Known in Ireland as “the Kingdom,” County Kerry is spellbinding. A land of legends, lakes, and mountains, it comes with color-drenched little towns and craggy promontories that jut into the Atlantic.
Fishing boats return at evening with catches of haddock, mackerel, monkfish, and scallops. Seals bask on rocks, dolphins are often sighted here, and the birdlife includes skuas, puffins and storm petrels.
It’s not only the seafood chowder that’s superlative. Kerry has Ireland’s highest mountain range—MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, where Carrantuohill rises 3,400 feet. It also has some of its most stunning beaches and hiking trails. Even roadside hedgerows are a visual spectacular—a bonfire blaze of orange montbretia, yellow ragwort, and scarlet fuchsias. All are growing wild.
This county was made for unplanned detours. You never know what you’ll find: horses galloping on a beach, a jaw-dropping view, a well reputed to cure lunacy.
For centuries, Kerry lay at the edge of the known world. Here maps ran out and the sea and imagination took over. Somewhere beyond the sunset was Tír na nÓg, the fabled Irish otherworld of eternal youth where nobody ever aged.
But you don’t need to be overly fanciful to get a sense of journeying back to the days when magic was afoot. The countryside brims with megalithic standing stones, Iron-Age forts, and tiny clochans—beehive-shaped huts constructed from un-mortared stone. At Killorglin’s Puck Fair, the oldest fair in Ireland, festivities are overseen by a wild mountain goat. He gets crowned by a young girl dressed in virginal white. To me, that sounds remarkably like a throwback to Ireland’s pagan past.
Almost everywhere in Kerry, you feel the pulse of that slower-paced Ireland that visitors are promised but don’t always find.
Maybe there are some pubs where conversation and traditional music have been replaced by electro-pop, but I never came across any. Not that everything is in some 1950s time warp. Livestock marts and horse fairs are part of the mosaic, but today’s Kerry also comes with vegetarian cafés, yoga classes, and high-speed Internet.
During high summer, Kerry pulls out the stops with a bewildering number of fairs, festivals, and all manner of celebrations.
Passing through the north-coast golfing town of Ballybunion, I noticed a sign for “Dancing at the Crossroads.” The rural tradition of holding outdoor ceili dances where four roads meet has undergone a revival in recent years.
My favorite place in Kerry is Dingle Town, the Dingle Peninsula’s main settlement. Colorful, crafty, artsy, musical, eccentric—all the adjectives fit. Throw in some excellent pubs, a weekly farmers’ market that includes spaces for artisan producers, and a working fishing harbor, and I think you’ve got the perfect small community. And I’ve never even seen Fungi, the harbor dolphin for which the town is famous.
Things don’t die when the summer visitors leave. Nor does the music stop. Dingle Town’s 2,000 residents have enough good cafés and restaurants to merit a food festival in March, and there’s a film festival in October. Veined with walking trails lined with stone reminders of a megalithic past, the peninsula also has some wonderful silvery beaches. One of the best flanks Dingle Town: Ceann Trá on Ventry Bay.
(In case you’re wondering, Trá means beach. The Dingle Peninsula is a Gaeltacht, or Irish-speaking area. As everybody understands English, you won’t need a phrasebook. However, many of its residents use Irish as their mother tongue.)
North of the Dingle Peninsula, northern Kerry isn’t as dramatically scenic as the south, but it’s where you’ll find the county’s least-expensive properties. The market has plummeted so far that habitable cottages in rural areas now surface for between around $85,000 to $97,500
Sea views? On an elevated 0.3-acre site, a four-bedroom, single-story cottage with a lookout on Ballyheigue Bay is $ 126,750.
Or within Dingle Town itself, a two-bedroom apartment of 560 square feet cost $208,000. Being sold furnished, its rear balcony looks out over Dingle Harbor.
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