Ireland: Through the Eyes of Locals in Cork and Killarney

There is something very exciting about holidaying by train. The environmental benefits are becoming clearer to holiday makers, not to mention being an extremely comfortable way to travel – there is nothing nicer than a bright fresh morning, a fresh cup of coffee and a window seat with a table to enjoy the view.

This is how I started my break by rail, starting from Belfast and taking in Cork and Kerry over St Patrick’s Day this year.

I boarded the very comfy Enterprise train to Dublin, easily changing stations in Dublin using the Luas which helpfully announced the passing stops before another comfortable train to Cork City. In spite of the road travel usually taking about 7 hours, I felt I had crossed the country quickly, being happily ensconced at my hotel by tea time.

Cork is full of colourful quirky shops

Cork City is a lovely place to explore on foot. I stretched my legs taking in the River Lee and the compulsory half pint or two of Guinness in some very friendly pubs. As a solo traveller, I was immediately taken by the friendliness of Irish hospitality – always just enough, never too much.

One of the many pubs you can enjoy a tipple with friendly locals

The following morning I was met by a local guide – Kevin – who took me on a walking tour of the city. It was fabulous to have this small city I had been exploring by myself brought to life around me as I strolled from the cathedral to the university area to the famous English Market – a beautifully preserved covered food market with lots of artisanal producers popular with locals and tourists alike. A certain monarch enjoyed her visit too, being amused and charmed by a quick witted fishmonger!

The historical English Market

Back on the train I headed for the tourist town of Killarney. This train ride ended with real anticipation as I reached Killarney – I knew Kerry was famed for its mountains and waterfalls, but the sight of the McGillycuddy Reeks welcoming us travellers as we pulled in to Killarney made the arrival very exciting.

As I explored the town on foot I was treated to live music spilling out of pubs, traditional restaurants and shops and a bustling atmosphere. A highlight of my stay was a jaunting car ride in to the National Park with a Cal, local jarvey and Olly, our loyal steed. This was very special, and will stay with me. I learned of the sika and red deer of the park, the differing lakes and mountains, the history of Ross Castle and the fairy trees of hawthorn or ash – considered by the Celts to be sacred and to this day remain undisturbed by farmers and locals. 

Jaunting car ride through Killarney national park

My afternoon was completed by an Irish stew and a visit to Killarney House, where I enjoyed discovering the biodiversity of the park and the importance of maintaining its balance and health for the wider ecosystem. When I return to Killarney I‘ll hire a bike and tarry longer, but for now my tour was complete, and it was back to Dublin by rail to embark on my journey home.

Walking around the grounds of Ross Castle

It’s easy to see why Ireland has inspired poets, musicians and artists at home and the world over – the hanging baskets and multi-coloured painted shop fronts are instantly cheering and the hospitality and local stories, alongside an inspiring backdrop certainly left me wanting more and excited to pick up my car-free travels sooner rather than later and complete more of the Wild Atlantic Way.

Words & Images by Caoimhe @ McKinlay Kidd

McKinlay Kidd offer a number of holidays in and around Cork and Killarney, including self-drive, public transport and small group guided tours.

If you’re interested in a guided experience, why not book a space on our Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way Guided Rail Tour? If you’d prefer to travel car-free, we have options including our Explore Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way Car-Free trip. Longer stay in mind? Then maybe you would like to uncover the entire 2500km length on our Complete Wild Atlantic Way Road Trip. Do let us know if you’d like to include Cork or Killarney as part of a tailor-made Scotland tour. Visit our website for more holiday inspiration.