So You Want to Go to Ireland! (Part 8): Finding the Magic

This series started with an introduction, and here are parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7.

In every long-awaited trip, there is a moment in which you open your eyes a little wider and think, Oh my. This was so worth it. Or you open your mouth and say it to your traveling companion. Sometimes it happens at the end of the day and one of your party says, “I think [insert activity here] was my favorite thing so far.”

When that happens, you’ve had a magic moment.

On my first trip to Ireland in 2003, Gerry and I were driving from one point to another on a Sunday morning and happened to pass Jerpoint Abbey. It hadn’t been on our itinerary, but there it was. Was it open? We walked in. The place was deserted. I took some stunning photos (back in the days when you had to send film off and hope you’d gotten good shots), taking my time to look at every single rock and blade of grass. The morning was silent but for the blackbirds flying above our heads. I can still remember everything like it was yesterday—it was magic.

The altar at Jerpoint Abbey.

The altar at Jerpoint Abbey.

Most of these moments are completely unplanned—what else could they be?—but there are two things you can do to invite the magic to show up.

1. Accept the fact that you’re going to be out of your comfort zone. Relax.
2. Allow plenty of time, both in days and hours. Cut, don’t cram.

Both of these things seem self-evident, but you’d be surprised how many American travelers I’ve run into who aren’t really enjoying a long-awaited vacation, and it can almost always be tracked back to these two things. So let’s review.

Remember, this isn’t the United States—you will be out of your comfort zone. That’s a guarantee. So adjust your attitude now. Unlock your preconceived notions and set those puppies loose, friends. It always astonishes me when folks whine about some little thing that is “different.” Because I say, YAY! I’ll be home soon enough. These differences will make your memories. These differences will engage your mind. These differences are things you’ll be thinking about years later. Embrace them.

Americans also have a tendency to try to cram as much as they can into their vacation time—but let’s rethink that too. If you’re looking at the map you may think, Oh, it’s only fifty miles. But if you’re driving that fifty miles in second gear—and I’ve done that, due to road conditions (that is, mountain-y roads)—it’s going to take awhile. You think this is a small country, but the roads are narrow and you don’t know how to drive on them. (Trust me on this.)

So cut your itinerary, don’t cram it. You don’t want to be running from one must-see venue to the next, zigzagging all over the country, driving, driving, driving. You won’t enjoy any of it. And you’ll drive right past the magic.

Some of this crammed-itinerary phenomenon has to do with the difference between abundance thinking and scarcity thinking. That’s another post for another time, but in this context it simply means you should assume not that this is the only time you’ll ever take a trip to a foreign land, but that life is long and abundant, and you’ll be back to see those things you left off your itinerary this time. Slow it down. Your experience will be richer if you take the time to fully savor your adventure.

This can be said about life in general, of course, but that, too, is another post for another time. 🙂

Make sure you build enough unstructured time into each day for dawdling. Gerry and I stopped for lunch at a pub in a small village (Leap). The back door was open, and we could hear water running; when we looked, there was a picnic table next to a little brook. We sat and ate there. Then we lingered over a fresh pot of tea, reading the newspaper we’d pulled from the rack out front. Doesn’t sound like much to you, maybe, but I remember that as a magic moment.

Stop frequently, for no reason than to stretch your legs. If you see something you’d like to photograph, pull over. Found a beach? Take a walk. Say hello; talk to the people you meet. Turn off the main road if you see an interesting sign; 2 kilometers is barely more than a mile, so check it out. Go on.

I’ve learned to keep a loosey-goosey schedule, so there’s always a plan B, in case we find a venue closed or too crowded. I’ve also learned to simply let things go, quickly, if they’re not working out. Flat tire? Put the spare on and drive to the next town. Don’t stew. You’ve paid too much for this vacation in money, energy, and time to spoil it by fretting over things you can’t control. I once took some fantastic photographs of a thunderstorm from the garage of a tire shop near Kenmare. Magic. 🙂

A sudden shower, over in five minutes!

A sudden shower, over in five minutes! See the tires?

Look for the magic, and you’ll find it. My friend Margaret and I were at St. Fin Barre’s cathedral in Cork when lunchtime arrived. “Is there a good restaurant good close by?” we asked a docent we’d been chatting with earlier. “Would a vegetarian place be OK?” She referred us to Café Paradiso. “I wouldn’t say it’s close, but you can walk there,” she said. So we did. It was packed at three o’clock in the afternoon, and in spite of our not having a reservation (!), they fit us in. It was one of the best meals I’ve ever had in my life. The ambience was electric, there was a couple at the table next to us who were relishing the meal and each other, and … well, it was magic. (Later, back home, I learned the restaurant is famous. Who knew!)

We had another magic meal on that trip—pears we’d picked up at a grocery store a week earlier and let ripen to perfection (juicy and sweet), eaten with a hunk of Cashel Blue we’d purchased earlier that day. Much less fussy than eating at a world-famous café, but just as memorable.

Remember the stealth sheep? I count that a magic moment. I count as magic the time we stopped by the side of the road so I could call my college-age son to get some important news; I woke him up. The sun was sparkling on the sea far below, and the news was very, very good.

Somewhere in County Donegal.

Stopping to make a phone call, somewhere in County Donegal.

I could go on and on. (And I will post other “magic moments” later.) The point I’m trying to make is this: Dawdling is allowed. There will be no tests on this vacation, no prizes awarded for Most Things Seen. Instead, look for your beauty, look for your delight … and you will find it. Magic.

The Obligatory Flat Tyre

Day 14 / Monday, 24 September 2012

A damp morning and since we were not technically in a B&B, there would be no breakfast on the premises. Jill knocked on the door around 8:30 and said they couldn’t be ready at nine because they’d slept rough … and that was fine. It took me longer to do everything—go up and down stairs, walk across the street, eat breakfast—due to my two pneumonia symptoms (huffing and puffing, and legs that felt like lead), so a little delay took the pressure off me.

Except, as it turns out, we needed every moment of that delay: Margaret and I took a load of bags to the car and discovered a flat tire. Actually, a flat tire on a rental car in Ireland shouldn’t come as a surprise—I read somewhere years ago that it is more common than not having a flat. Certainly Gerry and I had one on the 2003 trip (we did not on the 2006 trip, but we drove two different cars in two different weeks, so that may have had something to do with it).

So we stood there for a moment on the nearly empty Kenmare street (see the photo), wondering what we should do next (OK, OK, we knew what to do next—remove the spare tire from the trunk—we just weren’t in the mood, at 8:35 a.m., to do it). And about that time, a man drove by in a little beat-up Celica (I think it was a Celica).

“Do ye need some help?” he said in that lilting Kerry accent. The Kerry brogue is nearly unintelligible to me, but I had the presence of mind to realize he was offering help, and said, “Yes, yes, oh, God bless you, yes!”

“I’ll go around,” he said, swirling his hand in a circle. Kenmare’s main shopping district is a triangle, and traffic only flows one way; he was already past us. He took off. Margaret and I looked at each other; we may have giggled with relief. 🙂

And then there he was, all business and speed, changing the tire and the whole time keeping up a monologue of advice about what to do about the tire—don’t call the rental car company, just go get the tired fixed—and how much to pay. Most of which I could not understand. 🙂

Kenmare is dead at 8:35 in the morning. Thank God this guy—I never got his name—happened by. Yes, he is wearing Crocs.

Kenmare is dead at 8:35 in the morning. Thank God this guy—I never got his name—happened by. Yes, he is wearing Crocs.

His beautiful black dog got out of his car with a tennis ball in his mouth and coerced me into playing with him: he’d thrust the ball out along the street with his nose, and I’d kick it back.

“He’ll do that forever,” his owner said. “Never gets tired of it.”

A self-entertaining dog in Kenmare, Ireland.

An intense self-entertaining dog in Kenmare, Ireland.

Finally he was done, wouldn’t take money for his efforts, and Margaret and I needed a pot of tea in the worst way. So we ambled on into the Lansdowne Arms Hotel—directly across the street from our lodging and where we’d been headed before we noticed the flat tire—for breakfast. I called Alli quickly and told them to take more time because now we were getting a late start.

The Lansdowne Arms was lovely. Very civilized. We were greeted and seated and had a pot of tea in about two minutes. I’ve just read this is a family-owned hotel, so I suspect the woman who did all three of those things (it’s just not that busy at that hour of the morning in Ireland) was a family member. I explained to her about our tire situation and she got me a name and directions before we left.

Soon Jill and Alli showed up to have some breakfast, and while they were finishing up, I left to get the tire fixed. No sense in taking everyone, so the other three walked around Kenmare and shopped, since now it was around ten o’clock.

This is where I went, about five miles out of town. (Note: in Ireland it’s spelled tyre.) The driver of that SUV pulled in after me, but I’m such a goof I parked to the side. So this other fella swooped into the bay and was taken care of first. Rude, dude!

This is where I went, about five miles out of town. (Note: in Ireland it’s spelled tyre.) The driver of that SUV pulled in after me, but I’m such a goof I parked to the side. So this other fella swooped into the bay and was taken care of first. Rude, dude!

The shop was about five miles outside of town. Of course, five miles feels like a hundred when you don’t know exactly where you are going and you’ve left the metropolis (Kenmare is pop. 1,700) behind.

There could be worse views, from one’s office, than this. That’s the Killarney Road (the R569).

There could be worse views, from one’s office, than this. That’s the Killarney Road (the R569).

While I stood there, camera in hand, it began to rain. And then it was a regular ol’ cloudburst.

A storm blew in very quickly.

A storm blew in very quickly.

Here you can actually see the rain drops. :)

Here you can actually see the rain drops. 🙂

By the time the rain passed, the tire was plugged. The shop owner, Mike, had “essential tremor” and shook a little, but not when he worked. He was very efficient and nice; the tire cost just ten euro to fix.

So—a little delay, but not enough to ruin the day. I drove back to Kenmare, loaded up the gals, and we were back on track. We were on our way to the Dingle Peninsula. Alli had especially requested that our itinerary include Dingle, and I understood: I’d been here in 2003 and had fallen in love with the place. Those gorgeous, velvet-soft hills on the peninsula were like nothing I’d ever seen before.

But first we had to traverse Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. This is the rugged terrain in between Kenmare and Killarney National Park, all along the N71.

Heading into the mountains outside Kenmare, headed north-ish and west-ish. (Margaret’s photo.)

Heading into the mountains outside Kenmare, going north-ish and west-ish. (Margaret’s photo.)

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. See the little bit of road hanging off the hill? (Margaret’s photo.)

Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. See the little bit of road hanging off the hill? (Margaret’s photo.)

It was raining off and on but we stopped all along the way to take photos, finally arriving at Ladies’ View on the southwest end of the park. So-called because Queen Vicki passed through here in 1861, and her ladies-in-waiting thought the view was quite nice. And it is.

What the ladies viewed: the lakes of Killarney from Ladies’ View. Yes, it was raining.

What the ladies viewed: the lakes of Killarney from Ladies’ View. Yes, it was raining.

We drove on through the park and stopped at one of the lakes. (Margaret’s photo.)

We drove on through the park and stopped at one of the lakes. (Margaret’s photo.)

Everything looks so grey, but it really was pretty. Jill and Alli took a lot of photos here but I haven’t seen them.

Everything looks so grey, but it really was pretty. Jill and Alli took a lot of photos here but I haven’t seen them.

And then it would stop raining for awhile …

And then it would stop raining for awhile …

…when it did, we’d have rainbows! This one—our third—was really spectacular. Not sure where this was, except somewhere on the N71.

…when it did, we’d have rainbows! This one—our third—was really spectacular. Not sure where this was, except somewhere on the N71.

Once you’re in Killarney, you grab the N72 for about two miles, and then the R563. So you’re off the fancy road. 🙂 You continue northwest to Milltown (pop. 838), where you pick up the N70 for a couple miles until you get to Castlemaine (pop. 187), where you hang a sharp left onto the R561. This is where things get really interesting. The R561 hugs the southern coast of the Dingle Peninsula, and I do mean hug. Pull up Google Maps and have a look.

I have never had a problem with mountain driving, but them I’m always the driver. These extremely narrow roads with no shoulder, just a sheer drop-off, weren’t as easy for the passengers. When we got to the magnificent strand (beach) at Inch, we stopped for a breather. 🙂

The strand at Inch, looking west toward the tip of the peninsula.

The strand at Inch, looking west toward the tip of the peninsula.

The strand at Inch, looking due south. It’s hard to tell, but those mountains you see are actually on the Iveragh Peninsula, across the Castlemaine Harbour.

The strand at Inch, looking due south. It’s hard to tell, but those mountains you see are actually on the Iveragh Peninsula, across the Castlemaine Harbour.

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I was fascinated by the clouds and the sunlight shining through them onto the water (in the center of this photo). Again, the southwest corner of Ireland is like fingers on a hand, a series of peninsulas. This photo is taken from the southern edge of the Dingle Peninsula looking across at the Iveragh Peninsula.

The last ten miles from Inch into Dingle town veer away from the water’s edge, which was a little relief. We stopped several places

Everybody snapping photographs—even me!

Everybody snapping photographs—even me!

That’s the Great Blasket Island up ahead, on the other side of that shining water. (Margaret’s photo.)

That’s the Great Blasket Island up ahead, on the other side of that shining water. (Margaret’s photo.)

Dingle’s velvet valleys look soft enough to touch. (Margaret’s photo.)

Dingle’s velvet valleys look soft enough to touch. (Margaret’s photo.)

Such a great photo of Margaret! (Taken with Margaret’s camera.)

Such a great photo of Margaret! (Taken with Margaret’s camera.)

A little further down the road, Alli and Jill.

A little further down the road, Alli and Jill.

And then we were in Dingle (pop. 1,929). Dingle town—after all the tiny villages and hairpin curves you have to traverse to get here, which make you feel like you’re on the edge of the world—is bigger than you think it will be. It was also a lot more touristy than I remembered (and yet it had some of the nicest shops).

We found our B&B easily, but no one was home (it was only noon-ish, though; people have things to do), although there was washing out on the line, so they hadn’t gone far. So we went back into town for lunch.

It’s so hard to decide on a restaurant when you are driving in a crowded town. But—being still short on breath—I didn’t have the energy to walk the whole, hilly town to decide where to eat after the stressful drive, so we ended up in a place that wasn’t all that great … but would do.

The itinerary called for a spin around the Slea Head drive (pronounced SLAY Head)—a tour of the very tip of the peninsula that offers not only spectacular scenery but also some very interesting antiquities. It was, in fact, what we’d come to Dingle for, and I thought the setting sun would be nice. (We were, after all, in the spot at which one could truly say, “Next stop, America” … or at least “Next stop, Newfoundland.”) It was 1:30 and we’d be done by 5:00, with plenty of time to relax. However, Jill and Alli wanted to shop, so it was decided to do the drive in the morning.

We went our separate ways to shop—mostly because I just can’t keep up. And Margaret and I found many nice places to shop! Ha. We learned there is no VAT on books or children’s clothes. (I bought two books: High Shelves & Long Counters, and Ireland Unhinged. Margaret also purchased the former; we were amused to see we’d discovered it independently of one another.) Alli wanted to find the pub at which the movie Leap Year was filmed … but as you might guess, no part of it was actually made here, though the town figures largely in the plot.

St. Mary’s (Catholic) Church, on Green Street. Built in 1862, with services offered in Gaelic, because we’re in the Gaeltacht (although it didn’t feel as alien to me as it did in 2003).

St. Mary’s (Catholic) Church, on Green Street. Built in 1862, with services offered in Gaelic, because we’re in the Gaeltacht (although it didn’t feel as alien to me as it did in 2003).

Main Street, Dingle. (Margaret’s photo.)

Main Street, Dingle. (Margaret’s photo.)

I was fascinated by what was at the end of the street—and on that hill!

I was fascinated by what was at the end of the street—and on that hill!

An interesting old home on Main Street.

An interesting old home on Main Street.

Finally we made contact with the B&B, subsequently ran into Jill and Alli, and were off to our lodgings, the lovely Tower View B&B run by the delightful Mary Griffin. Of course, first I had to get lost finding the car, because that’s my way. 🙂 If I don’t have a map I get panicky, and I can get “turned around” easier than anyone you know. And all that walking in the rain. Good grief!

The Tower View, on Main Street (although the street may be called something different where they are), in Dingle. Plenty of parking! (Margaret’s photo.)

The Tower View, on Main Street (although the street may be called something different where they are), in Dingle. Plenty of parking! (Margaret’s photo.)

The view from our room: there really is a tower up there! (Eask Tower, built in 1847 to guid ships into the mouth of Dingle Harbor, which has a “blind” mouth.)

The view from our room: there really is a tower up there! (Eask Tower, built in 1847 to guid ships into the mouth of Dingle Harbor, which has a “blind” mouth.) That’s a wooden hand pointing to the left. 🙂 Remember, you can click on the photo to enlarge it, then click again to zoom in.

The B&B is very near the water, which you can see in this photo taken from the driveway. The rain had quit for the moment.

The B&B is very near the water, which you can see in this photo taken from the driveway. The rain had quit for the moment.

Tower View B&B is quite nice; I’d definitely stay here again. (I think it’s been featured in Rick Steves’s travel books,* so if you are coming during spring or summer, you should reserve way ahead. Like now.) Mary and her husband keep a small “petting zoo” (surely for the Yanks!) and an immaculate home with lovely rooms. Their dog, Benji, begins to herd the sheep the minute he has an audience.

A bucolic scene at dusk, sheep grazing peacefully. But note the pair of ears pricked in the lower right. (sigh)

A bucolic scene at dusk, sheep grazing peacefully. But note the pair of ears pricked in the lower right. (sigh)

Yes, that’s Benji, herding sheep, even when they don’t need to be herded. :)

Yes, that’s Benji, herding sheep, even when they don’t need to be herded. 🙂

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Sundown is really spectacular here in Dingle.

We didn’t go out that night, just spent it quietly reading and getting to bed early for a change. (I worked.) We’d need to get an early start, since the Slea Head drive had been moved into a day that had a very long drive. And a ferry ride!

* It should be noted I have a different preference in guide books.

Today’s Image

In Kenmare, the tire-changer’s black dog was exactly the sort of dog I love. He was—in the words of a dog rescue organization I try to support—a Big Fluffy Dog. He wasn’t overly familiar, didn’t feel the need to poke me with his nose; he also wasn’t restless, didn’t need to be called back. He was a dog of good behavior. But then … he spent a lot of time doing what you see here.

That is, staring at the spare tire.

That is, staring at the spare tire.

He was completely fixated on that tire—head pointed down, standing stock-still. What was it about that tire?

I’ll tell you: he’d dropped his small ball through that hole. None of us saw that. He waited and waited, then lay down next to the tire, never taking his eyes from it. When his master lifted the spare, the source of his anxiety was revealed, rolling toward the curb. (Not for long: the dog snapped it up again, ready to resume his game of catch with me.)

Tags: Kenmare, Dingle, Tower View B&B, Slea Head drive, Iveragh Peninsula, Dingle Peninsula, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ladies’ View

A Sunday Drive

Day 13 / Sunday, 23 September 2012

We were up and in Olive’s capable breakfast hands by nine o’clock. We were leaving Cork—we’d all loved it—but had a delightful day ahead of us yet.

Olive is a hoot. So personable, so generous, always smiling—and it’s clear she truly enjoys people.

I can’t tell you enough how much we all loved our stay at the Auburn House. It’s exactly what you look for in a B&B: comfy, quiet, reasonably priced. And Olive and her husband are just swell. I walked down to the car park to bring the car around and realized—go ahead, laugh—I didn’t have the car keys. So I huffed and puffed back up the hill and Olive took one look at me and sent Kieran off to do it.

Did I mention they’re good sports too? Margaret and I stayed in this room.

Everything was ready and waiting at the curb when he got there with the car. (Margaret’s photo.)

By this time I thought I was familiar enough with Cork—and the map of Cork—that I could get us to the highway but … I was not. We got a little lost. (It seemed so simple!) So finally we relied on GPS Emily, who did get us out of town. We were going to take a leisurely drive along the N71, a repeat of the route Gerry and I had taken, also on a Sunday, back in 2003. As then, our destination was Kenmare, taking the much-less-direct scenic route; I remembered this as a leisurely day, with plenty of time to stop, take pictures, and so on. Go ahead and pull it up on Google Maps—you’ll see.

And we hit the road, first heading due south out of Cork, with gradual tweaks to the west … through Bandon (pop. 6,640) … Clonakilty (pop. 4,150) … Rosscarbery (pop. 936). We were headed toward Glandore, and the Drombeg stone circle; right around Rosscarbery we left the N71 for the R597, thinking we were on our way.

But we weren’t, actually. I have searched and searched and searched Google Maps, trying to figure out where we ended up—but no joy. (I’m not kidding when I say I spent at least an hour looking at Google street photos, “driving” up and down the coast trying to determine the location. Something has changed, I guess.)

We ended up here, at a little beach. There was an empty lot, we pulled into it, got out, and crossed the road to this.

There were a couple people there with their dogs, but otherwise it was just us. And the rocks.

Most of the beach was this: round-ish, flat-ish rocks. (Margaret’s photo.)

Gosh, it was lovely. Misty, quiet. There were houses scattered around, but there didn’t seem to be a town, per se. We spent quite a bit of time there, taking pictures and picking up rocks (the two I picked up are sitting on the bookcase in the living room).

A few houses scattered around … and this is their private beach. (Margaret’s photo.)

It was pretty scenic. Lots of photos being taken. 🙂

Did I mention the rocks?

This is the sort of thing I never get tired of.

I’m always fascinated by shapes and lines. This is the dune grass. Don’t forget you can click on these photos to enlarge them.

I was intrigued by the gulls, floating on the water in a small flock. Waves were coming in at a good little clip, and they’d ride one until it was about to crest, then flutter up into the air—and settle back down again once it was past. Over and over. I walked back to the car to get the long lens and took several shots.

The seagulls: float, fly, settle, float, fly, settle, float, fly, settle.

Finally I asked one of the dog-walkers if we were on the road to Glandore. Nope! But he gave us directions and off we went, taking pictures along the way.

It’s pretty country. That’s the sea in the distance on the left.

We backtracked and followed the signs and all was well. Gerry and I just happened on the stone circle back in 2003; it wasn’t a plan. So I was a bit shocked to read in Wikipedia that this site is “one of the most visited megalithic sites in Ireland.” It is a one-lane road that takes you to Drombeg, and on that sunny day in 2003, we drove the last two or three hundred yards or so on a cart track, with the fuchsias lining the lane brushing the car on both sides. Let me tell you, I am genuinely glad we didn’t meet someone coming the opposite direction from this most-visited site.

Which is why, apparently, they’ve installed a little car park, right where the road goes from one lane to cart track.

This is the little cart track. I don’t remember the stone wall, only walls of fuchsias. (Margaret’s photo.)

Fuchsias—they’re everywhere in Ireland. And they come in a rainbow of colors.

So we parked, and walked up the lane. It’s a nice little stroll, listening to the bees buzz in the fuchsia. As always, Jill and Alli were long out of sight up the lane, but then I looked around and I was alone. Margaret wasn’t with me. Margaret? I called. Margaret? I walked back. Margaret? Then there she was, coming around the curve looking very self-satisfied, with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin—she’s been picking and eating wild blackberries. 🙂

And then there we were—step through a hedge, and there is a Bronze Age circle.

Drombeg stone circle. It’s right there. Here the two prominent stones in the foreground are the portal stones; on the right-hand side of the photo toward the back is the recumbent altar stone.

The recumbent stone, known as Druid’s Altar, can be glimpsed on the left, just to the right of the leaning stone. (Margaret’s photo.)

I kept trying to show you the altar stone, which I’d failed to get a good shot of. But here it is in all its glory! (Jill’s photo.)

I kept trying to show you the altar stone, which I’d failed to get a good shot of. But here it is in all its glory! (Jill’s photo.)

This is the stone in the center of the circle. Some little offerings had been recently left.

Just west of the circle are the remains of two prehistoric huts and their cooking pit, called a fulacht fiadh. This is how the ancients cooked: the pit was filled with water, perhaps diverted from a stream. A fire was built next to the pit; stones were heated in the fire, then dropped into the water, which then came to a boil—and cooked the meat placed in the water.

The cooking pit. (Margaret’s photo.)

When cooking was finished, the water was allowed to run out of the pit.

What’s left of the two huts, which were conjoined.

Back in the car, we continued on the R597 to rejoin the N71. This would take us through the village of Glandore. We stopped along the way, of course, to take photos! Lots of photos!

On the R597 headed toward Glandore, which is arranged along the right side of this bay, mostly out of view here. But look for the grey church (steeple on the left), down near the water. (Margaret’s photo.)

Looking the other way, this is the mouth of Glandore Harbour. (Margaret’s photo.)

Now we’re in Glandore. See the mouth of the harbor? Those two islands are called Adam and Eve (although I don’t know which is which). Instructions given to sailors are “Avoid Adam and hug Eve”! (Margaret’s photo.)

Same spot, looking the other direction. The church I mentioned earlier is just out of frame on the far right.

As we came through Glandore, we realized Alli needed her morning coffee and it was noon and we were all ready for something to eat. And there was a pub … so we stopped. I don’t mind saying we would have a very memorable lunch here. 🙂

I’ve always been in Ireland during the off-season, so I only hear about things like the regatta held here every August. Glandore Harbour is large, long and narrow—perfect for such sailing events. The village itself has a population of less than a thousand, but several nice restaurants and pubs (although there are no shops).

This is the main street in Glandore. I don’t even like to think about what this tiny street is like in the summer months!

It’s a pub. (Margaret’s photo.)

The Glandore Inn looked nice and we went inside. And even though you’ll have noticed how overcast it was, even though there was a considerable amount of mist in the air, we decided to sit outside. Because all in all it was a very nice day—and there was that spectacular view of the bay.

Deciding what we’ll have for lunch, but it was hard with that view distracting me.

Here’s that church again, just a little way down the road from where we sat.

We had a really, really nice lunch. I chose parsnip and blue cheese soup (it was wonderful) and Margaret is still raving about the fish chowder she had. It even rained on us once, but such was the charm of the day that no one panicked, no one rose to take cover. This was Ireland, after all; we just carried on. And the rain passed after a few minutes. We lingered and enjoyed the moment. There was a little dog that belonged to the owners of the B&B down the road … but who was apparently a regular at the pub, as she had her own bowl just outside the door—although her preference was for treats from the patrons (Jill slipped her a few goodies).

Parsnip and blue cheese soup. It was MAH-velous.

But Kenmare was waiting, so we followed the road back up to Leap (locals pronounce it Lep; the population is fewer than one thousand) then turned west onto the N71. Through Skibbereen (pop. 2,000) … and then we spent a little time trying to find the Baltimore Beacon, although we eventually had to turn back without success. Those tiny roads can get confusing, and the afternoon was wearing on, and we still had a way to go to get to Kenmare. And that way isn’t always easy driving.

So … onward, N71. Turned sharply north at Ballydehob (pop. 810) and headed toward Bantry (pop. 3,309), which has a spectacular bay. The road drives right alongside the water, and has many places to pull over to admire the natural beauty.

An early look at Bantry Bay.

Just before you get into Bantry town, there is a bayside cemetery that really grabs your attention. Gerry and I had stopped here in 2003—before they turned it into a tourist attraction. Bantry Bay is quite large, and has been the site of more than one maritime disaster—now memorialized in a small park just next to the cemetery (which seems to house local residents, not disaster victims). This turned out to be a theme on this trip: things have been “improved” … but I mostly don’t care much for the improvements.

It’s quite crowded, this cemetery just outside Bantry.

But then … this. I know it’s intended to be all beautiful and hopeful (see next photo) but honestly, it spooked me.

In remembrance of those who lost their lives in Bantry Bay.

Perhaps you see it as the spirit of love? Looks too much like drowning people to me. (I should add that drowning is a personal freak-out fear of mine.)

And then back in the car! We must keep going! Except, of course, when nature calls in Glengarriff (population 800). We popped into a gas station to use the facilities. Next door, a massive hotel. Across the street, still, the bay.

This is the Glengarriff Eccles Hotel.

Walked across the street to look at the beautiful bay. See those mountains? We’re about to drive through them.

As we drove through the shopping district in Glengarriff, some shops piqued our interest, so we stopped again. The most interesting thing (although one shop had some nice sweaters, with a good selection and prices—and if you’re in Ireland, a sweater is a good souvenir to buy) turned out to be the garda (police) station!

It’s pink! And look at those magnificent hydrangeas! They were were fading, nearing the end of their season, but still lovely, I thought. (Margaret’s photo.)

When Gerry and I were making our way to Kenmare nine years ago, he warned me that those last twenty miles into the town are … exciting (even with the pause!), and I did try to warn my traveling companions how wildly beautiful it is, the pass through the Caha Mountains … in the late afternoon … in the rain … through the tunnels. I have tons of photos of this stretch of the road from that trip. I have no photos from this trip, as the mountain road was a little too exciting for some members of the party. So we just didn’t stop. 🙂 However, I want you to see this—so here’s a little video that I am thrilled to have located. And it was made on a pretty, sunny day.

At last we arrived in Kenmare (pop. 2,175). In the pouring rain (although it did stop, finally). Both times I’ve been here it’s been late in the day without any time left on the schedule to explore … and what was on the schedule today was dinner at Tom Crean’s, a locally celebrated restaurant. (We also lodged here for the night; there are a few rooms upstairs, though it is not a B&B, as no breakfast is offered.) It’s named for Kerryman Tom Crean, who enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen and in 1901 volunteered to join Robert Scott’s Antarctic expedition. He participated in four major British expeditions to Antarctica, including the one led by Ernest Shackleton.

A view of Tom Crean’s restaurant and accommodations, on the corner. Parking must be found on the street. You check in inside, but then must come back outside and walk around the corner to go up to the rooms. Interesting. Our room was on the corner. (Margaret’s photo.)

View (to the left) from our window—yes! And Margaret actually got to visit. (Margaret’s photo.)

View straight out of our window. We had breakfast here the next morning. (Margaret’s photo.)

Beautiful downtown Kenmare! I love how wide the street is, actually. (Margaret’s photo.)

As noted, Tom Crean’s has quite a word of mouth reputation for fine dining, and we were looking forward to it—even more so because Gerry knows the owner/chef. He had called and made these reservations especially for us. And as it turns out, this may have set the bar for our expectations too high.

I’m sure the restaurant is very nice. Lots of folks have left glowing reviews on TripAdvisor and such. But it wasn’t good for us. Jill and Alli declined to eat there, and they may have been right to do so. Again, the service was very, very slow. We’d had slow service at the Shelbourne for tea, it was slowish at the Pearl Brasserie in Dublin, it was very slow at Paradiso Café, the vegetarian restaurant in Cork. And it was extremely slow at Tom Crean’s.

Again, I think this is must be an Irish thing. I was checking the review of Tom Crean’s and found this, from the owner/chef: “As regards the bill, I have warned the staff to allow guests to relax and enjoy their evening and not present the bill until requested.” So clearly this is a cultural difference from the States; we are brought a bill, usually with a cheerful “don’t rush!” and we sit there until we are ready to get up. No one feels pressure just because the bill is lying there, nor do we feel pressured if the bill’s been paid and we’re still sitting there chatting. So that’s an illumination, for sure, about how to dine out in Ireland.

But get this: we were seated at 6:30, and the restaurant wasn’t busy, just a couple people in the dining room. It had been a long day, and we were ready to eat. Bread was brought, which we devoured, but the water didn’t come with it; we weren’t brought water until after 7:00. The starters arrived at 7:30. (Mine was French onion soup, but thickened, and not all that special; I’ve had better out of a can, honestly.) Again, the dining room was quiet; this was Sunday evening. The menu is predominantly fish and seafood, which is not good for me; I ordered the one chicken item on the menu, and it was unmemorable. Although I did eat it, because it didn’t arrive until after 8:00. That’s ninety minutes before the entrée arrived. And yes, we waited and waited and waited for the check; it was 9:30 before we were released from this award-winning (and expensive!) restaurant.

I should note that not all the service was this slow: the man at the next table came in long after us and was served before us. He was eating his dessert by the time our entrees arrived. So not only did we not get any sort of acknowledgment (“Oh, you’re the Yanks Gerry called us about!”), we actually got worse service than others in the room. I really hate to give a bad review, especially to a place I’d really anticipated with excitement. I hate to say it, also, because I checked the reviews online as I wrote this, and while most are enthusiastic, a few folks had the same sort of experience we had—slow service, so-so food, and high prices—and in every case, the owner responded very defensively (at least to these American eyes).

I won’t recommend this as a place to stay either. There’s no parking; you park on the street (good luck with that) and then roll your luggage up the hill. And you enter the accommodations from outside the restaurant. The wi-fi didn’t work; I called and asked what I was doing wrong but got no sympathy other than “It’s slow for us too.” Our room was freezing, with three single beds squished into it; the light in the hall was on all night; the rooms had ridiculous antique keys that were difficult to use every time. There was also a sharp point (the end of a nail, hammered up from the bottom) sticking up on the tabletop; I became aware of it pretty quickly but a person could hurt herself on that. The tiny cheap duvet cover barely covered the top of the bed; I had to tuck myself in like a sleeping bag to stay covered. I don’t think they’re particularly interested in the lodging part of the business, frankly. Which is fine; I don’t think I’ll ever go there again. Good night!

Today’s Image

The man seated at the table next to us in Tom Crean’s seemed to get a meal from a different chef in a different kitchen. He relished every bite. Then he chose the cheese tray from the dessert menu—and I truly lusted after it. There were four different cheeses, with fruit, artfully arranged. I could have easily made a meal from it! Yum!

The Ring of Kerry Is a Jewel (1/2)

Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Kenmare, Co. Kerry – Killorglin, Co. Kerry

Kenmare is a town to which I’d like to return when I have more time. It’s situated at the head of Kenmare Bay, right on the sea, and yet gives access to some of the loveliest inland countryside in Ireland. In addition, there are two peninsulas to explore—the Iveragh and the Beara—with rugged coastlines and sheltered coves (this was smuggling territory once), as well as many hiking, biking, and golfing opportunities. One could spend a whole vacation right there, in County Kerry, where the locals have a lilting, song-like accent.

On this stretch of road we saw a wide gamut of land formation.

On this stretch of road we saw a wide gamut of land formation.

One minute smooth sailing … the next shifting down into second.

One minute smooth sailing … the next shifting down into second.

For once we were not the only early risers in the dining room: there were four older Americans, dressed for biking, and a younger couple, neither bikers nor American. Since people-watching is something I enjoy, and since Americans do speak rather loudly, breakfast was quite interesting!

But soon we were back in the car, on the popular route called “the Ring of Kerry,” which circles the Iveragh Peninsula. We didn’t have time to travel the entire Ring, so we drove south to Sneem, for just a taste.

This was taken just past Sneem, 2003.

This was taken just past Sneem, 2003.

A view of Kenmare Bay from the N70.

A view of Kenmare Bay from the N70.

Another view of Kenmare Bay.

Another view of Kenmare Bay.

Then we circled around again, on smaller back-roads (R568), climbing into the mountains (Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, they’re called!) on twisting roads—and with sheep everywhere.

In the Reeks, 2003.

In the Reeks, 2003.

Very mountain-y. :)

Very mountain-y. 🙂

I know I keep mentioning the sheep, but I really found this aspect of driving quite charming: sheep munching grass, sheep asleep on the side of the road (literally), sheep watching us pass, or not. Sheep taking a stroll in the road. Sheep decorating the landscape in every possible way. Black-faced sheep, white-faced sheep. Sheep, sheep, sheep!

See the sheep?

See the sheep? You can click on the photo to enlarge, then click again to zoom in.

We drove through Moll’s Gap on the N71, which cuts through bleak bogland and high mountains, with stunning views… which we only occasionally had to share with tour buses.

Taken at Moll’s Gap of the valley below, 2003.

Taken at Moll’s Gap of the valley below, 2003.

Taken at Moll’s Gap, 2003.

Taken at Moll’s Gap, 2003.

Even my smattering of geology helped me recognize a sweet little corrie lake (corries formed in glacial times, when ice slid down the side of a mountain and carved out a bowl, which became the lake; corries are quite round, and deep, and the surrounding terrain looks almost like an armchair, with a high cliff on one side). This is such an old, old land, and it wears its origins right out where you can see it, if you know what you’re looking at.

A corrie: this is the back of the armchair.

A corrie: this is the back of the armchair. It slopes down on either side, which forms the arms, embracing the lake.

The lake is the seat of the armchair. This one stretched to very near the road. There are magnificent corries in Ireland; this one is minor, but I was delighted to have spotted it.

The lake is the seat of the armchair. This one stretched to very near the road. There are magnificent corries in Ireland; this one is minor, but I was delighted to have spotted it.

There were so many spectacular views to take photos of, I was starting to see even twelve inches on the outside of the yellow line that defines the edge of the road as room enough to pull over! God knows everyone else did it (those crazy tourists)!

At least there’s a lay-by at Ladies’ View, so named because when Queen Victoria visited the area in 1861, her ladies-in-waiting were quite taken with the view.

At least there’s a lay-by at Ladies’ View, so named because when Queen Victoria visited the area in 1861, her ladies-in-waiting were quite taken with the view.

From here we passed into Killarney National Park, which encompasses the so-called Lakes of Killarney—Upper Lake, Muckross Lake, and Lough Leane, the furthest north.

Upper Lake, the smallest of the Lakes of Killarney.

Upper Lake, the smallest of the Lakes of Killarney.

The interesting thing about Ireland is that one moment you can be in the lowlands, the next in rugged coastal terrain, into mountains, and then all at once into a deep forest, indistinguishable, really, from the deep forests I know from my youth in northern California. Deep shade, and pine needles everywhere.

Inside the park, on the shores of a beautiful lake, is the focal point—Muckross House, built 1839–1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, the watercolorist Mary Balfour Herbert. This was actually the fourth house that successive generations of the Herbert family had occupied at Muckross over a period of almost two hundred years.

We parked, intending to walk to the house. But local entrepreneurs have set up near the site, offering rides on the grounds in “jaunting cars”—a horse-drawn, two-wheeled cart, the technology of which hasn’t changed in hundreds of years. At rest, the cart tilts up; it requires the weight of a body or two to bring it level. The young woman who approached us was hard to resist, and soon I found myself looking at the inside of a cart tilted nearly vertical, into which I was expected to pull myself!

I must say, once we were loaded, the cart ride really was an exhilarating way to view the gardens and approach the house.

We truly got car door to front door service.

We truly got car door to front door service, as if we’d come to visit a hundred years ago.

A view of Muckross House, 2003.

A view of Muckross House, 2003.

We were let off at the house, which we toured on our own. The rest of its history is that it was purchased in 1899 by a member of the Guinness (yes, that Guinness) family, who rented it out to wealthy parties, primarily for its fishing and game hunting. Then in 1911 the property was bought by William Bowers Bourn, a wealthy American, as a wedding present for his daughter Maud and her Irish husband. But Maud died unexpectedly in 1929, and three years later her husband and her parents presented Muckross House and its estate to the Irish nation, which thereby created Ireland’s first National Park. Today the principal rooms are furnished in Victorian period style and portray the elegant lifestyle of the nineteenth-century land-owning class.

A view from an upstairs bedroom at Muckross House. Yes, you are not supposed to bring cameras in, but this is to protect the house from the flash built in on so many cameras. But I walked in with my old film camera that did not have a flash. I respected the embargo and did not take photos inside, but felt that no one would begrudge me this view of the lake.

A view from an upstairs bedroom at Muckross House. Yes, you are not supposed to bring cameras in, but this is to protect the house from the flash built in on so many cameras. But I walked in with my old film camera that did not have a flash. I respected the embargo and did not take photos inside, but felt that no one would begrudge me this view of the lake. Wouldn’t that have been a fine sight to wake up to?

A last look at Muckross Lake before we caught our ride back to the car.

A last look at Muckross Lake before we caught our ride back to the car.

Leaving the park, we drove into Killarney for a brief shopping stop—I bought a beautiful red sweater. Killarney is pretty touristy, though, so we moved on to the village of Killorglin, where we had lunch at Kerry’s Vintage Inn (a pub, natch). I ordered the Guinness beef stew, a huge bowl of stew meat and carrots, which would have been plenty, but which was accompanied by a large bowl of … well, plain boiled potatoes. Under normal circumstances I would not have thought a bowl of boiled potatoes to be particularly exciting, but I must tell you that these were the most flavorful spuds I have ever put in my mouth!

Since this post has gotten long, I’ll stop here and continue in another entry. Stay tuned!

Unexpected Beauty … Everywhere

Today we’d see how the geography of a country no larger than the state of Indiana can change dramatically from old, rolling mountains to stark cliffs towering over jewel-blue seas to pastureland, wetlands, bogs … The terrain constantly reinvents itself, and it was this ever-changing scenery that took my breath away, every day.

Monday, September 15
Kinsale, Co. Cork – Kenmare, Co. Kerry

Our hosts at the Dooneen House B&B had been in Dublin for the hurling match, but we’d heard them return home the previous evening near 11pm … and they were up bright and early to cook us breakfast. Gerry is a sports fanatic, and he smoothed the way wherever we went with intelligent sports “small talk,” as he did that morning. Cork having lost (to Kilkenny), the homeowners were, in their words, shattered.

This was to be an easy day: our final destination, Kenmare, was less than 100 miles away, but we were going to take the scenic route, meandering along the Irish southern coast. We went from Kinsale to Inishannon to Bandon to Timoleague to Clonakilty to Rosscarbery to Leap, where we stopped and bought a paper, the Irish Examiner. We were going to stop in Glandore (“glanDOOR”), or near Glandore, to see the Drombeg stone circle.

I am fascinated by antiquities, always have been, and Ireland is an ancient land. We arrived without a single wrong turn—I was learning to spot the signposts and Gerry had become by this time an excellent navigator—and parked, and hiked in from the road.

We drove up this lane, the fuchsias brushing the car on both sides, the bees a-buzzing. To Drombeg, 2003.

We drove up this lane, the fuchsias brushing the car on both sides, the bees a-buzzing. To Drombeg, 2003.

Wild fuchsias, Co. Cork, 2003.

Wild fuchsias, Co. Cork, 2003.

The stone circle is a bit out of the way, and we had it, that morning, almost entirely to ourselves. Dating back to 150 BC, this circle of standing stones is thirty feet in diameter; at the winter solstice, the rays of the setting sun fall on the flat altar stone that faces the entrance to the circle.

Drombeg ston circle on a pretty day in 2003.

Drombeg ston circle on a pretty day in 2003.

Come closer; we won’t bite! Drombeg, 2003.

Come closer; we won’t bite! Drombeg, 2003.

The site also encompasses a well and water trough that was used to cook meat (by dropping hot rocks into the water!), and the remains of two stone huts, all from the Bronze Age. Wow.

The cooking area, water trough at center, which was heated to boil meat.

The cooking area, water trough at center, which was heated to boil meat.

Foreground left, remains of a hut; the cooking pit is on the right. The stone circle can be seen in the background.

Foreground left, remains of a hut; the cooking pit is on the right. The stone circle can be seen in the background.

As was always the case, the scenery was majestic, and mind-blowing. We were just on what I’d call back-roads, puttering along, the windows open, listening to talk radio (a conversation with the biographer of Iris Murdoch, a British author whose novels I’ve actually read, in addition to her husband’s lovely biography), and a general feeling of well-being.

Along Glandore Harbour, 2003.

Along Glandore Harbour, 2003.

We’d pull over in turn-outs and lay-bys to take photos; a turn-out is a wide spot on a road with no shoulder, large enough for one or two cars, while a lay-by is an actual parking lot, maybe five to ten cars, where there is a particularly scenic spot. (This saves people from doing what they would do otherwise, which is pull off onto the hard shoulder, if there is one, or—why not live a little?—pull as much onto the shoulder as is possible, leaving the car half in the road. Other drivers simply drive around it, as if that’s perfectly normal and natural. At first this horrified me, but then I began to do it myself.)

Like here. How could I not? I leaped out of the car to take this shot, and it’s probably my favorite.

Like here. How could I not? I leaped out of the car to take this shot, and it’s probably my favorite.

From the stone circle we drove to Skibbereen, where we stopped, shopped, and walked around, just to stretch our legs. On our way out of town, we happened upon a “famine memorial,” so we pulled over. Skibbereen was particularly hard hit by the repeated failure of the potato crop in the 1840s: over 10,000 people died locally. In all Ireland lost a million of its citizens to starvation and disease caused by malnutrition; another one million immigrated to avoid death. This two million souls was half the population of the island at the time, and the Republic has never fully recovered.

Famine memorial, Skibbereen, 2003.

Famine memorial, Skibbereen, 2003.

Back in the car, the scenery began to change, to a rougher, rocky, almost harsh landscape. We were very near the sea, on the Mizen Peninsula, and we’d catch glimpses of it as the road swung back and forth between coast and hill, through Ballydehob, Schull (pronounced “Skull”), and Toormore. I saw a lay-by there and pulled over to take photos of the sea below.

The bay at Toormore, Ireland, 2003.

The bay at Toormore, Ireland, 2003.

As we followed the footpath to get closer, we stumbled on a stone altar grave.

Toormore altar grave, 2003.

Toormore altar grave, 2003.

At the site of Toormore altar grave. The mountain you see in the far distance, center, is Mizen Peak.

At the site of Toormore altar grave. The mountain you see in the far distance, center, is Mizen Peak.

Dating from 3000 to 2000BC, the entrance of this tomb directly lines up with Mizen Peak in the far distance (although the little sign posted at the site doesn’t say what the significance of this might be). The altar stone is about waist-high; again, I don’t know what rituals were performed here by the ancients, but they have unearthed burned human bones, pottery and other artifacts on this spot.

Toormore altar grave, also called a wedge tomb. It’s lovely, don’t you think?

Toormore altar grave, also called a wedge tomb. It’s lovely, don’t you think?

The reason it is called an altar tomb is that in the seventeenth century, when Oliver Cromwell turned Catholics out of their churches and forbade them by law to practice their religion (more on this later), the people and priests sought out these ancient, remote holy places, and celebrated mass in the outdoors, using the old graves as altars, since they were just the right height. It was pretty exciting to come upon this so unexpectedly; I was so new to Ireland that I hadn’t yet figured out that these ancient places are everywhere.

Bantry Bay, from a distance.

Bantry Bay, from a distance.

Cemetery by Bantry Bay, 2003. “No ball playing.”

Cemetery by Bantry Bay, 2003. “No ball playing.”

Bantry Bay, 2003.

Bantry Bay, 2003.

We had lunch in Bantry, pub grub served outside on a wooden deck, beside a swiftly flowing creek. We lingered over tea, reading the newspaper … I wish I could adequately describe the feeling of the wind in my hair, the smell of the sea air, the feel of the sun.

As we left Bantry, the country got wilder and wilder.

As we left Bantry, the country got wilder and wilder.

The last twenty miles into Kenmare, as we crossed into County Kerry, were, as Gerry had warned me, “exciting”—extremely narrow (what’s the point, I ask myself, of painting a line down the middle of a road that’s only ten feet wide?) and winding, climbing into rocky hills.

And wilder. We were entering the Caha Mountains.

And wilder. We were entering the Caha Mountains.

There were sheep everywhere. I barely got out of second gear, which was good, actually, because when I say there were sheep everywhere, I mean they were not behind the fences lining the road. Well, ok, some of them were on the pasture side of the fence. And some of them were on the road side of the fence. Some of them were <ahem> in the road. Somehow sheep and drivers manage to avoid mishap.

In the Caha Mountains, approaching Kenmare. I also love this photo.

In the Caha Mountains, approaching Kenmare. I also love this photo.

We arrived in Kenmare (pronounce this “kenMARE”) in midafternoon, and easily found the Brandylochs B&B, which was within walking distance of the town center (this had been advertised for the Kinsale B&B, but was, shall we say, a slight exaggeration). The business was being seen to, that afternoon, by the homeowners’ nineteen-year-old son, while his parents were off on an anniversary trip. This was his last act of filial duty for the season, as he was about to leave for college in Dublin, where he was planning to study law (which he pronounced “lore”) … and I know all this because … well, I do love teen-aged boys, knowing at least one of that species rather well, and consider it my sworn duty to help civilize the ones I meet by engaging them in conversation, whether they want to be thus engaged or not. 🙂

Had dinner that night in Foley’s Bar/Restaurant in town. Next up, the spectacular lakes of County Kerry, so stay tuned!

UPDATE: Brandylochs is no longer a B&B, it seems, but the home can be rented by the week.