I recently led a tour which started in Ireland, for me one of the best countries to start a tour in. There is something about touring in Ireland which is just relaxed and entertaining. As a people the Irish seem to get tourism and understand the need for hospitality. People are, generally, charmed by the place from the moment they land, well, maybe shortly afterwards, Irish airports are pretty much the same as anywhere else.
This particular tour featured the Ring of Kerry as the first main excursion. This day trip from Killarney is one of my favourites on any tour. The first question a group might ask is what is The Ring of Kerry? It’s a circular, scenic route around a peninsular called Iveragh which has a literal meaning of Egg Peninsular, presumably referring to its shape. Ireland’s highest mountain range is in the middle of the outcrop. It’s called McGillycuddy’s Reeks and the highest mountain is Carrauntoohil at 1038m or 3,406feet. This translates as Tuathal’s sickle. The day is spent circling these mountains, mostly while following the coastline.
The day begins with a drive through the town of Killorglin and a chance to outline the rather wonderful Puck Fair which takes place each August. From here the bus continues past peat bog land with a stop at the Bog village (and a chance for the adults to experience the joys of Irish coffee before 10am). The rest of the morning is spent seeing the Dingle Peninsula, hearing the amazing story of ‘The Great Liberator’ Daniel O’Connell as you pass by the ruins of his birthplace in Cahirciveen and then ending up on the beach at Waterville with a chance to run around before lunch.
The weather is a factor in any day on the Ring, I have been round in pretty much all conditions and the only one which is hopefully avoided is fog, anything else seems to suit the excursion. Days with both sun and rain can make for the best photos with spectacular rainbows and silvery seas with magical islands on the horizon. The story of Oisin in the land of Tir na’n Og is wonderful for that sort of day and a particular favourite that was somewhat behind my desire to call our younger daughter Nevie. Images of a white horse galloping over a silver sea through mists and rainbows to the land of Forever Young will connect the group to an ancient land not completely disappeared.
After lunch the tour passes by the more rugged landscapes on the Atlantic coast, a chance to learn of pre-Christian settlements, stone circles or of Bronze Age Ireland while listening to Irish tunes. Sneem (with connections varied enough to cover both the current British Prime minister as well as former world champion Wrestler Steve ‘Crusher’ Casey) is the stop of choice for afternoon tea before the final stretch of road brings the group back to Killarney via some more superb photo opportunities.
There is no one way for a Tour Director to take a group around the Ring (other than the requisite counter clockwise as the road is pretty narrow in places and you wouldn’t want two buses meeting head on). The beauty of the day, for me, is that it is a chance to share some fabulous stories, folktales, play music and, more often than not, settle back and let the scenery do the work. In all, the Ring of Kerry offers a fabulous overview of what Ireland has been as well as a great introduction to what the country is today. The excellent Terry Dougherty, TD extraordinaire around Ireland (and so many places beyond) wonderfully describes the Ring of Kerry as being “a little like the other famous ‘ring’ – the opera cycle by Wagner! It’s long (110 miles) can be difficult to perform, especially in bad weather, but is ultimately well worth the effort and creativity you put into it.”