11 July 2009
There are two counties in this green and pleasant land of Ireland who claim God’s attention. One is God’s Garden, otherwise known as County Wicklow, and the other is God’s Kingdom, or County Kerry. From the broad Atlantic Kerry gets its exquisite light, the colours are more intense, flowers seem to be more fragrant and, despite the recession, there is much laughter in the air. Anyone living along the Irish Atlantic seaboard could make the same claim, but I am biased, deeply biased and all because of my Kerry ancestry of which I am unashamedly proud.
This blog, I have decided, will take the form of a diary - for it is only in this way can I control the jumble of senses, thoughts and overall sense of joy and bring it to you in written form.
Saturday 27 June
7.30a.m., OH is fit to call our local G.P. Who is this woman who has everything packed, a final tidy-round done, and breakfast on the table. It takes some convincing but he should remember after all these years that holiday + Kerry + wife = hit the road as early as possible. We eventually get going by 11 after a massive hunt for keys to lock windows. I know they were hanging on that hook for the past six months, so who moved them eh?
Lunchtime, we are in Limerick, amazingly since we last headed south in ‘06 there are more by-passes in place and it is now a four hour journey [without break] to Tralee, instead of the seven hours of my childhood. New York could be achieved in 5 hours back in the day. We find the restaurant we fell in love with last time and promptly fall out of love with it. Normally one might think that in a recession restaurants would up their game. OH’s long dreamt of Bacon and Cabbage is a congealed lump of cold goo, the bacon ran away some time ago. YD and I opt for the roast beef. May the cow that donated its all for that cut rest in peace. Major minus to that place then.
Four o’clock and we arrive in Blennerville and make our way to The Courtyard. On driving into the forecourt we are enchanted. The air is redolent with the smell of roses, honeysuckle, and the laughter of children playing with Myra and Derry’s new Jack Russell puppy making the whole picture ‘perfick’ as Pop Larkin would say.
We are warmly welcomed by our hosts and shown to our cottage which has two bedrooms, a kitchen/diner and a sitting room. All tastefully decorated in a warm white and French grey. There are jugs of freshly picked roses and veronica everywhere, and the only fault I can find is a vase of lilies’ whose smell is not to my liking. I quickly put the vase under the stairs and that’s that hitch fixed. There are Lily O’Brien chocolates and a bottle of Merlot on the kitchen table to welcome us. Apart from the wine, I have a sense of returning to my Grandmothers house. We are contented.
Out to 8 o’clock Mass at Curraheen, where my Great Grandmother was born and reared, and after the service I stand and listen to the song of the seabirds and gaze across Tralee Bay. I find myself wondering, yet again, did she ever stand there hearing almost the same sounds, little knowing she would marry a man from Ballyheigue and where her great- great grandchildren would spread to? I feel a great connection to her.
I could sit and hear the sea bird cry and robins in the hedge,
And see the Eagle as he flies from off his rocky ledge. [unknown]
Sunday 28 June
It is cold and raining, we unpack, dash out to get the Sunday papers, and relax before an open peat fire.
Monday 29 June
Up bright and early, the sun is splitting the stones, the cattle are lowing as they head back out into the fields after milking and we are heading for Slea Head as soon as we finish a hearty breakfast, and pack a picnic basket.
Deciding to come back by the Connor Pass we head out for Dingle by Annascaul [awn-na-skaul], revamped since Tom Crean came into prominence, and Lispole where beautiful traditional style holiday homes lie idle, a sign that the recession is biting. We drive through Dingle and head for Feothannach [Fyo-hannak] and Brandon Creek.
Driving along the road the fuchsia is like a red line along the road. Honeysuckle abounds and the Veronica is of a misty mauve-blue. The fields across the mountains are like a crazy patchwork quilt thrown down by a housewife, too busy to straighten it up as she goes about her chores. Ireland is renowned for forty shades of green, they are all here to be seen.
Down to the harbour at Brandon Creek, the tang of salt sharp, sea caves - dark and brooding limestone. Razor back sharp spines on mountainside, like slumbering dragons. I always imagine this place as a suitable setting for Jamaica Inn - all that is needed is an Olde Inne on the headland. I am told in a shop that “St Brendan the Navigator sailed from here, arrah shure didn’t the Irish discover America before anyone else” by an old, toothless man, mahogany skinned and not a day short of 96 who would pass for a native Amer-Indian himself. He asks me my origin, I tell him, he welcomes me home to the Kingdom.
To Dún Chaoin, Gallarus Oratory and the Beehive huts. The Blaskets floating in a mauve tinted mid-afternoon sea. The ferry hurtling across to An Blascaoid Mhór [the Big Blasket] and I think of Peig Sayers and the hard life the Islanders had. At Dún Chaoin it once again irritates me that the set for “Ryans Daughter” was not saved, despite the good will gesture of the film makers to leave it as a tourist attraction. We picnic at the top of the Connor Pass, on one side Dingle Bay and on the other Tralee Bay and the Maharees. Heaven is a cup of tea and a view like this.
Tuesday 30 June
Shopping day and we make a ceilidh with the relations. One of the joys of being almost a local is that I have been visiting Tralee since I was fifteen months old, and I know exactly where to go. We meander around the county as we wish bypassing some places and returning again and again to our old favourites. We visit the new shopping places [T K Maxx etc.,] at Manor West and Penneys - there may be a recession by you would never think so here. Harassed mothers accompanied by children squawking as if they are being beaten to death, reality is - in a recession you can’t hand the little darlings everything they want the minute they see it!
After a scout around Caballs, beloved of my childhood, we head for Rock Street and drop into Lorramar where I go wild purchasing jugs. Ballyporeen pottery - half the price of Avoca - exactly the same patterns such as roses of all shades and sizes, and with the discount offered…I came out quids ahead. One jug, for example, white with blue roses delicately spread over it which I have seen else where at €19.95 costs €10 less here and I get it for €6.50 with the shop owners discount. She remembers us from our last visit in 2006, and we have a lovely chat. To Kellihers to pick up some willow pattern - I bought most of my set here, in precisely the same shop my Grandmother bought hers way back in the day when she was a young bride. That night we arrange to meet relations, and let us just say that great craic was had by all parties concerned.
Wednesday 1 July
To Valentia on the Ring of Kerry. We decide to do half the Ring, leaving out Sneem and Tahilla. This gives us more time to dawdle along the way to Valentia, stopping off in Killorglin [home of the famous Puck Fair] and Cahirciveen. We joke about going abroad as we cross the bridge at Port Magee and onto Valentia Island. From Bray Head we look across to the Skellig Rocks on one side and the Blaskets on the other. Swallows fly across the nap of the field swooping after flies. The smell of honeysuckle, Albertine roses, cattle grazing placidly. Fresh meat tastes better here in the Kingdom where the cattle graze on the salted grass, on birds foot trefoil, thrift and red and white clover.
To Knightstown to watch the ferry come in, back through Chapeltown and we picnic above the bridge looking over at the brightly painted fishermen’s cottages at Port Magee.
Thursday 2 July
To north Kerry and Listowel, home of the late John B Keane who’s plays Big Maggie and the Chastitute are among some of his famous works. I am a big Keane fan. Ballybunnion - funnily enough I never liked this town as a child and it still doesn’t grip me. We return to our cottage and have a long leisurely dinner. To Ballyheigue [bally-hige as in hike but with a g]. We watch the sun set after a stroll along its wide sandy beach which runs on down into Banna Beach, made famous by Sir Roger Casement and the gun-running of 1916.
Friday 3 July
Back out via Castlemaine and Inch to Dingle and Slea Head for a final visit. On Inch we watch a father and daughter team play tennis. A Fetch and Carry Match…he misses the ball, and she fetches it. Is there anything as glorious as the sight of purple tufted vetch [light mauve], buttercups and golden rod, astilbe and fuchsia along the roadway? My eyes are bedazzled between admiring the views and the flowers. In Dingle we visit the Ceili House on the quayside - I have my eye on wind chimes, and they now tinkle gently as they hang from the Blue Cedar in my garden.
A quick nip into Mary Ferriters Crafts and Gifts [dingleshop.com] and we head back for Tralee. More cousins to meet up with before we must pack and head back to the East Coast. A text from E.D tells us that they had 15 days rain in as many hours in Dublin and there is flooding; in Mayo mountainsides have slipped and villages have been cut off, here we have dodged the rain all week, it is sunny, it is warm and I wouldn’t trade it for the South of France for all the rice…