Wednesday, 13 February 2013

The Story of Kerry

Right out on the edge of Europe, where Ireland’s highest mountains dip down into the wild Atlantic Ocean, is the ancient Kingdom of Kerry.

This is the furthest west you can go in all of Ireland. “Next parish, Manhattan” they say here. And it’s partly this far-flung feel – away from the rest of the world in Ireland’s beautiful South West corner – that makes it so appealing. It’s a land where traditional Irish culture thrives, with Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht town and thousands speaking gaeilge – Irish – as their first language. But you won’t feel out of place.

The people of Kerry will welcome you: they’ll tell you “fáilte romhat isteach – you’re most welcome here”. They’ll know you’ve come a long way to soak up the beauty, the history, the culture, the fresh air, the adventure … and the craic. For this is where Irish tourism began. And it’s where the Irish themselves love to come for a grand time. There’s good food, fine pubs, easy banter and live music to be found right across Kerry in lively towns and tiny settlements.

This is great walking country, with its glacial lakes, crags and cliffs, and the greenest of fields and valleys, dotted with old stone walls and historic sites. It’s where Ireland’s only native wild red deer roam in the country’s first great National Park. And where rare white-tailed sea eagles soar overhead.

Three huge mountainous peninsulas – Dingle, Iveragh and Beara – stretch out west into the Atlantic, circled by tourist routes (the best-known is the Ring of Kerry) and long-distance walking trails. Out along the Kerry coast, there are surfing beaches, and golf links courses among the dunes. Kerry’s islands tell mysterious and dramatic stories.

There’s Skellig Michael, a jagged ocean crag where early Christian monks built a remarkable hermitage – now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and place of pilgrimage. There’s the Blaskets, a lonely archipelago where Ireland’s greatest born-storytellers lived – now an emblem of the Irish story of emigration.

There’s Valentia, an island where the earliest fossil footprints in the world were found, and where the first transatlantic cable came ashore – home to wealthy technocrats of the 19th century. And there’s a famous inland island too: Innisfallen in Lough Leane, the lake of learning – where the Annals, telling the earliest history of Ireland, were written.

It’s no wonder that people are still drawn here from across the world … to find the real Ireland in this ancient kingdom, out on the Atlantic coast.

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