I absolutely hate Killarney. Sorry but I do. It illustrates everything that mass tourism does to destroy a place. When I first stayed there three years ago I couldn't understand why Killarney was so popular. Well, after a recent visit to the area I discovered why: the 10,000-hectare Killarney National Park.
I was staying in Glengarriff, my absolute favourite place in West Cork, when I embarked upon the drive to Killarney. I had taken this route in the bus all those years ago, but for some reason had been oblivious to the landscape around me. The road from Glengarriff to Kenmare is interesting. It takes you over a pass with stunning views of the rugged and wild Beara Peninsula. However, it's the road from Kenmare to Killarney which is absolutely outstanding.
When you leave Kenmare you drive through green fields and a tree lined road until beginning a climb up into the hills where you eventually arrive at Molls Gap, a pass that provides stunning views into the valleys lying either side. The only blot on the landscape here is the Avoca Restaurant and gift shop meaning that you will more than likely share this view with tour bus groups and other drivers.
From here on the views become more and more incredible. To this day I'm still amazed at how I was able to negotiate the narrow, twisting roads, dodge oncoming vehicles and buses, and enjoy the scenery.
'Well, I don't know if you are a good writer, but you are certainly a good driver,' said the middle-aged Spaniard who was among the group of people I was giving a lift.
It certainly is a hair-raising ride.
From Molls Gap you are whisked through a landscape of sparkling lakes, forest, green hills and rocky ledges. When the sun is out, which it was this day, this area is absolutely stunning and I could see now why Killarney is so popular.
The other reason for Killarney's growth into a tourist horror is the Ring of Kerry. In the summer this peninsula is crawling with tour buses. Having my own transport I decided that it would be better to visit this way than sit on a bus.
It was Nika's birthday, so to celebrate this and the fact that she had so patiently put up with me for the past month, I whisked her on a day tour of the Killarney National Park and then we embarked upon a drive around the Ring of Kerry.
The starting point for the Ring of Kerry is Killorglin, usually a sleepy town except for three days in August when Killorglin hosts its annual Puck Fair. It just so happened that we drove through on one of those three days.
The Puck Fair derives from the custom of a local venturing into the nearby mountains, capturing a billy goat and placing it on a pedestal in the centre of town. The goat is crowned with ribbons. Then, from what I can gather, everyone just gets pissed for the whole weekend. Special licensing laws for the weekend mean that the pubs stay open until three in the morning, officially.
It was here that it started to rain. Up until now the weather had been quite nice. Obviously with so much activity going on, and the fact that Killorglin was just a small place, it took ages to get through. When we finally did we headed off along the start of the 179-kilometre circuit round the peninsula.
By now the Macgillycuddy Mountains were enshrouded in mist and the drive along the northern section wasn't particularly attractive in the rain. It wasn't until we got to Waterville, at the tip of the peninsula, that things seemed to perk up.
The weather was still bad, but the landscape had improved. The coastline was higher, more rugged with many more scenic views, even in the rain. Another upside to the bad weather was that it had kept the tour buses away. We continued on and headed along the southern half of the peninsula. A short way along I passed a hostel and couldn't help noticing that sitting on the roof of a building opposite were two Volkswagen Beetles. Out of sheer curiosity I pulled in for a look.
The hostel doubled as a camping and caravan park and the building with the cars on the roof was originally a bar/restaurant but had now closed down. Obviously seeing us pull up in the car park and not get out to come in, the owner came out to us. Matt was a Kerryman who had lived for many years in America, and consequently had a strange American/County Kerry accent.
Matt told us about the dangers posed by the tourist buses along this peninsula. One day a local policeman was riding down the road on his bike when one of these monstrous buses came hurtling around the corner and sent the policeman into and over the nearby hedge. The policeman picked himself up and chased the bus until its next stop. Apparently the driver didn't seem to care about what he had done, all he cared about was that he had a schedule to keep.
'Last year on Christmas day,' said Matt, 'a tour group came by and everyone got off and spent their time just
wandering down the empty street looking in shop windows. Everything was closed. I mean, don't these people have anything better to do?'
Petrol is really expensive here too. Matt explained that you really should make sure you fill up before entering the peninsula.
It looked like a nice hostel, but we were already staying in the hostel in Glengarriff, so I promised Matt that when I was next in the area I would stop over.
The rest of the journey was once again nothing special in the rain. The Ring of Kerry ends in Kenmare and from there it was short hop back to Glengarriff. I for one was glad to be back. I would return to the Ring of Kerry one day, but perhaps when the weather is better.
Ian Middleton 2003
Copyright © Ian Middleton 2002