When travelling in south-west Ireland, touring the scenic 180-kilometre-long circular route of the Ring of Kerry is a must. The stunning vistas of picturesque villages, green pastures, craggy cliffs, mountains and lakes, sandy beaches, bays and inlets draw tourists to the Ring of Kerry. However, there is a less-touristy alternative to explore in County Kerry – the region where you will find less tourist buses clogging the roads – that is, North Kerry.
I was in Killarney in October 2017 to attend the Travel Blog Exchange (TBEX) Europe conference, and I took the opportunity to sign up for one of their pre-conference tours (Pre-BEX). There were so many tours to choose from, but in the end, I decided on the North Kerry tour covering Ballybunion and Listowel. Reasons why I was attracted to the North Kerry tour were the cliff walks in Ballybunion where I would be able to see (and hear) the mighty Atlantic Ocean pounding against the coast, and drinks at the John B. Keane pub in Listowel that belongs to the family of John B. Keane, a famous Irish playwright and poet.
Related Post: Ring of Kerry, Killarney
Ballybunion – Cliff Walk
Along with ten travel bloggers, we travelled north from Killarney to the coastal town of Ballybunion along the Wild Atlantic Way. The Wild Atlantic Way is the world’s longest coastal touring route that stretches across Ireland’s west coast from Donegal in the north to Cork in the south. Throughout this 2,500km route, you will come across some of the most breathtaking scenery – the wilderness of the west coast of Ireland of soaring cliffs, spectacular bays, hidden beaches, and bucolic countryside.
Upon arrival at Ballybunion, we were greeted by local historian and musician, Danny Houlihan who led us on the Cliff Walk, and indeed, we saw some of that Wild Atlantic Way scenery during our walk.
The Ballybunion Cliff Walk is an easy stroll along the cliff top between the Ladies Beach and the Nuns Strand overview. As we meandered along the 1.6km trail, we saw dizzying views of cliffs, sea stacks and arches, and natural rock formations dotted along the coast. The cliffs were alive with sea birds and we could hear the Atlantic Ocean crashing upon the beach below. I’ve read so much about the wild seas of the Irish coast but that was my first time seeing those ferocious waves! The views were magnificent at the cliff top, if not, perhaps a tad scary, for I didn’t want to be blown away by the blustering winds!
We ended our 45-minute walk near the Ballybunion Castle where Danny played the pipes for us. Apart from being well-known in town as the local historian and author, Danny is the founder of EcoTrek Ballybunion and an All-Ireland Piping Champion as well. He often entertains visitors with pipes and low whistles during his EcoTrek tours.
Before leaving Ballybunion, we sought warmth in McMunn’s bar across the road from the beach. We met the owner of McMunn, Greg Ryan, and Mickey who performs live at the bar every weekend. Needless to say, when in Ireland, you will always come across entertainment – Mickey sang a few songs for us while we enjoyed our drinks 😊
Listowel – Literary Capital of Ireland
From Ballybunion, we continued our journey to Listowel, a market and heritage town known as the “Literary Capital of Ireland” as it has been home to a number of renowned Irish playwrights, poets and authors such as Bryan MacMahon and John B. Keane. Listowel also hosts one of the longest running literary festival in Ireland since the 1970s, The Writers Week.
After our lunch at The Horseshoe restaurant, we walked over to the John B. Keane pub, a former home of Listowel’s famous playwright and author, John B. Keane. The pub is currently run by his son, Billy who is also a writer himself. We met Billy who poured pints of Guinness for us and regaled us with stories of his life growing up in the pub and of his father. While engaging with Billy, we also admired the many old photos, posters and poems adorn the walls, literar works that were written by his father.
The pub provided Billy’s father inspiration for his characters and ideas in his screenplays and poems. His first play, Sive, was presented in the late 1950s – a story of greed and bitterness of a scheming matchmaker and a resentful woman forcing a beautiful young girl to marry an old man. The screenplay caused much controversy then as the story was set against the harsh poverty and difficult times of Ireland in the 1950s. As controversial as it was then, Sive has since become an established part of the Irish theatrical canon.
The John B. Keane pub is a “talking pub” which means the television is rarely turned on, so don’t go there, assuming that you can watch the telly while enjoying a pint. The pub has traditional music performances, poetry reading and so on, but other than that, the atmosphere in the pub is quiet and friendly – a great place to have a good craic!
Because I’ve not known about John B. Keane until my trip to Listowel, I was curious to learn more about his works. So, I bought the screenplay Sive from a bookshop in Killarney. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the time to read it as I was still catching up with books bought in 2016 and 2017! As such, I’m only starting to read Sive now…
Have you been to North Kerry in Ireland? If so, how was your experience?