Sunday, September 26, 2010


And many months go by, so so quickly! I have excuses but won't bore you with them...suffice to say that there have been some bumps in the road this year which I may or may not choose to share at some point. For the moment, I'm trying to remain positive, not stick my head in the sand but focus on dealing with what is in front of me and burn those bridges when I come to them. And my apologies for the metaphor mangling.

It has been a long time since the Ireland trip but I want to share what ended up being my favourite part of the trip which was the southwest coast of Ireland. First part of this adventure was to equip ourselves with a car. We took the bus back out to the airport to do this, reasoning that on our final day we could drive straight to the airport and drop the car off before our flight - that turned out to be good strategy, by the way. Our trial by fire (especially for my trusty driver) was to be dumped out onto the busy motorway, driving a right hand drive on the left side of the road. It wasn't so bad at first because on a divided highway, driving on the left was not a factor. Of course the traffic was insane as this is pretty much the biggest chunk of modern highway in Ireland.

As the day wore on and we crossed the country, the roads became progressively narrower until, as we approached Kenmare, there was barely room for two cars to pass by each other. There was so little clearance that the wild fuschia and ferns sprouting profusely from the head high rock walls lining the road was ticking against the rear view mirror on my side of the car making me cringe away in fear. Speed limits in Ireland seem excessively optimistic but local drivers weren't hard to spot - they were the ones driving huge SUVs and flooring it. We had a tiny Twingo (doesn't that sound like something that runs off an elastic band?), one step up from the even smaller car we had reserved but which the agent talked us out of as not a good choice for the distance and the roads we planned to travel. Fortunately, we took his advice.

Iveragh side road

Our room at Hawthorn House in Kenmare, booked on the fly earlier that day, turned out to be a separate cottage affair behind the main building and was lovely and quiet and unlike most B&B rooms in Ireland, roomy. After the usual warm Irish greeting from the proprietress, we set out in late afternoon to explore the town. Most of the very colourful buildings were arranged along two long streets set at an angle to each other in a "V" shape. After poking about in a few shops and a very large knitwear store, we passed by a tiny pub and heard strains of "trad" music issuing forth. Without hesitating, we turned and walked in, beguiled by that irresistible sound and found a room jammed full of locals, a few tourists and a pickup group of local musicians who did a session there each afternoon before going on to their paying gigs.

Downtown Kenmare

It was fabulous! We immediately ordered a Guinness and settled in for an hour or so to listen and observe. There was a group of 30-somethings at the bar next to us who were conversing in Irish, some families having an early supper of Irish pub food at the few battered tables and musicians arriving to sit in for a number or two and then take their leave. We couldn't have been happier with our introduction to the pub music scene which we were to experience almost daily during that part of the trip. This tradition seems happily to be very much alive in that part of the world.

Next day dawned reasonably clear so, full to bursting with eggs, sausage and toasted soda bread with jam, we decided to take advantage of the nice weather and "do" the world famous Ring of Kerry, the magnificent circle route of the Iveragh Peninsula. We took Rick Steves advice and set out in the opposite direction to the one the tour buses take, clockwise as opposed to counter clockwise although I see this tactic is discouraged on some "official" websites. With some judicious dekes off the main route to look at archeological sites that are inaccessible to large vehicles, it is possible to avoid getting stuck in a diesel fumed snail of traffic and allow the bulk of the opposing traffic of the day to go by. Since we were in Kenmare and most of the tours leave from Killarney, it also meant that we were dodging oncoming buses at the end of the day but it was still worth it.

Our first stop was the Staigue Fort a few miles out from Kenmare, one of the so-called "faerie forts" or stone ring forts of unmortared stone. The view of the sea and surrounding countryside, stony sheep pasture for the most part, was spectacular and it was not difficult to imagine the strategic value of the site or to admire the engineering ability of the Iron Age people who built it.

Staigue Fort

Sheep pasture & top of the wall at Staigue Fort

The rest of the day was just as sensational...I won't try to describe it all but the photos below will give you the general idea. Unfortunately we didn't have time to take a tour out to the Skelligs, those pointy islands off the tip of the Iveragh with the stone beehive huts where very dedicated (or deeply antisocial) monks lived out their lives. Even if we had not been time challenged, the boat tours that day were cancelled due to rough seas. We gathered this was a fairly regular occurrence, not surprising given how exposed this coast is to the open Atlantic.

Spectacular cliffs near Waterville

Famine houses overlooking the Skelligs

Contented Irish cows

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