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One of the many stunning vistas along the Ring of Beara
The southwest coast of Éire is marked by three rugged fingers of land that jut out into the Atlantic Ocean: the small Beara Peninsula to the south, the large Iveragh Peninsula in the middle, and the Dingle Peninsula to the north. The Iveragh is the most famous; its coastal ring road, the Ring of Kerry, contains some of the most beautiful views in the country. Here also are the familiar Irish towns of Tralee and Killarney.
Rick Steves recommends staying on the Dingle Peninsula, but we had heard that this area is becoming too "discovered" by tourists (though it's not nearly as bad as the overrun Ring of Kerry). Instead, and at the recommendation of several Irish natives whom we've met in our travels, we have chosen to spend three nights on the Beara Peninsula in the small town of Kenmare.
The drive from Wexford to Kenmare on June 10th was to be a long one -- estimated at six hours -- but we bypassed the heavy traffic and road construction of Waterford by taking the Passage East Car Ferry between Ballyhack and Passage East. The ferry itself took only five minutes to cross the mouth of the Barrow River, and the drive was pleasant. Once in Waterford County, we rejoined the N25 and headed west.
On the way to Cork, however, we were suddenly motioned off of the N25 by a police officer. We thought the police were conducting random road checks, but it turned out that there had been a horrible accident on the N25 and all traffic was being diverted off. We have already mentioned that the roads in Éire are small, windy, and narrow; the alternative to the N25 was a mess of one-lane back-country roads that ran like spaghetti through the countryside. The mess of cars and huge trucks around us didn't seem to be completely sure where they were supposed to go either, so we just made up our own way and ultimately ended up back on the N25.
After five and a half hours of driving, we reached the small town of Kenmare at the mouth of the Kenmare River between the Beara and Iveragh Peninsulas. A "gold medal winner" of the "Tidy Town" award in 2001, Kenmare is cute and picturesque. Its quaint buildings are colorfully painted, and the downtown area consists of three one-way streets laid out in a triangle.
"Tidy Town" quality: the colorful buildings of downtown Kenmare
We are staying outside of Kenmare at the Gaine's Country House, a family-run 137-acre mountain farm. Our hostess was Ita Gaines, and over the next three nights she gave us the best service and hospitality we've had since Rhuthun. Due to the constant rain we spent a lot of time in the house, and whenever Ita saw us she was offering a tea or snack. She gave us free use of her telephone, the dining room for playing cards, the lounge for connecting our DVD player to the telly, and even an iron and ironing board to put a patch on Joss' torn pants knee. We felt genuinely welcomed in her house. Other guests included a couple of German men who had come all the way from Stuttgart on their motorcycles, and a French couple.
Our only excursion was on June 11th, when we set out to explore the Ring of Beara (we had no interest in driving the more famous Ring of Kerry -- the tour buses have become so abundantt that they all have to move in a single counter-clockwise direction). The view was as stunningly beautiful as we had hoped. At one point we followed a backroad indicating a stone circle, but the area was so muddy with rain that we weren't able to get to it.
Halfway through the ring, we cut across the Caha Mountains at the Healy Pass for an even more spectacular view. Here, we picked up a young man who was hitchhiking in the rain amid the sheep. A native of Spain (actually Basque), he had been desperately trying for hours to get a ride to Glengarriff in time for the afternoon bus back to Dublin and his job (a consummate traveler, he works to "fund his fun" -- in his current job, he inserts 2,000 screws a day at a pager manufacturing plant). Because we had no other plans, we drove him all the way into Glengarriff, much to his astonishment.
The road snaking its way down from Healy's Pass
After a quick stop back at our room, we drove a small portion of the Ring of Kerry in order to reach the town of Sneem; we had heard it was another cute and picturesque town. Upon our arrival, we decided that our own town of Kenmare was just as nice. As we emerged from the Sneem grocery store, at precisely 2:15 PM six huge tour buses suddenly pulled up and surrounded our car. Out poured dozens of tourists who immediately went -- en masse -- into the post office, where there was a small souvenir store. We just stood there laughing to ourselves, grateful that we hadn't attempted any more of the Ring of Kerry. (In one of the other Sneem gift shops, the entire staff was absorbed in the Ireland-Saudi Arabia World Cup game. They had even posted a sign: "Please don't stand in front of the television." Ireland won handily, 3-0.) Joss also bought an Irish cap -- Joss looks very good in hats.
Other than that, we caught up on a lot of business at the B&B. Gail spent a morning doing geography lessons with Cameron, Joss, and the world map. Russell caught up on our trip letters for the first time in almost a month (we'll see how long that lasts). We found Internet stations at the post office, and Russell also made a very long overdue update to the Web site.
Russell (to the old man at the counter): What do I need to do to use the Internet?
Man (in a very slow, relaxed Irish brogue): You'll need to pray.
Russell: Um... pray?
Man: Aye. You'll need to pray for the weather. Where will you be callin'?
Russell: I'll be talkin' to the United States of America.
Man: You be sure to tell them in America that the weather's fine, and for everyone to come over here to Ireland.
We had one dinner out, our first night on June 10th, at Prego's Italian Restaurant in Kenmare. Gail's faith in restaurants was redeemed; she pronounced it "the best dinner we've had since Ironbridge Gorge." Other than that, we relied on groceries and the hot pot in our room.
Work and play: the boys learn geography from mom...
... and pummel dad in The Lord of the Rings card game
In other news, we have now passed 10,000 photos on our second digital camera. Our Web site is now listed on Internet search engines (hooray!) -- we have received messages from Parklea Garden Village in Australia wondering how we liked their caravan park; an old coworker of our friends the Moureys trying to contact Cecilia in Nice; an American family living in Cambridge; and a man in Ohio also looking for his Irish roots who may be distantly related to Gail (the Internet is truly an amazing thing).
In our ongoing ticket fiasco with British Midlands, we have also received a canned response to our email complaint, stating that they expect to take a look at our situation within the next 28 days. In the meantime, we have a week to go before we get on a BMI plane one more time...
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