South Ireland: Waterford to the Ring of Kerry
Rick Steves' Europe: Episode # 209
We find the icons of Ireland strewn along its fascinating south coast: Waterford's much-loved crystal factory; the Kennedy family homestead; the Dunbrody famine ship; and Kinsale's star-shaped fortresses. After learning why locals don't kiss the Blarney Stone, visit elegant Muckross House. Then savor the scenic charms of the Emerald Isle by driving the Ring of Kerry.
- Read the script from the show.
Wild Wicklow Tours cover the region with an entertaining guide packing every minute with information and fun craic (conversation). With a gang of 34 packed into tight but comfortable mountain-gripping buses, the guide kicks into gear from the first pickup in Dublin. Tours cover Dublin's embassy row, Dun Laoghaire, the Bay of Dublin (with the mansions of Ireland's rich and famous), the windy military road over scenic Sally Gap, and the Glendalough monasteries (€28, €25 for students and readers that show this book in 2010, daily year-round, 9:10 pick-up at Dublin TI on Suffolk Street, 10:00 pick-up at Dun Laoghaire TI, stop for lunch at a pub — cost not included, return through Dun Laoghaire and on to Dublin by 17:30, Dun Laoghaire-ites could stay on the bus to continue into Dublin for the evening, advance booking required, tel. 01/280-1899).
While the mansion's interior, only partially restored after a 1974 fire, isn't much, its meticulously kept aristocratic gardens are Ireland's best. The house was commissioned in the 1730s by Richard Wingfield, first viscount of Powerscourt. The gardens, created during the Victorian era (1858–1875), are called "the grand finale of Europe's formal gardening tradition...probably the last garden of its size and quality ever to be created." I'll buy that (€8, daily 9:30–17:30 year-round, great cafeteria, tel. 01/204-6000). Skip the associated waterfall (€5, 4 miles away).
Permanently moored in the tiny port of New Ross, this was built as a reminder of the countless hungry Irish who sailed to North America on ships like this. The Dunbrody is a full-scale reconstruction of a 19th-century three-masted bark built in Quebec in 1845. It's typical of the trading vessels that sailed empty to America to pick up goods, but during the famine found they could make a little money on the westward voyage. Extended families camped out for 50 days on bunk beds no bigger than a king-size mattress. Often, boats like this would arrive in America with only 50 percent of their original human cargo — hence the nickname "coffin ships" (tel. 051/425-239).
Fishy Fishy Shop & Chippy
The Fishy Fishy Shop & Chippy is the place for a good lunch. It's like eating in a fish market surrounded by the day's catch and a pristine stainless-steel kitchen. Marie and her white-aproned staff hustle wonderful steaming piles of beautifully presented seafood to eager customers (lunch only, across from church on Guardwell Street, tel. 021/477-4453).
To understand the important role Kinsale played in Irish, English, and Spanish history, join Don Herlihy or Barry Moloney on a fascinating 90-minute walking tour (private tours possible, tel. 021/477-2873). They creatively bring to life Kinsale's place in history and make the stony sights more than just buildings. Collections for the tour occur at the end, giving anyone disappointed an easy escape midway through. This walk is Kinsale's best single attraction.
The Bulman Bar and Restaurant serves seafood with seasonal produce. The mussels are especially tasty; on a balmy day or evening, diners take a bucket and a beer out to the seawall. This is the only real way to eat on the water in Kinsale (200 yards toward Kinsale from Charles Fort in hamlet of Summercove, tel. 021/477-2131).