More from Tara in Ireland…
The first thing I do in the morning, since I’ve been cycling in Ireland, is to pull back the curtains from the window and look out in the hopes that I will see something remotely blue outside. To be honest, it doesn’t really happen, but every morning I hope to see blue sky and sunshine.
The morning I awoke at The Lake House was no different—a pale gray sky greeted me, but thankfully, there was no actual rain falling just heavy Irish mist (which is about as effective as rain in regards to soaking you through). After another breakfast of gargantuan proportions I hit the road, to finish the last 10 km of the Beara Peninsula and to begin the Ring of Kerry.
The Ring of Kerry is located on the Iveragh Peninsula, the largest of the peninsulas that reach out into the Atlantic from the southwestern corner of Ireland. It is also the prime tourist attraction outside of Dublin, possibly for the whole country. Unlike the Beara peninsula, tour buses are able to navigate the narrow roads (though they really shouldn’t) and “doing” the Ring of Kerry has become the day trip of choice for thousands of tourists to Ireland.
I had heard that Killarney, which serves as staging area for Ring of Kerry day trips, had become quite touristy, but nothing prepared me for leaving the desolation of the Beara Peninsula and entering Kenmare, one of the larger towns towards the end of the Kerry route.
There were shamrocks and leprechauns in every window and tinned Celtic music flowed from every doorway. The streets of Kenmare were packed with tourists hailing from Albany to Athens—it was a madhouse. Walking down the street I was struck by an urge to go into the butcher shop—the only thing in the street that actually looked normal and local. I did, and later I strolled the back streets of the town before (quickly) moving on. It was comforting to see real houses, and even the Kenmare sanitation department—a nice reminder that there was more to the town than this Irish Disneyland.
I pushed onward, in the rain now, and decided to stay the night in a town called Sneem—because I liked the name, and also was feeling in need of a short day, after the rugged hills of the Beara. I spent the night in a B&B where the owner told me that the tour buses stop in town from 2-4 pm and at that time “Sneem is black with folk.” But they move on quickly, taking everyone back to their hotels in Killarney for the evening and leaving Sneem a quiet, small town. It was lovely that night, walking the silent, misty streets and tucking into a small pub for a drink before heading back to bed.
The next morning I set off on the Ring of Kerry. The tour buses run the route counter-clockwise but I decided to ride clockwise as I thought it safer to meet the buses head on, rather than have them pass me from the rear. I like to be able to look into the eyes of the driver who is about to run me off the road!
It was raining, again, but by this time I had gotten used to being wet and cycling in the rain (it’s not cold, just very, very wet). I figure, if I had wanted sun, I would have gone to Spain (and trust me, the thought has occurred to me a number of times since this trip began!).
The scenery was wonderful, rocky on the coast but with high mountains and wooded sections inland. It was less rugged than the Beara but beautiful in a different way. By now it was raining heavily and again I was cycling in full rain gear—a bit awkward, but you get used to it soon enough.
I have seen a number of other cyclists on this trip, but they always seem to be going in the opposite direction (makes me wonder what they know that I don’t!). We wave as we pass, but as of yet, I haven’t spoken with any of them.
That morning in Sneem I had seen a group of cyclists set out in my direction as I struggled with my ridiculously large bike bags and assorted gear. They were carrying no gear with them on their bikes and I soon realized why—they were followed by a van from Irish Cycle Safaris, carrying all their gear and stopping along the road with snacks and support. They left town about 10 minutes before me, and I didn’t expect to see them again as I imagined they would be going fast. Had I not been carrying 60-70 lbs of gear, I would be going a lot faster as well!
The route wound through the rain and along a tortuous road, dipping in and out of sea swept curves, along a rocky coast and into woodsy hills. I found myself passing the cycle safari group on the hills, and playing tag-team with them as they stopped for breaks with their support van. It was a group of all ages from University of Michigan and they were doing the Ring of Kerry in five days. I was planning on doing it in a day and a half.
I spent some time chatting with the driver/guide from Cycle Safaris (based in Killarney) as we waited for his group to catch up. He was very nice and laughed heartily when I said he was like a mother hen—waiting at the hills and encouraging the group on, and even going back to pick up stragglers if need be. I was glad to be on my own and making my own decisions, as opposed to being on some sort of group trip. The participants seemed nice, but I was happy to be continuing onward alone at lunch (rather than calling it quits for the day) and happy to know that I wasn’t going nearly as slow as I sometimes felt I was!
The second part of the Ring of Kerry is less dramatic, but beautiful with rolling green farmland. I passed areas where they were cutting turf (the top layer of sod) to dry and burn in the fireplace and found myself mooing to the cows in the fields along the road (I’ve gotten so good at this, one of them followed me along the fence as I rode by, mooing back).
In the afternoon I stopped in the town of Cahirsiveen when I saw signs for an internet café—surprising as it’s pretty rural out here. Cahirsiveen has 54 pubs (for 1,200 people), but I never expected an internet café—and what an internet cafe! It was beautiful and spacious, with plants and vines climbing the huge windows that overlooked the main street of Cahirsiveen.
I started chatting with the owner, an American woman, who has been living in Ireland for more than 30 years. Lynn came over in her 20s, bought an old house and fixed it up. She’s one of those Bohemian souls with a lifetime of stories to tell, and not finished making them either—she wants to move to India next.
In the meantime, she’s started this gorgeous internet cafe, makes excellent cappuccino (learned while married and living in France) and is teaching the local children about computers and the internet and a world outside their small town. She says the parents are a bit wary, but the kids take to it like fish to water.
After a long chat about life in rural Ireland, and fully warm and dry after my wet morning, I hit the road again—heading north along the upper part of the peninsula. I had plans to make it to Glenbeigh that evening, and after two hours chatting (both online and with Lynn) I had cycling to do.
An hour later I passed the small town of Kells and for the first time could see across the water to the next peninsula north—the Dingle Peninsula. The weather was beginning to break up and the solid gray from that morning had begun to separate itself into individual clouds, with light (not quite sunshine, but light) filtering through. I was happy cycling, feeling strong though I had cycled a large portion of the Ring of Kerry that day. I passed a B&B set among green fields sloping down to cliffs and the sea beyond—and a beautiful view of Dingle in the distance. I thought it looked lovely, but it wasn’t Glenbeigh. I continued on.
A mile later I turned around and went back to the B&B—something about it was calling to me. It wasn’t Glenbeigh, but I had an overwhelming urge to wake up in that spot, with that view. I needed to be there.
It turned out to be one of the best decisions I made. I was met at the door by Agnes, the Irish mother-figure I didn’t even know I wanted. She took one look at my wet state and bustled me into a sitting room where she lit a peat fire (smells lovely), brought me a pot of hot tea and her homebaked brown bread. I sat there and watched one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life, feeling completely at home and happy.
Agnes was amazing—one of the warmest, most caring people I have ever met. She clucked over me and the weather and let me help with chores (a recent hip operation has left it hard for her to get around). We pegged out the washing on one of those octagon-shaped drying fixtures from the 50s and I asked her about her life and the changes that tourism had brought to the region. As with most people I’ve spoken to, she had little negative to say about the tourists—they’ve brought a source of income to the area. She sent me to bed that night with a hot water bottle and blessings—and I really did feel blessed.
I think I had been yearning for this sort of an experience. I’m more used to and comfortable traveling in less developed areas. If I walk into any Fijian village, within 20 minutes I’ll be sitting on the dirt floor of someone’s home with children climbing over me and sitting in my lap. I know travel in Europe is rarely that immediate and I didn’t expect it, but it’s hard for me to feel removed from the people I meet—put in the breakfast room, while the family eats in the kitchen. The next morning Agnes had laid the table in the breakfast room, but I asked her if I could eat in the kitchen with her and she was delighted. Afterwards we washed the dishes together and Anges made me jam and bread sandwiches to take with me for a snack on the road.
I was sorry to leave that morning, but it was the first day of clear weather and I had meant to cycle out to the town of Dingle at the end of the Dingle Peninsula. Agnes hugged me goodbye, told me she knew we’d meet again, called me her angel (for helping her out) and said she would wave to me in Dingle (you can see the town from her house) at 8 pm and that I should wave back. I left with a copy of her brown bread recipe in my bags, warmth in my heart, and the feeling that next time I come to Ireland I have someone very special to visit.
About Tara Austen Weaver:
Born to traveler parents, Tara Austen Weaver crossed her first international border at five weeks of age and has been hooked on travel ever since. To date, she has lived in five countries on three continents, including four and a half years spent in the mountains of Japan. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she works, plays, and commutes by bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge.