03 Jul

Ireland: The Highlights (part 2)

From Dingle, we made our way toward Killarney, where I got Bing Crosby’s rendition of “Christmas in Killarney” stuck in my head for two days, but first we stopped at Inch Strand, which is a long and wide beach, still in the Dingle peninsula. (I’ve read that Inch strand is 3 ½ miles long. We didn’t walk the entire length of it.)

In Killarney, we rented bikes once again, but they were much more expensive than the Dingle bikes, and not made for efficiency. At the rental office, they asked for a driver’s license to ensure we returned the bikes, and they also gave us a bike lock, proving that we were in a bigger town (in Dingle, they had done none of the above). Unfortunately, they didn’t prepare us well with directions. The map they gave us was A-trocious. Still, we mostly found our way; we rode to Killarney National Park, which is full of gravel paths and nice views of a lake called Lough Leane (“lough” is the Irish word for lake, kinda like the Scottish “loch” and pronounced pretty similarly). But the hilly ride kinda destroyed Eileen’s knees.

The following day, having learned that our best times were when we got out of the car and explored on foot or bike, we stopped at another park near Glengarriff and embarked on a light hike. It had been raining pretty steadily all morning, but it let up just in time for our arrival at the park (it was a nature reserve, I think). By now, the Bing Crosby song in my head had been replaced by “Cracklin Rosie” by Neil Diamond, which I heard in some store in Killarney. Why is she “crackling,” by the way?

The nature reserve was nice. We took a 1-km loop, which we just about completed before encountering a huge puddle obstructing the path. We could see the lot where we’d parked our car, but this puddle was not the kind you just sidestep. It was a shoes-submersed puddle. So we turned around and hiked a different path to a waterfall, where we were able to join up with the park road that would take us back to the parking lot. By the time we got to our car, though, the river had overrun its banks to the extent that water was just a foot or two away from the front tires of our car, which was parked about 30-40 feet from the river’s original bank.
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02 Jul

Ireland: The Highlights (part 1)

Dingle was just how we remembered it, except that they officially changed the name of the town back to the original Irish name: “An Daingean.” We had planned on taking the same bike ride we took five years ago, which was a highlight of that trip, but we had to wait since our first full day in Dingle was steady rain. It cleared up a little in the evening, which allowed us to take a hike recommended by Rick Steves* himself (in an Irish guidebook we took from Eileen’s parents). The hike took us out to an old tower of some sort and then to a lighthouse and some rocky cliffs. (pics below) Overlooking the water, we chanced upon the famous dolphin that frequents Dingle’s harbour (look at that! I spelled harbour the British way. My spellchecker is underlining it in red.). His name is Fungee (pronounced foon-gee, according to Rick Steves), and there are boat tours of the harbour which guarantee you see Fungee or you don’t pay. He is also immortalized with a bronze statue in the center of town. We were pretty proud of the fact that we got to see him for free, and on foot, no less.

At the lighthouse, I was fascinated by a particular pocket of water roiling against the cliffs below – an obvious death trap, which made it tempting to jump into. Is that strange of me? I wouldn’t say that I’m comfortable swimming in whitewater. I also fear being stranded in the middle of large bodies of open water. So why I had any urge to throw myself from a cliff into a whirlpool in the ocean is beyond me. It made me think about this Blasket Island museum we went to earlier in the day. The Blasket Islands are a group of small Island off the tip of the Dingle peninsula. People used to live there, but their small population dwindled to the point that there was only one child left – a boy – and no young women. So they ended up evacuating the Island in 1953.

Now no one lives there. The thing is, why did anyone ever choose to live there? The weather made it impossible to reach the mainland more than half the days of a year. Deaths at sea were not uncommon. It’s a harsh, brutal location to live.

I started theorizing that perhaps the Irish had a certain familiarity with pain. Maybe that’s why there are so many great Irish writers. I mean, the population of Ireland is about 4 million. It’s tiny. And yet, great literature.

But back to Dingle. Wandering around town on the first night, we came across a beautiful church and tried unsuccessfully to determine what time the next service was. The church remains open all day, so we went in and admired the architecture and stained glass from a pew close to the altar. After a quiet five minutes, an old woman entered and slowly made her way up the aisle, using the pews as her support. When she reached us, she explained that the next service was at 10:00. Eileen remarked that in place of a church bulletin, they seem to have a little old Irish woman who can read your mind.
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