The famous Ring of Kerry Road whisks visitors around the Iveragh Peninsula in a day long montage of dramatic scenery, twisting roads, ocean views, wandering sheep, and stone ruins. The drive is spectacular, but visitors can better appreciate the real beauty of the area by getting off the tourist path and into the countryside.
One of the most photographed views in Ireland is at the Coomakista Pass. After driving through some progressively narrower and twistier roads, the large parking area at Coomakista provides a much needed break for the driver, and a chance for all to get out and see the striking views of green fields running down to sparkling water, with the islands of Deenish and Scariff pointing up out of the ocean beyond. It is an idyllic panorama, and for those who can take the time to do more than snap a few photos and drive away, there is much to explore here off the tourist road.
Derrynane National Historic Park is tucked into a sheltered fold of protected land between the mountain and the ocean, just below the Coomakista path, and is a spectacular spot to explore. Home to the O’Connell family from 1702 to 1964, the Derrynane House is now under the care of the Irish government. The thoughtfully restored manor house turned museum is an excellent destination for those who would like to learn more about Irish history, and particularly about the Liberator of Ireland, Daniel O’Connell.
The beautifully restored gardens are a draw for horticulturalists. The climate in Derrynane is very mild due to the Gulf Stream just offshore, and tropical plants such as palm trees and tree ferns grace the gardens. There is a South American collection of plants as well as numerous rhododendron, azalea, and hydrangea varieties. A spectacular variety of echium over 12’ high is a real show stopper and a pathway that winds through a gunnera forest delights the kids and grownups alike.
Kids and grownups also love the woodland paths with the hidden fairy houses throughout the woods. The hardwood forest is a beautiful place to wander, and the pathways lead past several heritage sites. There are the remains of an old stone ringfort and sou’terrain along one path, and another takes you to Daniel O’Connell’s round summer house. Throughout the paths though, are little fairy houses, most placed at the level for the youngest visitors to best enjoy.
The long crescent of Derrynane Beach stretches from sand dunes to historic house to the ruins on Abbey Island far beyond. The brilliant turquoise blue of the water and the wild backdrop of dunes make Derrynane Beach a favorite of all who visit. The Derrynane Seashore Nature Trail leads through the sand dunes and marks areas of ecological significance, the outcroppings of rock make for rewarding tide pool explorations, and the rhythm of the waves advancing to shore in this sheltered bay create a mesmerizing rhythm that may just engrave itself into your soul and pull you back to Derrynane again and again. It has had that effect on me.