The town of Kenmare, located in County Kerry, is one of Ireland's official heritage towns and has gained a reputation as an up-and-coming gourmet centre. Kenmare is the closest town to Killarney, just 35 km / 20 miles away, making it a popular stop on the Ring of Kerry route. Positioned at the head of Kenmare Bay, the town was founded in 1670 by Oliver Cromwell’s then surveyor-general, Sir William Petty, who established iron works, lead mining, and other important industries in Kenmare.
These provided work for the settlers from Britain -- over 800 of them -- that had come to the area as part of Britain's plantation of Ireland. Petty's great-grandson, also named William Petty, but better known as the Earl of Shelbourne and the first Irish-born Prime Minister of Britain, commissioned the design of a model estate town composed of stone façades with decorative plasterwork. The work was completed in 1775, and the symmetrical street plan remains visible today.
On display too are many fine buildings from the 19th century, when Kenmare was still part of the Petty family's enormous landholdings, known as the Landsdowne Estate.
Today’s Kenmare is a thriving market town and tourist centre. Taking its name from the Gaelic Ceann Mara, meaning "Head of the Sea", the area is noted for its salmon, brown trout, bass, pollock, ray, mullet, and mackerel. There is some debate as to whether or not Kenmare has displaced Kinsale as the culinary capital of Ireland. Visitors will find many stylish restaurants.
A top- rated outdoor farmer's market, with locally produced foods at a variety of stalls ranging from soda bread to paellas, takes places on Wednesdays throughout most of the year (except winter). A visitor's centre in the Town Square, the Kenmare Heritage Centre, gives visitors a look at Kenmare history.
Things to Do in Kenmare
There are many hotels and restaurants in the Kenmare, as well as opportunities for adventure and exploring including
- bicycle renting
- seal-watching cruises
- sea fishing
- climbing and hill-walking
Also worth visiting are the local art gallery, and the many pretty shops that sell books, jewellery, knitted items and lace. Indeed, Kenmare is renowned for its lacemaking. The famous school of needlepoint was founded in 1861 at the convent of the Poor Clares on the second floor of what is now the Kenmare Heritage Centre. Known as the Kenmare Lace and Design Centre, it is open from April to September and there is a charge to view the splendid lace workings and designs of these nuns and their pupils. During the Great Famine, the nuns of Poor Clares came to Kenmare to teach the young children and also passed along to them the craft of lacemaking so that they would be able to earn a living wage in those difficult times. Some of the items the sisters made and their designs for the lace can be seen at the lace and Design Centre. Locally made lace items, including hankies and tablecloths can also be purchased at the centre.
Kenmare Stone Circle
A notable area of interest is the Stone Circle, which is 3,000 years old, from the early Bronze Age. Called the Druid Circle by some, the monument is a five-minute walk from Kenamre Town Square, making it one of the most accessible megalithic monuments in Ireland. The Stone Circle consists of 15 standing stones arranged in a circular pattern around a central boulder. Some historians believe the site was a burial ground. It also appears to be oriented on the setting sun. When it was originally built, the circle had magnificent views overlooking the bay. Today, however, the wooded setting creates a different ambience.
Note: There is a box located beside the stone circles that request visitors to make a €2 contribution.This fee is voluntary, and not mandatory. The fee goes toward the upkeep of the grounds.
Tip: Arrive early to avoid the small but steady stream of visitors from Kenmare town, to experience the stone circle in peaceful solitude.
Image by Lyza.