The 57km (35 miles) long Kerry Camino is an official Camino pilgrim route as listed by the Camino Society Ireland. This walk starts at St. John’s Church in Tralee. It is believed to have been taken by pilgrims on their way to St. James’ Church, in Dingle. St. James’ was originally built by Spanish merchants and dedicated to St. James of Santiago de Compostela.
The Kerry Camino also covers the first three daily stages of the Dingle Way. So if you hike the beautiful Dingle Way, you will also have the chance to experience this unique Irish pilgrimage.
In this post, we uncover the history behind the Kerry Camino route. We also investigate the unique religious history of the Dingle Peninsula in general.
History Of The Kerry Camino
Although there is significant history behind the Kerry Camino route, the trail was only created in 2012. This was due to the initiative of some local Tralee residents. Their idea was to encourage more hiking and pilgrimage in the area between Tralee and Dingle. This is an area with a rich religious history and special connections with the Camino de Santiago.
The linkages to the famous Camino de Santiago route in northern Spain are none stronger than at the end point of the Kerry Camino. St. James’ Church, in Dingle, was founded by Spanish merchants in medieval times. And they dedicated their church to St. James of Santiago de Compostela. For this reason, Dingle was a famous departure point for Irish pilgrims setting sail for Northern Spain. These pilgrims were on their way to the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela.
Also, similar to the Camino routes in Spain, if you stop into the Tourist Office in Tralee or take a Kerry Camino walking tour with Hillwalk Tours, you will receive an official Kerry Camino logbook. You can fill this logbook with stamps along the trail itself. You can also collect stamps at designated stamping stations in local shops, cafes and restaurants along the way. If you collect at least eight stamps at the various stations, you can receive a pilgrimage certificate in Dingle.
The Kerry Camino Route & Stages
Day 1 (Tralee to Camp): The first day’s stage on the Kerry Camino starts in the town of Tralee and takes you along the Dingle Way. You first pass through Blennerville before heading to the small village of Camp. On this section, you will walk along the northern slopes of the Slieve Mish Mountains. On a clear day, you can enjoy breathtaking views of both the mountain range and the coast.
Day 2 (Camp to Annascaul): From Camp, you continue south to Annascaul. The route climbs at first as you cross the peninsula but you are rewarded on the other side with views of the magnificent Inch Beach. Annascaul is also home to the famous arctic explorer, Tom Crean. Some of the items from his trips are on display in the pub that he opened when he returned, The South Pole Inn.
Day 3 (Annascaul to Dingle): The final stretch of the Camino Kerry is for the majority on quiet back roads with also a few steady climbs and spectacular views. You pass the 16th century Minard Castle and the village of Lispole before ending in Dingle Town, the westernmost city in Europe.
Saint Brendan is the saint to whom the Kerry Camino is dedicated. The monk originally from Tralee was not only one of the “twelve apostles of Ireland”, but also a real adventurer. He lived from AD 484 to AD 577.
To this day, Saint Brendan is known for his legendary journeys and is nicknamed “Brendan the Navigator”. On Mount Brandon (the highest mountain in Dingle) Brendan received a vision of a paradise island in the Atlantic. To find this island, he then went to sea in a currach, a traditional Irish boat.
On the way he fought with sea monsters and adverse weather conditions and finally found the island from his vision. While some sources assume he arrived in Iceland, others claim he made it to America even before Columbus had landed there.
His experiences were published in the 12th century under the title The Voyage of Saint Brendan and translated into many European languages.
From Dingle to Santiago
The starting point of the Kerry Camino is the remarkable St. John’s Church in Tralee and it takes you all the way to picturesque Dingle.
In medieval times, Dingle gained importance through trade with France and Spain, making it an important trading center in Ireland. But Dingle also played a role in relation to religion and pilgrimages. From here pilgrims set out to visit the Cathedral of Compostela and the bones of St. James.
The apostle Saint James the Great is the patron saint of Spain. The Camino de Santiago means the Way of St. James and refers to the many routes taken by pilgrims on the way to Santiago de Compostela to visit his remains. As St. James Church in Dingle was dedicated to him, Dingle became a popular departure point for pilgrims leaving Ireland to visit Santiago de Compostela.
In 1992, during construction works being carried out to an old section of Ardfert Cathedral, built on the monastery founded by Saint Brendan, a pewter scallop shell with a statue of St James attached was found. This is believed to be an ancient pilgrim’s badge brought back from the Camino de Santiago.
Another similarity of the Kerry Camino and the Camino de Santiago is the pilgrim greeting. On the Camino de Santiago, it is customary to greet fellow pilgrims with the greeting “Buen Camino” which means good road or good path in Spanish.
Pilgrims are also encouraged to greet each other on the Kerry Camino. Preferably, however, not in English, but in Gaelic. Using the words “Dia Guit” (God be with you), pilgrims can wish for a pleasant walk for those that they meet along the way.
According to the Kerry Camino Committee, the Spanish version, “Buen Camino”, is also welcome.
In the vicinity of Ventry, in Fahan, you can marvel at the so-called beehive huts. These amazing dwellings date from the 12th century and were first built by Christian pilgrims and in monasteries.
The small stone buildings with the round roof are ideally adapted to the Irish climate. Water runs off them perfectly. There is no room for more than two people in them and the fact that they have been preserved to this day testifies to their real engineering expertise.
Between Ventry and Slea Head, you can admire the beehive huts from the Dingle Way.
Mount Brandon is the highest mountain on the Dingle Peninsula and named after the famous local saint who had his vision of Paradise Island on the top of it. On the Dingle Way, it looms beside you on the stretch between Cuas and Cloghane.
Mount Brandon is also a popular destination for Catholic pilgrims. The Cosan na Naomh or The Saints’ Road pilgrim paths takes you on an alternative inland route from Ventry to the foot of Mount Brandon and then leads up the stately mountain.
Should you decide to pay a visit to this holy mountain, you will pass numerous stones with Celtic crosses, the most important pilgrimage symbol in Ireland, on the way.
A short detour can be taken off the main Dingle Way route to the Gallarus Oratory. This is the best preserved early Christian church in Ireland. The Gallus Oratory was built between the seventh and eighth centuries sing an unique construction method.
According to an amusing legend, anyone who manages to enter the church through the window will be forgiven all of their sins. Unfortunately, from a practical point of view, this is impossible because the 18 × 12 centimeter window is much too small for that.
From June to September, visitors can find out more about the Gallarus Oratory and the surrounding area in the adjacent Visitor Center.