Where: Iveragh Peninsula, Southwest coast of Ireland
Best season: summer (June – September) is the least wet and most pleasant temperature to go cycling
Best sights: ancient Celtic standing stones, ruined abbeys, scenic rolling hills and clean, deserted beaches
Remember to bring: cycling shorts, wet weather gear, bicycle repair kit and water
When travelling the South Coast of Ireland, a hike, cycle or drive through the Ring of Kerry comes highly recommended. The Iveragh Peninsula is a haven for hikers, offering exploration of the open countryside, rolling hills, mountains and beaches. Retracing old “butter” roads, bog roads, droving roads and mass paths is exhilarating, revealing evidence of ancient civilisation in the form of Celtic standing stones, ring forts and ruined abbeys. Just finding out what these things are, and that they exist is the start of a magic trip.
The South Coast is very well served by public transport and has plenty of accommodation. There are airports in nearby Cork and Kerry and Shannon, which is the nearest entry point by plane. Trains and buses from Dublin to Cork City are very frequent if a little expensive. However, as always car is the best way to get around Ireland, and the drive from Dublin is a smooth five hour affair.
Once in Cork the choice is whether to start the big cycle from there, or to base yourself in a smaller local town. The exceptional village of Sneem is an ideal base from which to explore the rugged Kerry mountains and Atlantic coastline. Another option is Kenmare, one of the most charming villages you could hope for. Kenmare has an idyllic location at the mouth of the River Roughty on Kenmare Bay, and is covered with flower boxes, local enchanted shops, and places to eat. Alternatively, you could undertake a larger road trip circling from Cork along the coast into Kerry, and back into Cork to finish off.
The South Coast has weather like no other part of Ireland. Believe it or not, Cork and Kerry are very sunny and hot in the summer. You are still likely to get the odd rain showers, but the weather is noticeably better than the rest of Ireland. Summer (June to September) is still the best time to cycle the Ring of Kerry as you can work on your tan, and sit outside with your pints of Guinness well into the night. Bring shorts, drinking water, and wet gear just in case.
Travel west from Cork City via Ovens to Macroom. Then turn off for Inchigeelagh through the wild mountain scenery of the Pass of Keimaneigh into Ballylickey. There is the Gougane Barra Forest Park along the way or a trip to Baltimore, Skibbereen and Sherkin Island. From Ballylickey enjoy the superb views of the much sung about Bantry Bay. Continue on toGlengarriff, before the ‘Ring of Kerry’ proper begins, by heading up north to Kenmare through rugged mountain scenes. The Ring of Kerry encircles the Iveragh Peninsula, which features Ireland’s highest mountains, the wonderfully named Macguillycuddy Reeks.
There are amazing views over Dingle Bay to the north and Kenmare River estuary to the south from the mountain range. Travel Southwest to Sneem, then Caherdaniel, where a fine beach, and water sports, provide an ideal place to break the journey. Go north to Waterville, Cahirciveen, Glenbeigh and Killorglin, completing the exceptionally scenic trip in Killarney. The circular route takes you back to Cork through the Derrynasagart Mountains to Macroom, turning off the main road for Blarney Castle, where you can try to receive some of the legendary powers of the Blarney stone.
Things to See and Do
There are plenty of things to see and do along the way, besides taking in the wonderful atmosphere and sights.
Fungie the Dolphin Tours
In Dingle, County Kerry, Fungie tours operate every day to visitor the stranded dolphin who has decided to make a home alone in the waters of the Atlantic. Fishing boats ferry visitors out into the nearby waters to see Fungie, the friendliest dolphin you’re likely to meet. He really does swim up to the boat, and the boatmen stay out long enough for you to acquaint yourself with the dolphin, which are certainly not native to these parts. You can even arrange an early morning dolphin accompanied swim.
Dingle itself is full of pubs and, both, traditional and modern live music. It is a little touristy at times, but for a temporary break from cycling, it is ideal with a guaranteed night out with fellow travellers in top seafood restaurants, with music accompanied pints. When the last order is finally made, and that could be anytime, a romantic stroll along the moonlit harbour is a fitting end to the day. If you are lucky enough to be staying a little outside Dingle, you’ll still have the exciting night mountain road crossing, which can throw up anything from mist and rain, to pitch darkness, and stray sheep.
Make sure you take the coastal cycle over the dramatic Conor Pass en Route to Dingle at some stage, as it is a real highlight.
Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park has a great range of lakes, ancient oak woods, waterfalls, and bog land, and is still the habitat of the Irish Red Deer. It’s a great diversion for some protected ancient European wilderness.
Gap of Dunloe and Black Valley
Another road that the willing cyclist should tackle is the famous Gap of Dunloe and on to the spectacular Black Valley. Close to Killarney this area is a spectacular cycle into the rocky wilderness. It is reasonably challenging but very rewarding. Rest in the knowledge that you can kick your feet up on the lakes the next day! Bring your camera although you’ll probably feel the need to buy some of the artwork or photography made by the locals anyway.
The Lakes of Killarney
The lakes are famous in Ireland. The views are spectacular, the journey safe, and some of the individual sites like the decrepit Old Weir Bridge, and castles on the shores, seem to belong in a fantasy world.
Cork and Kerry are probably the two most famous sporting counties in Ireland. Their Gaelic football, rugby, hurling, and even soccer skills are legendary in Ireland, and any chance you get to see the counties, or local clubs play should be grabbed.
The people of this region are very friendly, if virtually impossible to understand. Their accent is unbelievably lyrical, and easily mistaken for Irish (especially in the pub). Historically they have been labelled the ‘rebel county’ due to the fact that the British could never really get it under their control, and a feeling of individuality and independence still prevails.
Bike Rental and Safety
If you are renting a bike there are a number of places to get equipment in Cork. Roycroft’s Stores in Skibbereen, County Cork, rent bikes that are slightly better than the usual equipment. You will need a good roadworthy bike, reflective gear if you plan to cycle at night, a good saddle, a puncture repair kit, and a pump. The peninsulas and islands of the Southwest are perfect for cycling, with light traffic and an abundance of beautiful places to visit, so traffic won’t be a problem. Do be careful on mountain roads though which may not have safety barriers, and can also get misty at night. Locals know the road well and drive accordingly. Make sure that you are aware of the dangers, however small.
Ring of Kerry Railtours
Train timetables and accessibility.
Cycling the Ring of Kerry
Not only does the site have good information, it also utilises a lot of local knowledge enabling you to work out where to find music, where to find storytellers, and other interesting diversions.
Kerry Cycling Trips
This site has a list of cycling, bus and rail tours.
By Colin Jennings