John carries on group texting on a regular basis with his four brothers and has done so for years. The topic can be anything, and they are sure to have a steady backchannel going during LSU football games. Lately, John’s messages are, of course, related to our travels. Here is his summary of Dublin for the brothers’ group text:
Been in Dublin for 2 days. Plenty of history, Bronze age. Vikings. Normans. British. Act of Union with the U.K. Assassinations, Irish Feuds. Bad potatoes. Immigration. Revolution. Home Rule. Partial Independence (6 counties still with the U.K.) Civil War. British. British. And now the British, Brexit. IRA. Plenty of blame the British. Plenty of internal struggle. Fascinating but tiring.
I like to think of this as the IKEA approach to blogging – we give you the topics, you use the tools at your disposal to put it all together! Or to at least put as much of it together as you like.
The days in Dublin really were fascinating and were quite a lot of fun. Highlights included the Book of Kells and Kilmainham Gaol, the prison that played a pivotal role in the 1916 Irish uprising, eventually leading to Irish Civil War and decades of “The Troubles” before the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. We also enjoyed a walking tour of the city, visiting Christ Church Cathedral, and the impressive Archaeology Museum. We did not plan for enough time in Dubin!
At the risk of channeling Rick Steves, my advice on these are to 1.) Buy tickets in advance for both and for Kilmainham Gaol, buy at least a week in advance. 2.) For the Book of Kells, get there first thing in the morning and head straight upstairs to see the actual book without crowds, then head downstairs to the exhibit where you can read about this beautiful and amazing document.
Another absolute highlight was getting together with Sally Berkery, a former colleague and friend from the consulting firm where I worked for decades. She and her husband moved to Dublin, his native city, 23 years ago and it was such a treat to see her after all this time! We met for breakfast and didn’t leave until almost lunchtime. One of the pleasures of this type of travel is getting to see old friends in various parts of the world.
On to County Kerry
Our first stop in County Kerry was Kenmare, a place we loved at first sight. It’s a fun little town with a resort atmosphere, lively music-filled pubs, and friendly folks. Our B&B was perfect – a five-minute walk into the heart of the town, but on a quiet street away from the hubbub. It’s situated just between the Ring of Breara and the more famous Ring of Kerry and is also minutes away from Killarney National Park. We visited – and loved – all of these. The only problem was that our busy days of exploring, which started early in the day to avoid sharing the narrow roads with tour buses, made us too tired in the evenings to enjoy much of the music in the pubs.
The Dingle Way
The Dingle Peninsula, a little to the Northwest of Killarney, has some of the most spectacular and dramatic scenery in all of Ireland. I’ve had a long-standing fascination with taking part in some of the walks that Ireland is famous for – setting out on foot and hiking from one town to another on the walkways, staying at charming B&Bs at each stop. So, we had arranged during our visit here to walk from Dingle to Dunquin, stay overnight, then walk on to Feohanagh, then take a taxi back for a final night before leaving Dingle. We were looking forward to all of our time in Dingle, but especially the walking. And, I was also hoping to have a chance to hear some traditional Irish music in a pub. Maybe we could stay up that late.
The way it worked out, our time in Dingle started off going sideways and never totally recovered. Our first day, we arrived to a beehive of activity in town – the first weekend of August is a Bank Holiday and is the busiest of the year for this thriving little tourist town. We struggled to find our Airbnb and once we got there, discovered that the place lacks WiFi (my mistake in booking) and its location a few miles out of town meant that walking was not an option: we faced parking challenges on each visit into town.
Our first afternoon in Dingle was spent on the phone trying to get a booking at Glacier National Park’s Many Glacier Hotel for next August (2020) for an employee reunion with folks I worked with at Glacier National Park when I was in college. This is a little like trying to get tickets to a Rolling Stones Concert: start dialing when the opportunity opens and redial as many times as needed. I won’t go into the details, but it took ALL of our first afternoon in Dingle to get this resolved.
Next, we got a message from our B&B in Kenmare to tell us that we had left a laptop computer in our room there. So, the following day, instead of enjoying Dingle, we drove to Kenmare and back, two hours each way. In the afternoon, we spent time preparing for our walk, locating overnight parking and being sure we had a good map and necessary information.
The Dingle Way
The morning of our Dingle Way walk, we awoke to wind and rain. I hate to complain, since we have only had so few rainy days since leaving the U.S. in early April, but why did the rain have to fall on this particular day? We debated on what to do. Since we had booked accommodations already, the alternative to walking was just driving over to Dunquin and picking up a short walk, weather permitting. I was inclined to go ahead with the planned walk; John was not. We decided to go. The weather was overcast and misty for most of the day, but only twice did we actually have to pull out the rain jackets.
The walk took us through a few sections of share-the-road, along a beach, through a marsh with raised walkways, and through sections of trail that are sheep pastures, several with steep climbs, followed by steep descents. There were some interesting landmarks along the way, including archaeological sites.
The beach section of the walk had sounded like Happy Hikers traipsing across an idyllic beach, but was actually more like French Foreign Legion traversing the dunes against the odds. Just as we completed the beach section which was about a mile, but seemed like ten miles, we were about two hours into the walk. John turned and asked, “Is this a 3 ½ or 4-hour walk?” I replied, “The description puts it at five to seven hours.” John’s response was “Five to seven hours?!” Then, silence.
Once into the climbing sections, we were literally walking in the clouds. Where we should have seen beautiful coastal views, we saw only opaque white clouds. And then, all of a sudden, the clouds lifted and we saw blue skies, sun, and stunning views.
The last 4 kilometers of the walk were on the road. By then, we were near the maximum estimate for the walk of seven hours, we were both tired, and John’s knee was bothering him. I tried to thumb a ride from a few cars, but they just passed us by. And then we saw a couple, their car pulled over to the side, in the direction we were going, taking pictures. I approached them and, in my best southern accent, I asked “Can y’all give us a lift a couple of kilometers down the road to our B&B? We’ve just walked from Dingle Town and my husband’s knee is bothering him.” The couple were French, from Nantes, and we will be forever grateful to them for sparing us the last thirty minutes of walking. Our walking stats for the day: 13.9 miles, 32,560 steps, and 49 floors of elevation.
The little B&B we had booked was lovely and our simple and comfortable room looked like heaven. We took a shower and then walked across the road to the local pub, famous for being the most westerly pub in Europe. The walls are decorated with pictures from movies filmed in the area, including Ryan’s Daughter, Far and Away, and the latest in the Star Wars movies. In the distance, we could see the outline of Skellig Michael, the dramatic rock island that was a monastery for centuries.
As for the walk to Feohanagh the next day, you’ve probably figured out that we didn’t do it. We took a taxi back to Dingle Town. It rained all day anyway.
Finally, Irish music
We had an easy recovery day following our walk, a welcome change from the usual pace. We also checked around and found two pubs in town that offer early-bird traditional music starting at 6:00 or 6:30. We made our way into town and settled in to the Courthouse Pub. The atmosphere was perfect: casual setting and excellent traditional music without amplification. The crowd was dominated by families with young kids and a few older couples. Also perfect. We loved the music and listened for an hour before leaving to find something to eat. And then, we did what people do when they are ready for a break from fish and chips, seafood chowder, cottage pie, and the other culinary delights that this area has to offer: we found a place for Chinese takeout.