The Ring of Kerry in southwest Ireland is known for being a great coastal drive with fantastic views. We drove half of it and saw mostly rain. However, the constant mist didn’t stop us from finding a few admission-free ring forts, castle ruins, and an old quarry that aren’t even technically ON the Ring of Kerry. They do require a bit of a detour, but we liked them so much we thought we’d share. So here are our top 5 free things to do OFF the Ring of Kerry.
The Ring of Kerry is traditionally driven counter clockwise on the N70, starting anywhere you want, but usually in Killarney. We started in Dingle and picked up the Ring in Killorglin. Our first three stops were fairly close together, so we set our GPS for Castlequin, and once through town, it was only another 2.9 km to the two stone forts which are within walking distance of one another.
1) Leacanabuile Stone Fort
The first stone fort is Leacanabuile. (Like many Irish names, the pronunciation is beyond me, although I know the last part is “Booley” meaning summer cow pasture.) Seems appropriate since the fort is visible at the top of a hill, in the middle of a lush, grassy field full of cows.
After leaving the car in the small, dirt parking area that hugs the side of the narrow road, we walked up the path and through the livestock gate to the 9th/10th century cashel. Built by a wealthy landowner, the old farmstead has a 3-meter thick, circular outer wall protecting four “houses” on the inside. Excavations have turned up iron knives, whetstones, pins, bone hair-combs, and mill stones that once ground wheat and barley.
2) Cahergall Stone Fort
Next, it was back down toward the parking area, but this time, we turned left at another livestock gate and walked along the cow path toward Cahergall on our right. Meaning the “Bright Stone Fort” in Irish, Cahergall is similar to its neighbor with a massive wall of mortar-less stone, but containing the remnants of only one round house in the middle. Being a national monument, some reconstruction has taken place on the lintelled entrance and the upper parts of the outer walls. Like its sister, this fort was also probably occupied by someone of importance about 1,000 years ago.
3) Ballycarbery Castle
From the top of Cahergall, we couldn’t miss the 16th century Ballycarbery Castle in the distance. Back to the car, and it only took five minutes to drive to the old ruins. No one is collecting entrance fees here, although there was a man letting people hold his lamb the day we were there. Not sure why.
It just took a squeeze through the gate, a short walk up the grass pathway, and we could poke around the ruins to our hearts’ content. One large chamber still exists on the ground floor while the upper floors are mostly accessed by a steep, dirt pathway in the back. Only a small portion of the old defensive wall that once surrounded Ballycarbery is still standing.
Though listed as one of the County’s historical buildings, no one has put any effort into preserving this tower. Nevertheless, if you like to climb and don’t mind getting dirty, this is the castle for you.
4) Rocks by Valentia Island Lighthouse
From Ballycarbery Castle, we chose to take the ferry from Reenard Point over to Valentia Island, instead of driving around to Portmagee. Valentia’s claim to fame is being the eastern link of the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable to North America. Some of the old cable station buildings can still be seen in Knightstown.
Driving west from the ferry terminus, we had every intention of visiting the lighthouse at Cromwell Point, but stopped short to climb the really amazing rocks along the water. If you have kids, they may love this far more than a light station. Ours did.
5) Slate Quarry Grotto
Now that we were on Valentia Island, we figured it was worth a drive over to the creepy slate quarry. (Maybe it’s not really, but it was super foggy when we were there, and had a very Scooby-Doo quality about it.) The quarry is still being mined, but was closed for a number of years after a rock fall, the remains of which are still visible behind an elaborate fence at the mouth of the cave-like entrance.
We saw workers and machinery inside the cave entrance, and it seemed weird that we could just wander around among all the giant pieces of slate scattered everywhere, but we did and no one seemed to mind.
I should point out there are no facilities at any of these sights. But there’s never a small town too far away.
Due to the inclement weather, there was a lot on Valentia Island that we skipped, but other worthwhile spots include the Tetrapod Trackway, Fogher Cliffs, Geokaun Mountain, St. Brendan’s Well, and Bray Tower at Bray Head. And, of course, our recommendation is to drive the entire Ring of Kerry if you can, especially if you’re lucky enough to get a crystal clear day.
One ring we DID see in its entirety was Slea Head Drive on the Dingle Peninsula. Read our post here.