The Ring of Kerry

Trip Start Sep 06, 2004
Trip End Nov 23, 2004

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Friday, November 5, 2004

For my only full day in Killarney, I chose to spend my time out of town, having seen enough of it the previous afternoon. I headed out on a bus tour--the canned way to see Ireland (or any other country), but one that's essential at times for travellers without their own transportation. Killarney is the equivalent of Banff because it lies amid mountain scenery. Not in-your-face stunning the way the Canadian Rockies are, but quietly beautiful. The Ring of Kerry is a road in County Kerry that circles out from Killarney and around the Iveragh Peninsula. It's a very popular tour bus destination--but many of the roads are only one-and-a-half lanes wide, so the buses must go around in a counter-clockwise direction.

The "canned" nature of the tour (on a medium-sized bus) became apparent very quickly. We stopped at a small open-air museum, a unique reconstruction of an eighteenth-century Irish bog cutters' village (revolving around the industry of cutting turf from the bog for fuel), and were herded off to pay the extra admission charge and wander around the buildings. A discount on Irish coffee was included. Being herded rather diminished the experience for me, so I was underwhelmed by the real live Irish ponies (a rare breed nowadays) and the furnished cottages, which had little interpretive material and no people in costume. I did note that the cottages were awfully small for people to have lived in, only one room each (well, one had a loft with extra beds for children) and with low doors. Didn't take them up on the Irish coffee.

At the end of the visit I dropped my camera onto the gravel parking lot. The batteries popped out, the camera's casing was scraped, and the lens started making a clicking noise when it moved (e.g. when I turned the camera on or off or operated the zoom). I was thrown into a brief panic, wondering if I'd lost my photos and/or wrecked the camera, made worse by the mood I'd gone into as a result of being herded. Luckily, the photos hadn't been lost, the camera still worked perfectly despite the scrapes, and even the clicking noise disappeared after a few days.

Our next major stop was in a village that has a yearly festival celebrating "Puck," a pre-Christian goat deity. They catch a wild goat, crown him the Goat King, and put him up on a pedestal for the duration of the festival. This is because of a "Boy Who Cried Wolf" sort of story about the village being saved from invaders. Quaint, don't you think? For lunch we stopped at a cafe where the only thing I could eat was a salad plate that cost E8.95--around $14.50. (!!) I declined to pay such exorbitant prices, so just bought a Sprite and ate my own peanut butter and bread. After lunch we passed through Sneem (in Gaelic, An tSnaidhm) without stopping. Here was a highlight--I saw an old man toodling along on a bicycle, reminding me very much of the frail old man in Waking Ned Devine. An Ireland Moment! Unfortunately I didn't get a picture of him. At some point we also passed a village where someone built a boat-shaped house next to the beach and a holiday house on a hill overlooking the village recently sold for E400,000 ($600,000). Ireland isn't known for being a sunny holiday destination, but it does have beaches and sometimes people even go swimming!

Sometime on this trip, we drove along a hill that climbed high above the ocean next to a very steep drop. This was, after all, mountainous territory. A pass between two of the highest mountains near Killarney, called the Devil's Gap, can be traversed on a horseback tour, which I would have gone on except that they had shut down for the winter. Sigh.... The bus also went off the beaten tour-bus track and onto even smaller roads, with the driver muttering things like "I think this comes out somewhere," presumably for the amusement of the tourists. We squeezed past tree branches and a construction crew before re-emerging onto the main Ring of Kerry road.

After Sneem, the bus climbed a foothill (what the Irish call a mountain) and we stopped at the top for photos. Below us was a round fort built by early Christians, now falling down due to tourists and wild goats climbing all over it. Around us was rugged, rocky, olive-coloured terrain. To me, it started looking like Middle Earth as depicted by Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Rings movies. We drove through most of the rest of it without stopping, much to my dismay. I could imagine barrows (ancient gravesites) on hilltops, heroes on valiant steeds, lakes hiding raging serpents imprisoned there by St. Brendan (this is an actual myth from the area).... We stopped for photos between two lakes, where some of the trees were twisted into fantastical and grotesque shapes. We also stopped at Lady's View, so named because when Queen Victoria came to Killarney she was told that this was the loveliest view, so she sent one of her ladies-in-waiting up to see it and the woman reported that it was a "view fit for a lady." The vista looks out from the mountains toward Killarney National Park (an unspoilt forest) and the town itself. But I preferred looking the other way, back into the mountains and lakes--always my favourite landscape features. The spots I thought most beautiful (and worthy of a fantasy setting) were actually the valleys we drove through right before Lady's View...but alas, no photos.

From Lady's View we descended into the forest. Old oak trees in fall foliage (it's been fall the whole time I've been in Ireland). Messy undergrowth, thanks to all the rain. Giant rhododendrons. There are deer in the forest too, but we didn't see any. It's a great forest, but not as wonderful as the rugged, stark landscape before it.

Back in Killarney, I hung out at an Internet cafe for a while and talked briefly to Arvin on the phone. The temp agency, I.C.E., phoned me to say that a library where they'd submitted my resume (C.V. or Curriculum Vitae) wanted to interview me. Tempting, but there were no guarantees, and if I didn't get the job I would have lost more time and money that I couldn't afford. So I had to tell them that I was going home. That was hard; it made my early return real.

Then I went off on a quest for supper. The first place I tried couldn't help me at all. The second place said they could serve me plain salmon with no dressing or toppings. Pretty boring, but I was hungry, and I'd already eliminated several other places due to cost or menu, so I decided to go for it.

I had another quiet evening at the hostel. It was still pretty empty, though I gained a roommate, an older woman. Even the kitchen was empty, perhaps due to the fact that it had gas stoves (the kind you light with a match) and none of the hostellers seemed to know how to use them. The walls were decorated with posters drawn by schoolchildren, and the rooms were named after animals (mine was the Dragon Room) with cute pictures of the animals on the doors. It looked like Girl Guide camp. And the washrooms and shower stall rooms were both co-ed. But the rooms were nice--mine was decorated in blue and green, with matching quilts on the beds, four bunks built into the wall, and a skylight. Probably the prettiest I've been in so far.
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