Quite a few people never make it further than Dublin when visiting Ireland. And although Dublin may be a great place to go for an extended weekend or city-tour, I go to Ireland for the remote wilderness and the stunning scenery. I like to go to the far west, where everything is as original and undisturbed as can be, and where most signs are in gaelic.
We wanted to explore one of the most popular attractions in the country. Ring of Kerry attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists every year, and is said to be the second largest attraction after Dublin itself. The loop is 170 kilometers long and can be done by car in about a day. Depending on the pace, that is. The road conditions and the narrow stretches will mostly keep you from reaching the allowed maximum limits, but I would still say that a full day is suitable for the loop. We started out from Killarney around 0900 in the morning and arrived back just as the sun was going down, around 1730.
During our drive we made several breaks. There is PLENTY to look at on the way, if you turn off the main road and drive a bit into the backroads and the surrounding area. We found a beautiful old castle ruin on a remote field, not too far away from the coast. When you enter such a property (typically fenced, but with easy access without actually breaking in) you do so at your own risk. These ruins are not maintained and there are no protection, on-site fences or the like. Children should under no circumstances be allowed to wander around by themselves, so we kept Anton in a tight grip while we explored the exciting vaulted cellars, the gigantic arches that once framed the massive entrance gates and the enormous windows from where the residents of the castle could once enjoy the magnificent views over the surrounding valley and the distant mountains. The 700 year old walls, thicker than an arms length, were partly overgrown with ivy, which gave the whole place a slightly mysterious atmosphere. We had to be careful not to step into the cow droppings, spread out over the “ground floor”. The only current residents are some lazy, piebald dairy cows, grazing in the icy wind.
When driving through the Irish countryside you will see these old castle ruins randomly spread out. Some in better condition than others. It fascinates me that they really have buildings that are THAT old, side by side with modern buildings and oftentimes rather close to major roads. We saw a few examples of renovated castles. Either continuously maintained or renovated in recent years. They were not that interesting. It is far more exciting to explore the ruins where you can let your imagination play along. My idea of an old castle (and Antons) include knights in armor, princesses with long hair and tiaras and of course the moat, which might even have a dragon residing. The “modern” castles with double glazed thermo-windows and satellite dishes on the outer wall did not really fit into that picture.
We went to the town of Dingle, located on a small peninsula. It is a very cozy, little coastal town. I am fascinated by the vibrant colors of the houses throughout Ireland. It brings an otherwise slightly sad and sleepy rural town to life. Particularly during the off-season there is not much going on. Dingle has a wide range of restaurants and cafés that looked quite interesting, but here in the middle of February only a small handful were open. We did get lunch and then we went on a roundtrip to the very tip of the peninsula. Almost to the end of the world! On the remote parts of the Dingle Peninsula only the toughest local farmers and a few artists and writers in need of peace and quiet can live. And then of course the odd number of crazy tourists that come with their ideas of a week in the wild, Irish nature. And wild nature it is! It is absolutely stunning! And the view over the Atlantic Ocean often made us stop for a few minutes just to reflect. To be thankful that we still have such a beautiful earth! Every time I stepped out of the car to take a few photos I had to hold on to my new sixpence so that it would not take off into the wind. The wind was furious! It was all about grabbing the camera, adjust the lens and shoot in a hurry. Then back to the nice, warm car, from where Alexandra and Anton would shout out words of encouragement.
Next stop was Cobh on the south coast. It was previously called Queenstown. It is historically important due to the fact that it was the very last port for Titanic, before she took off over the Atlantic Ocean on her maiden voyage towards New York. So of course they have made a large exhibition about the life of the emigrants and the conditions they had onboard the many ships that were used during the two centuries where the flow of emigrants topped. And Titanic was, by far, the most luxurious ship of them all. Not only for the first class passengers, but also for the ones traveling third class. On most of the vessels the conditions were horrible and many travelers would arrive on the other side of the ocean extremely exhausted. We visited the former ticket office of The White Star Line, where they have made a nice exhibition about the local people of Cobh/Queenstown that actually went with Titanic on her maiden voyage. It made quite an impression to learn about their lives, their dreams and their hopes for the future. Their final hours and their fate in the dark, calm but icy water after Titanics encounter with an iceberg on the 14th of April 1912 shortly before midnight. The barriers between the various classes of society, so normal for the time, nowadays seem so absurd. But they were a fact back then, and would determine the fate of many passengers and crew members.
Our last stop in Ireland, before flying from Dublin to London, was Alexandras former student city, Waterford. I have been here once before with her. Since she lived here in the mid 1990’s a lot has happened. I am not really sure what to say about the “modern Waterford”. When we last visited, back in 2005, it was still a rather charming and cozy city. But since then it has gotten its fair share of modern hotels, residential blocks and endless rows of one-family houses. They are everywhere. Obviously built in a hurry by more or less talented construction workers. An example would be our hotel in the very center of the city. Built less than 5 years ago, it already seemed slightly dingy around the edges and in need of an overhaul! Many of the new buildings around the city share the same fate. What a shame! I am thinking of my native Copenhagen where so many new buildings have been erected in recent years. I hope that they are generally of a better quality!
So, this past Monday we returned our rented Ford Focus to Dublin Airport and headed for London. We are staying with Alexandras sister and her family. We are currently planning trips to Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. I particularly look forward to see Glasgow and Edinburgh, but also Stonehenge and the beach-towns on the south coast have made it to our list. And then we would like to see some of the old mansions in the countryside. After all, we are huge fans of the TV-series “Downton Abbey”. So we cannot miss out on that, can we?