On Abbey Island


Unlike the impression that many have of Irish people, I have never spent much time getting to know the Ring of Kerry. In fact, I’ve always regarded it as a route much beloved of tourists and therefore cluttered with tourist buses or – perhaps even worse – tourists driving hire cars slowly along narrow stone-walled roads that are probably a world apart from their normal expectations of what a well-engineered road looks like, especially if they come from the U.S. In fact, I have concluded that much of the damage exhibited by hire cars in Ireland is due to the mental challenge undergone by tourists who are not used to driving on the left, coping with a manual gearbox, and keeping a keen eye out for Irish drivers who cheerfully speed along the narrow roads leaving a full inch on either side of their car, van, or truck. Tourists with a keen eye and a stout heart keep on going while anyone who fades away from the challenge might have a small encounter with a stone jutting out from a wall and so end up with another small dent, scrape, or other damage on the side of their hire car.

In any case, I spent some time last week in Ballinskelligs last week and discovered that this part of Ireland is extraordinarily beautiful if you get any sort of good weather. Two of the three days that we spent in Ballinskelligs were excellent – dry, sunny, and an invitation to be outdoors, so that wasn’t a bad outcome. The other day featured low grey clouds and some rain but it wasn’t enough to keep anyone indoors.

Ballinskelligs Castle

Thankfully for the local economy, tourists were out in force on the Ring of Kerry. Maybe age has made me more tolerant or now I can see the value in driving at a pace where the scenery isn’t a mere blur. Mind you, the last time I spent any time on the Ring was in the late 1970s when I came down for the Circuit of Ireland car rally to see mad men in Fiat Miraforis, Vauxhall Chevettes, and Ford Escorts hurdle around the roads at speeds that posed danger to themselves and the crowds that clung to any available spot that offered some chance of seeing the action.

Atlantic view from Coomatloukane

Stunning views were available over the Atlantic from stops along the Ring such as the car park at Coomatloukane. Even better, the beach at Derrynane proved to be an absolute delight because it was sandy and safe and possessed all of the facilities necessary to justify its rating as a Blue Flag beach.

I took the time to walk from the beach over to Derrynane burial grounds on Abbey Island. The burial grounds are still in use and feature the ruins of St. Finian’s Abbey, which dates from somewhere close to 700AD. It really is a beautiful spot that is worth the effort to walk across to explore. The warning posted by Kerry County Council that the ground is uneven is fair but there’s no great danger lurking as long as you don’t do something silly like attempting to scale the abbey’s ruined walls.

Looking out from the ruins of St. Finian's Abbey

The path to Derrynane beach from St. Finian's Abbey

Strolling around the burial ground and the ruins of St. Finian’s Abbey, you couldn’t help forming a view that this was a very peaceful and serene place that enjoyed a wonderful vista and that those who rested there were lucky in some ways. It reminded me of a similar graveyard on Inis Mor in the Aran Islands that also boasts the ruins of an old church amongst the graves.

Light falls on the walls of Derrynane Abbey

I enjoyed the 30 minutes of solitude and peace that I had exploring St. Finian’s Abbey and the surrounding graveyard. If you get the chance to spend any time close to the Ballinskelligs-Waterville-Caherdaniel area in South Kerry and it’s a nice day, you could do far worse if you headed off to Derrynane beach and walked over to Abbey Island – and if you’re brave enough and there’s enough heat in the day, you might even finish off by taking a swim.

Reasonable books covering this area and the Ring of Kerry include Ireland Insight Step by Step Guide and Irish Coastal Walks.

– Tony

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About Tony Redmond ("Thoughts of an Idle Mind")

Exchange MVP, author, and rugby referee
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2 Responses to On Abbey Island

  1. Cynthia Newberry says:

    Thank you for sharing your beautiful pictures and very interesting information and thoughts! I will be one of those tourists you mentioned, visiting Kerry and many others coastal counties in November when I will be attempting to drive on the left between rock walls and passing cars all sharing a seemingly impossible narrow lane. I do drive a manual shift at home, and hope my experience with a manual shift will help, but the gear box is on the right of course, and we drive on the right as well (USA). I’m curious if the gear shifts left to right as well. Guess, I will find out. I have wanted to see Ireland for as long as I can remember (and I am a young grandma now), so I hope the Irish won’t be too unhappy to see me. I am a quarter Irish myself.

    • Don’t worry about shifting gear. The gearbox works in the same way throughout the world. It’s just the hand that you use to control it that changes over.

      Make sure that you don’t spend all your time in one county as there’s a lot to see in Ireland. For example, Clare is just across the Shannon and features places like Loop Head and Kilkee as well as the better-known Cliffs of Moher (a real tourist draw – the other places are quieter). And if you can get up further, you could travel to Galway and experience the unique beauty of Connemara.

      TR

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