Beara Peninsula Rocks, so to speak.
Oct 18, 2007
|Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2007
Today was a great day. Okay, it didn't start out so great since my two German girl room mates left the bedroom window wide open and the roar of the traffic (yes, roar - the hostel is on a busy corner) awakened me at 5 a.m. I finally got up at 8. Oh well, might as well get an early start for a change, I thought.
I decided not to "do" the well-trodden Ring of Kerry, but to instead take the less traveled Ring of Beara route, circling the Beara Peninsula. Kenmare sits at the head of the bay which separates the two peninsulas. The weather was looking tenuous, with rain overnight and dark clouds on the horizon, but by 10 a.m. it was again a clear and glorious day. The first five miles or so out of Kenmare are fairly boring, with forests on each side of the road. When the road swings back to the coastline though, it is one spectacular view after another. The water on the bay was like glass, reflecting the fishing boats anchored out, the trees on the shore and the rocky coast. The road was narrow and winding but I met very few cars -- and no tour buses! It was difficult to make much progress because I had to stop so often to take photos or just take in the view. I wanted to absorb it into my brain so that it stays with me forever - even though I AM coming back in May!
The Beara Peninsula contains a wealth of Neolithic sites, from stone circles to ogham stones (fence post-like stones with early writing carved into them). It seemed like every few miles there was another sign pointing out such a site. I stopped at a few before I realized I would never make it around the peninsula if I stopped at every one! I also noted that at the tip of the Beara is a cable car that carries passengers across the roaring Dursey Strait, to Dursey Island. I decided to head for that.
The Beara road can truly be described as a roller coaster ride. It dips and swings, up, up, up then down, down, down, with tight curves at the top and bottom. It would be a great road for a motorcycle rally!
After several hours I got to the remote cable car point, only to find that it was closed for repairs. Darn! The repairmen, however, took it across for a test run, all the while riding on top of the car, with the water churning a hundred feet below.
The coastline was not as rocky on the south side of the peninsula, and the road was easier to negotiate. At one point there was a "slow" sign, and I expected to see some road obstacle around the corner. Instead, it was the longest straight stretch I have seen yet!
Halfway up the south side I cut across on the road to Healy Pass, a narrow, steep and very windy road. Almost every corner is a hairpin as it zig zags up the tight valley. A plaque at the top told the story of the pass. It was built as a "famine relief project," meaning the workers got paid, if they didn't starve to death first, and followed an old path used by villagers on each side of the valley.
It was a perfect day of beautiful, awe-inspiring scenery, crisp, clear skies and practically tourist-free roads.
Back in Kemare I decided to look for a pub playing good trad music. That can be difficult in a tourist-oriented town. The night before I found a "pub" that featured a young man on button box and another on keyboards with synthesizer. The box player was singing "Fields of Athenry," a classic tourist-pleaser, with the keyboard playing a cheesy fake violin accompaniment. As the singer ratcheted up for the finale he reached over and turned up the violins. I had to leave before I barfed.
I had better luck this time, with Crowley's Pub, a small hole in the wall pub with a rough, hand-lettered sign in the window promising "live trad music Monday and Tuesday." It was just a block from my hostel.
The place was tiny, just a bar and seating for maybe a dozen people. I took a seat at the bar, following the advice that if you sit at the bar people will talk to you, whereas if you sit at a table they won't. In Seattle I could sit on a bar stool until I turned to dust and no one would talk to me. Not so in Ireland - I don't know if you could call it friendly, curious or nosy. Lol.
I hadn't been there long when a fellow we'll call Michael took the stool next to me. Everyone likes to comment on this bizarre warm weather, so that was an easy place to start. I quickly realized his "accent" was so thick I could barely understand every fourth word. I smiled and nodded a lot and hoped I could tell when he was asking me a question. I did find out he raises trap horses and had recently been to a horse fair in Galway.
My most recent room mate, a young woman from Dublin named Louisa, came in and I went to sit by her as the musicians took their places at the musicians' table - after they had cleared out the Americans.
The seat next to me was soon taken by a man who was using his cell phone to record the music. When he played it back, with predictably poor results, I commented on the "great sound quality." Fortunately he wasn't offended by my American sarcasm, and we ended up talking till we closed down the bar. His name was Eugene and he was with his workmate Paul. They were from Dublin as well, in Kenmare on business. It was a pleasant evening, a good close to a lovely day.
The rest of Wednesday I stayed in town, didn't drive more than around the block.
Today I spent traveling from Kenmare to Galway. I bid farewell to the trusty rental car at Cork airport, then took a bus to Galway, my favorite city in Ireland. I'm staying at a convenient hostel, The Claddagh, with free breakfast and free wifi, but it's also teen central. Or at least they look like teens.
As always, thanks for reading.