We're Surrounded by Water!

Trip Start May 12, 2010
Trip End Jun 14, 2010

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Flag of Ireland  , County Kerry,
Wednesday, June 9, 2010

    Being surrounded by water isn't much different than our previous locales, but believe us, this is drop-dead gorgeous country.  Greener than green are the rolling fields, the water bluer than blue, the puffy clouds outlined with that same blue, the crashing waves at ocean's edge.  "Wow" is all I can muster right now.

    Dingle Town, on the southern coast of the Dingle Peninsula, is home to 1,500 of Dingle Peninsula's total 10,000 residents.  Its few streets are lined with some ramshackle and some nice, gaily painted pubs and shops, churches and residences which either run along or perpendicular to the harbor always busy with fishing and leisure boats.  Traditionally, the buildings were drab grey or white.  But 35 years ago, Ireland's "tidy town" competition prompted everyone to paint their buildings in playful pastels.  And playful they are!

    It's a peaceful town, the court house is open one hour/month.  And the judge does his best to wrap up business within 1/2-hour.  Historically not much is known about Dingle except that it was the principal harbor in Co. Kerry during Medieval times.  We settle into our wonderful Alpine Guest House and get to know the town.  Driving days aren't relaxing days!

    Today, Wednesday, June 9 is tour day!  We take five hours to do the Dingle Peninsula Loop Trip (30 miles), which "must be driven in a clockwise direction."  Hmmm, we never did understand why.  The drive takes us further west and north and finally in a circle through an ever-changing panorama of seacoast, bogland, mountain and lakeside vistas.  We see the Lakes of Killarney and long beaches to the surf of the Atlantic Ocean, Ireland's four highest mountains (not high by our standards but they are proud of them), and eight miles into the Altantic to Skellig Michael Island where in the 6th century there was a monastery and one of the best preserved early Christian sites.

    In Ventry, a tiny burg near the front part of our drive, Gaelic is the first language.  This is where Irish families come to summer to immerse their kids in the traditional culture, language and nature.

    Oh, what's that small sign by the big stone house?  A handprinted sign for home-baked goods?  Where are the car brakes when I need them?  Luckily, we find a piece of ground to park on and walk back to a welcomed repast:  Our choice of freshly-baked scones with butter and jam or rhubarb pie, coffee or tea, all served by a woman who owns this home with rented rooms.  Now we have the energy to continue.

    Other highlights of the day included:  Awe-inspiring prehistoric ring forts, such as Staique which overlooks the Atlantic and features circular drystone walls built between 500 b.c. and 300 a.d. without the aid of mortar or cement, approximately 80' across with walls 12' thick at the base and up to 20' high.  These structures would have taken 100 men six months to complete.  Most believe they were built for protection during times of tribal war, as opposed to the stone forts we just saw in the Burren.  This was the time when civilization was changing from nomadic hunter-gatherers to settled farmers, herders.  They brought their cattle inside to protect it from rustlers.  However, there are no written records to prove this theory.  What do you think?

    Soon nature calls as is predictable.  To burden you with a bit of personal information (TMI), Sue is somewhat allergic to outhouses.  Somehow she doesn't need to go if that's the only choice!  Amazing work of nature.  But here we were with no choices and at a fort.  Len uses the outhouse and highly recommends it.  I wonder, really?  How can it be that good?  But it is:  a real toilet, a real sink, real bar of soap or the foamy kind, a real towel or papertowels if you so choose, a real coat rack just in case you'd rather sit without it, and no smell!  This has to be the very best outhouse we have every "patronized".  The photo of the orange sign about the sheep eating the toilet tissue is on the inside of the door of our lifesaver.  Now, would you please shut the door on exiting this wonderful relief giver?

    Because the region had copper mines, S.W. Ireland had a wealth of prehistoric sites.  The Bronze Age was such because of the copper which was melted together with tin to make bronze for better weapons and tools.
    This Peninsula is amazing, a proverbial open-air museum dotted with 2,000 monuments from the Neolithic Age (4,000 b.c.) through the early Christian period.  Such items as huge stone grave or boundary markers are still visible, some being used today just for cow scratchers!  Mmmmmm, that feels good.

    The climate here is tropical due to the Gulf Stream.  We see palms, magnolias and exotic flora such as mile after mile of fuschias which were imported from Chile years ago.  Now they form hedges.  It's the more than 100" of annual rain that gives Ireland its 40 shades of green and perfect conditions for these lush plants.

    As we drive along we see and photograph some of the many beautiful views, as well as, the old red sandstone and slate or thatched roof cottages.  Now that they have discovered how to make the thatched roofs fireproof, they are becoming more popular again, even though there are just a few who still thatch (thus it is difficult to get their roofs repaired).

    Other highlights on the Peninsula tour were many and magnificent:  A Stone-age Ring Fort which, in 500 b.c., was a Celtic chieftan's headquarters, a stone earth stockade filled with little stone houses.  These survived untouched through the centuries because of superstitious beliefs that they were "fairy forts".  As well, a cluster of beehive huts or "clochans", mysterious stone igloos which cluster together and were used to house families in prehistoric times.

    We see many stone homes in a state of decay from abandonment during the 1845 potato famine.  As well, if you look carefully to the distant mountains you can still see faint vertical ridges of the potato beds from past years when the potatoes didn't grow but rotted in the ground. They later found that a virus had attacked the potatoes.  This same virus today, in wine grape vines, is being treated successfully.  This tragic period of Irish history was outlined vividly in pictures and word high on a hill as we visited an old farmstead overlooking the ocean.  Before the famine 40,000 people lived on the Peninsula; after, the population was so small that there was no need to plant so high up.  Entire families died, as did entire villages of people; the lucky ones emigrated to other lands.  

    The land throughout Ireland has also been stripped of its goodness with peat farming, in many places up to 7', but that's a whole story unto itself.  Let's just say that over the centuries peat has supplied Irish homes with warmth for bodies and stoves; but the wetland destroyed in the process is nearly irreversible and the land is just about worthless.  They are dealing with the same issues other countries are dealing with considering making a living while saving the environment.

    We finish off the tour with two more fascinating stops:  The Reasc Monastery with its scant remains from the 6th-12th century.  With the arrival of the Normans in the 12th century these small religious communities were replaced by big time state and church governments; and the Gallerus Oratory, a Christian Church built 1,300 years ago, shaped like an upturned boat, its finely-fitted drystone walls still waterproof to this day; and lastly, the most fascinating Kilmalkedar Church, a ruined Norman center of worship built when England replaced the old monastic settlements in an attempt to centralize their rule.  This 12th century Romanesque church is surrounded by a densely populated graveyard which we scoured.  Who is that and what can we learn?  In front of the church we found the oldest Medieval tombs, an early Christian cross and a much older Ogham stone with a hole drilled through the top of the stone centuries ago as a place where people came to seal a deal, to "swear to God" by touching thumbs and standing on their ancestor's graves.  So Dick and I did just that, we put our thumbs through the hole, touching them, and wished each other a Happy 44th Wedding Anniversary!  Could it get any better than that?

    We celebrated tonight at Out of the Blue Seafood with some of the most wonderful fish of the trip.  And if we could top off the day and the meal, we thought we'd try.  Jean found and booked tickets for all of us to an Irish Folk Concert held at the St. James Church.  Two wonderful hours, four super musicians:  Elton on the guitar and Aoife Granville on the flute and fiddle; then John Brown on the guitar (and vocals) and Eoin Guignan on the Uilleann Pipes & Low Whistle.  Really.  The music and vocals knocked our socks off!

    We had just enough energy to walk home and fall into bed.   Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...
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