In Living Color
The following three nights were in Killarney, which we used as a jumping-off point to experience Ireland’s beautiful and spectacular scenery.
Green was a predominant color throughout the tour. Checkerboards of small fields enclosed by hedgerows and rock fences dotted the landscape; after all, Ireland is the Emerald Isle. Sheep and dairy cattle filled many of the fields.
However, two days of touring the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula from Killarney provided another perspective and demonstrated the great variety of the Irish landscape.
Flynn warned us that it would be a “bouncy and windy” day as we traversed the approximately 110-mile loop that is the Ring of Kerry, past and up red sandstone mountains rounded by glaciers that include Ireland’s highest peak at 3,700 feet.
Our route took us over part of the Wild Atlantic Way, “the longest coastal drive in the world,” on narrow, twisting roads past a rocky and mountainous landscape that featured the ruins of ring forts and numerous rock fences.
Most roads in the ring are built over bogs, which makes them bouncy, and we passed several bogs during the day. Flynn explained that there are two types of bogs in Ireland: raised and blanket. Blanket bogs, which make up 70 percent, are 10 to 12 feet deep, and raised bogs are 30 to 40 feet deep.
Peat from the bogs is harvested as a major heating source. At the Kerry Bog Village adjacent to the Red Fox Inn, where we stopped for an Irish-coffee break, owner John Mulvihill has re-created an 18th-century village that includes black brick-shaped peat stacked high against the sides of the buildings.
“I want to keep the old heritage and history alive,” said Mulvihill.
Although most of the sheep we saw were in green pastures, we got an interesting demonstration of sheep herding at the Kissane Sheep Farm at the base of a mountain. Fly, an 18-month-old border collie, drove a herd of black-faced Scottish mountain sheep around a field scattered with large boulders up to a viewing stand and separated some out, acting on whistle commands from her handler.
The next day was even better as we drove the coastline around the Dingle Peninsula. Although we could see the mountains on the Ring of Kerry across Dingle Bay, the scenery was dramatically different.
The rocky coastline, which includes the westernmost point in Europe, features vertical cliffs overlooking the ocean interspersed with sandy beaches good for swimming and surfing. Although we didn’t see them, the peninsula has two areas of sand dunes.
Its mountains, which include the highest pass in Ireland, provide sweeping views of the coastline and ocean.
We saw more Celtic ring forts from 2500 B.C., beehive huts from the fifth century, steep green pastures and solitary fairy trees in the middle of fields that are lovingly protected because legend says they are where fairies live.
“This is a very nice part of the world,” said Brian de Staic, who makes world-class jewelry at his shop in Dingle. “National Geographic has ranked it the most beautiful part of the world. We are very proud of it.”
De Staic, who has framed photos on the wall of himself with celebrities from Bono to Pope John Paul II, explained Ogham, an ancient form of writing used mostly for commemorative inscriptions and on territorial marker stones. Several members of the group bought jewelry with Ogham inscriptions.
After leaving Killarney, we drove to Bunratty, where we spent several hours at the Bunratty Folk Park. The sprawling site, which includes restored Bunratty Castle, has a wide variety of nearly 30 relocated structures, including a dozen buildings in a village and several outlying farmhouses from different periods, a church, a mill and a walled garden.
Marcheta and I ate lunch at the nearby Durty Nelly’s, which has been a pub since 1620; parts of the building date from that time.
Our final lunch stop at Newbridge Silverware was an unexpected treat. The store has a large collection of jewelry and silverware made on-site, a good restaurant with delicious hot food and a surprising Museum of Style Icons with clothing and personal items from many movie stars and celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Greta Garbo, Elizabeth Taylor, Princess Diana, Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley and the Beatles.
Our final dinner at our overnight lodging at Barberstown Castle, a 15th-century castle and hotel, put a fitting end to our taste of Ireland, and whetted our appetites for a return visit.