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Running Rings in County Kerry

This entry is part of a series, Ireland 2009»

River Rocks

We got an early start today, as our plan would take us on the longest drive of the tour. We were heading down to County Kerry, to “run the ring” with all the tour buses and tourists. (We’re not tourists, you see; I got that hat and some shirts, so nobody can tell we’re not locals.) So we rolled out of bed early to a chorus of grumbles for the travel partner, then made breakfast as they were still setting up.

Early didn’t stop us from feasting, though! They had a Limerick ham again this morning, and getting the first slices from that sort of meat is always a treat. Paula Jo said something about oatmeal, but decided at the last moment to wait. She didn’t want to hold up our departure from the hotel. Time to hit the road!

Pete and Peat

We zoomed down the N21 to Castleisland, then onto the N23 to Farranfore. From there we cut over to Castlemaine and picked up the N70. There was little traffic this early on Saturday, so we made great time. We knew we were well ahead of the conga line of tour buses that would soon crowd the narry roads of the Ring of Kerry.

We made one stop along the way, to see some “traditional” animals at a rest stop. Trained donkeys, dogs and goats were shown off by a few locals who also sold handmade trinkets and such. Naturally there were the usual dunning pots, with a few coins in the bottom of each. I had way too many small coins in my pockets by this time in the trip, so I unloaded a few after we took some photos.

Killarney Rock

We continued to tour down through Killorglin and Glenbeigh, over to the coast of Dingle Bay at King’s Head, then on through Kells, by Foilmore Bridge to Cahersiveen. This road isn’t always right along the coast, but you seldom if ever lost sight of the beautiful waters of Dingle Bay. After Cahersiveen we turned south towards Waterville. This is an area almost solely devoted to tourism, especially golfing.

The landscape is rolling small hillocks, and the courses are all links style. Tiger Woods often stops here to get in a few practice rounds before his European appearances. John, who loves to golf, showed us a starkly beautiful course near Waterville, where there are life-size statues of golfing greats out on the fairways and greens. I stood next to Payne Stewart’s effigy, since I look so much like him (of course). Except for the chapeau and the funny pants, of course!

New Church

After you cross over the low bridge at Ballybrack that takes you over the mouth of Loch Luioch the road gets a bit worse, and suddenly very twisty and windy. Within a couple miles you’re headed east along the coast of the bay at the mouth of the Kenmare River. We were really on the edge of a local landmark, the mountain called Cahernageeha, which rises about 500 meters above the shore. There’s really not much flat land for a road at this point! Caherdaniel and Nedanone are a couple of sleepy villages in the shadow of the mountain.

There is so much to see around here! I now appreciate why many say if you visit Ireland and don’t see the Ring of Kerry, you’ve not really seen Ireland. It’s mostly pretty countryside, including different types of stone than we’ve seen in previous day trips. The mountains are more rugged, and the grass and trees are a bit different too.

Village Kitchen

All the looking and riding, not to mention the walking and photograping, worked up a big appetite by the time we reached the notable town of Sneem. We got out and stretched our legs a bit, looking though a couple of shops, then hunger overtook our thoughts completely. Fortunately, the Village Kitchen was right next door…

This shop isn’t very big, and it’s clearly a lunch eatery and not a pub. The food smelled wonderful, and there was quite a crowd. All the diners were smiling while eating, a very good sign. I ordered one of the lunch specials, the Hawaiian Panini with Onion Rings. PJ ordered a Stuffed Potato while John went with his personal favorite, a plain ham sandwich. A big bowl of chips also magically appeared. I’ve just about gotten to the point that I can write “chips” and not think of our style chips, which the Irish call crisps. Now when I say “chips” I expect to get fries! I’ve almost gone completely native, and it feels good.

Panini

After we finished our refreshing meal we toured slowly through the town of Sneem. We saw the statue of Steve “Crusher” Casey, who won the heavyweight wrestling champion of the world in 1938. He was born near Sneem, in Ballaugh. He was one of seven brothers, all wrestlers and fighters, who achieved more sporting titles as a family than any other family in Irish history. Maybe in all the world! They had the right genetic background, as their mother was a champion regatta rower and their dad was a bare-knuckle sparring partner for John L. Sullivan.

We next visited the Staigue Ring Fort, one of the best-preserved of the 500 or so such settlements in Ireland. The date of the construction of this structure is unknown, but is presumed to be early Medieval. The fort was restored, stone portions only, in the 19th century.

Ring Fort

Rather than continue along the coast from Sneem to Kenmare, we turned onto the R568 to Moll’s Gap. We could occasionally see Kenmare Bay, about three or four miles south in the distance. We traveled close to the picturesque peaks of Mullaghanattin (770 meters tall), Knocklomena (630) and Boughil (630). There were plenty of turns, steep drop-offs beside the road, and narrow passing areas.

At Moll’s Gap we joined the better quality road of the N71, and entered Killarney National Park. At the first tourist trap good viewing stop, at Long Lake, we were warned about leprechauns crossing the road. We stopped and searched, but didn’t find any Little People or their pots of gold; I guess Saturday is their day off. We shopped and took some nice photos at the overlook.

Leprechaun Crossing

From Long Lake we joined the growing crowd of traffic wending its way down into the heart of the park. We went through a hand-carved tunnel through one outstretched buttress of Dromderalough, a massive, forested mountain. We could barely see through the trees that pressed close to the road, when suddenly the vista opened dramatically on Muckross Lake and Lough Leane. What a sight!

We visited waterfalls on a stream that fed down into the lake. The walk was a bit steep in places, and there was actually a crowd present. One of the few we’d seen since Dublin! Mostly locals, dressed like me, of course. A few tourists, easy to spot with their cameras and all. We only had two cameras with us, so we blended right in.

Killarney Waters

We enjoyed the cool shade in the forest near the flowing water. This was one of the more beautiful stops we’d made, especially for a place that didn’t have panoramic views of the countryside. I could easily see how there could be hundreds of small, mischievous sprites close by and you’d never know it. They had their gold well hidden, though. Maybe they don’t like Euros?

From the falls it’s only a matter of a few short miles to Muckross House, one of the greatest historical estates in all of the British Isles. A phenomenal structure with a most checkered history, the House saw visits by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, among a host of other dignitaries. It was originally built for only £30,000, and that included the land. Only 25,000 acres or so, though. (Then again, the house only has 65 rooms.) The Herbert family fixed up the house for £90,000 in preparation for the Queen’s visit, and that process took six or seven years.

Clip Clop

The family wanted Queen Victoria to elevate them to the peerage, you see. They thought if they worked at it really hard, they’d get that from their monarch. That sort of honor was easily converted into local political power, which then led to increased wealth. The family had fallen a bit on hard times, and they were looking for ways to get “out of the hole.”

The Queen and her consort only stayed one night, after all that. She went back to England, where Albert promptly died and Victoria went into permanent mourning. She never got around to giving any honors to her friends the Herberts, and they sold the estate to the Bourn family from bankruptcy. Senator Arthur Rose Vincent gave the estate and lands to the Irish nation, who established Killarney National Park by combining Muckross with the Earl of Kenmare’s lands.

Muckross Estate

Killarney being nearby, we moved on to this lovely city to view some of the sights there. Those include a nice cathedral and a beautiful river overlook. We were slowing down, as per usual late in the afternoon; we’d pretty much overloaded on all the sights earlier, especially the tour of Muckross House. Still, we took another bajillion or so photos. There were ducks in the river, with cute little ducklings just learning to work the current and find food.

Big TreeThe ride home didn’t seem that long, although Paula Jo got another nice touring nap. We basically headed north on N21 to Farranfore, then retraced our earlier route back to Adare. Surprisingly, there was little traffic on the road heading north. Even John mentioned he expected quite a bit more cars and trucks on Saturday afternoon than we’d seen. I suspect some of it was due to the great weather; folks were staying home so they could enjoy the outdoors in the warm, dry conditions. (I don’t know that’s true; but it sure made a great story.)

We were back at the hotel, stuff stashed, about eight in the evening. I was hungry, and PJ mentioned she could eat, if she had to. It had been a long afternoon since the stuffed potato and panini lunch we’d enjoyed in Sneem. Suddenly, Paula gets that decisive Look on her face; you know the one, where either you’ve just done something so appaling that you’re likely not to survive it, or else she’s Made Up Her Mind about an item she’s been thinking over for a while.

Fortunately for me, it was the latter.

She told me to get my shoes back on, we were going out to dinner. I asked where, and she said we’d go back over to the Wild Geese. I blanched, trying to remember if we had enough room on the third mortgage for another dinner there. Then I smiled, because I knew we didn’t have reservations. Saturday night, there’d be no way we could get in. The mortgage was safe, as well as the rest of Jessica’s school savings.

Wild Geese

She had other ideas, though. Strange ones, it seems. She simply had to have some of the tomato basil soup I’d enjoyed the evening before, and nothing so ordinary as a lack of reservations would stand in her way. After all, she had just blasted off The Look. What could possibly stop her?

We wandered over and PJ found Julie and told her what she wanted. Not a meal, last night was great, etc., etc. No, this was different. Could we get two orders of tomato basil soup, to go? Julie said they didn’t have takeout utensils or carriers. We knew we could get utensils at the Maigue or the Dunraven’s pub, but the dishes would be a tougher problem.

Julie solved the difficulty in her firm, I-run-a-restaurant-here way. She seated us at the rickety old picnic table in the tiny front yard of the restaurant, then she had the waitress bring out full place settings for soup. Nothing cheap meretricious second-rate about anything Julie and Dave do! No, we were served in style.

Now you see why I like that place? It’s not just the food, though that’s certainly major-league, chef-prepared goodness. The aromas from our soup and bread were so appealing that we managed to get at least half a dozen groups to stop by and make reservations with Julie for later in the week. What marketers we are! And the soup was as delicious as always. The beautiful, late evening weather didn’t hurt anything either.

Fishing

We settled up, said our goodbyes and headed across to our room. We had snacks to top off any calorie deficits we might have been suffering. I’m sure the fine folks at the Wild Geese won’t soon forget their long-lost, soup-loving American cousins…

Enjoy the (Running in Circles) Heat!

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