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Monday, 6 July 2009

Ring of Kerry

It has taken me ages to get back to blogging, since I got back from Ireland. At first it was so hot and humid that to settle to anything was a trial, far less using a laptop emitting lots more heat, so at last I'm playing catch up, with the front and back door open and a nice breeze wafting through the house.
I was telling you about the Skelligs on my last decent posting - an experience I am so glad not to have missed. Seeing the gannets and puffins and that Early Christian monastery clinging to the edge of the rock face was the most amazing thing.

I stayed a couple of nights in the hostel at Port Magee, a pretty little town with more coloured houses, shops and pubs.

and next day crossed the bridge to another island.

Valentia Island had some beautiful viewpoints - in this picture, looking north east towards Caherciveen and Dingle Bay -

and more colourful villages such as Knightstown a "modern" village designed by a Scots engineer for the Knight of Kerry, the principal landowner on the island, in the 1840s.
I had been recommended to visit a grotto at a large slate quarry begun in 1816 where workers were trained by experts brought over from the slate quarries of Wales. The Paris Opera House, the British Houses of Parliament and various railway stations in London were roofed in Valentia slate, and in 1860 a large export order even went to South America. Flagstones and tombstones, sundials and garden seats were also products of the quarry, a steam engine being used to power saws for shaping the slate. During the famine years in the 1840s the quarry provided employment at quite high wages, but because labour was so scarce, women were also employed to work alongside the men in shifts of 11 hours.

The quarry had its ups and downs, closing for a time when Welsh slate proved to be a cheaper option, and reopening to provide employment for islanders at the turn of the 20th century. In 1911 it closed for good when a massive rock fall made it impossible to continue.

The grotto itself was erected in 1954 - the Marian year, a holy year dedicated to the Virgin Mary, when all such grottos began to appear - above the enormous cavern of slate workings, and contains statues of the virgin Mary and St. Bernadette. Why it was set up here, at a disused quarry at the end of a road I don't know.
Today the wildlife around the quarry and the plantlife on the spoilheaps adds to the interest of the place.

Instead of taking the car ferry across to Reenard's Point on the mainland, I completed the circle of the island and crossed the bridge back to Port Magee before heading off to Caherciveen, birthplace of Daniel O'Connell (1775 - 1847) who won Catholic representation in Parliament in 1829.

This almost fairy tale castle was in fact a former base of the Royal Irish Constabulary, known locally as the Barracks, which is now a heritage centre, with displays on Daniel's life, as well as the history of the town and its environs.

Just down the road was a bridge over the river Fertha, where I took photos of these pretty wild scabious flowers on the parapet. I took lots of wildflower photos during my two weeks in Ireland!

Not far from Cahirciveen on the Ring of Kerry road is a restored stone ring fort, probably orinating from the 10th century. Its outer wall had a series of steps built into it on the inside, to enable lookouts to be posted along the top of the walls, I suppose, and this inner wall was probably the home of a chieftain or someone of great importance.

and then I came to Ballycarbery Castle, a very interesting-looking ruin, from the 15th century. From the "entrance" under the barbed wire, the walls looked fairly complete, but from the other side it was seen to have lost a complete half of it!

I wouldn't have tackled the uneven, broken and fallen stairs within the walls myself, they looked too precarious, but some others who were there at that time scrambled up as high as they could go.
It had been quite a substantial tower house in its day, one of what I later learned ws a ten pound castle!

On past Kells, not the one where the famous illuminated book of Kells came from - that's Kells in County Meath - through Glenbeigh, another family holiday spot from years ago - didn't recognise it either, though I had images in my mind of a wide street, a long low hotel where we stayed and white painted plaster garden walls over which hung the myriad fuschias whose buds we loved to pop. Perhaps if I'd stopped and looked around....? I got into terrible trouble with my parents in Glenbeigh years ago. I can't have been more than 10, but I had befriended a little local lad - about the same age as me - who offered to take me to the creamery on his donkey cart the next morning. Thinking there was no harm in it, I got up early and met the lad, climbed up onto the cart with the large milk churns and off we trotted to the creamery where the churns were no doubt unloaded, though I have no recollection of that. We returned along the road to the hotel to be met by my angry parents who had obviously been worried sick about the missing daughter! I just couldn't see what all the fuss was about!
You don't see donkey carts any more, and the old milk churns and carts now sit in peoples' gardens as ornaments.

I did stop in Killorglin though, and again my memory of the country town where we once witnessed King Puck, at the Puck Fair, was lost! Old buildings have gone and been replaced with modern blocks, and a one-way driving system has been introduced.
At the bridge, there was a fairly recent statue commemorating King Puck, a goat who is crowned King for the duration of the annual 3-day horse Fair. The origins of the goat as King are as old as the hills and have been lost in the mists of time, but year after year, in August, the Fair still takes place, and King Puck reigns supreme - the only King left in Ireland today!

From Killorglin I planned on taking a road down the south side of the Dingle peninsula but once again, signposting was hopeless and I ended up on the edge of Tralee... beside a windmill! I had to use my sometimes hopeless sense of direction to get me onto the road I then wanted. Signposts for Dingle had disappeared, but I was sure I was going the right way.
Before long I found myself climbing yet another pass, the Conor Pass that led straight to Dingle town. Several people stopped to climb this rocky spot to look at a lake in the corrie, but I didn't feel adventurous enough, not without a stick or a hand to help me back down! You can see the weather wasn't too brilliant that day, which was a shame as I suspect the views around here are worth seeing!

- and the reason the Dingle signs had vanished? The Kerry council had decided the name should be changed to the Irish name An Daingean - and quite a controversy had arisen because of it.

New housing in Dingle is fairly in keeping with the tradition of coloured houses.

The town was very busy indeed and I drove round about three times looking for the backpackers' hostels. The three I tried for accommodation were chocabloc full, but I eventually found the way to a hostel some miles out of town, and was the only person there. It was quite hard to find right out in the countryside, but it was comfortable and quiet, which suited me well.

The hostel is behind and above the shop in this black and white photo, the building with four dormer windows, almost in the centre of the picture. It was once the postman's house and the family home of the woman who now runs it as a hostel. That must seem rather strange to her! She was very friendly and chatty though, and brought me a cup of tea to the lounge where we sat and chatted for ages.

Next morning the sun was blazing again and I continued my journey, but that's for another day.
Talk again soon.

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