Vacation 2019: The Ring of Kerry

Our Saturday Aug 10 tour was the Ring of Kerry (An Mhór Chuaird), a loop around the high hills of County Kerry. It was a somewhat shorter touring day than most of the others, leaving Killarney at 8am and returning close to 4pm. We found out that busses are required to circle counterclockwise around the loop, lest two of them meet going in opposite directions. The roads in Ireland are very narrow by North American standards and typically have no shoulders, with hedgerows of 3-4 metre high “hedges” (more like trees!) growing right at the edge. At least in most of the country; we later found that western Ireland has drystone walls instead. Occasionally there is a 1-lane bridge. Even if driving weren’t on the unfamiliar left, I don’t think I could manage.

The tour seems to believe most people need “retail therapy” every day, so our first stop was Moriarty’s Gift Shop outside Killarney. They sell Irish crafts, in a variety of price ranges: hats, jackets, shirts, … I took a look at the jewelleryfirst, ourguide having describedtheir gold Skellig Michael pendants.

At 2000 euros, it was quite a bit out of my price range, but it was beautiful.
The reason for my interest was Skellig Michael itself. It was a remote Christian monastery about 12 kilometresout into the Atlantic to the west of Kerry. It was founded, according to our guide, around 500 AD – but the Wikipedia article doubts this. It remained continuously occupied until the early 13th century. Overwhat must have been hundreds of years the monks built a series of steps up the steep rocks, over 600 over them, leading to a small collection of igloo-like rock dwellings. The island recently became more famous because it was used as the site of the Jedi ruins at the end of Star Wars VII and much of Star Wars VIII.
We passed several pieces of interesting Irish culture on the way. Here is an ogham stone – one of the earliest forms of writing in Europe.
There are “tidy village competitions” every year; citizens and city councils go to a lot of effort to keep their towns clean.
The town of Cill Orglain has a “Puck goat fair” every year at this time. It celebrates a legend that when Oliver Cromwell invaded, a goat came running down the main street, which alerted the villagers of his arrival so they could escape to the countryside and avoid the typical Commonwealth slaughter of the native population. So each year they raise a 30’ high pedestal, put a local goat on it, and raise a toast to Puck.
Every so often you’ll come across a tree left alone in the middle of an otherwise actively-used field. They’re called “fairy trees” from the belief in the mischievous and occasionally malign Fair Folk. The claim is that animals won’t go near one, and cutting one down is very bad luck. I regret how blurry this photograph is; it’s mainly here to serve as a very rough indication of what a field with one looks like.
There are also fairy forts.
We stopped at a Skellig Michael visitor’s centre on Valentia (the island where the first transatlantic cable started) for lunch, and watched an audio-visual about the island’s history. Taking a trip to the island itself is a full day’s journey, involving taking an hour’s ride in a small boat out into the potentially stormy Atlantic, plus climbing those 600-odd steep steps (very slippery when wet), with sheer drops, no handrails, occasional very narrow passages, and six hours with no bathrooms. I’m sure that on my best day I couldn’t manage it, given both the physical exertion and the acrophobia triggers.
We caught a glimpse of the island, far off in the mists, behind a headland while driving away on the bus. It is the slightly darker lump just above the strip of coastline.
I took a lot of countryside photographs, some from the bus, some on foot.

The region is quite hilly – or perhaps small-mountainy.

Some hills are naturally terraced; this one is on the edge of Dingle Bay.
Others are very rocky.
A peat bog. Some people apparently still burn peat for heating and electricity. There was a reconstructed peat bog village at one of our rest stops, but I didn’t pay to go in.
A fair part of the ring is coastal.
As we neared Killarney we entered the National Park, which includes Muckross House (Teach Mhucrois) where Queen Victoria stayed. And it was in the park that our guide explained about busses going counterclockwise to avoid each other “but sometimes you’ll get a camper coming the other way.” And so we did, about ten minutes later, and at about the worst possible place, where the camper had only a couple of feet of clearance at the start of the encounter (barely enough for the passenger to get out and guide the driver), and less clearance as it progressed.
We returned to our hotel in Killarney and had the evening to ourselves; there were plenty of restaurants nearby. I wrote the blog entry I posted yesterday, and went to bed early. I usually sleep poorly the first night in a new place – which makes a bus tour especially difficult – but this was the second night, and I slept fairly well.

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