Ireland gets stunning
13.08.2009 16 °C
Finally - caught up to present! Today was a particularly long day, but well worth it. I saw some of the most beautiful sights today and caught up on a lot of Irish history. This may be a long entry, but stick with me. I have some great pictures of this I cannot wait to share.
So - we woke up in Kilorglin and had breakfast at our B&B, which was very very nice and clean - a great improvement over Kilarney. Raquel, unfortunately, was feeling under the weather. She actually had been for a few days but today it really hit her. We almost decided to stay in Kilorglin and rest up, but she was adamant that we press on and boy am I glad she was. After breakfast we refilled our tank with unleaded petrol and out onto the "ring of Kerry" we went.
For those of you not familiar with the Ring of Kerry its essentially a road that goes in a loop around the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry. It covers some of the more scenic parts of Ireland. We first stopped at the Glenbeigh Strand - a little beach that juts out into Dingle bay and faces the Atlantic on one side and the bay on the other. The beach was mostly rocky but the scenery was stunning. It was just the begging.
We continued along the Ring and stopped at a few look outs over the Dingle Bay. Again the view was surreal and the pictures I am certain will not do it justice. Our next major stop, however, was Cahirciveen, a little town along the peninsula with a huge history. This town, in the mid-1800s was a major urban center in the mid-19th century. It had a booming population of 30,000 (!) people and was the site of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph. Then the great famine struck and Cahirciveen and the rest of the ring of Kerry (as well as all of Ireland) was decimated. Millions died. Millions emigrated. Today Cahirciveen has a population of only 1300 people and an empty countryside. Its hard to imagine the magnitude of death and destruction that rocked Ireland 150 years ago but "the Old Barracks" - our first destination in Cahirciveen does a good job of painting the bleak picture. The barracks were built in the early 19th century by the British to establish a military presence in the urban area. Legend has it that the plans for the barracks were confused with an army outpost in India so that the barracks looks more like an Indian frontier outpost than a typical Irish barracks and a frontier outpost in India looks surprisingly like an Irish barracks. Pretty funny - especially considering the barracks looks way out of place in Ireland. In any event, the barracks were historically a symbol of English power and during the Irish Civil War of 1921 the anti-treaty forces burned it. It was subsequently restored in the 1990s and made into something of a historic museum of the region. As a result it covered the famine (and other history) in depth. It paints a dark picture of people dying in their fields and homes in the countryside - wherever they fell. I'd strongly recommend seeing this site if one ever travels to Ireland. It also showed pictures of abandoned houses in the countryside - houses that were abandoned during the great famine either because their owners died or emmigrated. As we continued along the Ring of Kerry these abandoned houses dotted the countryside. Stone and often overgrown with bushes and weeds, they stand, even today, as a testament to a time of great suffering; a time that would change the course of Irish and United States history.
After the Barracks we stopped by 16th Century castle ruins that were unbelievably gorgeous. The castle, Ballycarbery, was out in the open and over grown with Ivy but still had stairs and multiple floors. It was, like the Connor Pass, also the stuff of Irish legends. Raquel and I explored every corner of it that we could and took some stunning pictures. Adding to the image were rolling green mountains in the distance. I could have stayed there all day.
After that we continued further west. Again, abandoned houses continued to bring a sad history alive before my eyes as we drove through the breathtaking country side. The ring of Kerry path turned south, but Raquel and I wanted to see the Skellig ring, essentially an 18 km detour that takes you nearly as far west as you can go in all of Europe. We stopped in a town called Portmagee for a fantastic lunch. I had the local mussels seasoned in garlic and cream sauce - fantasticness in a dish. Portmagee was not more than a strip of buildings with Valencia island in the background, but it was stunningly picturesque (I know I keep using that word, but really, all of this was unbelievably gorgeous). After lunch, we continued along and drove up a hillside that overlooked Portmagee and the surrounding countryside. The Skellig islands - the western most point of all of Europe - were clearly visible and we even got some sunlight at this point in our trip. We drove down and up another mountain, through winding narrow roads with spectacular views. We came down the otherside and promptly got lost. The skellig loop, it turns out, is more of obelisk. It also isn't on any map qe had. We stopped to ask for directions and actually could not find anyone who spoke English, only Irish. This was a first - everyone we had run into thus far spoke both English and Irish, though Dingle only had Irish roadsigns (contributing to our debacle up there). It was very interesting.
Nonetheless we soon found our way and were soon back on the ring of Kerry. We took a quick detour to Ballinskelligs where we saw the remains of a 12th century monastery that was converted into a cemetery - confirming what we'd heard in Ennis that the Irish like to be buried near historic holy sites. We also stopped by an art gallery. It was all very nice.
After that we were back on the ring of Kerry. We again stopped at a few spots to take pictures including at a church that was built on the side of a mountain. We also stopped near the summit of a mountain and I thought it would be a good idea to climb up to the summit. The view was spectacular, but getting down was not so easy. It was cold, wet and slippery. Suffice it to say that by about half way down, climbing up in the first place seemed like a pretty terrible idea. Still, we have some good pictures from the summit.
I think we spent a lot of energy on that climb because after that we seemed pretty pooped. We went down to the Derrynane house, which was (mercifully) closed and saw the Ogham stone that had notches representing the ancient Irish alphabet. Raquel was not impressed with this stone and vowed to write a letter (to someone) about how poorly labeled it was. As a result, we do not have a picture of this rock.
We continued on with only one more stop on this fantastic ring. By now it had started to lightly rain but we wanted to make sure to see the Staigue Fort - a late iron age fortress built by an Irish Chefton before Catholicism arrived in Ireland. It was stunning, 6 meter high walls that are, at places, 4 meters thick, it has a marvelous view of the ocean. We could walk around it, climb up it, and walk on top of it. We're talking about a 1600 year old structure made only of rock, pressed against two mountains that is still standing and that we could walk around on. The history was palpable. I hope the pictures came out well.
After Staigue Fort we were done. We booked it to Kenmare, where we currently are. Upon arriving at our B&B we were exhausted. We didn't quite bite off more than we could chew, but it was close. I posted part 4 of this story and we went out for dinner where I had a well deserved guinness (or 3) and an irish coffee. After dinner live music picked up and it turned out to be very enjoyable. We heard such irish classics as "chicago," "I drink when I'm dry," "What do you do with a drunken sailor" and "country roads."* Kenmare seems like a great town, with lively pubs and nice people. It has a great feel to it. Plus the B&B we are at is fantastic (and it has internet). We got in around 11 and I've been posting ever since (its about 1 now).
In sum, today was a gorgeous day. I had my fill of sights and history. I ate well and I relaxed well. A very satisfying day. I believe Raquel feels the same. I'm feeling nearly full strength and I think Raquel is doing a lot better now as well. We'll be off to County Cork tomorrow. Ideally we'll end up in Cobh tomorrow night and hopefully I'll have internet to post again. Thanks for the patience. Please feel free to comment/ask questions/whatever after you read this. I'll try to get back to ya!
- Not at all Irish, but was played