It’s not often that we get a chance to escape the Australian winter and get back to a northern summer, but July saw Orlando and me flying off to Europe to the wedding in France of our friends Ariane and Igor. To make the most of our time, Orlando headed back to his beloved hometown while I went to Ireland to catch up with family. The summer had been a changeable one so we were not expecting great weather.
After a hectic weekend trying to keep up with my alcoholic brother and sister on the red wine front, Mum and I jumped into the car with Bernard’s children Ashling and Connor for a road trip to Dingle. I had not been to Dingle in about eleven years.
Strangely for this summer, as soon as I arrived in Dublin the weather changed and we had nothing but sunshine most days. This happens quite frequently: Mena went home a couple of years ago for Annette’s birthday in May, and ended up in a heat wave. And I have been pictured in these pages sunbathing on the Antrim coast in April.
Late departing Dublin, we headed out the Limerick road, which is motorway as far as Portlaoise these days. When I worked in Cork twenty years ago the good road stopped in Newbridge and it was country roads the rest of the way. The original two-hour drive to Portlaoise was completed in just under an hour.
With my obsession with Irish ham at its zenith, the family had eaten half a pig the day before, and we had the leftovers with us for a picnic.
Mountrath (Maighean Ratha – the fort in the bog) is almost exactly halfway to Limerick from Dublin, and we found a lovely picnic area beside the River Whitehorse and the imposing church of St. Fintan. We ate and drank; the kids played a game of football and checked out the playground while Mum and I rambled across a little footbridge to see the old church. They don’t make them like this anymore: high arches, imposing altar, plenty of God and gold on show. Peaceful, though.
Down through Munster we went, tripping past Limerick on the ring road like lightning, and stopping in Tralee for an ice cream. Blennerville’s windmill also warranted a stop: it is the biggest working windmill in the British Isles. During the Great Famine, the pier beside the Blennerville windmill was a major point of emigration for thousands of Kerry and Munster people. Thousands of people were carried on “coffin ships” to the east cost of the USA and Canada. Many did not survive the journey. Now, the coast of Tralee Bay boasts only beautiful views and seafood restaurants to serve the twenty-first tastes of sophisticated residents and tourists. Who’d have thought.
By late afternoon we were approaching Dingle via the Connor Pass – well, what other route do you take if Connor is in the car? This was the only patch of bad weather we encountered. The mists and clouds descended in true Kerry fashion, and we could hardly see the amazing view back west across Brandon Bay.
We scrambled on rocks above a small waterfall, saw a heart-shaped kettle lake and a couple of text-book corrie lakes almost hidden on the side of the valley. Through the thickening fog we saw some old ruins, of which later we were told the legend.
Apparently these had originally been the simple farm buildings of the O’Donnell Brothers, who had travelled south in 1601, like many Ulstermen, to join the Siege of Kinsale. They somehow decided to farm rather than fight, settled in the valley and led a quiet life. Until one of them killed the other with a shovel!
Our B&B was simple but welcoming. Tom (the archaeologist who told us the above story) was a little hesitant but a lovely man, always ready with local information or help with our Irish vocabulary. I insisted that we all spoke as much Irish as possible as soon as we passed the Gaeltacht sign, and we didn’t do too badly.
We had dinner in John Benny Moriarty’s, a famous bar on the harbour front. John Benny is a well-known local accordion player, and his wife a renowned singer. The bar food was simple but delicious, and the live music when it started was excellent.
We wandered down to the pier after dinner, taking photos at 10.30pm in broad daylight. Love it.