Skellig Ring, or Schwarzwald?
It was a tough decision for me. I had to decide to write my piece for an article on another website. The short article was for a collaborative effort on favorite European travel destinations. My travels are limited, but I love the Skellig Ring and the Schwarzwald! Ultimately, I chose to write about the Schwarzwald, or Germany's Black Forest.
Now, the truth is, the not exactly because I love it so much more. It is as titled, My Favorite European TRAVEL DESTINATION. But, if I were going to leave the US, and and become an Expat, I would give up my phone, take my family, and retire in Ireland, somewhere on the Skellig Ring. (And vacation in Schwarzwald!)
I am an all out mutt, with no real claim to any bloodlines, other than American Melting Pot. But I have always felt attached to the Irish roots in my father's family. The Flanagans and Keoghans, were the last to immigrate to the US. Victims of the oppression of English common law, suffering from hunger and poverty, my grandmother's grandparents, sought a better life. They ventured into the unknown, in search of the American dream. This story intrigued me. As a child, I already yearned to visit their homeland.
Along with that, the images I had seen of the Irish country side summoned a deep yearning in my heart. The Irish Tourism Board did a fantastic job with their televised commercials in my teen years, and I was sold from the first one I saw. They called to me as much as my family heritage,
Finally, a Trip to Ireland
It would be decades before I made an opportunity to take this trip, as a celebration of my fiftieth birthday. I woke one morning knowing, it was now or never. Three months later, we were on our way. We had a jam packed itinerary, and were busy for 12 straight days, touring much of the country. Ireland was everything that I imagined it would be, and more. There were tons of highlights. But it was the little Skellig Ring that has become the home in my heart.
Most people who are familiar with Ireland are also familiar with the Ring of Kerry. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country. People who have driven the ring say the reputation is deserved. The Ring of Kerry is a 200 KM loop, which starts and ends near Killarney, in County Kerry. Tour buses must travel counter-clockwise on the ring, so to avoid some of the jammed up traffic, cars should plan to circle the ring clockwise.
The Ring runs through many quaint towns, each with a variety of attractions. The starting point, Killarney, which sits alongside the Killarney National Park, has enough to occupy visitors for a day or two in itself. We drove straight through to Kenmare, to visit the stone circle pictured below, which is the largest in southwest Ireland. There was much more to see and do beween these two towns, which we couuld not fit into our schedule. However, some of our friends share their experiences in Killarney to Kenmare.
You see, the Ring of Kerry was NOT why WE went to the Iveragh Peninsula. We were there to visit the town of Portmagee, on the Skellig Ring, near the southwestern-most corner of Ireland. I was determined to take the boat trip to Skellig Michael, a UNESCO world Heritage Site. It is the filming location where Rae finds Luke in the first of the new Star Wars movies. (Yes, I know I am completely a nerd.) I had been fascinated by the location in the movie. Potmagee or Valentia Island were the best places to stay, the night before the 9 km boat trip to Skellig Michael.
Getting to the Skellig Ring and Portmagee
Portmagee is at sort of a bottom point, of the Skellig Ring, which is a much smaller circular route, of about 60 km, that begins ,and ends, on the Ring of Kerry. In other words, you must drive the Ring of Kerry, to get to the Skellig Ring. We were able to avoid a lot of traffic, by starting a little later, and making some stops at the onset, including the Ladies View, Molls Gap, where we had an early lunch, the Kissane Sheep Farm, (my sons favorite stop on the trip,) and the stone circle in Kenmare. We did not enter the thick of the ring until mid-afternoon. There was a lot less traffic, and it was fairly smooth driving
Driving the southern portion of the Ring of Kerry, in the clockwise direction, you come to the town of Waterville, which is where the Skellig Ring begins. Just past town, take the left on R567. Typically, this turn onto Skellig Ring would mean a dramatic, and often welcomed, reduction in vehicle traffic.
This may no longer be the case, in 2017, since the Skellig Ring was named in the Top 10 Best Places to Visit in the World by Lonely Planet's top 10 global destinations for 2017, which picks out the most unique, remote and inspiring destinations in the world.
See that story here: Lonely Planet Best in Travel.
Towns and locations along the Skellig Ring include, Ballinskelligs, Portmagee, and Cahersiveen, with some smaller villages dotted between. Then across the bridge from Portmagee, is Valentia Island, which is really an area to visit in itself, as there are several areas of interest.
The following description of the sights along the Skellig Ring is the best quick list I have found, and they are quoted from the ActiveMe website.
In clockwise order around the Skellig Ring and starting near Waterville, some popular attractions and points of interest include the ancient Loher Stone fort and Derrynane House home of Daniel O'Connell and the Derrynane Blue Flag beach (near Caherdaniel) one of Irelands best beaches, Bolus Head near Ballinskelligs which also has a Blue Flag Beach and Castle, Skelligs Chocolate factory, Coomanaspig Mountain scenic viewing spot (near Portmagee), on Valentia Island you have trips to the Skellig Island World Heritage Site, the Skellig Experience Heritage Centre, Bray Head loop walk and views to the Skelligs, Culoo Cliffs, Geokaun Mountain viewing spot, the world famous Valentia Slate Quarry, the 350 million year old Tetrapod trackway fossil and Knightstown village and Heritage Centre, Cahersiveen Heritage Centre, Ballycarbery Castle, Cahergal and Leacanabuaile Stone forts and Rossbeigh Beach.
Sounds like a lot for a little 60km stretch, doesn't it? And the scenery all along the drive is amazing. There were times when Travis, my traveling partner, would pull over, and say, I know you need to look around and take some pictures.
He was correct. There were places that I stood on the Skellig Ring, gazing, thinking, this is the most beautiful place I have ever seen, and it was almost emotional. It was wonderful to know that after almost 50 years of living, I could still feel that way..
When we arrived in Portmagee, we checked into our rooms at The Moorings, which I booked through Booking.com. It is on the main road through town, and faces the bay. The rooms were spacious and quaint, clean and well stocked. The staff was friendly, efficient, and courteous.
We walked around the town. I stopped at the tiny store, and bought a couple necessities, and mailed a postcard. The village is small, and picturesque, as you expect an Irish seaside village to be. The town has an interesting history, including Celts, Christians, clans and pirates, and a bit of smuggling. Ther are a lot more intriguing stories in the Portmagee history.
We spent a lot of time sitting near the docks in Portmagee. We watched the boats come in near dusk, and go out in the morning. We listened to the fisherman discuss their plans and results. It was incredibly peaceful.
A Birthday in Portmagee
I had imagined that I would have a huge, bombastic celebration for my 50th birthday, but instead, it ended up being exactly the opposite. I sat watching the bay for a while. Travis and I drove along the coast admiring the view.
Then we went for dinner at The Moorings restaurant. I ate seafood chowder, for the 5th and last time in Ireland, followed by seafood risotto. What can I say, I LOVE seafood, and it was my birthday meal. The food was as sumptuous as I wanted it to be.
After dinner, we had drinks in the Bridge Bar. It was a weekend, and there was a good crowd. Being surrounded by the lovely Irish lilt, had me smiling. The bartender was friendly and attentive, and slightly amused by our questions, about Irish drink, and habits. Then we went outside and sat at the waterside again. There was some traditional Irish music coming from the pub a few buildings down. The skies were incredibly clear. It is a dark sky zone northeast of the Skellig Ring, and it seemed like there were a million stars.
As we sat quietly, I realized then, I was filled with the feeling of being home, as I had always expected in Ireland. I knew I could be completely happy living in one of the little cottages on the hill, with the amazing view of the Atlantic, and the Skelligs,and a few sheep grazing in the back. I would plant flowers, paint pictures, and come to the bay for fresh fish to cook each day. I would be content with life, in this isolated corner of Ireland.
The next day, when it was time to make our trip to Skellig Michael, the weather did not cooperate. There are strong currents around the islands, and the winds can be dangerous. Under other circumstances, I may have been very upset. But it was okay. Soaking in the atmosphere was enough in Portmagee.
Everywhere in Ireland, there is amazing scenery. The coast lands along the Atlantic, with the rocky outcrops and cliffs, covered in emerald green pastures, epitomize the picture of Ireland we all imagine, and it is, unbelievably beautiful. I cannot truly say that the Skellig Ring was any more beautiful than the Dingle Peninsula, the coast of the Burrens, or the County Antrim coast.
I do not know exactly why this particular quiet place stirred up all of the emotions it did. Perhaps it was the quieter, less tourist saturated, atmosphere. Perhaps it was the milder climate, brought on by the influence of the Gulf Stream. Perhaps it was nothing more than the drink, and the fact that I was celebrating a milestone birthday...
I doubt I will ever run away to the Skellig Ring. But it is nice to know there is somewhere far out in the world, there is a place I feel at home.
Be sure to open the gallery, to see all 33 stunning photographs from our stops on the Ring of Kerry, and our drive around the Skellig Ring. Around the Iveragh Peninsula