As well as boasting the friendliest people in Ireland, the region has some of the finest landscape. Magnificent scenery has attracted visitors to this region since Victorian times. Rocky headlands jut out into the Atlantic and colourful fishing villages nestle in the shelter of the bays. County Kerry offers dramatic views and a wealth of prehistoric and early Christian sites, whereas County Cork’s gentle charm has enticed many a casual visitor into becoming a permanent resident.
Killarney and its romantic lakes are a powerful magnet, and so are Cork’s attractive coastal towns and villages. Yet the region remains remarkably unspoilt, with a friendly atmosphere and authentic culture still alive in Irish-speaking pockets. There is also a long tradition of arts and crafts in the area.
This corner of Ireland used to be the main point of contact with the Continent. In the 17th century, in response to the threat of invasions from France and Spain, the English built a line of forts along the Cork coast, including the massive Charles Fort at Kinsale. Cork, the regional capital, was once a major port, and is still the Republic’s second city, with a lively cultural scene.
In the 19th century, Cork was an important departure point for people fleeing from the Famine, with Cobh the main port for emigrants to the new world. Between 1848 and 1950 more than six millions people emigrated from Ireland – two and half million of them leaving from Cobh. The Famine years of 1844-8 trigged mass emigration as the impoverished made horrific transatlantic journeys in cramped, insanitary conditions. Many headed for the United States and Canada, and a few risked the long journey to Australia. Up until the early 20th century, emigrants waiting to board the ships were a familiar sight in Cobh. However, by the 1930s world recession and immigration restrictions in the United States and Canada led into a fall in the numbers leaving Ireland.
Poverty and temperament helped foster a powerful Republican spirit in the southwest. The region saw much guerrilla action in the War of Independence and the subsequent Civil War. In 1920, the centre of Cork city was burned in an uncontrolled act of reprisal by the notorious Black and Tans. Named after their makeshift uniforms, these British troops, mostly demobbed World War 1 carried out savage reprisals against the Irish in 1920-21.
Kerry is known as “the Kingdom” on account of its tradition of independence and disregard for Dublin rule. The Irish recognize a distinctive Kerry character, with a boisterous sense of living life to the full. They also make Kerrymen the butt of countless jokes.