A once remote Irish-speaking town has been thrust into the limelight in recent years, and quaint Kenmare in beautiful County Kerry has become a thriving market town, the perfect base for exploring the striking southwest of Ireland. Kenmare is charming and cheerful, with an exuberant atmosphere. The infectious Kerry humor is personified by the wise-cracking inhabitants of the town, who approach life with a knowing smile. That, combined with the fantastic food scene and the stunning natural beautify of the region, has put Kenmare squarely on the tourist map.


Kenmare officially started life circa 1670, when the area known today as Kenmare was given to the English scientist, Sir William Petty by Oliver Cromwell. After his conquest of Ireland, Cromwell bestowed the land upon Sir William in part payment for a job well done; the scientist had spent several years completing the mapping of Ireland, the Down Survey, which was finished in 1656. Therefore, history records that the settlement came into existence in the real sense in the 17th century but evidence suggests that the true heritage of Kenmare stretches back far into the Stone Age.

Based on archaeological evidence and excavated finds in the area surrounding Kenmare, we know that Gaelic tribes ruled the region of Kerry from circa 2000 BC; for over a thousand years they controlled what visitors today know as Kenmare. Archaeologists have found a stone circle, probably the oldest relic from Kenmare’s ancient past, which suggests a prehistoric past that is clouded in mystery. This being part of the town’s appeal.

Kenmare’s history then becomes extremely hazy for many centuries, until the 12th Century when the Normans began their conquest of Ireland. We do know, however, that the settlement was attacked repeatedly by the Vikings in the late 7th Century. The Vikings never took full control of this part of western Ireland, nonetheless their raids on the coastline was a constant menace for the Gaelic inhabitants. The Norse tribesmen often took whole villages back to Scandinavia as slaves!

Although Kerry remained under Gaelic control, their rule was constantly being threatened by the Normans, who had conquered much of the country by the mid-13th century. Things came to a head in 1261 at the battle of Callann. The battle was fought between the Gaelic forces of the King of Desmond and the Norman, John Fitzgerald. Finghin Mac Carthaigh, King of Desmond emerged victorious and, until the battle of Kinsale, his ancestors ruled this Irish state free from Norman intervention.

After the English victory over Gaelic Ireland at the battle of Kinsale in 1602, the settlement disappeared into obscurity until its official birth in 1670. After being granted a large area of land in Kerry, Sir William Petty brought a colony of English settlers to develop his new lands including an Iron Works and a Fishery. The local inhabitants, however, were less than pleased with their new English neighbors and fought Sir William at every turn. Eventually, the settlers were forced onto a ship and sent back to England. Undiscouraged, Sir William bought more settlers to Kenmare who, after much persistence, eventually integrated into the community. Many of the town’s famous buildings and streets were constructed during this period, including Shelburne House, Butter Market and the Schoolhouse.

Kenmare then enjoyed a period of stability in the 18th Century, the population grew steadily and the town found favor with the First Marquess of Lansdowne in 1775, who viewed Kenmare as his own personal retreat. This stability would not last, however. The 19th Century would witness social change, growth and upheaval, as Kenmare did not escape the potato Famine that blighted Ireland during this time; rural poverty forced people towards the town while at the same time the population declined significantly. Kenmare suffered considerably as agriculture was the mainstay of the town’s livelihood. The town would also enjoy some growth and development, however, during this time; the first convent in the town, the Poor Clare Sisters, was founded in 1861 by five nuns. Under the stewardship of Mother Abbess O’Hagan, a lace working industry flourished in Kenmare and the region became noted worldwide for the quality of its lace. This signified a quantum leap for the town, as previously it had been almost entirely reliant on fishing and agriculture for its prosperity and survival.

The town enjoyed a certain amount of fame in Ireland in the 19th century, as it benefited enormously from the construction of the first suspension bridge in the country. Opened in 1841, it served the community until 1932, when it was replaced by the latest concrete equivalent. Kenmare’s residents were also proud to open the Carnegie town library in 1918. It was one of the few Carnegie Libraries funded by Andrew Carnegie, an honor indeed for the local community.

Ireland experienced a great deal of turmoil and social upheaval in the 20th Century, events which affected even the remotest parts of the country, even if they didn’t take a center stage. Ireland got a taste of the horrors of World War I, when The Lusitania passenger ship was sunk off the Irish coast in 1915. This atrocity spurned more young men from all over Ireland to become involved in the war effort and many young men from Kenmare would never return home.

Modern times

After the Irish War of Independence and Irish declaration of an Independent State in 1922, Kenmare could finally proudly claim to be part of a united Ireland. A period of stability followed until the onset of the Second World War, where many Irish lost their lives in Europe.

Kenmare has long attracted Irish tourists in the know and this once small and peaceful town has started to attract a significant number of international tourists in recent years. It is still quite untouched and authentic. The transition from rural market town to a tourism center has been remarkably easy; the local spirit of hospitality and welcome for all visitors remains the same. Kenmare may not enjoy the fame of Dublin or Cork but, for many, it heads the list of places to see and with its pretty quaint streets, fantastic food scene and stunning natural beauty of the region, it’s not hard to see why!

Gastronomy & Wine

In the 1970s, Kenmare had but two decent restaurants to its name; today there are over 40 restaurants, including our favorites Packies and the Lime Tree not to mention the fine eateries at the luxury Park Hotel and Sheen Falls Hotel. Award-winning chefs use only the finest local produce of Kenmare Bay Salmon, trout and delicious tender lamb to create masterpieces at the many gourmet restaurants in the town. In addition to the wealth of restaurants in Kenmare, there are plenty of cafes, pubs and family-owned restaurants that serve good value cuisine. Lorge chocolatier, on the road to Glengarriff, is a great little place.


  • Kenmare Lace and Design Center

    A landmark in the town’s past, this museum is a fascinating journey through one Nun’s determination to build a new industry in Kenmare for the benefit of all. It displays “the most important piece of lace ever made in Ireland.” It is run by lace-maker Nora Finnegan, who was taught by the Clare nuns.

  • Killarney National Park

    The jewel in the famed Ring of Kerry, the national park houses, the idyllic and much visited Lakes of Killarney. A Mecca for nature lovers, the landscape is also dotted with ruined castles and abbeys although the lakes have always been the focus of attention. Well, known beauty spots include The Ladies View, so called because it delighted Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting in 1861.

  • Skellig Michael Island

    A must for any visitors to the region, make sure to take a boat trip out Skellig Island for spectacular views of the coastline. The rock was once home to early Christian monks who settled in the caves, worth seeing for the views alone!

  • Killarney Lakes

    The lakes of Killarney are breathtakingly beautiful and deserve a full day. Be sure to visit Muckross House, an imposing mansion built in 1843 in an elegant Elizabethan style set in beautifully landscaped gardens. It contains a museum of Kerry life, with displays on the history of southwest Ireland and a craft center to keep the children happy. A great starting point for the popular (touristy) Ring of Kerry tour, or even better head to the Beara Peninsula (a best-kept secret amongst locals).

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Cellar Tours

Cellar Tours is a Luxury Travel Specialist, operating since 2003 and offering exclusive Mercedes chauffeured Gourmet Vacations in Chile, France, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, South Africa, and Spain. We specialize in luxurious custom designed vacations, events and incentives related to food and wine. We are proud members of Slow Food, UNAV (Travel Agency Association in Spain), and the IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals).

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