Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ireland 2013 – Day 7 – Ring of Kerry

We pondered whether to move forward and drive the Ring of Beara (ring here referring to the road that goes around the peninsula of Beara) but at the end decided to drive the Ring of Kerry instead. It was a good decision that led us to one of the most remote corners of rural Ireland. The landscape is wind-blown and stark, and one cannot but wonder what it is that these folks do for a living.

Once we were almost to the end of the peninsula we came to the small fishing village of Portmagee, where we stopped for our elevenses at a tiny bakery with a marvelous view of the estuary and its fishing fleet. The coffee was nice and strong, and the scones with cream melted in the mouth, which brought us happy memories of past trips. Then Annie spotted a low stone building on the other side of the estuary channel, so we had to go investigate.

It was the visitors’ center of the Skellig Islands, two steep and jagged rocks that jut out of the Atlantic a few kilometers offshore. In themselves they would not be any different than many other rock promontories offshore, but their unique call to fame is that the largest of them, Skellig Michael, was the place chosen by a handful of monks to retire into a life of contemplation sometime around 550 AD! It is thus the oldest monastery in Ireland, one of the oldest in Europe, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The monks were tough hombres, and built thousands of steps leading from the three “landing” sites to the monastery, which was little else than three stone “beehive” cabins, a few walls, and a very rudimentary chapel. They survived on sea birds, mussels, and the occasional seal, and managed to keep their isolation for several centuries. In the 8th century they survived through several rides by the Vikings, but their order was finally extinguished in the 10th century by the growing hierarchy of the Catholic Church.

I was ready to jump on a boat to go see this wonder of history and human resiliency, but unfortunately the only excursion had departed at 10 am, and likely there would not be another until the following weekend. I am just going to have to come back to Ireland to check this item off my bucket list!

For the rest of the afternoon we marveled at fabulous cliffs, emerald bays, and very quaint cottages. We were definitely in leprechon territory, and it was with some difficulty that I restrained Annie from jumping on a portly old man sporting a green coat, to force him to disclose the location of his pot of gold!

We concluded the day with a shopping spree in the handsome town of Kenmare. Annie has lost all sense of proportion, and will come back home with a mountain of bags with presents for everyone. Still, it was fun to walk to the sunny triangular “square” and to marvel at the number of Bed & Breakfast places. In fact, this is true of all we have seen of Ireland. It seems that not to miss the opportunity to make an euro everyone with a house offers a room or two to visitors to their fair country. Annie keeps threatening with rebellion against hostels given the offer of B&B’s.

To amuse ourselves on the way to Cork, where we will spend our last night, we were looking at the road signs that have amused us so much in our way. For example, “Severe bends ahead” means sharp curves in the road ahead; “to let” does not mean toilet, but they write both words so close together that we have been fooled more than once; “traffic calming” means slow down because you are entering a town; and “No Scootering” means do not pass (this last one Annie made up from the original Irish “No Scoiterin”. Finally, it took me a while to explain to Herself that a camera on the road signs does not mean “Vista Point ahead”, but “slow down because we are ready to take your picture speeding and you will receive a fine on the mail.”

We entered Cork while it was still daylight, but by the time we were ready for our pub crawl the night had set, and the young people were getting ready to go party (after all, it is Saturday night). Minis and stiletto heels are very much in fashion among the girls, even though there was a chilly breeze swirling through their very exposed legs. Finding a pub that would serve food was harder than we thought, but at the end we found a suitable one where we were able to order a Shepherd’s Pie and a pint of Murphy’s Stout. This may not be a culinary paradise, but the beer is always creamy and strong. We will definitely miss Ireland.  

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