Ireland is home to an array of surprisingly varied cultures for such a small and lightly populated country, and Kerry – a mix of ruggedly rural, hardened village life, tradition, and great sweeping landscapes – is one of the more captivating places to get really stuck in.
The southwest has no shortage of cultural hot spots to help you do so, either, and these museums – which range from rustic and slightly dated to shiny monuments to the county’s finest hours – are a great place to start. Here are Culture Trip’s favourites.
Kerry Bog Village
A real throwback to the Kerry of old, the Bog Village falls neatly on the Ring of Kerry, so is likely to be somewhere on the natural course of a trip to the county for most visitors. There’s a simplistic beauty to the whitewashed village, which is designed to showcase life during the Great Famine. The historic tragedy saw one million Irish die and another one million emigrate in the 1840s and 1850s due to a lethal combination of potato blight and offensively onerous landlord controls resulting from British occupation. As well as exploring traditional houses and old-world lifestyles, you’ll meet bog ponies and learn about turf extraction and bogland wildlife.
Kerry County Museum
A glorious mishmash of Kerry history, the Kerry County Museum’s imaginative array of exhibits do everything from telling the county’s story through objects to exploring Tom Crean, the three-time Antarctic expedition member from tiny Annascaul (where the local pub is a shrine in his honour). There’s also a medieval experience – a colourful interactive offering – and an impressive selection of revolving exhibits each year. It’s a kid-friendly, imaginative local offering.
Kerry County Museum, 18 Denny St, Tralee, County Kerry, Ireland, +353 667127777
A regal-feeling house built in the 19th century in the Killarney National Park, Muckross, despite the addition of a working farm and high-end craft gallery on the site, maintains much of its original charm, both in the fading glamour of its furniture and décor and in the spectacular gardens. For many, though, the best thing about Muckross is the traditional horse and carriage rides. Locals typically full of wit operate the jaunting cars and tell tales of the Kerry of old as they plod around the paths of the Muckross grounds.
Kilgarvan Motor Museum
One for the petrol heads, the Kilgarvan Motor Museum is a tiny, family-run spot that’s home to a slightly worse-for-wear selection of gorgeous old cars, from the 1960s bubble car, the BMW Isetta, to curvy Fords and Bentleys. In amongst them are ancient tractors and other motoring memorabilia. A little off-the-beaten track, Kilgarvan is something of a ‘living museum’ in that nothing’s tucked away behind too much of the protection you might expect at a museum. It’s a car-obsessed kid’s dream, and a great day out for a young family.
Kilgarvan Motor Museum, Slaheny, County Kerry, Ireland, +353 646685346
The Blasket Centre
Not actually located on the Blasket Islands, but right opposite them on the Dingle Peninsula mainland, The Blasket Centre hosts the story of centuries of life on the rugged islands, from a subsistence lifestyle to arts and entertainment. The islands have a literary heritage way beyond what would be expected for such a tiny community, and while they were evacuated of permanent residents for the last time in 1953, you’ll almost feel like the communities are still around you. The beautiful views don’t do any harm, either.
Dún Chaoin, Dingle, County Kerry, Ireland, +353 669156444
The Celtic Prehistoric Museum
A fantastic collection of ancient artefacts, including a woolly mammoth skull, a nest of dinosaur eggs, a complete baby dinosaur skeleton and countless other fossils and objects from pre-documented humans, lives within the Celtic Prehistoric Museum. It’s not a large museum, and the practice of freely allowing guests to touch certain artefacts often garners some criticism from the locals, but with some attractions drawn from all over the world, it’s a far more broad and memorable historical aside than you might expect to find tucked away in rural Kerry.
Celtic Prehistoric Museum, Raheen, County Kerry, Ireland, +353 877703280
Kenmare Heritage Centre
Kenmare Heritage Centre, a cultural hub, is Irish tourism’s introduction to this tiny, quaint and memorable little town amid the Kerry hills. In some ways, it’s incredibly and charmingly parochial, like in the list of famous visitors. As an introduction to a town that warrants some historical context, and a little glance at the famous local lace industry, it’s worth a visit, however. The famine’s effect locally gives some good (if horrifying) background too.