Part two of a nearly three-week trip to Ireland as the pandemic wave swept across Europe: Dingle Peninsula to Dublin.
When last we visited together we were in Part One in Scartaglen, in County Kerry, and about to go out on to the Dingle Peninsula for a few days. The Dingle Peninsula is as far west as you can go in Europe (Dunmore Head: 10° 28′ 48′ W).
We were told that County Kerry and especially Dingle Peninsula would be “different”. The Dubliners called it the “Wild West” and a place where it might be harder to understand the strong Irish accents. We were already in Kerry for a couple days and were spending most of a week on the peninsula but if there was a difference of that sort, we missed it. Irish Gaelic is commonly spoken on Dingle and were heard plenty of it but everyone speaks English as well. Compared to driving on the wrong side of the road from the wrong side of the car, any difference in Dingle was pretty minor. The roads are very narrow, however. The stray sheep on the road was a bit different.
We bypassed Tralee on the way to Dingle, thinking we might spend a few hours there later in the week. With the Coronavirus shutdown, that did not happen so Tralee in on the list for the next trip.
Our destination was Ballyferriter near the farthest edge of the peninsula. We had an Airbnb cottage rented for five days and hoped to do some hiking along the country roads and pathways that make up the Dingle Way, a circular route that goes around the peninsula and connects to Tralee. The weather did not cooperate so we only did short walks and dodged the rainstorms.
Our cottage (left)
The Three Sisters
The hill behind
The movie Ryan’s Daughter was filmed up the hill behind our cottages and the Star Wars scenes centered around the beehive huts was filmed at Dunmore Head, close by, The village of Ballyferriter has a festival on May the fourth on most years to celebrate Star Wars…but not this year. When we arrived the Atlantic was still roaring from the recent storm (named Hannah) and we could hear it roaring in our cottage about a quarter-mile away from the beach, The beach closest to us was Clogher Strand, a small rocky beach not suitable for swimming, we were told. We had no intention of swimming.
The Blasket Islands were a short distance offshore and the island we could see from the beach was called The Sleeping Giant for obvious reasons. The ocean calmed down a bit before we left.
Ballyferriter is a small village. It has a church, school, restaurant and hotel, grocery store, and a couple pubs, maybe three. On some days there are probably more sheep than people. We had hopes of visiting pubs and we started out okay but things were getting a little crazy by the time we got to spend a few days in Ballyferriter. The pubs closed all over Ireland so our two visits to Kain’s and Murphy’s pubs in Ballyferriter were the end of it. This was on weeknights and there were few people out and even fewer with the pandemic scare. There are more Irish pubs in the US than in Ireland. (There are probably more “Irish” in America than in Ireland.) There is a craft brewery about halfway to Dingle town but it, too, was closed. I had some of their beer and it was very good. Guinness seems to rule the roost in Ireland’s pubs and I had several. I had someone pour me a “real” Guinness once in Dublin and I’m not sure what that meant.
Dingle is the big town and a seaport for fishing boats and a few tourist excursion boats. There is a popular resident dolphin, Fungie, who lives in the harbor and enjoys interacting with the boats as they come in or out. He has gotten to be a tourist attraction. Dingle is where the big grocery stores are and the shops for buying the local craftwork. Wool is the big item — sweaters, scarves, mittens, everything. Dingle was also one of the old ports that took pilgrims to Spain for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostella and the tomb of St. James going back to the middle ages. The Dingle Way was part of that route as it went into Dingle.
One day it was so cold and windy and rainy that we decided to take a trip over the far side of the peninsula to Castlegregory, which was sheltered a little by the high mountains and seemed to be having less rain. The road crosses Conner Pass, one of the highest mountain passes in Ireland and the scenery and views were stunning. At the top, we stopped to take pictures and saw a ram that was all on his own on the mountainside. One false step and he would be tumbling down the side but he seemed quite happy and unconcerned. This was just after lambing time and there were a few sheep taking advantage of the extra work that the farmers had to do and were out exploring on their own.
Castlegregory is closer to Tralee and seemed to be a little more developed. It looked like there were some vacation homes along the beach in places. The bay was a lot calmer and was suitable for smaller fishing boats. Saint Brendan was born in Tralee or perhaps along the bay near where Castlegregory is located. St. Brendan and fifteen of his monks sailed in an oxen-skin boat to America (don’t you know) and returned safely to Ireland sometime before 570 AD. St. Brendan’s name is applied to a lot of things in this area (wells, springs, mountains, etc.).
Castlegregory has a nice beach area, a boatyard, a nice view of the mountains, and a church named for St. Brendan.
Gallorus and the Beehive Huts
Saint Patrick and Saint Brendan and the many monks and religious preachers transformed these western lands into devout Christian communities, added some monasteries and religious centers, and made space for devout hermit monks. One interesting relic of that very early Christian era is the Gallorus Oratory, probably built as early as the 600s AD of local stone. It is in the shape of an overturned boat and is the last remaining example of this type of early church.
The oratory probably served the small community of local Christians or perhaps a monastic community or both. Religious hermits were more likely scattered in solitary places or with tiny groups. The beehive huts, also dating to the 600s, on the far western edge of the peninsula and on the remote Skellig Islands were possibly inhabited by hermits at one time. When the Normans invaded Ireland some of the country people were driven off their land and took refuge in the beehive huts and likely built more..
There are only a few intact beehive huts, The pictured ruins are of an ancient stone fort and several beehive huts enclosed inside the walls. They were domed structures made of dry-laid stone that resembled a beehive. Most seem to be on the heights overlooking the ocean.
Killarney National Park
After five days in Ballyferriter exploring Dingle Peninsula, we headed toward Cork City with a stop at Killarney National Park. I found out later that my two great-great-grandmothers were born in Killarney town but I didn’t know that during our visit. The Killarney area is very scenic and has been a tourist spot for a long time. The tourists back in the day were mostly the Anglo-Irish and English elite, not so much the common folk.
Of course, it was threatening rain during our visit so we were hoping to see some of the park before the rain put an end to it. By this time in our trip, the pandemic shutdown had begun and the government was advising people to stay at home. But this was a national holiday weekend leading up to St. Patrick’s Day so the park was crowded with people trying to squeeze in a last outing or day trip before self-isolation set in.
We stopped at Muckross House first. This was a mansion built in 1843 by Henry Arthur Herbert, an MP representing Kerry and a political figure in Ireland serving as Chief Secretary (like Secretary of State). His wife was watercolorist Mary Balfour. The Tudor style house has sixty-five rooms. Queen Victoria visited in 1861 and the house was sold to Arthur Edward Guinness (AKA Baron Ardilaun, a former partner in the brewing business) who kept and protected the great house and associated lands around the Killarney lakes and mountains from development. The property changed hands a couple times and eventually, the house and 11,000 acres were given to the Republic of Ireland by the Bourn family. The property served as the beginning of the national park.
The mountains are some of the highest in Ireland.
Our original intention was to be in Cork City, the second-largest city in Ireland, for the St. Patrick’s day celebration and parade. Yes, that would be the parade and celebration that was canceled because of the pandemic. We went anyway.
St. Patrick’s Day crowds in Cork City. The City Hall
Cork seems to be an industrial and hardworking town on the south coast of Ireland. I have the impression that there was a strong British presence there. It is a little bit “gritty” in a good way — not putting on airs or trying hard to impress. The center of town is built on an island in the River Lee but the city spreads to the areas on both sides of the river and up the hills. Cork was established as a monastic community and was occupied by the Vikings around 915. It continued as a seaport trading with Europe. The war for independence from Britain (1919-1921) left a mark on the city’s history. Terrence McSwiney, the Sinn Fein Lord Mayor of Cork, was charged with sedition by the British and imprisoned in London in 1920 where he died of starvation during a 73-day hunger strike in 1920. The city center was burned by mostly British “Black and Tan” troops in 1920. There were attacks and reprisals and guerilla warfare throughout County Cork and in Dublin and Belfast.
With the pubs and restaurants closed, we were struggling a bit for food and the continuing rain kept us from exploring as much as we wanted. We had some Chinese takeout a couple times and ate at a fast-food kebab shop. Our hotel had great breakfasts that we took advantage of. A full Irish (or English) breakfast is a lot of food.
The weather cooperated enough that we got to walk around a few hours a day. Even the churches were closed due to the pandemic. We got to see St. Patrick’s Church near our hotel, and then later attended part of the last mass celebrated at St. Peter and Paul’s Church, near St. Patrick’s Street in the city center.
St. Patrick’s Church
St. Peter and Paul
The commercial area is St. Patrick’s Street. The department stores and some shops and fast food places were still open. The English Market is sort of an indoor food-court and gallery of small shops. The food is interesting, especially the fishmongers’ shops.
While walking along St. Patrick’s Street on St. Patrick’s Day we were part of a small spontaneous holiday celebration. We heard cars honking and along came a caravan of four or five cars with riders waving Irish flags and shouting. The pedestrians on the street waved and broke into cheers. The unofficial parade went by three times with a few more cars each time.
Dublin and Home
The next day we took a train back to Dublin. There was a total of three passengers in our coach. A few more got on at a couple stops but it was mostly empty pulling into Dublin. It was a comfortable ride mostly through farmland and small towns. I grew up in Missouri and this part of Ireland looked a lot like rural Missouri…except for the stone walls between the fields. We took a taxi from the train station to our hotel only to find out that the hotel was closing due to the pandemic. Most casual traveling had stopped and the tourists were going home or canceling their reservations. The hotel made reservations for us at their “sister” hotel, The Dublin Westin. Alarm bells started going off because that was not within our budget. When we got there they honored our reservations at the original price and for the same number of days. They gave us a room on the third floor and the next day moved us to the first floor and by the time we left they had fewer than twenty rooms occupied in this large hotel. We had five days in Dublin with not much to do but walk around and take pictures, go to the park, visit with hotel staff, and find a few coffee shops and restaurants that were still open.
Our airline flights were being canceled and rescheduled for several days before we even got back to Dublin. Finally, the email arrived that said our flight home was canceled and they asked us to call to set up a connection back to the USA. We already planned on flying Dublin to London, staying overnight, and then flying to Chicago and back home to Albuquerque. The final arrangements had us leaving Dublin a day early, spending the night in London, and flying to Dallas and then Albuquerque. It was a hectic trip. Travelers were being routed through Heath Row airport from as far away as South Africa because direct flights were canceled. The plane from London was not full so we could get a little more space. Everyone was trying to get home including about two dozen Mormon missionaries and scuba instructors and tour guides from around the world. It all worked out until we reached Dallas where the airport folks seemed clueless that we were coming. Delays at the airport with the coronavirus screening, ridiculously disorganized customs check-in, luggage transfer, and then back through the TSA checkpoint (staffed by one guy) made us miss the flight to Albuquerque, which left a few minutes early as we were running to the gate. We ended up catching the late flight home (our luggage took the first plane) and finally got safely home a little after midnight.
It was an interesting trip at an interesting time and it turned out much different than we expected or planned. It was very restful (until our trip home) but we did not see much of what we were hoping to see (mostly in and around Dublin). In spite of the anxiety over the pandemic, the Irish were as welcoming and pleasant as they could be. I will have to return once this health scare is over to see what we missed.
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