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Published: June 10th 2011
Kenmare was our first stop in County Kerry. On a bank holiday long weekend (and the Kenmare Walking Weekend, no less) it was packed with visitors. We saw at least two hen’s parties trawling around the town in their finest sparkly getups. We watched the Ireland vs Macedonia Euro 2012 qualifier in one of the pubs.
We visited Kenmare’s local sights – a mini-Stonehenge-like ring of stones, the Cromwell Bridge (a small, very old stone bridge that’s not named after Cromwell) and another bridge that’s modern and un-special but built on the site of an old one that was knocked down. That’s right, not much to see here (although I must admit the stone circle thing is interesting).
We visited Muckross House, a Victorian stately home the estate of which formed the basis of Killarney National Park. The tour of the house wasn’t bad. Queen Victoria actually stayed a couple of nights in the place – the planning for the visit started six years before she arrived and involved replacing most of the furniture and building a new road to the local waterfall so she wouldn’t have to leave the grounds to visit it.
The Ring of Kerry,
esteemed in tour pamphlets throughout the world, was our plan for the next day. Unfortunately though the next day brought rain and wind, so while we saw the Ring of Kerry we didn’t quite see it in the sunshine that always lights up the tourist brochure.
The scenery was nonetheless amazing. Because of the changing weather we would alternately see sunny coastal vistas, grey forbidding cliffs, bleak heath-covered hills, or any combination of these. We stopped a few times by the side of the road (that’s when there actually was a side of the road, which is not very often) and were blown away by the scenery. Actually, we were nearly blown away by the wind as well.
There are some things to see while travelling the Ring of Kerry – some prehistoric forts, another stately home – but for us it was the drive and the scenery.
Dingle was our next stop, and the place we stayed at was brilliant! Right on the water looking across to the entrance to Dingle Harbour and what is now becoming a common-place vista of green fields, overgrown stone wall fences and the occasional hairy sheep. Maggie the landlady was
very friendly, as well as being a connoisseur of Packed to the Rafters.
We drove around the Dingle Peninsula (I think they wanted to call it the “Ring of Dingle” but that sounds a bit stupid), looking at more stunning scenery, more ancient forts and other bits and pieces. There is an interesting visitors’ centre explaining about the Blasket islands (Ireland’s most westerly) and their inhabitants, who were quite a literary crowd until they all emigrated to the United States and the last few were evacuated off the island in 1953.
This is the south of Ireland, one of the areas most affected by the famines of the 1840’s. So I’m going to go into another ill-informed rant. The potato crop failed year after year, meaning the poor people had nothing to eat and were facing starvation (in fact over a million starved and a million more were forced to emigrate, and may have starved in the process). Only it wasn’t because there was no food, it was because they had no money to pay for it. Ireland was still producing and exporting huge amounts of other crops, but the British government refused to pass laws that might
jeopardise the profits of the wealthy by making any of those crops cheap enough for the poor people to buy. We need to get the ashes back from these people, and quickly.
The obsession with the spud goes on, too. I had a really nice dinner in Dingle – baked fish. It came on a bed of mashed potato, with a side dish of two more different types of potato. Chips were also optional.
From Dingle we drove up through depressingly grey and wet weather to Galway, with a stop at the Cliffs of Moher on the way. These cliffs are among Ireland’s highest (about 200 metres), and apparently also the windiest. I’m not sure whether we were more impressed with the spectacular views out to the Atlantic or with the crowds of people dealing with the wind. The young people frolicked in it; the old people huddled against it and looked unhappy. Luckily we were somewhere between the two.
Galway was for us a very pleasant few days. The town has a nice mix of new and old, with a winding pedestrianized area of narrow streets full of bars, buskers and restaurants. The river, fast flowing,
provides some more scenery. The landlady showed us where to park for free.
We took a trip up to Clifden for some more views over the coast – it has some Marconi history, and Allcock and Brown became the first trans-Atlantic airmen to land in a peat bog nearby. The scenery is a bit different to that down south – more rugged, but just as beautiful. The roads continue to amaze – most of them wouldn’t pass for goat tracks in Australia.
Next stop will be Westport for a night, then we head into Northern Ireland to Derry for a few days.
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