Ireland Day 8 The Ring of Kerry
I am going to be incredibly challenged today to make an attempt for this writing to be even close to adequate to describe our day with no accompanying photos. (Once again, emails had no photos, but now you get them with the blog). I guess it will suffice to say that The Ring of Kerry rivals, and in our opinion even surpasses our beloved Oregon Coast, and even the iconic Highway 1 to Big Sur.
I think the biggest difference is the ability to actually see the ocean and all the islands and coastline from the sometimes high and always very winding and narrow road. Riding in a big tour bus wasn't the least bit troublesome, but I wouldn't have wanted to be someone in those little cars fighting for space on the road with those busses. And yes, busses! Lots of them.
Tourism is huge in Ireland, and especially so in this magnificent landscape. Joanne, (my friend who is babysitting Mattie and traveled in Ireland with her husband driving the car)you will be happy to know that they have widened and improved the road a bit, so we decided that it wouldn't be that difficult to drive, even with the left thing.
It is actually the morning of Day 9 as I write this, and after smashing all our stuff back into the suitcases and putting them outside the door, I have about an hour to try to finish what I had no time to write yesterday.
It started early, with another Irish breakfast (Gak...so glad I like Muesli and yogurt) and on the bus early to fresh strong breezes and beautiful shifting skies. Within a few minutes of leaving the hotel, we stopped at the Moriarity shop at the foot of the Dunloe Gap, made even more dramatic by the flying clouds in all shades of gray and white against the blue skies. We commented yesterday that we haven't experienced anything even close to air pollution so far anywhere in this country, even Dublin. The air has been perfectly clean and fresh and gorgeous everywhere we go.
The shop fit right in with the elegant and expensive vibe of Killarney, with luscious Donegal tweeds, Irish linen, soft woven plaid throws, and anything your heart could desire from Ireland on the higher end of good stuff, opposed to the kitchy stuff in the souvenir shops that are everywhere.
Again, hard to explain the moment, but the wild air and shifting skies, shadows on the granitic mountains of Killarney to the south, the sound of Irish music lifted me to a place of happiness that was much like what I felt last winter hiking in Joshua Tree. It is a wonderful feeling that I don't remember from my younger days, a deep unreasonable happiness that is so in the moment and so not related to anything going on in my head. I do love that feeling and treasure it when it comes so surprisingly.
Once we left the shop, after a few more miles we stopped at The Red Fox, a classic pub with another view of the mountains, where Irish Coffee and Baileys were served at ten in the morning. It had a great feeling to it, with a couple of hundred years of history behind it to help offset the hordes of tourists and the gaggle of tourist busses parked outside. I loved it.
Sad to say, Mo is dealing with a throat thing, so I hope that the hot Irish coffee might have helped it feel better. With only half an hour to absorb the vibe, we were again on our way following the north to south route around the Ring. And yes, in spite of the gorgeous scenery, and excellent stops, this day felt like a tour, a rushed tour, where it was impossible to see the entire thing without feeling as though there was no time to linger and really enjoy it. Ring of Kerry is a destination for sure, with at least a week to two to hike, kayak the lakes, walk the coastline, enjoy the towns, drink in the pubs, and languish in beautiful and very expensive bed and breakfast establishments.
Before long the expanse of Dingle Bay stretched out before us, with several stops along the way for photos. Thank goodness we weren't relegated to moving shots through the reflections of the bus window glass. Another stop at a craft shop specializing in woolens included a wonderful performance put on by the sheepherder Brendan Ferris and his prize winning sheep dogs. I heard comments from folks who had seen similar shows throughout Scotland that weren't nearly as wonderful. These dogs are not only well trained sheep dogs, but are agility champions in the UK and Ireland. We were introduced to several breeds of sheep, with their wool and meat used for different purposes, and I was tickled to see how well those sheep were trained too.
Watching the dogs work the sheep on the backlit hillside had a strange effect on me, one repeated throughout the day. I cried. Big silly tears and that stinging feeling behind the eyes. Ireland seems to affect me on an emotional level that is completely ridiculous, and completely without explanation. It is a nice feeling, a welling of emotion, triggered by a shepherd calling his sheep, an Irish jig, blooming heather, and most of all the wind off the Atlantic Ocean. I had no idea I would respond this way to Ireland, thinking it was just another nice destination for us. No clue. Still don't get it all the way, but whatever the source, it is delightfully fun for someone like me who enjoys feeling things a lot.
Continuing along the coastline, with photo stops at the high points overlooking the ocean, we came to the town of Waterville, much like the coastal beach towns along our own coast, if a bit more charming in the warm afternoon sunlight. We are entering the world of famously good Irish seafood, with lobster, oysters, clams, crab and all sorts of fish the highlight of the menu. Another reason you would love to visit County Kerry, Killarney, and The Ring of Kerry, Deborah.
The fish and chips fragrance wafting from the small town was so enticing, but Isabella had something a bit more special in store for us. Down the road, at the most famous high point of the Ring drive Scarriff Inn Vista Bar and Restaurant overlooks the sea in all directions.
It was what is referred to here as a "self service", but this one was really nice. They specialized in traditional Irish food, with Irish Stew with excellent lamb, and Shepherd's Pie being the main items on the list.
We opted for the Shepherd's Pie, a good ground beef stew topped with mashed potatoes and cheese and topped off under the grill, served with two excellent side salads, the wonderful crusty rolls that we are seeking out whenever we can find them, and a glass of red. Lunch was accompanied by tables along the window with the warm sun lighting up the beautiful dining room, and views to forever across the Atlantic and the coast in both directions. The food was fabulous, the view was perfect, it was an excellent place to enjoy the Ring of Kerry.
Afterward we continued south, with expansive views of ancient Celtic forts, sheep on the hills, brilliant reflections on the ocean, green green grass, and finally to the small colorful village of Sneem. With only a short stop, we still had time to walk to the river, eat a homemade ice cream cone, and find a geotour shop on the square that seduced me with rock samples, geology walk brochures, and yes, a big fat book of Irish geology. I am in heaven, my favorite kind of tour book, so worth the euros and the weight.
Mo and I both loved Waterville and Sneem, and decided that we could easily spend two weeks to a month here right on the Ring of Kerry, staying at a B&B in Sneem, and there are plenty to chose from. Sneem has weekly geology walks, gorgeous wildflowers, beautiful hikes in the hills and along the coast, great food, a wonderful small village feeling that was so enticing.
By late afternoon we were descending through the Molls Gap and down the winding mountain roads past the gorgeous lakes of Killarney National Park into the town of Killarney. Isabella was so proud of her plan to drop all of us off in town for more shopping before the bus returned to the hotel, a few miles from the town center. Several of us rebelled, shopping being low on our list after a long day riding, and Mo and I saw just enough of Killarney to find an ATM and a taxi stand. The trip back to the hotel was 12 Euro, but worth every penny since it gave us two full hours before we had to be ready to catch the bus back to town for our evening entertainment.
Most folks on this tour are paying for the tour organized and sponsored Castle Dinners with Irish Entertainment, very expensive, and often with preset food that isn't all that great. We have skipped those in favor of the scenic tours that we couldn't see any other way.
Yesterday, however, our bus driver and Isabella suggested a special show in town called Celtic Steps, and with free transportation and only 27.50 Euro for the show, we thought it would be a good choice. Good choice is an understatement! The show with lilting Irish music, bodhran drumming, Irish violin, and a young woman with a beautiful voice singing haunting songs in Gaelic was incredible. And yeah, I cried. I cried when she sang, I cried when the step dancers tore up the stage, I cried when the two men did that competition drumming thing with the bodhrans. Go figure. As I said, Ireland makes me cry.
Celtic Steps was like a mini Riverdance, with less than a dozen people, but they were so incredibly good, such fabulous musicians and entertainers, full of stories and songs and fabulous dancing. We got home by 11, and fell into bed exhausted, but still had trouble falling asleep after all the energy of the music and the breathtaking beauty of the day. I have managed to get this finished in time to go catch the bus this morning. Whew! We will be heading north toward Galway today, with a stop at Bunratty Castle..ABC...”Another Bloody Castle” where there is a small authentic folk village with demonstrations of early Irish life.
I do hope I have some energy left to actually explore Galway a bit this evening and find some of that great seafood.
I just realized that in all the excitement about seeing the Ring of Kerry, I forgot entirely that I started my day at 2:30 AM, setting the alarm to wake me in time to see the total lunar eclipse of the Supermoon. The skies were crystal clear, with brilliant stars and no clouds anywhere. Even though there was some ambient light from the hotel, I still managed to set up my little travel tripod on the picnic table to watch and try to photograph the beautiful moon.
It was just a little bit chilly, but the winds smelled wonderful, and the only sounds were the leaves around me rustling as I watched the moon turn from brilliant to just a sliver and then to a dusky red orange. Great way to start the day, and I even got a couple of hours of sleep after going back to bed.
Next up: Bunratty Castle and Galway….my least favorite day of the trip