Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Southwest Ireland

Southwest Ireland includes Counties Cork, Kerry and Limerick. This is a spectacularly scenic region of the country and we made a point to visit as much of it as possible. We managed to cram a lot of sightseeing (and driving) into only four days & nights!

On our way from Cashel to Kinsale, we stopped in the city of Cork for a few hours. As I was generally trying to avoid large cities on our tour of Ireland, we only wanted to have a good walk around to get a feel for the place. We accomplished that, including a visit to the English Market, St Fin Barre's Cathedral, the Huguenot quarter, etc. I had read about a few local brewpubs that I wanted to try but most were still closed when we passed through the city around mid-day. So we settled for the tiny Hi-B bar where we had a nice chat with the bartender and eventually were joined by the locals (all 70+ year-old men). We even met the owner's wife who stopped in to settle up some paperwork.
a pint of Murphy's Irish Stout at Hi-B bar in Cork
From Cork, we drove to Cobh as it was mentioned as worth a stop in our Rick Steves guidebook. However the weather had taken a turn for the worse at this point in the afternoon and was quite foggy & rainy, so we spent less than an hour exploring the tiny coastal town, notable as a major departure point for emigrants to the U.S., the final port of call for the ill-fated Titanic, and the place where both survivors & victims of the Lusitania sinking were brought.
We only spent one night in quaint Kinsale. Despite the pouring rain the evening we arrived, we donned our Goretex and walked into town from our B&B, where we had fish & chips at a local pub. The following day brought clearer skies and we used our Heritage Pass to visit the ruins of 15th century Desmond Castle and the late 17th century Charles Fort before continuing on the N71 coastal route to Kenmare.
Charles Fort
Kenmare is a great place to regroup before or after you drive the Ring of Kerry. Since we were making our way north, we spent one night there before driving the Ring. As it was the weekend, we were able to park anywhere in town for free, plus we took the opportunity to wash all of our dirty clothes at a self-service launderette. The heart of Kenmare consists of two parallel roads, each one way in opposite directions. It is totally walkable, with numerous restaurants and shops to keep you occupied for a few hours as well as plenty of lodging options. Mindful of our budget, we shared a nice seafood stew and listened to some live traditional music before returning to our B&B for the night.
Greg sorting laundry in our trunk in downtown Kenmare
Knowing we had a long day of driving ahead of us, we filled up on salmon & scrambled eggs for breakfast then hit the road. We had already decided not to backtrack towards Killarney (meaning we would not get to see the popular Muckross House) as it would add another two hours of driving to our journey. Our first stop was Staigue Fort, accessible by a one lane gravel/dirt road which was quite interesting to negotiate when you encountered someone coming the opposite direction. To make matters worse, it started pouring rain, reducing visibility to a minimum. In spite of the weather, we still got out of the car to have a quick look around the 1600-year-old circular stone fort.
Staigue Fort in the pouring rain
Continuing along the N70, the weather cleared as we reached Derrynane House, home of "The Liberator" Daniel O'Connell, an Irish politician who campaigned for Catholic emancipation in the first half of the 19th century. From there we drove the R567, a very narrow, windy road with spectacular views over Ballinskelligs Bay and St. Finan's Bay. Luckily I only had to "squeeze" past a couple of large tour buses, a heart-stopping experience. We finally arrived in Dingle in the early evening, where we welcomed our hearty dinners and pints of beer at John Benny's Pub. Afterward, we drank hot tea mixed with a bit of Jameson whiskey while sitting in our B&B's atrium listening to the howling winds of Hurricane Katia.
driving the Ring of Kerry
The following morning we were treated to more hurricane-strength winds mixed with intermittent sun & rain. Despite the weather, a neighboring farmer decided to move his sheep from one grazing area to another, and we were entertained by his working dog's expert ability to respond to calls and gather the herd. I shot a couple of videos of the process, which ended with all of the sheep being piled into a small trailer to be driven to the other site.

Later that afternoon we spent a few hours navigating Slea Head Drive, a 47km circular route that begins & ends in Dingle. We used our Rick Steves guidebook to help understand the points of interest. We included a stop at the Blasket Center to learn more about the now-abandoned island then had a beer at what is probably one of the most remote microbreweries in the country, Tig Bhric. After returning to town, we took a short, self-guided walking tour followed by a beautiful sunset on the harbor. We ate dinner at Marina Inn and actually stayed up late to listen to some traditional music.
sunset in Dingle harbor

What a wonderful way to mark the end of our first full week in Ireland!

Links to all of my photos from this region:
Cork & Cobh
Kenmare and the Ring of Kerry
Dingle Peninsula

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