Just minutes after our jaunting car ride through Killarney National Park, Big Mike, our larger-than-life tour director, charged with shepherding the “band of merry media” — 18 intrepid travel writers and photographers invited by Insight Vacations (Insight) to sample a portion of its Treasures of Ireland journey — lures us back onto the motor coach with small, ribbon-wrapped boxes.
“Inside is a sample of artisan chocolates made right here in Killarney,” Big Mike informs us as we nestle into our business-class legroom seats. He adds, “It’s what Insight calls a ‘flourish,’ little tokens doled out during a journey by the tour director to his or her guests.” He concludes, “Consider this little ‘flourish’ the sugar rush just before the adrenaline rush that awaits you.”
And, what awaits us is a 179 km-long drive around the curvaceous Ring of Kerry, the 57th most scenic drive in the world, according to National Geographic’s prestigious Top 101 list. The Ring of Kerry, a true jewel along the Wild Atlantic Way, is heaven on earth and must-see on anyone’s visit to the Emerald Isle.
One piece of chocolate already consumed, we make the first of many planned photo-op stops as Eugene, our pilot — aka, The Quiet Man — brings the sleek Mercedes coach to a halt up in Aghadoe Heights for a panoramic view of Killarney National Park, its lakes and islands, and Carrauntoohil, Ireland’s highest peak, at 1,038m, inside the Macgillycuddy Reeks mountain range.
Passing through the town of Killorglin — famous for its annual Puck Fair, the oldest gathering festival in Ireland at 400+ years, where a male mountain goat is crowned king and rules from up on high in a suspended cage for three, long raucous days — we come to an anonymous overlook in the bogs, stop and get out to stretch our legs and soak in the natural beauty.
A group of Irish Travellers (Gypsies), along with their itinerant livestock, have set up a makeshift open-air market showcasing their local, handmade products, including the iconic St. Brigid’s Cross, named after Ireland’s female patron saint.
According to Big Mike, “St. Brigid’s Cross is as much a symbol of the Emerald Isle as the shamrock and harp.” He adds, “We place them in our homes to keep all inside safe.”
I take Big Mike’s explanation to heart and buy two of the hand-woven crosses from the roadside vendor who nods his approval and plays a little ditty on his squeezebox.
Pulling up just short of Cahersiveen, the main town on the Iveragh Peninsula and the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell, The Liberator, a 19th century politician who paved the way for Ireland’s independence from Great Britain, Eugene brings the Insight motor coach to a full stop at a large parking lot fronting the Thatched Cottage Restaurant in Stransend.
“Time for another ‘flourish’,” Big Mike announces, as we gather up our gear and head inside the rest stop. “You’re about to taste Ireland’s signature late-morning and late-afternoon snack,” Mike adds, smacking his lips, “piping-hot scones and a cup of tea, or coffee or, if you prefer, a shot of Jameson.”
I order a strong coffee, well, the strongest the Thatched Cottage can muster, slice my freshly baked scone in half, and smother both sides in Kerrygold butter and homemade raspberry jam. Quicker than you can say, “Darby O’Gill and the Little People,” my scone’s a goner. Mmm…mmm…mmm!
Rugged and untamed, just the way The Almighty intended, the Ring of Kerry is one of Ireland’s most beautiful regions. Around every bend in the road a new panorama comes into view just a bit more fantastic than the previous, like Ballinskelligs Bay, where we take five and stroll around the beach at Waterville, a seaside village where Charlie Chaplin and his large family vacationed for many a summer. In his honor, a statue of the Little Tramp looks out to sea and the town hosts the annual Charlie Chaplin Comedy Film Festival.
Passing by Catherdaniel, we head through the Coomakista Pass, where the views out over Kenmore Bay to the Scariff and Deenish Islands are just sublime, and then down into Sneem, a colorful little village known affectionately as “the Knot in the Ring of Kerry,” where we make a pit stop for lunch.
Transitioning off the N70 and onto the N71, we bid our final farewells to the incomparable Ring of Kerry and make our way back to Killarney and the Plaza Hotel, our base camp for the past two days.
Along the way, Eugene makes one final photo-op stop at a picturesque spot made famous by Queen Victoria of England: Ladies View. As Big Mike explains, “During a royal visit to Co. Kerry by Queen V back in 1861, her ladies-in-waiting were brought to this very spot and were immediately awestruck by the stunning panorama. Ergo, Ladies View.”
For complete information on Insight’s 100+ premium and luxury-escorted journeys around Europe, including the Treasures of Ireland, where there are plenty of photo ops for both ladies and gentlemen, just click HERE, or call toll free 1-888-680-1241, or contact your travel agent.
See you soon around the 19th Green where, pardon the golf vernacular, we’ll learn how to drive for show and cook for dough.
©The Palladian Traveler