This had been the day I had most been looking forward to, the day that we walked, boated and rode a horse and cart through the magnificent and underrated Gap of Dunloe.
I say underrated due to the fact that it wasn’t until last minute that we chose this day trip over the Ring of Kerry; and anytime I asked any questions regarding must-sees on the west coast, the Gap was never brought up. In fact, if it wasn’t for Viator and following my gut instinct we may have missed out on what I consider not only one of the most outstanding days of our trip but one of the most adventurous days of my life.
We got up at the crack of dawn and hopped a 35 minute train from Tralee to Killarney, where we’d meet our tour guide and group literally right outside the gates. I use group lightly here. The tour group we used was hosting two different tours that day, the Gap of Dunloe and the Ring of Kerry. The Ring of Kerry tour ended up having two full tour buses. Our tour group consisted of the three of us and one other English couple. Right away, we knew we made the best choice.
This isn’t to say that the various areas of the Ring aren’t amazing in their own right, but we’re a sucker for less touristy excursions. And while I’d tour the Gap every time i’m back on the west coast of Ireland, I definitely would love to explore the Ring as well.
Our driver dropped us off at the starting point, a small depot with a few souvenier shops, a restroom, and a place to grab some coffee or tea. It’s also here where we made our decision on choice of travel through the Gap. We could do the walk; approximately 7 miles, ride a horse behind a horse-drawn cart or be seated on the cart. Had my sister’s asthma not been acting up, we may have done more walking but for a majority of this ride she instead rode a horse (English-style and a lot better than I thought she was) as my mother and I, plus that couple and the driver who was holding onto our horse and a rope holding my sisters at the same time, were way too snug in a jaunting cart.
What I love about the area of Ireland we explored on this trip was how huge, yet close-knit it was. About halfway through our journey, our horse-cart driver(?) stopped as he saw a neighbor on the side of the road. They then began to have a casual conversation along the lines of:
Neighbor: Hey Jack, did you here Connor thought he saw one of your cows about a mile up.
Driver: One of my cows?
Neighbor: Yeah, maybe. A large mostly black one.
Driver: Eh, that doesn’t sound like one of mine. I’ll see ya round.
Neighbor: See ya!
Being a graduate with a hospitality & tourism major, this is of course peeked my interest. Those who lived here had jobs completely unrelated to the tourism industry but then, like many, realize that they can make a living or some extra money off of becoming a part of it instead of opposing it.
The views on this tour…were like no other I had ever seen. This is wear the two mountainsides meet at a small curving rode and a lake, thus creating…you guessed it, the appearance of a gap.
As far as the cliche Ireland that you imagine in your head, this is it. It was the most beautiful mix of green fields, magical bridges and rough terrain, and I did have to stop numerous times just to stare in awe and take it all in.
Finally we made it to the actual Gap of Dunloe.
Que the slideshow of what is most likely a bunch of overly similar photos. It was too breathtaking to not take multiple.
But the journey was only beginning. After experiencing the gap we were dropped off at Kate Kearny’s Cottage, a 150 year old, family-run bar, restaurant and shop. We had about a half hour until the next boat arrived, so we grabbed some tea and explored a bit, which ended up being 20 minutes of us following around an adorable deer. Unlike deer back in the US, these weren’t shy of humans and didn’t flinch or run away which made for a fun little photoshoot.
Soon enough we were boarding a tiny, wooden boat with six other people plus our guide. The beginning of the ride was relaxing and gorgeous, a small snippet of which can be seen here. Let me just say, that I did not anticipate the size and depth of these lakes, nor did I expect the mini-rain storm that began was we were halfway through the largest of the three lakes.
At one point it seemed as though the waves would make their way into our small boat, and we were told to all move as far to the back of the boat as possible to steady ourselves. But in all honesty, this just added to the excitement and adventure.
Almost too soon, we were able to make out Ross Castle in the distance. As soon as we stepped off our driver was waiting for us, looking a bit chilly due to the rain. We grabbed him a cup of tea, along with a few for us before taking a quick look around the castle.
We were dropped back off at the station and having some time to spare, we explored a bit of Killarney and grabbed a bite to eat. I really wish we had more time to roam Killarney, but we’ll definitely move it to the top of a future itinerary.
Eventually but all too soon, we were on a train back home to our castle stay in Tralee.