12.04.2013 - 12.04.2013 10 °C
I am loving Ireland! There are so many beautiful spots on this island and we are blessed enough to be able to see a few of them. Today, while the girls stayed home to do schoolwork, Ben and I played hooky (it seemed!) to visit the area around Killarney. We had originally been thinking about going on a hike through the Gap of Dunloe but the weather report indicated it was going to be quite rainy. As it happened, the day actually had more sunshine than cloud so perhaps it would have been a good day for hiking after all. However, the weather report lead us to choose to drive around the Ring of Kerry, a 180 km circular route around the Iveragh Peninsula in the southwest of Ireland.
The route is a narrow one, traversing through small Irish villages and an infinite number of sheep pastures, and taking us through hilly passes and along seaside cliffs. The tour buses all make the trip counter clockwise as two buses are unable to pass on the road. They advise cars to go in the opposite direction so as not to get stranded behind the large vehicles. Therefore, we started out in that direction and, once again, I marvelled at Ben's driving prowess as he navigated the roads with confidence, seeming to take on the qualities of a local driver (i.e., contained recklessness, justified righteousness, awareness of the smallest of margins, etc.). Hey, after Sicily and Malta, this was a walk (drive) in the park! Killarney National Park, that is.
The views as we meandered around the ring were stunning. I loved the beaches and water sights, of course, but just as enchanting were the rolling pasturelands crisscrossed with stone walls. Around every corner were cows or sheep. After the amount of sheep we saw today, I felt curious enough to refer to the Ireland National Sheep and Goat Census of 2011 (I kid you not) to see if they outnumbered human residents; it turns out they don't (yet): 3,480,691 sheep to 4.58 million Irish. So many views were quainter than quaint and didn't disappoint, leaving us with many visual snapshots of stone houses and churches nestled among green hills. We also saw some sections of forest, and walked a short path ending in the Torc waterfall. In walking this portion, we were reminded of our home province in so many ways.
We deviated slightly from the official driving route to take in St. Finian's Bay and Valentia Island which the official ring misses. St. Finian's Bay is home to the Skelligs, two islands, one small and one large, that rise out of the Atlantic. The large one is especially commanding and more so when you realize it was first inhabited in the sixth century when St Finian built a monestary there, now on the UNESCO World Heritage List. Sadly, we did not venture out to explore the island -- it would entail a boat ride which seemed like too much time.
Instead, we negotiated the bridge to nearby Valentia Island and drove around the populated isle looking in vain for free access to the cliffs there. We found two places wanting money before we could see the view from 'their' cliffs and somehow, today at least, it bothered at my sense of fair play so we stuck with the inland route. We are back to picnic lunches, the bonus being that on such days, the great views from which one can choose are practically limitless. We selected a pastoral scene overlooking an inlet for our first lunch and then St Finian's Bay for Ben's second lunch (he's a hobbit, remember).
While travelling through picturesque towns with equally picturesque names (like Sneem), we saw many pubs, stores, and other businesses adorned with family names such as Murphy, Kelly, Malone, Kennedy and as many O'Something-or-others as you can dream up. And the percentage of ginger-haired folks has increased as well. It feels so very Irish here.