The Ring of Kerry

By Mark

Every guide book for Ireland says you must visit the Ring of Kerry.  They are right.  A rugged peninsula jutting into the Atlantic Ocean holds much of the history of settlements from the earliest footholds and still shows many of the scars from the Potato Famine.  

The clouds meet the sea and the land

The clouds meet the sea and the land

We knew that the roads were narrow and wound their way around the coastline.   I really wanted to be able to enjoy the sights and take photos without the stress of driving and navigating narrow roads on the wrong side.

We engaged a driver and car for the day and it was a smart choice.  Our driver Tom was a great guide and a lot of fun. 

Our first stop was another Heritage village, showcasing village life around the time of the famine. 

One of the most poignant signs was this eviction notice to a Widow to clear out of her cottage. 

Wreckers would come in and tear out the roof and doors leaving the residents without shelter or support.  Houses like this, are still evident everywhere.  

The town of Cahirsiveen was the turning off point for Ballycarbery Castle and some stone forts.

Unlike the U.S. where everything would have had safety rails and warning signs, you could climb up as far into the ruins as you dared. 

Cahergall and Leacanabuile stone forts were built by hand with thick walls to shelter a farm and their livestock from raiders by land and by sea.

These two were pretty well visited by tourists. Tom took us down a sheep trail, where it was obvious very few visitors went to see Caherdaniel fort.  

The state mowing crew had just finished and the smell of the grass, the sea air and the incredible variety of the shades of green really made us feel we were back in time. 

Old walls and houses and new sheep

Old walls and houses and new sheep

We stopped for lunch in the colorful village of Sneem.

These rocks and the river also seem to appear in every advertisement for the area.  I wouldn’t want to go kayaking or tubing here. 

As we drove back towards the Gap of Dunloe, every time we stopped we had the chance to watch the play of clouds and light on the hills. 

Every few seconds rays of sunshine would break through and illuminate little segments of the valleys and rocks.

Finally we stopped at Torc Waterfall.  A nice hike up the trail with a few hundred folks takes you to lookout points where you can’t tell that another person was in a hundred miles

It was a long day, but one that neither of us will forget.   Of course we had some Guinness and Cider to enjoy as we looked back on the day.   Well only one more adventure to go—Cork and Waterford.    

The Cliffs of Insanity

By Mark

Our next stop was Lahinch and the Cliffs of Moher.

We were worried that after leaving the castle, the rest of the trip would be somewhat anticlimactic. Thank goodness our friends had recommended that we stay at their favorite B&B in Ireland, it definitely helped cushion the blow.   The drive from Cong southwards went across the Burren, and I wished that I wasn’t driving.  It was some of the rockiest, barren but really beautiful terrain I’d ever seen.

The narrow, narrow roads though meant not a lot of opportunities to stop and enjoy the view.  Now if you are a golfer, then Lahinch is a legendary place with its world famous Links course.  For us, it was a logical place to stop, as I had planned on shooting the sunset from the cliffs.  Our recommended stop was the Moy House.  

We managed to snag the “Well Suite”; named as it has a glass covered opening in the bathroom leading down to an inlet from the sea, where they used to draw water in for cleaning.  This was the view we were forced to deal with from the sitting room in our suite.  Tough, I know, but we dealt with it. 

We drove around the bay over to the cliffs.  Now this is one of the most picturesque locations in Ireland and these cliffs have appeared in many films including Princess Bride and as the Cave from Harry Potter.  

It was a pretty calm day, for there, and the seas were not pounding against the rocks.  Each year the violent storms from the Atlantic erode more of the Cliffside. 

You can walk along the pathway from one end to the other.  It wasn’t until a few years ago, that they put up any kind of barriers.  People would get too close to the edge and the incredibly powerful wind gusts would push them over the side.  It’s a long, long ways down. With the cloudy skies we could tell it wasn’t going to be much of a spectacular sunset. Combine that with the fact that sunset wasn’t until after 10PM, and we decided to go back to the inn for a spectacular dinner. 

The next day, we knew we had a fairly short drive, but with lots to see along the way.  Bunratty Castle and the Irish Heritage Park really proved to be a great way to spend the day.

irst of all we found the best shopping deals on the trip; a lovely woolen mill, with beautiful stuff, which they ship for free if you buy enough—we did. The castle has 4 four towers accessible on very narrow spiral staircases.

The rooms are very much worth the climb, even for someone who really doesn’t like heights.

The heritage park has a bunch of houses and shops relocated from across the country.  It represents the full range of economic history.  A group of school kids were visiting and their teacher started playing so they put on an impromptu show of Irish dancing. 

They were very pleased and proud to do so.  There are other residents of the park as well. 

I liked this historic old mill and the thatcher’s cottage. 

You could say we were as happy as….

Irish Bacon, the early stages

Irish Bacon, the early stages

Here’s a Fine Stick…

By Mark

Sarah had two firm requirements for our trip; the first was we had to visit the location where the Quiet Man was filmed, and that we would stay in a castle.  Fortunately, we were able to accomplish both in the village of Cong. This blog is a little longer than normal, but does have some decent photos, so stick with it.

We set out for our first big test in driving on the left side, and it was actually pretty easy.  One of the things all the guides tell you is that the roads are “a little narrower” than you probably are used to.  That is very, very true.  Plus the roads usually follow right next to the innumerable rock walls which are everywhere.  Sarah spent a lot of time muttering to herself as we drove along next to the walls.  Cong is all the way across the country—that being all of 2.5 hours. 

In 1952 John Ford, John Wayne, and Maureen O’Hara, plus pretty much any major actor with Irish roots, descended on this quiet town. The village has capitalized on the success of the film with many places now renamed to the businesses they were named in the movie.  The Tour HQ looks like the humble cottage “White a’Morn”, which is actually miles away in another county. 

Pat Cohan’s is now a fine restaurant;  when the movie was made, it was a grocery store.  

There is the colorful dying man’s house, from where he leaps up from his deathbed to see the great fight.  

The nice house of Mr. Reverend Playfair sits right on the river. 

Squire Danagher’s substantial farmhouse is actually over on the Ashford Castle Estate.

The famous ruins scene was not filmed in the ruins of Cong Abbey either.

A few years ago Ms. O’Hara came back to the village for the dedication of this statue and for their annual festival.  

When we finished our delightful walking tour, we headed down the road to start our stay at Ashford Castle.  As you exit the main road, a liveried guard greets you and takes your name.  You drive for a half mile or so, through their beautiful golf course, and drive across the bridge. 

Your five star treatment begins as they greet you, by name, and make your bags magically disappear.  The greeting staff gives you personalized tours of the grounds and the facilities.  We were a little early, so we went into their lounge, for a light lunch and a little appropriate refreshment. 

After we got settled in our room, we went out exploring the hundreds of acres of gardens.

Here is a view of what the whole castle looks like.  It was originally built as a summer hunting lodge by the heirs of the Guinness Brewing Company.  

After our dinner in the dungeon, we wandered around for a while longer until the live music started at 9:00 PM.   Oh, and they have the Quiet Man movie free 24 hours a day on the telly. 

The castle offers salmon and trout fishing, golf, equestrian activities and is also home to the Ireland Falconry School.   

We signed up to go and fly a hawk, and it was one of our absolutely favorite parts of the whole trip.  Our Hawk’s name was Aztec.  

Not a handsaw...  5 pts to the one who correctly identifies the reference.

Not a handsaw...  5 pts to the one who correctly identifies the reference.

He was exceptionally well trained and knew what he was supposed to do, we eventually learned.

Can’t lie, but this was an expensive place to stay.  I can say that it was totally and completely worth it.