LOTTA travels

My Parents’ Love Affair with Ireland – the Ring of Kerry

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I have a confession to make – my parents have a second home. It’s Ireland. My parents’ love affair with the Green Island is profound and has been going on for more than 20 years. Thus, it was quite natural for my Mom to celebrate her 70th birthday in her second home and finally I had a good reason to return to this lovely country with its spectacular views, people, history and culture.

Mon’s birthday celebration in Ireland at John Benny’s

So let me take you on a trip in several short episodes of the Southwest of Ireland!

The Ring of Kerry and the Slea Head Drive mainly follow the coastline of the Kerry and Dingle Peninsulas and offer spectacular views of the coastline (including shipwrecks) and the wild islands off the coast. The road is winding and narrow and coaches are only allowed to drive in one direction to avoid blocking the way. Every so often I ask my Dad to pull into one of the frequent lay-bys so I can marvel at the rapidly changing mood of the light – from sunnily serene to dramatically cloudy, from cheerful brightness to menacing gloom. If it wasn’t so chilly I could sit in any of these spots all day.

If you take the Slea Head Drive, you have to take a picture of one of the bold and beautiful seagulls – they are the pigeons of this most stunning route of the Dingle Peninsula. With its dramatic views of the Blasket Islands, Slea Head is the westernmost point of Ireland and arguably of Europe. My Dad saves his coffee biscuits just for these guys and obviously they really like him!

Staying on a farm in Ventry Bay we learn a lot about cows and sheep. One morning last week I opened the curtains onto a cow giving birth right in front of my window! The farmer uses the meadow next to our house as some kind of maternity ward cum delivery ward.

He keeps Irish mountain sheep who are pretty much self-sufficient. In the mountains one sheep usually has just one lamb, down here it’s mostly two. Turns out little lambs wiggle their tails when nursing, giving off some kind of olfactory message that identifies them to mommy. Practical… and darn cute!

The death of the son (or sun) and his rebirth, overcoming the powers of darkness – the symbolism of our modern Christian Easter celebrations was a well worn story in the ancient world. It is the time of rebirth, when nature awakens from its darkened slumber and new life brings hope and joy. Standing on this meadow next to a prehistoric ring fort, right above our house in Ventry Bay, in the middle of these frolicking sheep it isn’t hard to imagine how people in former times used to feel. Witness the wonder of life and enjoy this season!

Nobody has ever skipped the cozy village of Sneem during a tour of the Ring of Kerry. Sneem means “knot” in Irish, hence “The Knot in the Ring of Kerry” is a charming and peaceful village located between Kenmare and Waterville. Many years ago, I got to spend 3 months in this community house-sitting, cat-sitting, teaching English to expats and cooking litres of tea for carpenters, builders, policemen and other adorable locals who took an interest in the German girl with the American accent. It’s always a pleasure coming back!

Fish and chips is not of Irish origin (actually the dish was imported by Italians via England) but it has long become a staple food. The best place to eat fish and chips while touring the Ring of Kerry is The Village Kitchen in Sneem – a cozy restaurant close to the bridge which presently sports a very bright yellow and orange façade you cannot miss 😉. It is run by Barbara, a Sneem local who treated me to the best steamed salmon I’ve ever had, back then when I was a temporary resident.

Irish myth has it that our home base Ventry Bay is the site of a battle between the legendary Irish hero Fionn Mac Cumhaill and Dáire Donn “The King of the World”. Ventry, in Irish Ceann Trá or Fionn Trá, is a small village four miles west of Dingle and it literally means “White Beach”. The bay is incredibly picturesque (if you ignore the rather unfortunately placed trailer park) and offers one of the most beautiful beaches on the west coast of Ireland, perfect for extensive walks on the white sand. Gazing back inland isn’t that bad either…

A walk on the white beach of Ventry Bay – the strong winds whip my hair, clear my head and blow away doubts and fears. I love the fun of some careless hours in the sand with a group of lovely people, skipping stones (I wish… 😜), collecting shells, the chance to really talk to somebody while strolling along… picturing the legendary Irish hero Finn MacCool decapitating Daire Donn, King of the World, killing all the invaders in a fierce battle… looking for skulls and bones 😉

Moll’s Gap is a pass on the roads from Kenmare/Sneem to Killarney. It is named after an enterprising lady, Moll Kissane, who ran a sibin (pub) here in the 1820s, while the road was under construction. The views of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and the Gap of Dunloe in the distance is spectacular, a perfect place for a break..

Situated at one of the most breathtaking locations in Ireland, the Avoca Store at Moll’s Gap does not only provide truly breathtaking views – Carrauntoohill, Ireland’s highest mountain and the Gap of Dunloe – but also unique shopping and a superb restaurant. I have all their cookbooks but nothing compares to first browsing their tempting assortment of goods and then having some tea and crumble or scones while enjoying that view…

Dark and mysterious waters, a black mirror of slightly rippled water, an oddly shaped pool of liquid blackness – something weird takes over my imagination every time I drive past this strange lake on the road from Sneem to Killarney just before Moll’s Gap… fitting inspiration for a murder mystery?

“It’s NOT shaped like an upside-down boat!” my Dad exclaims exasperated. The Gallarus Oratory has been called “Ireland’s oldest surviving church,” and my Dad knows this place of worship quite well. He worries about the slight sagging in the roof of the fascinating yet simple dry-stone structure, but despite that it has remained waterproof since it was built either in the 6th or 12th century.

This road was built for sheep only! Last year a motorist got trapped overnight trying to drive down it. This precarious harbor is another iconic location at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula. It was designed in the 19th century to allow Blasket sheep to get up and down the hillside from Dunquin Harbour. In 1588 the Spanish Armada sought shelter in the Blasket Sound (some were wrecked) and in 2007 the main road was damaged when part of the cliff slid into the ocean… quite a rough spot!

May Day always brings the bard to my mind: “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Thou art more lovely and more temperate. Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May…” Soon all the roads in Ireland will be lined with colorful wild fuchsias – I was delighted to capture these early visitors at Gallarus Oratory during my Easter visit!

You can leave this galaxy from Kerry. If you’re lucky the weather is clement and you can cross the heaving seas, climb the 618 steps… it’s jaw-dropping beyond Star Wars. Unfortunately, increased tourism is chipping away at the preservation efforts of the Skelligs. Tourism is a double edged light sabre, just as fame.

In the center of Dingle, away from all the hustle and bustle, sits a large Roman Catholic Church and beside it is Díseart – a former convent, now a center of Celtic Studies. The grounds are beautiful and well worth a visit. One of the 3 large gardens includes the final resting place of the Presentation Sisters beneath this majestic cooper beech tree called the Tree of Life. The graveyard is surrounded by white calla lilies – they represent purity, humility and devotion.

This idyllic white house is probably the second most photographed attraction of Waterville after Charlie Chaplin. The sleepy coastal town on the Ring of Kerry is spectacularly situated between the wild Atlantic Ocean and the fresh water lake of Lough Currane. Today it’s best known for game angling, golf links, and Charlie Chaplin but once upon a time, Waterville was a focal point for intercontinental communication because one of the first transatlantic cable stations was set up here in the 1880s!

During the royal visit in 1861, Queen Victoria‘s ladies-in-waiting traveled 17 km on the Kenmare road to enjoy a spectacular viewing spot high in the hills. From this beautiful point you can see all three Lakes of Killarney, as well as a number of other splendid natural sights. The ladies were so taken with the view that it was named after them… Ladies’ View.

Not far from Killarney there is a stately mansion well worth a visit: Muckross House, the jewel of Killarney National Park, has 65 rooms with original furnishings and is surrounded by lovely lush gardens which you can explore on foot or in Jaunting Cars drawn by full bred Irish draft horses. Built 1843 in the Tudor style it was later improved for Queen Victoria’s visit – probably contributing to the financial ruin of the owners. In 1932 it was presented to the Irish nation and became the first National Park.

A perfect Friday night in Dingle? A glass of Creans (local craft beer) and live music. My Mom is a big fan of local musician Éilís Kennedy. She and her husband own John Benny’s Pub in Dingle, so the place is a hub for traditonal music with live performers. Here’s a short clip, so enjoy John Benny himself and Éilís’ clear voice with its haunting quality.

Traffic jam. Being stuck due to sheep or cattle herds is not unusual in Ireland – but a herd of Irish Draught Horses being herded by a sheep dog? 😁 These beautiful, vigorous and strong horses were bred for farming and hunting. They are a product of early globalization if you will, as their bloodlines were mixed with Anglo-Norman war horses and later Iberian blood was incorporated as Spanish horses from the shipwrecked Armada found their way ashore in the West of Ireland!

Back to John Benny’s, a traditional pub opposite the pier in Dingle Town. The pub is one of the Peninsula’s finest venues for music (see the video I already posted) but also a superb place to eat. A toasty cast iron woodstove, memorabilia on the walls, great staff and – in my case – delicious Glenbeigh oysters make for a perfect night out on the town!

Temptation thy name is tea time. Ever since I went on exchange to Cheshire in eighth grade I’ve been a fan of a comforting cuppa. Factor in a mouthwatering selection of homemade baked goods and I’m in heaven (or hell?). Helen’s café “An Cupan Tae” facing Dingle Pier is such a blessed place. Helen and her staff are lovely and have a wicked sense of humour, the café is cozy and sunny, the food simply delicious. Wish I could stop there every afternoon…

A friend of ours runs a little printing shop in Dingle. Visiting the simple shed in a backstreet really is a trip back in time. There is so much to discover and learn, so much love goes into the painstakingly set traditional type… operating the antique German montrosity of a printing press definitely requires creativity and inventiveness, but the results are worth it!

We walked in on a funeral. And what a place to be buried – next to the well preserved ruins of a Franciscan friary with a view of Muckross Lake! When Muckross Abbey was founded in the 15th century, it was probably built around an existing yew tree (well over 550 years old). With many little staircases, nooks and crannies, the ruins are a perfect place for explorations and I have to confess that my Dad and I went a little crazy… we find delight in locating the kitchens and the former pit latrines and such 😉

It could be a great adventure playground with its 7 sets of X-shaped stairs climbing up the inner face of the wall to its ramparts. Cahergal Stone Fort is an impressive example of the so called “cashels”, enclosed farmsteads that housed an extended family. It was constructed in the Early Medieval period – without any mortar – and has been attributed to many different cultures. I love climbing those peculiar stairs, walking the ramparts, enjoying the view and trying to imagine what life must have been like in this windy place.

Just one week in Ireland and so many pictures. So many memories. All just because my Mom decided to celebrate her 70th birthday in Dingle – what a great idea! Friends and family came from near and far and our dearest friend Linda even flew in from Arizona – it was so lovely to see part of my “American family” and to show her Ireland 😍

PS: I went on this Ireland trip Easter 2017, but only transferred the posts from Instagram to the Blog Easter 2019.

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