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Report 2018: Southern Ireland with Mom

By nikkihop from Texas USA, Spring 2012

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Page 5 of 12: June 14, 2012 – Kenmare, the Ring of Kerry, the Skelligs

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Staigue Ring Fort's weightist entrance

Up early (again) so we can drive to Kenmare and start our Ring of Kerry driving tour before the mass of tourist buses leave Killarney. Rick Steves recommends that you arrive in Kenmare no later than 8:30 for that purpose, which means we have to leave Benner's Hotel at 6:45. We don't quite make it. DM is instant messaging with my little sister, and I'm just stumbling about. I had to hang my toiletries bag way up on the shower rod (it's one of those folding hanging bags with a hook at the top so you can hang it up), and of course, all the stuff I needed was in the top zipped pocket. DM found me half dressed, standing on the toilet (below the toiletries bag), leaning over so I could look in the mirror and put on my mascara. We finally got ourselves put together around 7:00 and off we went to Kenmare via Killarney.

Killarney is a big town popular with tourists and tour buses. There were dozens of them lining the roads waiting to fill up with people on holiday. We made it through all of the roundabouts okay, with one missed turn. "Doug", our GPS service, was really slow this morning for some reason, and the arrows on the visual were confusing. However, it could have been my fuzzy brain, as evidenced by my slightly kissing the edge of a curb on one of the roundabouts. DM barked like we had hit a rhinoceros. I'll be honest, it's hard enough driving on the left, with a left-hand shift, and a car that has no visibility in the rear windshield to speak of, without the passenger seat peanut gallery. I was also hungry, since we planned on eating in Kenmare.

Before we got to Kenmare, however, we had to drive through the Killarney National Park down very narrow and sometimes single lane roads with rocky cliffs literally and lowly hanging over the road on the left, with steep drop offs and/or gullies on the right. Did I mention that the road rises and falls, and twists around hairpin curves every few hundred yards? If a car comes toward you from the other direction, everyone either has to inch over to their "side" of the road while sucking in and crawling past each other, or one of you has to back up to try to find a wider part of the road. While passing another car heading toward us on a somewhat wider part of the road (at least one and a quarter lanes), I pulled a bit too far to the left and bumped sharply over a mango-sized rock on the shoulder. The old Opal Insignia we rented didn't much appreciate it and, shockingly, turned itself off. I don't know if it's a safety feature that automatically shuts off the engine when the sensors pick up an impact vibration, or what, but DM let's out an "Oh, great! We must have broken something," with this huge exasperated sigh and is about to launch into serious judgment, when I turn the key again and get going. We had a very typical teenage driver and her mother spat at that point, "Jeez, Mom, I'm doing the best I can - do you want to drive? We'll see how well you do!"

"Well, you're just awfully close to the left side of the road!"

"Yes, I know ... because people are whizzing by five inches from our right mirror!"

Hmph! Hmph! We got over it. It actually brings back my youth.

The scenery would have been really nice if the weather was better, especially the Ladies’ Viewpoint at the peak of the Killarney mountains. But, with the rain and low hanging clouds, it all looked kind of dull and gray. We arrived in the village of Kenmare with no further driving incidents (or arguments), and stopped to eat some breakfast at a cute little cafe called Prego on the main street in Kenmare. I ordered a ham and cheddar omelet with toast and coffee. DM had the Irish version of pancakes with maple syrup and tea. The cafe was full of bright modern abstract art with a culinary theme, wood floors, and funky chandelier lighting.

After breakfast, we hit the Ring of Kerry route, traveling clockwise around the 77 mile loop because the tour buses travel counterclockwise from Killarney at the top of the ring. We had no traffic to speak of, but again, many of the roads are narrow and the sharp bends are plentiful. The road signs are funny, too. Ireland's commissioner of public works must be part Native American or another culture that doesn't have a written language, because the signs are very pictorial. There is a sign with a picture of a man lunging while holding a shovel with a small mound of ... something on the shovel which I interpret to mean there is a horse stable nearby, but we later figured out means "road work ahead." There is a sign of a man running across a road with a car behind him, which I interpret to mean, "Run for your life! Mad Max is coming!" I think that sign is actually a warning that pedestrians might be crossing the road, but why is the man running? Are they encouraging the pedestrians to run, or the drivers to be watchful?

One of our first stops along the ring was to the Staigue Ring Fort, which DM had very little interest in, seeing as how we had been to two ring forts already. She changed her mind when we walked up to the entrance, however, because the entrance had been modified apparently to keep sheep and chubby people out. The ring fort wall is circular (of course) and has only one entrance for security reasons. Someone had built up stones on either side of the stone archway into the fort, leaving only a narrow opening about 12 inches wide that you have to squeeze through sideways in order to get in. When we were walking up to the fort, I initially thought nothing of the rather sour look on this portly gentleman's face as he walked back down the path towards us. Now it all makes sense. There is no way that guy got into the fort. DM managed it on her tiptoes, chuckling the whole time. She made me take her photo on the way out because it was so funny. Damn weight-ist wall!

Another round of playing car chicken on the 10-foot wide road back down to the main route from the fort, and DM and I were zipping on to Derrynane House, home of Michael O'Connor, Ireland's political and religious liberator. We zipped so efficiently that we hit Watersville without seeing or making the right turn for Derrynane. So, we turned around. We saw a sign that had the word Derrynane in it, but it was obviously not the right road because it dead-ended into a farm, but only after about 30 minutes of hair-raising motoring on what was essentially a driveway that would have been comfortable on Lombard Street in San Francisco.

So, we went back to the main road and stopped at a cliff-side cafe purporting to have the "Best View in Kerry!" OMG, it also had the worst smell in Kerry. I ran in to ask directions and hit the wall of stench at a trot. It set me back on my heels. I don't know what they had going on in their strange shop-cafe-living room establishment, but it smelled like 100 octogenarians who hadn't showered or washed their cardigans for 20 years. When I got back to the car, DM said, "whew! You brought the smell of ... onions(?) back with you from that place." I told her I didn't think it was onions, it was more like 90 proof geezer.

One more wrong turn and 20 minutes later, we finally found our way through a primordial forest car path to Derrynane House. When DM told the cashier that it was very difficult to find the house because there was no sign from the road, she said if she had a Euro for every time someone told her that, she'd be a rich woman. I wanted to tell her I would give her a Euro to write "DERRYNANE HOUSE" with a freakin arrow on it on a big piece of poster-board and then staple it to the post at the top of the road. Hell-O?!

We walked through the beautiful house with its mementos, including the chariot carriage O'Connell rode on triumphantly through the Dublin streets when he managed to secure equal rights for Catholics. We watched a short fillum (sorry, it’s just how I say it in my head now) on his life and accomplishments, including a bit about how another man challenged him to a duel. During this part of the film, a grandmotherly lady sitting behind DM and I in the small theater softly cried out, "Oh dear!" And then she cried the same thing again, in a much more anguished tone when we learned that O'Connell actually killed the challenger. After a very short, windy and wet walk through the gardens, we traveled back to Watersville for lunch via the pretty Coomakesta Lookout Point with a sweeping view of the sea and Skellig Islands.

We ate at a purple-painted cafe called An Corcan just off the main road. DM ordered the shepherd's pie and I ordered the ham, tomato, onion and cheese toasted special. Mine was good. DM thought hers was seasoned oddly. The best part about lunch was the fact that (1) they had WiFi and (2) they were playing the obituary radio in the background. For 20 minutes we got to hear about all the requiem masses, wakes and funerals of the dearly departed citizens of County Kerry. Imagine our concern when they read off Bridie O'Connor's name and death details. Bridie O'Connor is the name of our bed and breakfast owner near Portmagee. We discussed protocol in case it was our Bridie ... maybe we would cancel the reservation and go back up to Killarney to spend the night? Surely they wouldn't expect us to attend her wake? More on that in a moment.

Despite our shocking news, there was nothing left for it but to soldier on. We self-soothed by stopping at the Skellig Chocolate Shop. I tried to sample the Irish Whiskey Chocolate, but unsurprisingly, they don't allow samples of that flavor. It would probably go like hotcakes, especially when it's raining.

After making some purchases, we could stall no longer and set off to learn the worst at the Beach Cove B&B. Once we laid eyes on it, we really wanted Bridie to be alive because it's incredible. It's a large grey stone and white clapboard cottage with a slate roof that is steps away from a small gorgeous beach and cove with a view of the skellig islands. The waves were crashing into shore and the dramatic clouds and grey-green ocean make this place very fairytale-like. To our relief (and hers as well, I imagine), our Bridie O'Connor is very much alive and full of cheerful energy. She showed us to our wonderful room overlooking the cove on the second floor. It was decorated in an ocean blue and crisp white theme that is one of the nicest designs I've seen. We've been so lucky with our hotels and B&Bs -- not a bad one in the bunch so far.

Since it was only 3:00pm, we headed back out and drove up the steepest road yet to Portmagee proper. The Irish road sign for steep road is pretty self explanatory: a car on a nearly vertical isosceles triangle. They could make it better if there was another car facing it on the way down. It was still raining, as it had been pretty much all day, so we were limited in our options. We elected to visit Valentia Island and the Skellig Experience, a small interactive museum on the skellig islands and the lighthouse keepers in the area, including the ubiquitous 20 minute fillum in their small theater. This was the fourth fillum DM and I have seen since arriving: (1) the Burren flora and fauna at the Burren Visitor Center, (2) the Dingle Peninsula at the Gallarus Oratory, (3) the Life and Times of Daniel O'Connell at Derrynane, and (4) the Skellig experience. We have napped through portions of all of them. Fillums are dangerous for DM and I. We have been getting up at 6:00 in the morning every day and go-go-go-ing all day, every day. If you sit us down for an educational fillum in a small dark room, we starting nodding off like toddlers. We take care to sit in the back row for this reason. When we are tired and need a nap, we start looking for tourist sites with fillums.

One of our last exciting moments on Valentia Island was an honest-to-Goodness leprechaun sighting. Okay, maybe it was just a midget or a dwarf in a blue jacket and wellingtons walking the fence line of his farm, but it could have been a leprechaun.

Unwilling to wind our way back to the B&B and then just turn around and have to find dinner two hours later, we sat in a cozy pub called the Bridge Bar in Portmagee and had tea while reading and working Sudoku puzzles. At dinnertime, I ordered the seafood pie with salad and chips (French fries), and DM had the shepherd's pie ...again! For those of you paying attention, yes, she had this for lunch as well. She didn't love her pie at lunch, so she ordered it again, and apparently successfully, because she liked this shepherd's pie a lot. Have I mentioned that it is nearly impossible to feed DM in any foreign country (and Hawaii, as I know that from experience). If it came from the sea, has a sauce, contains any vegetables that aren't potato, corn, or tomato, or has any interesting spice, DM is probably not going to eat or like it. Since shepherd's pie is basically ground beef topped with mashed potatoes and sometimes, cheese, I guess it's on her approved foods list. So, we had a very satisfying meal after a somewhat stressful and grim-weathered day and drove back to our gorgeous B&B by the sea.

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