Monday, May 22, 2017

Of the Ring We Sing

The southwest corner of the Republic of Ireland is one place that Dad and I never went to when we were here in 2014, so it was with keen interest that Bonnie and I wanted to see it. It is made up of five "finger" peninsulas, the largest of which is Iveragh, at the top of which sits the city of Killarney (yes, that one, Bing Crosby Christmas music fans). It is also home to something known as "The Ring of Kerry," Kerry being the county in which this is all situated.
The Cliffs of Kerry. Spectacular!

The Ring of Kerry is a 100-mile circle of roads and towns and sights that are breathtaking in their wild beauty, nearness to the Atlantic Ocean, small town hospitality, and unspoiled splendor. Fearing we would miss some of the best bits, we booked a private tour with a guide to drive us around The Ring, point out the spots we'd be certain to miss, and regale us with information and tales of the places and people. William, our guide and cabbie, didn't disappoint.

We started off with a stop at St. Mary's. There are two St. Mary's in Killarney. One is Church of England, one is Catholic. We stopped at the Catholic version. The church was built in the mid-1800s and both a road and a river were diverted to create space for the structure. The Earl of Kenmare was the patron for doing this and their family has continued to be buried inside the church ever since. Right up until the very last relation to the Earl, Beatrice Grosvenor, passed away in 1985. There is a tree that was planted shortly after the church was finished, right outside the entrance, as a memorial to all the victims of the Irish Potato Famine.

We then drove through the town of Killorglin where they have a pretty famous Irish festival every August, "Puck Fair." It is said to be the oldest festival in Ireland. Legend says that when Oliver Cromwell's forces were moving across Ireland, quashing rebellion, a lone goat was separated from the herd and showed up in the village, exhausted. This served as a warning for the people of Killorglin that something was amiss and they fled, thereby surviving en masse the coming British. To celebrate, they lifted that goat onto a platform and crowned it King for three days. A tradition that continues to this day, though the festival is now a family friendly one.
Bonnie with peat bog brick

Then it was on to Glenbeigh where we toured an authentic re-creation of a peat bog farm. Peat bog is mostly water, soil, and decaying vegetable material. People burn it as fuel and it gives off a very unique aroma, but not a bad one. It's like a cross between tobacco and incense. 

Then it was on to the Cahergall (pronounced Car-gahl) Ring Fort, or Stone Fort. It's a circular structure built way back when - around 800-900 AD - and still standing strong. It was the first of our long walks that day. Mostly uphill. Both ways. (Just kidding, only felt that way.) As always, there are many more pictures on my personal Facebook page in my "Ireland 2017" album.

Then we drove back through Cahersiveen (pronounced Car-sa-veen), by the only old Garda Station modeled after military barracks the British built in India, and past the only Catholic church named after an Irish politician and activist (Daniel O'Connell) and on to the ferry where we left the Ring of Kerry and drove over to Valentia Island. It was one of the perks of hiring William, our driver and guide, that he threw in as a bonus for us. We bought the Ring of Kerry and got the "Ring of Skellig," as well.

We came ashore in Knightstown. Valentia Island was once a critical communications center for Ireland and the whole of the UK, as it was the place where they dropped and laid the first transatlantic cable for communication between the continents. It still serves as the communications hub for air and sea rescue operations along the whole of the western coast of Ireland.
The view onto Dingle Bay from Valentia.
We drove up to the top of the island, to a slate mine. Valentia slate was once a booming business, employing up to 500 people at higher-than-average rates of pay and the superb quality of the slate found it being used in the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and the Paris Opera House. It was an active business from 1816 through 1911, when cheaper Welsh slate drove the company out of business. It reopened in 1999 but now only employs half a dozen people. Check them out here.

Then it was on to the Bridge Bar in Portmagee for lunch and some tales. Portmagee was a town named after Theobald Magee, a quite famous and successful smuggler in the early 1700s, doing trade with both France and Portugal. He married Bridget Morgell, the widow of a rich Dingle merchant ... and she was also the daughter of Thomas Crosby of Ardvert, who was a member of Parliament. This did not sit well with Mr. Crosby, who quietly forced Magee into a Portugese monastery where he died "under mysterious circumstances." 

But what Crosby did not expect was that his daughter Bridget would step into the power void created by Magee's death and carry on the family smuggling business in quite spectacular fashion!
Beehive huts w/Bonnie for scale

After fortifying ourselves with lunch, we traveled on to the Cliffs of Kerry. There we walked up an almost 45-degree slope to get to the view, which was phenomenal (see photo at the top of this page, and remember, you can click or tap any photo for a larger view). It was difficult to see with the mists rolling in, but from there you can spot a spit of rock called "Skellig Michael," or Skellig Rock. At one time monks built a monastery on that little island and lived in beehive huts within. That little island also is featured prominently at the end (and I assume will also be in the beginning) of Star Wars Episodes VII and VIII. (The Force Awakens and the not-yet-released The Last Jedi)

While still on the Skellig Ring, we stopped at a local chocolate shop.  Butler's is the popular brand of chocolate in Ireland and you can find them in most every shop and petrol station, but Skellig chocolate is delicious, and creamy, and smooth, and keeps the small business industry alive. We bought enough to keep my diabetic sugar crashes at bay for months!
At the "Ladies View" lookout

Finally, it was back to the Ring of Kerry for a stop in the sleepy little town of Sneem (which is an actual place and not something out of Dr. Seuss). Then on to another gorgeous panoramic vista called "Ladies View," named after the spot where Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting were brought to enjoy and appreciate the Irish countryside.

From there, you can look down into the "Black Valley," as it is called. It is remote and steep and it is jokingly referred to as "Black" because it was the very last place in Ireland to receive electricity and telephone lines (not until 1976!). The name probably originates from how dark it gets due to the hills rising on every side.

From there it was a long drive back through the Killarney National Park to our hotel, with one last stop at the Torc Waterfall, a lovely little fall that becomes a bit of a babbling brook in short order. 

When we met William in the lobby at 9:30 this morning, he said we'd be back about 4:30. But William never rushed us, stopped often, and we had just a lovely time conversing with him throughout the day. We finally pulled back into our hotel at 7:00pm!!

Man, were we bushed. So bushed, as a matter of fact, that I only just now finished this blog entry -- a week later!
Obligatory selfie

I leave you with this one last selfie of us at the Cliffs of Kerry.


Mark's Musings is published on an occasional basis but that may change without notice. This blog is considered to be a digital periodical publication and is filed as such with the U.S. Library of Congress; ISSN 2154-9761. Click the photos. You'll be glad you did.

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