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South and West Kerry are world leaders when it comes to attracting tourists. But North Kerry has some worthwhile attractions along its coastal stretch. Here I will outline an itinerary for a day tour of North Kerry.
The majority of the route described below forms part of the Wild Atlantic Way in Kerry. For accommodation recommendations, please scroll to the end of the post.
TOUR OF NORTH KERRY ROUTE
Kerry is separated from neighbouring County Clare by the River Shannon with a ferry from Killimer traversing the river, bringing travellers to Tarbert in minutes.
En route into Tarbert town from the ferry terminal is Tarbert Bridewell, a courthouse and jail built in 1831 by the British but renovated and run by the local community as a visitor centre. It’s well worth a stop as it houses an exhibition on the pre- and post-famine judicial system and how this harsh regime was indifferent to the prevailing local poverty. Tarbert Bridewell also houses an exhibition on local scholar and writer Thomas McGreevey.
Leaving Tarbert on the R551 road, the next stop is the ruins of Lislaughtin Abbey in Ballylongford. Built in the 15th century, this Franciscan Abbey has had a tumultuous history. The grounds serve as a modern graveyard. Below is a picture of the east window, the main feature of architectural importance.
The unassuming village of Ballylongford has some famous sons. Poet and scholar Brendan Kennelly is from the area as were 1916 patriot Michael O’Rahilly (The O’Rahilly) and Lord Kitchener, the latter of the Your country needs you World War I British army recruitment posters.
Outside Ballylongford on the Ballybunion road there is a turn-off for Carrigafoyle Castle. Built in the 15th century, the castle was the stronghold of the O’Conor-Kerry clan.
Part of the southern wall of the castle is missing which means one can get a fine cross-sectional view of the inside. Unfortunately dampness pervades the interior and for those with allergies to spores a visit here will require antihistamines and a mask.
If travelling the Wild Atlantic Way route, the road forks off from the R551 bringing visitors to Beale. From Beale, the road travels along the coast over fertile agricultural land. The Shannon estuary now becomes the Atlantic Ocean but the County Clare coast is still visible.
The Beale road rejoins the R551 on the north side of Ballybunion, a seaside resort which is as well-known for its boisterous fun as it is for its beautiful blue flag beaches.
Golfers praise its golf links as being one of the best in the world. Ballybunion was the venue for the 2000 Irish Open and Bill Clinton has declared the course his favourite. And speaking of Bill, there’s a statue of him located outside the town’s Garda Station, the first statue of the president on public display in the world. Tiger Woods is also a fan of the town’s golf course.
If the weather isn’t too inclement the best activity of all in Ballybunion is the cliff walk. Starting at Doon Road on the north side of the town, the loop walk travels across the cliffs adjacent to Ladies Beach/North Beach and finishes further north on Doon Road.
Along the walk numerous geological formations are visible including the Virgin Rock.
The walk meanders towards Nun’s beach, a beautiful bay accessible only by boat or by abseiling down the cliffs.
The walk finishes by returning to Doon Road. I’ll conclude the Ballybunion section of this blog post by betting that the scenery of this seaside resort will be the most photographed on a tour of North Kerry and deservedly so.
The R551 exits Ballybunion by travelling parallel to the golf links. Outside Ballyduff, there is the option to continue on the Coast Road towards Kerry Head.
But take a detour through Ballyduff and visit the monastic settlement of Rattoo Round Tower and Church. Round towers were built in Ireland as early as the 10th century. Rattoo’s structure is impressive and, if in a giddy mood, one could imagine Rapunzel throwing down her hair.
Having rounded Kerry Head, and with the Dingle Peninsula now visible, the coast road re-joins the R551 at Ballyheigue. This is another seaside resort where the extensive sandy beach of several miles in length joins with the historically important Banna Beach to its south. Walking this conjoined sandy expanse has been recommended. Logistically, this would mean leaving the car in Ballyheigue and returning by taxi from Banna.
The R551 road continues towards Ardfert but the road to Banna Beach forks off beforehand. Banna Beach was where Roger Casement was caught smuggling weapons into Ireland for the republican cause in 1916. Casement was later executed by the British and a large monument to him can be found at the back of the sand dunes south of the main car park.
A more detailed account of Roger Casement and Banna Beach can be found in my 1916 Rising in Kerry post.
Continuing into Ardfert, the town’s most striking architectural feature is its cathedral which was once a monastic settlement of St. Brendan. For the coast road, follow the Wild Atlantic Way (south) signs which lead to the village of Fenit.
At this point North Kerry runs directly parallel to the Dingle Peninsula, divided by Tralee Bay. The next and final stop on my tour is Tralee, the administrative capital of Kerry, and one of the largest towns along the Wild Atlantic Way route.
Tralee is home to two of my favourite social outings – the Kingdom Greyhound Stadium and Siamsa Tíre, the National Folk Theatre of Ireland. Designed in the shape of a ring fort, Siamsa Tíre is one of the most appealing modern buildings in the country and is worth a visit for its design alone.
And so my tour of North Kerry comes to an end. I rigidly stuck to the coast road but feel free to veer off-track. Listowel isn’t on the coastal route but given its influence in North Kerry and nationally from a literary perspective I couldn’t omit a mention. I recommend Listowel for a stopover particularly during the Writers’ Week Literary Festival.
An excellent companion to the tour is North Kerry Landscape, by Bernadette Tarrant and Gráinne O’Connell. Well-researched with a clear layout the book details the history behind the tour sights plus much more. It includes a piece by writer Bryan MacMahon stating that Tarrant & O’Connell’s publication “should make us far richer in mind, proud also – and enable us to identify with the fortunes and misfortunes, the elations and griefs, the legends and wondertales of the countryside that surrounds us”.
ACCOMMODATION IN NORTH KERRY
Tralee and Listowel are the two major towns in North Kerry. Ballybunion and Ballyheigue are popular summer destinations. Booking.com has a selection of accommodation options in all:
GETTING TO NORTH KERRY
Both Kerry Airport and Shannon Airport are convenient to the North Kerry region.
The nearest train station for the North Kerry area is Tralee which has daily trains to Cork and Dublin.
There are daily direct Bus Éireann services from Limerick city to Listowel. The route number is 13. Tralee is a bus transport hub so a wide variety of routes serve the town.
For information on the rest of Ireland have a look at my Planning a Trip to Ireland post.