Don’t worry, this will be the final installment of the Ireland odyssey. I appreciated everyone wading through my personal indulgences so I saved the best for last, the Irish adventures that came closest to standard 12MC content. A couple of them are genuine geo-oddities.
I mentioned Inch Beach (map) a few weeks ago in an article about sand spits, and I even threatened to visit the strand for a photo. That’s exactly how it unfolded as I drove onto the Dingle Peninsula, and then to Inch Beach, the Dangle of Dingle.
Longtime reader "wangi" commented on that earlier article, noting "One of the Scots Gaelic terms for an island, innis, is frequently Anglicised as inch in Scottish place-names. I imagine same is true in Ireland." I developed an alternate theory during my personal visit. Inch Beach was literally an inch wide. I captured photographic evidence.
Well, maybe it’s an inch and a half.
Tripointing didn’t seem to be much of a "thing" in Ireland. I could be wrong although I failed to find any Internet coverage of places where three Irish counties joined together at a common point. I did notice, however, that my great-grandfather’s boyhood home in Mountcollins fell remarkably close to the Cork, Kerry, Limerick tripoint, which I dubbed COKELI in the normal naming convention. Paradoxically, this appeared to be the first time COKELI had ever been used in that context at least according to Google. I did learn that Cokeli was a mans’ name, a variant of Coakley, meaning "from the charcoal meadow." That was an interesting etymology although it had nothing to do with tripointing, of course.
Yes, after spending a long day touring family history sites with distant relatives, I diverted my wife, kids and father slightly out of our way to find the COKELI tripoint (map). Not only did local jurisdictions mark the point, they’d reserved a small adjoining greenspace with a picnic table and a thatched-roof shelter dubbed Three Counties Park. Go up to that Flickr photo and click the left and right arrows to see more. Just don’t mess with the thatch. They don’t like that.
The marker on an old piling also implied that there was a bridge once that crossed directly over the tripoint on the River Feale (the current bridge crossed only between Counties Cork and Kerry a few metres farther south). I was surprised. Maybe Ireland contained more tripoint treasures? It also dawned on me that maybe my geo-oddity fascination might have been ancestral. Perhaps some ancient family legend or memory of this spot somehow sparked my appreciation of geographic anomalies.
Underlying copyrighted image used in compliance with d-maps.com terms and conditions.
12MC’s County Counting Map of Ireland
I didn’t find any Irish county counting sites, either. Maybe that’s because it wouldn’t be a difficult challenge. Notice my personal county counting map of Ireland after two weeks. I wasn’t even trying, really. A more conscientious effort certainly would have eliminated the Cork City and Co. Offaly doughnuts.
My tally: Clare; Cork; Dublin; Fingal; Galway; Galway City; Kerry; Kildare; Kilkenny; Laois; Limerick; Limerick City; Longford; Mayo; Meath; North Tipperary; Roscommon; South Dublin; South Tipperary; Westmeath.
Incidentally, it was pretty difficult to find a decent outline map that included Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown, Fingal, and South Dublin, all carved from the former County Dublin in 1994. Come on Intertubes, I expect more up-to-date stuff even though I’m not willing to pay anything for it. Isn’t that how it works?
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons attribution share-alike license version 2.5
The Gaeltacht fascinated me, the small portions of Ireland recognized as Irish-speaking regions. I spent considerable time in the Gaeltacht while on Achill Island and lesser time on the western half of the Dingle Peninsula. My relatives in Limerick also spoke Gaelic fluently. It was the daily household language of older members of the family as they grew-up. One of my relatives even taught Gaelic. I wondered about that situation and they explained that my 3rd-Great Grandfather came originally from the Dingle Peninsula, from an area still in the Gaeltacht.
Seemingly everyone in the Gaeltacht also spoke English fluently so I never encountered a language barrier other than trying to interpret a thick Irish brogue, and them dealing with my insufferable American accent. The noticeable differences involved road signs as they switched from English to Irish. Still, one could assume rather easily that géill slí meant the same thing as "yield" (or give way) from the shape and colors of the sign. It never became an issue. Sometimes Gaelic road signs appeared randomly outside of the Gaeltacht too, as in this example I found near the Rock of Cashel in Co. Tipperary.
On a tangent, I think I’ll end the series with a comment about driving in Ireland. Every stereotype about renting automobiles and driving in Ireland is true: lanes were narrower; rarely did they have shoulders; roads twisted preciously; animals or farm tractors appeared at inopportune times; cars parked anywhere they wanted and in either direction; progress was always slower than expected; and as a result, car hires came with astronomically expensive and all-but-mandatory insurance. Let’s start with the assumption that nobody wants to get into an accident — I didn’t think Irish drivers were necessarily any better or worse than elsewhere else. The road network itself created dangerous situations. I’ll never complain about US roadways again.
Thanks for reading along with my journey.
The Ireland articles:
I couldn’t change my personality quirks even though I changed my location. In fact, a few peculiarities rooted in my mild compulsion to count and collect seemed to be enhanced in this kind of situation. I searched earnestly for attractions aligning with those interests and pursued a means to incorporate them into the larger itinerary. They didn’t dominate the trip, however they always lurked below the surface.
Several lists grew.
Valentia Island Ferry
The Valentia Island Ferry (map) represented a couple of new achievements for me. It was my first international car ferry ride and the first time I’ve entered a ferry while driving on the left side of the road.
I love ferries and I enjoyed the brief 800 metre ride from Knightstown on Valentia Island to Renard Point, Cahersiveen on the mainland. I wondered about its true purpose, though. A bridge at the other end of Valentia Island connected it to the mainland at Portmagee. My rough calculation demonstrated that this seaborne route saved maybe 24 kilometres at the most optimistic end of the spectrum, only for the two hundred residents of Knightstown. Everyone else saved less. That didn’t seem cost effective.
The explanation dawned on me as I reviewed the ferry’s Facebook page. It ceased operations during the colder months, roughly October through March. Thus, the ferry didn’t exist solely for Island residents although it certainly added a level of convenience. Rather, it served more as a means of bleeding tourists away from the Ring of Kerry and onto Valentia Island where they would hopefully stay at a local Bed and Breakfast, stop at a pub, or stroll along the strand of shops in Knightstown, leaving a stream of Euros behind in their wake. Well done, Valentia Island.
I added another ferry to my Personal Ferry Travelogues.
I’d consider my waterfall list to be somewhat less compulsive than other things I track. I won’t seek them out exclusively, although I’ll gladly stop if one happens to be nearby and doesn’t involve a hassle. Torc Waterfall met those parameters perfectly. I could access it from a car park set directly along the Ring of Kerry in Killarney National Park, then take an easy walk lightly uphill for about 300 metres (map). We snagged the only available parking spot in the small lot during the height of Summer tourist season. It felt like it must have been preordained.
A healthy stream cascaded 20 metres down several ledges to the base of Torc Mountain. We paused for awhile to ponder its majesty and then took a path to the top of the waterfall for a little extra perspective. Then we returned to the car park and walked across the road to the jaunting car stand. We hired a driver to guide us through the grounds of Muckross House in a horse-drawn carriage. That was a great way to finish the afternoon.
The Waterfall Collection increased by one.
Longtime 12MC readers already guessed that I’d focus some love and attention on breweries and brewpubs, however there weren’t as many of those available in Ireland as one might expect. The microbrewery concept seemed to be getting a decent foothold, although it remained years behind what I’ve experienced elsewhere. Dingle Brewing fell directly on our path and we stopped for a self-guided tour of their small facility in a former creamery building (map). Dingle Brewing produced only a single beer as of our visit, Tom Crean’s lager, and we enjoyed a pint at their outdoor biergarten.
The Smithwick’s brand originated at the St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny (map), although it’s part of a brewery conglomerate today and is made elsewhere too. Brewery tours were suspended during our visit because of renovations — as I’d learned ahead of time when conducting my research — so we hadn’t gone out of our way and nobody felt disappointed. The brewery walk-by happened coincidentally while we strolled between Kilkenny Castle and St. Canice’s Cathedral. It didn’t "count" as a brewery visit although I can never resist taking a photograph of anything breweriana.
I also sampled several beers in traditional pub settings, such as these pints of cask ale from West Kerry Brewing.
Someone will probably ask so I’ll go ahead and answer preemptively: No, I didn’t visit the Guinness brewery. First, actually foremost, I don’t like crowds and we drove away from Dublin as soon as the plane landed. That made it impossible to visit Guinness. Second, I’m not a fan of doing what everyone else does just because everyone else does it. I didn’t visit Guinness, I never got near the Blarney Stone and I approached the Ring of Kerry on my own terms. That’s how I do things. I keep away from crowds and I count stuff.
My brewery visits increased by one, plus a near miss and some nice tries.
Maybe only my lighthouse list didn’t grow. I had some candidates in mind and the scheduling never seemed to work out. Overall I think I scored well on my various lists, though.
The Ireland articles:
I enjoy boat rides. Ireland is surrounded by water. Is it surprising that I found myself cruising over the waves? No of course not, although I didn’t expect it to happen four times during my trip even if a couple of those were fleeting encounters.
12MC’s brief video from the Skellig Islands
Skellig Michael ranked high on my list of priorities as I planned the trip. A skellig is rock, in this instance the Rock of Michael, mirroring the Irish language Sceilig Mhichíl. Skellig Michael and its sister Little Skellig jutted sharply from the Atlantic Ocean a dozen kilometres from the Iveragh Peninsula (map). While just a stone’s throw from the famous Ring of Kerry and its tourist busloads, Skellig Michael stood a world apart in approachability and was equally difficult to conquer.
Irish authorities severely limited access to this fragile UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only small boats could dock at Skellig Michael and only a handful of licenses were awarded each year to charter operators working primarily from Portmagee. This limited visitors to about 150 people per day give-or-take, and only in the summer months when ocean swells calmed sufficiently. Even that could be a crapshoot. We had to reschedule our original reservation after all five sailing days leading up to it were canceled due to high waves. The island caretakers wouldn’t let boats land there in perceptively dangerous conditions.
So why would anyone want to go to Skellig Michael? Lousy weather, seasickness, expense and inconvenience were all possibilities. These were all offset by the actual experience. The difficulty of the journey only enhanced the rewards.
The two Skelligs, out by themselves and surrounded by water, attracted huge colonies of birds. These included about ten thousand Atlantic Puffins on Skellig Michael, and I think many people would agree that puffins are about the cutest birds that exist. They’re like the pandas of the avian world. They also seemed to lack all fear of human visitors. We got as close to puffins on Skellig Michael as we would to pigeons in a park, and they were everywhere. Our kids loved them. I wouldn’t have ridden an hour on a cabin cruiser through an intermittent drizzle to a rocky shard simply for a few birds, though. They were a bonus.
The main attraction was the ancient monastery built high atop Skellig Michael around the 6th Century. The monks who settled here were sometimes called "white martyrs" because of their lives of suffering, deprivation and absolute devotion to their Christian faith, albeit without bloodshed. This must have felt like the most isolated place on earth 1,500 years ago.
We climbed the steep unprotected steps carved into the mountainside centuries ago, several hundred feet up to the monastery, as the horizon disappeared into clouds. It seemed otherworldly as we explored in a thick fog through beehive huts constructed by those early monks as crude shelter. I thought to myself as we walked along, that it seemed like a setting out of Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings. I’ve since learned that this will likely be a filming location for Star Wars: Episode VII. It’s a good thing we visited Skellig Michael when we did. Reservations will become a lot more difficult once the secret gets out and Star Wars fans put it on the pilgrimage list.
The Seafari cruise out of Kenmare became our consolation prize on the day we planned to visit Skellig Michael originally and had to postpone it due to the weather. The waves were much calmer in protected Kenmare Bay (map) than the open Atlantic so we diverted to Kenmare that morning to see the Harbor Seals instead of Portmagee to see the puffins. It’s good to be flexible.
The ship’s captain explained that a gloomy day actually worked to our advantage. Sudden movements spooked seals, and sunny days created shadows they detected as motions. More seals should be sitting out on the rocks when cloudy. I wasn’t sure if that was something like rain supposedly being "good luck" on a wedding day — designed to make someone feel better — or whether there was truth behind his statement. Either way, we saw plenty of seals including a few tiny pups that resided with their parents only for a brief period each Summer before striking out on their own.
We kept returning to a recurring theme during our journey: how to separate ourselves from larger crowds in popular tourist destinations. Case in point, several sites in Killarney National Park just outside of the town of Killarney all drew healthy gatherings. However, Innisfallen Island (map) in the middle of the park’s Lough Leane, did not. That required a boat and most people did not want to go through the effort.
I think large excursion boats went to Innisfallen at certain times of the day although none were there when we visited. Instead, we hired a boatsman to ferry us from the concession stand at nearby Ross Castle to the middle of the lake. There we climbed through the ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, founded originally in 640 and lasting through 1594. There were only two other people on the island during our brief layover, and then we got a guided tour around the lake afterwards to boot.
Valentia Island Ferry
Our fourth journey across water involved the Valentia Island Ferry (map). I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming article so I’ll just mention it for now.
Comment spam seems to have returned to the Twelve Mile Circle. It took a nosedive a few months ago after Google started penalizing link-back schemes in its page-rank algorithms. The spammers have responded by linking back to YouTube and Yahoo Answers pages instead, and I’ve noticed a steady upswing in those tactics. Of course, I moderate every comment on 12MC and I delete spam before readers ever see it. It’s interesting to watch the cat-and-mouse games from my little corner of the world.
The Ireland articles: