We drove around the Ring of Kerry. Wish we had had longer. Very beautiful. Especially on the coast around Sneem. Wild and windswept. But how the weather changes! Blue sky to start, rain by the end. We actually 'lost' some scenery due to the cloud. The best? The view. The forts, Lecanabualle and Cahergal - in Cahersiveen. (Turn off on the right from Tralee direction onto Bridge Street and follow the signs. Down the same road, before turning off to the Forts, is Ballycarberry Castle. The Castle is a beautiful ruin which is perfect for a picnic. Beware the stinging nettles as you climb under the fence. Yep, there's no gate.
The bad. The kerry Bog village museum next to the red fox Inn. It was only 5 Euros to get in, but it really wasn't worth it. 5 thatched roof cottages built for the 'village'. The shop is closed and you have to go to the pub to buy the obligitory postcards. The promise was of the rare Bog Pony breed and seeing the wolfhounds. Not a dog in sight. And the ponies were asleep. See photo - gosh, hope they weren't dead! Not worth the money.
Over The Water is the name given to the area across the Fertha river, in the town of Caherciveen.
It is reached by turning right, as you enter the town from Killorglin direction. This will take you over the bridge, passing by the Old Barracks, a wonderful turreted building. Follow the road to a T-junction, and turn left and a short drive later, take another left, this takes you to Ballycarbery Castle ruins. Part of the southern wall is completely missing, where in the past local farmers took the stone away to build their houses. This and the years of Irish weather have taken it's toll, but yet, still, the remains are remarkably intact. There is a well written informative piece there to read of it's history.
It is scenic and peaceful, and surrounded by water.
Turn around and come back to the main junction again, take the left turn. There is a pull in area to park, if you wish to stop and explore the stone forts there.
Local legends say there is an underground tunnel linking the Castle to the nearby Stone Fort of Cahergall. The entrance to this tunnel is supposed to be under the south east corner of the castle. The Cahergall ringfort has undergone extensive reconstruction but part of the original is still there. It is as perfect an example of a ring fort as can be found in the area. There is an inner sanctum where a fire could be lit and people could stay warm and also an outer sanctum with thick walls and steps. The outer wall is higher in the direction of the prevailing winds to provide maximum shelter.
Leacanabuale ringfort is located close to the Cahergall ringfort. The smoothness of its exterior curves is impressive and not easily scaled by an attacker. The inside surface incorporates several sets of steps which would have given the defenders access to the top of the wall. The gateway is narrow to make it easier to defend and may also have been barred by some kind of door.
Drive straight on, with the forts on your right, until you come to a pebble beach in front, turn left to White Sands beach.
A lovely hide away.
If you're a fan of vintage cars you could visit the family-run Motor Museum in Kilgarvan near Kenmare. What just looks like a shed in the middle of nowhere actually houses quite an impressive collection of restored motoring rarities.
Admission fee is 5 Euro per person, which I personally found rather steep, but then again I'm not the car enthusiast in the family and only came along because my brother is into vintage cars...
In the heart of the Caha Mountains, at the end of a very narrow and very windy road you will find an absolutely gorgeous waterfall tumbling down a rocky hillside.
In addition to this there are a number of walks around the park, which unfortunately we did not have enough time for, but next time I'm in the area I'll definitely plan to spend some more time there and do one of the hikes there. There are 6 different hikes from 40 minutes to 7 hours, or you can just potter over to the waterfall, or do the start of the river walk up to the water garden, which is a small lake with some waterlilies by the side of a mountain stream. The river walk then continues up through the forest along the tumbling stream.
The park is privately owned, and the admission fee is 5 Euro per person.
There is also a small cafe serving apple pie and scones.
The village of Cloghane is two miles from Glen and four miles from Mullach and it's impossible to visit either place without passing through it. It's not a large village but it's position on Brandon Bay, beautiful beach and proximity to Mount Brandon, has made it very popular with hill walkers, mountaineers, anglers and visitors who just love the beautiful scenery and laid back atmosphere of the village. At nights there are good music and traditional Sean-nos singing sessions in the pubs and the people who live here are incredibly friendly, warmhearted and articulate. Kerry people have a long oral tradition and the telling of stories and anecdotes is still widespread. Have a drink and a chat with any local in a pub and I guarantee you, you will not be bored. There's one small hotel, O'Connors, but most of the local houses offer B&B as well. The photos show the local school where my mother was a pupil and the local churchyard where my grandparents, uncle, aunts and three little girl cousins (who died as babies) are buried in the family vault.
Most of the land is mountain or bog but what could be grassed has been snatched back from the mountains and laid out as marshy often rock-strewn fields. All of them are bordered by these traditional dry-stone walls, stone piled skillfully upon stone, built by hand. The fields are used for cattle to graze on and sheep when they are brought down from the mountain for dipping or to be brought to one of the local fairs or Patterns as they are known in the area. When I was a child the biggest excitement of the summer was when the sheep were brought down from the mountain, to be dipped at the dipping pen, across the river. During my mother's childhood the farmers from Glen would herd the sheep over the mountain to Dingle to sell them at the Dingle Fair. Each farmer's sheep are identifiable by the colour marked on their coats. The photos show what the land looks like on the lower slopes of the mountains and some sheep, clearly marked with red, grazing by the roadside. The last photo shows the enclosure where the dipping tank used to be. Scene of noisy over-excited dogs and miserably maaing sheep who were caught and flung into the tank of disinfectant by their owners.
There used to be four families living in Mullach. There was a tiny footbridge over the stream and in the house facing it, there was always smoke coming from the chimney, tea and home-made bread on the table and the best people in the world waiting to welcome you. Now it's completely deserted and it's impossible not to feel sad when you survey the houses fallen into ruins. One is possibly still in occasional use as a holiday home, one is used as a barn/storage area for someone farming the land but all the rest are just crumbling remains. The little mountain stream in the second photograph runs right through the centre of where the houses used to be and navigating it by jumping from rock to rock was a favourite activity for visiting children. It's possible to park your car here and then you are free to get out and explore. Nowhere in Kerry will you get such wild, untouched scenery. This is well and truly off the beaten path.
As you near the last bend on the road to Mullach, you pass this glorious lake. There are at least three in the area: The Harpers Lake; Pedlars Lake and the Black Lake. Harpers Lake you can't miss because it's in the shape of a harp but I'm not absolutely sure which of the lakes is in my picture. I think it's the Black Lake. It's possible to get out of the car and walk down to it but some of the ground is very boggy. I think it's worth getting your feet a bit damp for though and like Lough Avoonane, the sense of peace and solitude here is almost mystical. An ideal place to take photographs and indeed one gets the urge to paint it or compose a symphony or write a poem to celebrate its beauty. But if like me, you can't quite manage any of the above, just take umpteen photographs.
Glen is not the end of the world. Not quite. If you hadn't turned off the bridge leading towards the farm you could have continued for another two miles and here you definitely come to a full stop. This is Mullach, where you either turn round and come back or else, leave your car and climb over the mountains to Dingle. This two miles between Glen and Mullach is utterly delightful and another world from the one you normally inhabit. There's little or no vegetation, giving an uninterrupted view of the mountains on both sides and the bog stretching off in the distance. Along here is my cousin's stretch of bog. The whole farm consists of 666 acres, almost entirely hill and bog. The bog is used for cutting turf and the air has the most pungent smell of peat and heather. Cows graze on the grassy bog and spill casually out on the road. Twice a day they have to be collected for milking and then brought back again but with a good dog, that's not much of a problem. The road, barely the width of one car rises and falls rhythmically, until finally Mullach comes into view.
The mountain directly behind my grandmother's house is called Brandon Peak. This should not be confused with Mount Brandon, the second highest mountain in Ireland which is about two miles away. Above Glen different mountain peaks soar, the highest being Drom Na Muiche and Brandon Peak. You can climb Brandon Peak from behind Lough Avoonane. The first stage is a steep grassy slope then a series of ledges, rock faces and much huffing and puffing towards the top. I should say here that I am not a mountain climber but it can't be too difficult a climb because I did it ( once) at the age of 12, with my brother, sister and cousin. Looking at it now, I can't imagine a group of children, unsupervised up here but those were different times. There have been tragedies though and one of my cousins once found a body while he was checking his sheep. If you decide to climb all or part of it you will be rewarded by panoramic vistas in all directions and a massive sense of accomplishment. I should also point out that when I climbed it , it was with my cousin who knew the whole area like the back of his hand and I wouldn't advise doing it unless you are a professional.
There are two lakes in this part of Glen, both very fine examples of Corrie lakes. As you can see from the photograph, at the top of the track the land dips down and in the hollow is the first of the two lakes, Lough Avoonane. As a child I used to come here often and sit a little nervously by the edge. I never ever put one foot into it though because my grandmother had filled our heads with stories of the Girleen of the Lake - girleen meaning a small girl. I don't think I ever really believed it but the atmosphere there is so rare and magical, the solitude so complete, that there is a vague feeling that anything could happen. What is certain is that you are unlikely to find many places in the world as perfect or as breathtakingly beautiful. Just picture it: a lake in a dip in the mountains, nothing and nobody for miles, only sound, the lonely bleating of sheep. To the right and over another ridge is Lough Cruite, bigger but because of its higher and more exposed position, not quite as lovely as Lough Avoonane.
Directly behind the house, the track to the mountain begins. This track is now part of the Kerry Way walking route and you can drive as far as the first lake in a four-wheel drive. For the people who live there this route is taken when 'going to the hill', which they do to tend their sheep. The track runs along the side of the Owenmore River which tumbles down from the lake above and provides a few dramatic waterfalls. As you go, you will meet sheep and the occasional ferocious looking ram. There are rocks to scramble on, timid mountain flowers to admire and boggy patches you can slip into if you're not careful.The walk is open to all but it is essential that people remember to close each gate as they go through it. The track ends at the first lake and from then on the tough climb begins.
Just to orientate us, this photo shows Glen from the top of the Connor Pass. At one side of the Connor Pass is Dingle and the other side is the Owenmore Valley , Cloghane and Brandon. Connor Pass is high on every visitor's itinerary but most people travel on through Cloghane, bypassing this splendid landscape. At the bottom of Connor Pass are signs for Dingle and Brandon. Follow the Brandon signs and in turn the sign for Cloghane. As you drive into Cloghane there is a left turn just where the houses begin. Take this left turn, drive two miles and you are in Glen. You will cross over two bridges and a right turn on the second one will bring you up a track to a farmer's house. I read this description in a book earlier today and was very amused becasue the 'track' is what we call the Boreen ( Irish word for small road) up to my grandmother's house and their neigbour on the other side of the river
The house you can just barely see to the left of the photo has a cluster of trees nearby. Behind these trees is my mother's family home, now occupied by one of her nephews. Up in the mountain is Lough Cruite, one of two lakes on their land.The second photo shows Cloghane's position on the sea at the foot of the mountains and the third gives a close-up look a the rocky terrain, climbing down from Connor Pass
I made a slight error in judgement to stay at a family home at Christmas time (I felt that I was intruding, despite their kindness) so I escaped on a long walk that took me along the River Shannon.
At the end of this walk -- which followed a path dotted by what appeared to be castle remnants -- I was greatly rewarded this Sunday before Christmas (I was set to Ryan Air-it off it Paris the next day).
While, interestingly, grocery stores were open until noon on Sundays, that's when the pubs were opening. I considered it good timing, so I raced into a shop and bought some postcards and maybe a piece of fruit, I can't recall (I was a little scared of the sandwiches - same as in England, where I see things like creamy brown fillings and cucumbers in packages and balk, but that's my childishness.)
I then wandered over to "the Rale McCoy" put at noon.
Initially, I was put off that I was the only woman in the joint, but then it turned into great fun (I would later discover that women only go to the pubs at night in this little stretch of Ireland!) Some kindly gentlemen and some rascals too entertained me through their pints of Guiness while I sipped the sweetest nectar on earth: an Irish coffee made from a real Irishman, a gentleman whose family had run the pub for generations.
I even took a picture to remember the day by. It was definitely a highlight.
When a town is so small it's really a village; and the village is so small that everyone knows each other's middle names, it's not so surprising that someone would offer a weary American traveler a ride around town to see the castles, and that is indeed what occurred.
I can't wait to go back. Although next time I'd probably stay in Shannon and explore that area, rent a car and get out to the Cliffs of Moher. Though the innkeeper near Tarbert swore that there were other stretches of equally-spectactular coastline dotted with dramatic cliff-views in Western Ireland.
The green fields of Co. Kerry especially on the Dingle Peninsula are so consistent in the many landscapes. Many resemble a "patchwork" quilt, with there pronounced hedgerow and rock fence dividers uctting sharply this was and that, but especially in squared off sections.
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