When you are visiting Killarney, the tourism capital of County Kerry, a tour on one of the "jaunting cars" is almost mandatory. Or so the brochures, guide books, and also dozens of "jarveys" (the owner-operators of these light passenger wagons, drawn by a single horse) would have you believe.
And indeed, on a quiet day, you may be approached by more coachmen offering their services than you'll meet begging children in Calcutta.
Of course, each and every one of the jarveys offers an extensive tour in their jaunting car, lots of local knowledge, and a very decent price to boot.
However, it is a case of caveat emptor, or "buyer beware," as not all tours are really up to scratch, and some jaunting car tours or mumbling jarveys might leave you feeling somehow short-changed.
Killarney's Jaunting Car Tours in a Nutshell
On the plus side, this is a really traditional, nicely old-fashioned way to see many of the sights Killarney has to offer (and a good way to relax and unwind). One could call it eco-friendly touring, as the carbon footprint is minimal, and only on foot will you be a lesser strain on the ecosystem. It certainly is a relaxing experience, and if you have a good jarvey, he'll also tell you all sorts of stories (some of them quite tall) about the places you pass, which may be part of the Killarney National Park or even the famous Ring of Kerry.
Having said that, it might not all turn out to be as rosy as this sounds. In the main tourist season, prices can be high, and due to everybody and their grandfather trying to make hay while the sun shines, tours are not of a constant quality. There is no quality control, no "jarvey diploma." And when offering their services, some of the jarveys can be a bit too pushy for our taste.
What you will get, however, is a slice of Killarney tradition. Local coachmen have been taking tourists around the town since Victorian times, and not much has changed since then. The carts used are still light, open to the elements, and not necessarily comfortable. You will be provided with a blanket on cold and wet days, but the ride will still be jumpy, and (depending on the number and size of passengers in your party) might feel a bit cramped. Then again, all this can be tremendous fun.
Reviewing Killarney's Jaunting Car Tours
This is the one Killarney attraction you simply cannot miss. In a very literal sense, you can't miss them, as they are everywhere in Killarney - those guys with their flimsy horse-drawn carts, offering their services as a coachman-cum-tour guide. Quite often looking out at the world in general, and their prospects of earning a crust in particular, with a rather surly face, a stoic horse at his side ... the jarveys tend to suddenly brighten up, acquire the proverbial glint in their Irish eyes, and become all eloquent. They have spotted an easy mark and it is spelled t-o-u-r-i-s-t.
Here's the thing to consider: each and every jarvey plying his trade on the streets of Killarney will promise you a great tour, heck, even the best tour, and all for a good price.
Sometimes they'll even doggedly following you, unless you immediately hop onto his cart, which can be a bit annoying and a let-down if you agree too fast.
You should shop for value, as the jaunting car tours offered by the jarveys are basically all the same. You will be carried in their vehicle to the local sights for an hour or two, stopping off for example at Muckross House for a look-see, then finally being dropped off where you started. In between all this, the driver will regale you with stories, anecdotes, and local knowledge, with a song thrown in at times, which can be great in moderately good weather (or a disaster).
While the carts are uniformly uncomfortable to a varying degree, the owner-operators can be anything from witty and well-informed to bumbling and mumbling with a noted lack of enthusiasm.
Unfortunately, you will more than likely notice only after you have crossed their palms with silver, and are at their mercy.
So, do the right thing: approach the jarveys in a confident manner, enquire about their services (where are they going? how long will the tour take? which sights will the stop at?), and their price. If everything sounds okay to you, hop on. If you have only understood half of what "yer man" was saying, you might want to hire a more articulate jarvey. As for the price: ask at the tourist office what the going rate is, and maybe ask a few jarveys in passing the night before. You'll then have a better idea of whether you've been had. Always expect to pay around 40 € for an hour and 60 € for two hours, with up to four people in a car.
Can we recommend a jaunting car tour in and around Killarney? Yes, they can be great fun, but we really advise you to feel free to shop around a bit, choosing the jarvey you actually like and understand. And outside the main season, a tiny bit of haggling is allowable as well. When we did the tour in October, the jarvey knocked off a cool 33% after we acted a bit undecided, after already offering us what amounts to a standard fair.
If you want to book ahead, several jarveys now also offer their services online.