ages. This love of culture has been beautifully maintained in the region There are excellent shows here during the summer months featuring world class music and dance.

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Killarney has been at the centre of tourism in Ireland for over 150 years. It was one of the first international tourist destinations and famously hosted Queen Victoria in 1861, when she stayed in Muckross house. At that time, Queen Victoria was the world’s most famous person and the visit highlighted the natural beauty of the Killarney region to an international audience. Killarney has been a world leader in tourism and hospitality ever since. In keeping with this grand history, it is still possible to take a horse and carriage ride from the town into the surrounding countryside and indeed, this experience is a highlight of many who stay in the region.

Known locally as “the Jaunting cars”, the horse and cart rides traverse some of the beautiful grounds of Muckross house and Killarney National Park. The tour lasts a little under an hour, and the guides are famous for their local wit and humour. This experience is lot of fun and always very popular with Trafalgar’s guests.

Another highlight of all our trips to the region is the Ring of Kerry drive. This is a circular drive (hence the name) that starts and finishes in Killarney and takes in some of the most beautiful stretches of the Wild Atlantic Way on the Iveragh Peninsula.

Highlights include majestic views over Dingle Bay and Ballinscelligs Bay. On a clear day you can see the world famous Sceilg rocks which were home to hermit monks until the 11th century and have recently been made even more famous by the Star Wars film franchise when filming took place here. I don’t know which is more outlandish; the notion that people lived on these austere, vertical rock formations in the throes of the Atlantic weather, or the Star Wars film plots! In any case, it is beautiful to take in the ocean views and I love to experience the wild Atlantic way in all its exhilarating natural glory. The road ambles its way up around the mountains and the scenery is spectacular, with plenty of wonderful photo stops along the way.

After passing through the gorgeous village of Sneem, we then pass through the mountainous inland regions known as Moll’s Gap and Ladies View, which afford glorious, panoramic views of the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountains and the lakes of Killarney. The names of both these locations have interesting  historical origins. Moll’s Gap got its name in the 1820’s from a woman who ran a shebeen ( drinking den) in the mountains, while Ladies View was so called as this was where Queen Victoria’s ladies retired to watch their queen on the lakes below in 1861.

I love to reflect that all this beautiful mountainous landscape was carved by glaciers; vast sheets of ice that flowed over the Irish landscape during the last ice age over 10,000 years ago. Indeed, Ireland has some of the most spectacular post glacial landscapes in the world.

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The Ring of Kerry drive also takes us through some charming towns including Killorglin and Waterville. I like to stop with my groups in Waterville for a leisurely lunch by the seashore. This was one of Charlie Chaplin’s most favoured holiday destinations and there is a lovely statue of him in the town.

In visiting all these locations, you are part of a wonderful history and heritage of tourism and hospitality which has drawn people from all over the world since the very first days of international tourism. In my opinion, no-one does hospitality quite like Killarney, and every Trafalgar trip includes time well spent in this warm and welcoming town and its beautiful environs. I hope you join us here some day!

Alan is a Travel Director with Trafalgar Tours. His blog is at www.insidersguidetoireland.com and you can also follow him on Instagram @alan_insidersguidetoireland

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