by Lois Linkens
When you cross the border from Northern Ireland into the Republic, it’s surprisingly clear that you are in a separate country. Road signs look different, each paired with its own Gaelic translation, just to remind you that you are in fact in Ireland, despite the fact that nobody speaks Gaelic anymore. The accents are stronger, the houses are fancier and a trip to Ireland is not complete without mistakenly using your Great British pounds instead of the Euro.
Nevertheless, the countryside is breathtakingly beautiful. I took a trip to County Kerry, which is situated in the South West of Ireland. There were twelve of us on the trip, so we stayed in a big country house which had everything you might need – except enough towels for everyone and a working toaster – but it did overlook miles (sorry, kilometres) of fields, mountains and farmland. I quickly became accustomed to the friendly wake up call from the cows in the neighbouring field.
The closest town was Killarney, which has always been a popular tourist destination as the start of the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive of 179 kilometres along the coast. However, since December 2015, it has become particularly well frequented with Star Wars fans, as the final scene in the new film, The Force Awakens, was filmed on Skellig Michael Island, which can be seen clearly from the Ring of Kerry.
Killarney is also home to a magnificent National Park, which was the first ever created in Ireland. Here visitors can get a boat trip across the Lakes of Killarney, stopping off at a small island called Innisfallen, where there are ruins of a monastery from the early Middle Ages.
There are also jaunting carts, or horse-driven carts, which take visitors on a tour of the park. Our driver had a particularly strong accent and spoke incredibly fast. Myself and my very English mother and sister had a little trouble understanding what he was saying at times. His response to this was: ‘if I’m talking to fast, listen quicker.’ He also commented that he was ‘looking for a wife,’ and ‘any man’s wife will do.’ Delightful.
However, the tour was very interesting and gave us the opportunity to see some brilliant views, although we probably could have seen these same views on foot if only we weren’t so lazy.
The National Park is also home to the Torc Waterfall, which you can reach by climbing an almost unnecessarily steep flight of steps. Needless to say, I was glad to reach the top, but was the view worth the sweaty red face, painful cramp and aching limbs? That’s for you to decide.
There are also some very beautiful beaches in County Kerry. Inch Beach (I know, who thinks of these names?) was my personal favourite. Swimming in the sea is truly magical, as you are surrounded by the mountains, dotted with cottages. It’s so far from the city, from the noise of the traffic that it’s quite surreal to swim there. Honestly, it’s reassuring to know that these places still exist, and not everywhere has been overtaken by housing developments or motorways.
Another stunning beach was Rossbeigh, which would definitely be a great beach for families with children, as the sand dunes are perfect for sliding down on a body board (you know, if you’re into that.)
All in all, Ireland is truly beautiful. If you know where you’re going, it’s totally worth a visit. If you don’t know where you’re going, go anyway.