Tuesday, December 15, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

GAELIC GETAWAY, Chapter 14:  

Day 15:  Kenmare to Cahersiveen
After a vegetarian version of a full Irish breakfast at the hotel, we drove to a local supermarket and stocked up on supplies.  A traditional full Irish breakfast is a meal intended to sustain someone preparing to conduct hard manual labor in a farm field.  And perhaps "full" is an understatement.

A traditional full Irish.  Vegetarian versions may add spinach or other vegetables and cheese.
Components of this enormous repast are usually all cooked up in creamy butter in a frying pan and include: bacon (cooked but not crisp like American style), link sausage, black pudding (a patty sausage made from pork, grains and pork blood), white pudding (same as black but no blood), two fried eggs, a tomato half or two, mushrooms, potatoes, baked beans, and some type of bread. Traditionally, the hearty meal assimilated foods produced right there on the farm long before "local sourcing" became trendy.

When we left the Super Valu with our groceries, rain was falling steadily and we debated what to do.  Our plan for the day was the scenic Ring of Kerry drive around the Iveragh Peninsula.  Since most of the route follows a national road (sufficiently wide and marked), we decided to press on in hopes the rain would mind the forecast and clear up by noon.

Cloudy day in Sneem
Rain was still our constant companion as we drove through the colorful town of Sneem.  In summer, the Ring of Kerry is an enormously popular tourist attraction.  In fact, there are so many tour buses hauling sightseers around on the same counterclockwise route (called anti-clockwise in these parts), guidebooks advise individual tourists to drive in a clockwise direction to avoid getting caught in the traffic.  And the village of Sneem, like other towns looking to spruce up their image for a minimum expense and maximum tourist interest, has applied strategic coats of paint to become an appealingly colorful stop on the tourist trail.

Staigue Fort, probably built in the 4th century 
Following directional signs down ever narrowing roads as we left Sneem, we made our way to Staigue Fort, a small isolated stone ring fort thought to date back to the Iron Age.  A remarkable example of early engineering, the fort was built using no mortar and has endured on this remote spot at the head of a lonely valley overlooking the sea for 1,600 years.

Continuing around the Ring of Kerry, also known as N70, we again wandered off track down a side road to reach Derrynane House, the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connell, an early 19th century leader in the nonviolent movement for Irish independence and one of Ireland's most famous historical figures. Dublin's main thoroughfare, O'Connell Street, was named in his honor.

Derrynane House
Though the information we had found online indicated that the house, an Irish national monument, was open until mid-December, it was closed today.  From the interpretive signs, we learned that O'Connell expanded this 1702 family home in 1825 and added the chapel in 1844. 

Ogham stone near Derrynane
By the time we left the house, rain had begun falling but we backtracked a bit to check out an ogham stone nearby.  Dating from the 4th to 6th centuries, some 400 monumental stones have been found around Ireland and western Britain bearing inscriptions in Ogham, an early Medieval alphabet.  Most of the inscriptions have been determined to be personal names, carved on the edge of the stone and reading from bottom to top.

Wind and rain and more wind, more rain
Before continuing our journey around the Ring, we just had to visit the nearby Derrynane Abbey ruins, the model for O'Connell's chapel.  Located on the aptly named Abbey Island, the remains of the 6th century structures are accessible on foot during low tide.  We contemplated planting a letterbox on the island as we ate our picnic lunch in the car waiting for the rain to abate.  Instead, it intensified, and the rising tide was promising us an opportunity to wade back from the ruins.  So we took a few photos and drove on, setting our GPS for Ballinskelligs Beach to look for a letterbox.

Must be a beautiful sight on a clear day
As the road climbed up into the hills above the sea, we passed a number of scenic overlooks, but fog had rolled in, shrouding the vistas in a filmy vapor.  When we arrived in Ballinskelligs, we were unable to locate the letterbox, but we could see Castle Ballinskelligs nearby.  Built by the McCarthy clan in the 16th century, the tower house served to help protect the bay from pirates and to collect tariffs from incoming trade ships.

Castle Ballinskellig
We were hoping for an opportunity today to visit the World Heritage site at Skellig Michael, an island seven miles off the coast which is home to the ruins of a monastery built in the sixth century and used continuously for 500 years.  But the trip to the island must be made by boat and only when the weather is relatively clear and the sea mostly calm.  Neither condition was met today.  No doubt this little 54-acre outpost will see a significant increase in visitors since it served as a location in the final scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Plans call for it to be featured in a sequel to that film (fill-um, as the Irish pronounce it).

Sun getting low over St. Simonds Bay near Ballinskelligs 
Continuing on N70 from Ballinskelligs, we realized we had covered a little less than half the Ring of Kerry.  With only an hour of daylight remaining, our plans to stay the night in Tralee at the end of the circuit had to be trashed.  Though they're crowded with tourists in summer, many of the hotels and inns on the peninsula close for winter due to lack of business.  Fortunately we found a room at the family-operated Ring of Kerry Hotel in Cahersiveen (cuh-HEER-sie-VEEN).

A hearty soup and gratin stew in John D's Bar assuaged our appetites and the chill that had nagged us all day.  As at so many other Irish hotels we have visited, the bar was busy serving locals who keep the business going during the off season.  We learned from the desk clerk that we were only two of three total guests in the hotel's 70 rooms tonight.  After we asked what time the heat would come on in our room, a switch was apparently flipped and soon our radiators were giving forth welcome warmth.

After a bit of planning and laundry (which dried quite rapidly on our toasty heaters), we called it a night, eager to rest up for the remainder of the Ring of Kerry tomorrow.  We're hoping for better weather but certainly not expecting it.

Daily Stats:
  • Started in Kenmare, ended in Cahirsiveen
  • Mileage - 71  (Trip total: 5,707)
  • Weather - 53° to 56 °, cloudy, rainy, repeat
  • Sunrise - 8:41, Sunset - 4:25
  • Walked - 2.1  (Trip total: 38.6) 
Talk about standing the test of time.  With no mortar, these stones have remained in tact for 1,600 years.
Derrynane House garden
Derrynane House with 1844 chapel
Lines on left edge of stone are Ogham inscriptions.
Our lunch picnic view
Sheep to shore, if you could see them through the fog