Things to Do in Kenmare
This scenic driving route loops around the Beara Peninsula, a secluded sliver of land that protrudes out into the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s southwest coast. The peaks of two mountain ranges—the Caha and Slieve Miskish mountains—rise up in the interior, while its serrated coastline is indented with inlets and coves.
This scenic lookout takes its name from Queen Victoria and her ladies-in-waiting, who were bowled over by the views when they visited here in 1861. These days, the vista remains as spectacular as back then, with visitors lingering at the lookout to soak up the magnificent lake and peak landscapes of Killarney National Park.
When strolling through the trees of the Gougana Barra National Forest Park, and gazing out at the placid waters of Gougana Barra’s lake, you can see why this corner of southwestern Ireland was a place of historical solace. It was here on the island in the middle of the lake, that St. Finnbar—patron saint of Cork—founded a monastery in the 6th century before eventually moving to Cork. When visiting the Gougane Barra today, the most popular site is St. Finnbar’s Oratory on a small island in the lake. With its romantically elegant stone design, this 19th-century, picturesque church is a popular spot for weddings, and it’s also a holy pilgrimage site—where Roman Catholics would hold secret Mass away from the Anglican Church. Behind the lake is the National Forest Park and its system of hiking and biking trails, which pass through woods that are densely forested in Sitka Spruce and Pine. This is also the site of the River Lee—which meanders its way through Cork—and while Gougane Barra is most often visited as a relaxing day trip from Cork, there’s also a small, family-run hotel that’s open from April-October.
Consisting of 15 heavy stone slabs set out in an oval shape, Kenmare’s Stone Circle—known locally as the Shrubberies—is among the biggest of the 100 or so such sites scattered throughout Ireland’s southwest. Though its original function remains unknown, the site most likely held spiritual significance for its Bronze Age builders.
Though oral tradition holds that the original Cromwell’s Bridge was built by monks back in the 11th century, the current structure is believed to date back to around 1700. The exaggerated curve of the rubble-stone arch is thought to have been designed to accommodate the fluctuating tidal range of the Finnihy River, which babbles below.