Kerry: Three clandestine keys to the Kingdom...
There's lots to see and do in Kerry beyond the obvious attractions. Try the Blasket Islands, a dark sky reserve and Lonely Planet's favourite peninsula for starters...
Think you know the Kingdom? Think again. There's a lot more to this county than the Ring of Kerry and Lakes of Killarney. Here are just three tips to get you started...
1. The Blasket Islands
Out on the very edge of Europe, as far west as you can go in Ireland, lies a deserted village with a poignant past. It sits on the mystical Blasket Islands – an archipelago off the Dingle Peninsula – famous in Ireland for its storytellers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, J M Synge was the first of many writers to visit in search of the undiluted traditional culture that could be found in this isolated, far-flung community, living simply and frugally off the land and sea. Their stories were transcribed, and the islanders themselves were encouraged to record their own lives. These became the first written works to be published from an oral Gaelic culture, revealing a lyrical, poetic style.
After many years of hardship and emigration, the last inhabitants left the islands in 1953, when there were no longer enough strong arms left to row their traditional naomhóga (canoes) across the dangerous Blasket Sound. Today you can learn about and experience this extraordinary story and heritage at the Great Blasket Centre on the mainland, to meet with its director Mícheál de Mordha or his local team, who provide moving insights into the islanders’ hard lives, the sorrows of emigration, and the literary heritage of the Blaskets, before taking a boat to visit the mountainous main island, The Great Blasket.
Wander among the ruined cottages, then climb An Blascaod Mór, spy dolphins and whales, and look west to America, as so many have done before. It’s a moving experience, and the natural beauty and poignant echoes of the past will stay with you.
The Blasket Islands are a signature discovery point on the Wild Atlantic Way.
2. Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve
The Kerry International Dark-Sky Reserve has been designated Ireland's first International Dark Sky Reserve by the International Dark-Sky Association (www.darksky.org), one of only three Gold Tier Reserves on the planet.
This means that on clear nights the sky in this South West region of Ireland is simply stunning, with many astronomical sights seen through the naked eye as can be seen, say, in the Grand Canyon or the desert plains of Africa.
The constellations can be viewed here with many more stars than are shown on the usual sky maps. The beautiful band of the Milky Way, the Andromeda Galaxy, Star Clusters and Nebula's are just some of the naked eye wonders to see without the aid of any astronomical equipment or filters.
For more information log on to kerrydarksky.com
1. Cromane: One of Lonely Planets Top 50 Secret Places
Lonely Planet's 'Secret Europe, 50 Truly Unforgettable Experiences to Inspire Your Next Trip' includes Kerry’s Cromane Peninsula at a haughty number five in its list.
The compilation, which focuses on “undiscovered and overlooked destinations and experiences” in Europe, selected the Cromane Peninsula, a lesser-known detour off the popular Ring of Kerry trail, because of its “spectacular water vistas and multihued sunsets”.
The peninsula, which boasts an idyllic fishing village along with pristine views of the nearby McGillycuddy Reeks, typifies the majestic scenery and serenity which somewhat ironically makes the surrounding region such a famed tourist hotspot.