The best of Kerry, most would agree, is outdoors. There are certain buildings, though, that just perfectly compliment this rustic Irish county’s hills, lakes, and rugged shores, be they castles or hilltop havens. Here are our favourites.
Skellig Michael Monastery
A case of ‘setting is everything’, these tiny stone buildings on the summit of the peaked island that recently starred in Star Wars are well worth exploring. Made up of cells and a series of walls protecting the location from a fierce drop off into the Atlantic, they date back to sometime between the 6th and 8th-century. They’re now mainly home to large flocks of puffins, and can be difficult to visit – you’ll need to drop in during the summer, and in good weather.
Stunningly located on the lakeside in Killarney National Park, Ross Castle‘s 15th-century defensive tower and the surrounding gardens are built on a natural limestone jut into the neighbouring lake, and, on the right day, offer absolutely gorgeous views. There’s plenty of colourful history to be uncovered with the tours, but we almost prefer the nearby forest walks and gentle boat rides, which keep the stark structure firmly in view.
Ross Island, Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. +353 646635851
It wouldn’t be Kerry if we didn’t include one of the county’s phenomenal pubs, and Dick Mack’s in Dingle is an obvious and memorable choice. One of the social hubs of the harbour town, this rustic old building is like stepping back about 100 years as you walk through the door. Forget big TV screens or modern music; you’ll get trad sessions, walls filled with assorted tat, strange little rooms, open fires, and plenty of lively nights out. A Dingle gem, in other words.
47 Greene Street, Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland. +353 669151787
A 15th-century bastion that forged a reputation on the back of being the last spot to hold out against Elizabeth the 1st’s Brits, and it’s easy to see why: the towering monolith looks nigh-on unpenetrable. Now operating tours, Listowel Castle only has two of its four towers still in place, but the popular (and small-scale – book ahead) tours of the place are a great glance at local history.
A 19th-century mansion set in the heart of Killarney National Park, Muckross House overlooks a lake, has its own working farm, and is home to those wonderful horse-pulled jaunting cars, which will take you around the grounds and then through the forest to a nearby waterfall. Check out the extensive range of arts and crafts while you’re here, too. The entire place feels like the kind of isolated Victorian opulence that’s become so fashionable on TV in recent years.
The National Park, Dromyrourk, Killarney, County Kerry, Ireland. +353 646670144
The tallest windmill of its type in Europe, Blennerville Windmill was built for simple milling and export of grain to the UK, and so is located right on the Kerry coastline for transport access. Dating back to the 1800s, it’s now fully restored, home to a craft centre and restaurant, and a surprising aside in a county not known for buildings like this.
Windmill Lane, Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland. +353 667121064
Another grand country house, complete with manicured gardens, a beach, and an odd abundance of plants from as far afield as South America. Derrynane was once the home of influential political figure Daniel O’Connell, for whom one of Dublin’s main streets is named. You’ll learn about the impact of his life here in exploring O’Connell’s world views and eventual revolutionary achievements in Ireland. As well its historical twist, this place is absolutely stunning.
Valentia Observatory at Westwood House
Not a building many people would describe as classically beautiful, admittedly, but the observatory building, Westwood House on Valentia Island – owned by the Irish weather forecasting service ‘Met Eireann’ – is in some senses the home of modern meteorology. Built to relay weather information back to London (during British rule) from this rural Atlantic corner, the modern-day incarnation of the service is automated, and still carried out from what looks like an oversized country estate. Despite its look, it hides complex weather equipment, and offers tours.