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Mount Brandon on the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry

The land and landmarks of Kerry

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Mount Brandon on the Dingle Peninsula in Co. Kerry

Who was the first European to discover the Americas? Contrary to popular opinion, it may not have been Christopher Columbus. In fact, it may well have been St. Brendan - an Irishman who hailed from Co. Kerry.

Kerry is one of the loveliest of Ireland's counties and if you have not yet paid it a visit, it might now be time for you to undertake St. Brendan's journey in reverse. Do this illustrious saint who was known "the Navigator" the honor of visiting his beautiful home place.
A county of mountainous landscapes and dramatic coastlines, where ancient historical sites sit alongside post-Celtic-Tiger modernity, Kerry is what many people imagine Ireland to be. Indeed, so superior is its splendor that it's often referred to as the Kingdom - the high seat of all of Ireland.

So, where should you start your explorations of Kerry?

Where better than in St. Brendan's own birthplace of Ardfert in the north of the county? This village and its surrounding areas are rich in archaeological heritage - the most impressive of which is St. Brendan's Cathedral, a medieval structure built in memory of the village's most revered son.

Further north is Ballybunion, once a thriving holiday destination that drew hundreds of Irish families to its beautiful beach. Though its allure has faded, this village still has its attractions, including a 14th-century castle, great natural beauty, and a golf course that's listed among the top ten in the world (just ask Bill Clinton, who played there).

Ten miles down the road, you'll come upon the bustling town of Listowel. A cultural Mecca of sorts, this town has produced stellar writers such as John B. Keane and Bryan McMahon and it celebrates this literary heritage with a writers' festival every June.

Listowel has much more to boast of too. Its castle looms over the town center ,and the acclaimed St. John's Theatre and Arts Centre right in the heart of the town square stages the best in Irish and international plays, music and exhibitions.

Once you've had your fill of cultural activities, you can pay a visit to Tralee, Kerry's largest town. With its abundance of high-quality hotels, Tralee can make a good base for exploring Kerry.

It also has attractions of its own, such as Ireland's second-largest museum, Kerry the Kingdom in the Ashe Memorial Hall. This tells the story of the county from 8000 B.C. to the present day, using a mixture of audio-visual displays and an evocative re-creation of the medieval town streets, complete with nose-wrinkling stench.

From Tralee, you should head west along the Dingle Peninsula, one of the most stunning stretches of scenery in all of Ireland. Approach the town of Dingle via the northern route and if you've got the time, allow yourself a few stops on the way.
First, there's the small village of Castlegregory. Surrounded by pristine golden beaches, this is an ideal place to practice your surfing.

Next up is the small fishing village of Brandon. Here, you can enjoy a pint and a bowl of soup on the pier; hopefully while you watch a local crew take a currach (a traditional boat) to the water in preparation for the summertime regattas.

From here you can climb Mount Brandon - named for our aforementioned saint who established a small monastic settlement on its wind-battered summit - over to the more touristy side of the peninsula.

But you may prefer to continue driving and, assuming that you do, your route will take you along the Conor Pass, a winding road carved into the cliff sides and overlooking valleys hewn during the last Ice Age. Pull in at the roadside waterfall and climb up to Peddler's Lake - named for a traveling tradesman who lost his life and wares to brigands nearby. Have no fear though. This happened long ago.

The town of Dingle (or Daingean) lies at the end of the Conor Pass road. A seaside town of pretty and brightly-colored houses, Dingle is known for its traditional music sessions, its seafood restaurants, Fungi its gregarious dolphin and the craic.
While you're in town, you should call in for a singsong at John Benny's Pub on the quayside. Don't be afraid to join in if the mood takes you.

Take a trip out to see Fungi (the resident dolphin) in the bay. And spend hours strolling the streets, visiting the many craft shops run by local artists.

You're in for a treat when you venture west of Dingle. The loop that takes you around the rest of the peninsula is known as the Slea Head Drive and it's very impressive. There are jagged cliffs, crashing waves, rolling green hills, historical sites aplenty and lots of friendly locals to set you straight if you get lost on the twisting roads.

If the day is fine, plan a trip to the Great Blasket Island. Inhabited until the 1950s, this island seems to exist outside of time, its abandoned houses crumbling under the weight of memories.

The Great Blasket was home to a unique community of people who lived the most traditional of Irish lives - self-sufficient, bursting with oral history and folklore and bound to the hard-won wisdom of the past. Several islanders captured their lives in memoirs and stories.

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