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Sunshine streamed in through the windows to remind us that we were in a magical place by the sea.

When we arrived at our Airbnb the night before, we knew immediately that it was perfect for us. That night we reviewed our itinerary and cut out today’s tour of the Jameson distillery in Midleton, the Kindred Spirits Sculpture honoring the Choctaw Nation, that I really wanted to see, and we would also skip Lismore Castle. This was all so that we could spend our day right there instead, exploring the beaches and the rocky outcroppings, and then taking our time to look at the rest of the peninsula. We never wanted to leave, and would have simply booked a second night, but I had already paid for the next night in Cashel, a good 3 1/2 hours away.

Fishing boats visible from our sunroom.

Grizzly, the cat, came in and slept on our bed during the night. Tara and I miss our own kitties so much that it was a very welcome third party on our shared bed.

This is the sign we passed in Ballyferriter while lost the evening before.

On our way in the night before, we had passed a sign saying something about Star Wars, but we were lost so we didn’t slow down to read it. I spent the evening researching what it could be about, and found out that scenes in The Last Jedi were filmed in County Kerry! Since the area is so undeveloped, it was very hard to find a place name, or directions, or much information at all. I finally figured out that one film location was Ceann Sibéal, but my map only pulled up a golf course and a hotel with that name. They were in Ballyferriter, so I knew it was oh, so close. On the outer wall of a small museum in Ballyferriter was a map of our little spot, and finally I found Ceann Sibéal. It was the hill I spotted with what looked like ruins on top of it, but there are no roads to the hill, and it would have been a long walk, after permission from the property owner.

I could swear those are the ruins of some wall on top of Ceann Sibéal there, but my lens was just not powerful enough to pull it close to me. But that place, my friends, is one shooting location for The Last Jedi.

The above photos were taken as we left our Airbnb. We said hi to some sheep with Ceann Sibéal in the background.

We enjoyed a luxuriously lazy morning, watching the sun rise, drinking coffee in the tiny sunroom splashed with light, and watching boats fishing out in the bay. Eventually we emerged and and explored the place.

Have I mentioned that the spot is magical? Like a dream for an 11 year old. Or, for Tara and me, because we haven’t quite grown up yet. The shape of the rocks on the coastline is a series of parallel wedges that poke into the sea. The property owner has built structures in a row, following each of the wedges out to their seamost point. Some structures are guesthouses. We talked with one other guest who showed us his place, which was only big enough to hold a bed. He had to come outside onto his patio to boil water for tea and run a toaster for breakfast. And he had no shower, like ours did. Past his place was a tiny rock-walled garden with a bench, and beyond that a scary bridge from one outcropping of rock to another – just for fun. They both coaxed me onto the bridge with some effort. Beyond the bridge was a little fishing hut.

If you look closely, you can see a series of buildings that go ever farther out along the rock outcropping into the sea.

Super scary bridge that I actually walked across!

Me taking photos from the walled garden on top of one of the rocks.

This is what the water looked like from up there. Ceann Sibéal in the distance.

View from the common room for guests, which has a TV with couches, a small bar, and strong wifi signal.

Fishing hut at the very outermost point.

Next we played down on the beach with the two dogs, Bruno and Dora, who ran around barking loudly for a long time.

Tara with Bruno and Dora on the beach.

Natural arches formed by wave action.

Tara (geology major) was getting some up close images of the rocks.

We revisted the beach multiple times during the morning, and the tide went farther and farther out.

The retreating tides allowed us more beach access, and soon the dogs were bounding up a trail on the opposite side of the beach. So we followed them up another crag of rocks. At the top we found a dilapidated stone and wood hut that delighted us. But then, we found a door ajar at the back of the hut, and pressed through it. Obviously. Before long we were at another fabulous vista point.

Bruno led us along the path to more wonderful sights.

Hut at the top of the hill across the beach.

Great view of Binn Diarmada from that vista point. Every time we see a green field scattered with sheep, we are delighted.

It was finally time to leave and get some food. We tried Ballyferriter first, but nothing was open. The tiny town was darling though, and we stopped and walked around. Sadly the museum was closed, as was the church across the street from it. In Ballyferriter, 75% of the population speaks Irish daily, rather than English. People come here to learn the language, too.

St. Vincent’s Church in Ballyferriter.

We scrapped our plans to drive from Ballyferriter counterclockwise around the peninsula, since we needed to eat first. We went to Dingle and found a bustling town filled with tourists. In our trip so far, two places stood out as the locals’ favourite spots to visit, and those were Galway and Dingle. It seemed to be the case, as most of the obvious tourists looked Irish. Though it was noon, we were specifically craving breakfast, and sat down in the first cafe we found that was still serving breakfast. The food was great, and the place filled with characters.

Luckily, we found this cafe open, and not Feckin’ Banjaxed.

Next Tara wanted to do more gift shopping, and since we were finally in a tourist town again, we had access to shops with the right kind of things for sale. I killed time waiting for Tara by browsing the items as well. I can’t stand shopping in any context, unless it’s for outdoor gear or at a hardware store. But while I waited for T I found a gorgeous cable knit wool sweater for €45 and couldn’t walk away from that price. So I had my souvenier! Finally T was satisfied and we hopped into the car to make the Dingle loop clockwise. But we had used up so much time eating and shopping that now I was beginning to worry about the long drive to Cashel, where we would be staying the night.

Past Ventry, along Slea Head Drive, we came across a small museum that was freshly painted in bright colours and looked very appealing. I was beginning to get into “Go Mode,” worried about time, and drove on past. But Tara helped me remember that we were on vacation and should enjoy the journey. So I turned the car around and went back and we explored this curious museum. It was a very reasonable €5 to get in.The Celtic and Prehistoric Museum is the result of owner Harris Moore’s hobby of collecting prehistoric treasures from all over the world. On TripAdvisor, the owner said, “A considerable fortune and 30 years of blood , sweat, and tears (and joy) have gone into this. Yes, the collection is totally unique, rare, and in my opinion, beautiful.”

Tara and I agreed with him. The museum itself is small but beautiful, with a classy and thoughtful arrangement and lighting. There are objects from the Jurassic, Stone and Bronze Ages, as well as the Celtic and Viking eras.

One of the main showpieces of the museum, for obvious reasons.

I particularly love the carved stone female figures.

The variety of artifacts was impressive.

A collection of Celtic brooches and clasps and belt buckles.

A baby dinosaur skeleton.

More female figures.

The three-headed god is on the right. See how it is left profile, center, and right profile?

We talked to Mr. Moore and he was very personable and welcoming. I could have happily spent another hour there, but I really wanted to get back on the road.

My plans were interrupted once again. This time by beehive huts. There had been several signs advertising beehive huts to tourists, and I don’t know one from another, so I can’t say if any are legit any more than another. From Wikipedia: “A clochán, or beehive hut, is a dry-stone hut with a corbelled roof, commonly associated with the south-western Irish seaboard. The precise construction date of most of these structures is unknown with any degree of certainty.” The beehive huts have been constructed since neolithic times, but as recently as the 1950s. That’s why it’s hard to pinpoint an age for a specific site. We had seen evidence of corbelling in Newgrange on our third day in Ireland. That’s when stones are overlapped closer and closer to the center, until a capstone can be placed on top for a ceiling.

We were curious about these ancient structures, and pulled into one of the places, paid €2 to a man who clearly lived there and owned the property, and climbed a very steep hill to see what it was all about. It was the Fahan Beehive Huts, Caher Conor (Cathair na gConchuireach). This particular spot had stone huts that had been rebuilt. I would have been disappointed at how fresh these structures were, when I was expecting something old, but gazing around the site it actually looks like the real thing was once here. It seems as though the current huts have been rebuilt by using the materials of the old huts. The bonus was that we got a good quick workout climbing that steep hill to get to them, and we also had a wonderful view of the sea.

Reconstructed “beehive” huts, so-named for their shape, though these had flat tops that don’t bring to mind the beehive shape.

A single hut that we walked inside. It was not sealed, and a bitter cold wind still blew inside, albeit not as stiff as outside. Tara and I guessed that if these were used as homes, they certainly would have been sealed somehow, perhaps with turf in between rocks.

The site looked authentic, which made me happier about spending my money there.

I poked around the old stuff, since that’s what I like best. I have an active imagination and don’t need them to be rebuilt for me in order to be impressed.

From the side of the mountain we had a great view.

Back on the road we finally rounded Slea Head, which I thought would have an access point down to the sea, but it did not. It had a statue of Jesus, rather, which was a traffic hazard, as tourists stopped in the road on the blind corner to take photos of it. We continued in order to find a good place to turn around, and then headed back to Dingle so we could start heading for Cashel in hopes of arriving in daylight. Sadly, we found out later that the place we turned around was Coumeenoole Beach: a fabulous beach with spectacular views. We had no idea at the time, and therefore did not even look around other than for oncoming traffic, much less get out of the car. *sigh*

I haven’t mentioned the road, but on my second day driving in Ireland, today’s driving was a serious challenge and I passed the test! Much of Slea Head Drive is a single lane despite being a two way road. The speed limit was frequently higher than I was comfortable driving. It’s curvy, with a drop off into the sea, or possibly bound between a rock cliff and a rock wall with just enough space to get our little car through. If any traffic is oncoming, I had to quickly dart into someone’s driveway. Very stressful, but WHAT an adventure!

Tara took this photo of Slea Head Drive while I chewed on my lip and kept the car on the road.

We determinedly headed east from Dingle and came across no problems at all. We got lost again, trying to find our Airbnb place once more. (All the hosts say, “just pop our eircode into your GPS!” or “Call if you have a problem!” which is all well and good for people who have cell phone service, but for us, totally worthless advice.) But of course, we found our next beautiful home to stay in, and while it was still light out. Yet another warm and welcoming host in a beautiful and comfortable home at a great price.

Muckross House in Killarney National Park.

We had breakfast at the hotel since it was Sunday, it was early, and NOTHING was going to be moving until 11am. We took a taxi to the airport and rented a car.

We rented a car!!!

You know what that means, of course. It means I had to DRIVE in IRELAND. I had been lulled into a false sense of security by Tara who had volunteered to do all the driving before the trip. But we found out Tara is not old enough to drive a rental car yet. So that meant it was all on me. I was so scared. I mean, really scared. But what can you do? I got into the car and figured it out. Tara navigated while I tried to remember what it was like to drive a manual transmission. Tara gave a helpful yelp anytime I was too close to the edge of the left side of the road.

Our first plan was to go to Killarney National Park, check out the Muckross House and find some trails to hike. There isn’t a town at the park entrance, just a congested area with twisty narrow roads and I was clenching the wheel like my life depended on it. But we found an open space to park. As we walked from the carpark we were met by Patrick. Patrick believed that we were in need of a jaunting car. I had seen this on websites but ignored it. Tara, on the other hand, had done more research on this park than me, and had already determined that to make the best of the time ahead, we should hire a horse and buggy. So we did. Can I confess that I was singing this song to myself in my head the whole time?

Tara made a beeline for the greenhouse, that turned out to be closed to the public.

Tara ran to the shores of the lake because that vast expanse of mowed lawn was irresistible and had to be run across! Then they ran back.

Also, there are some wonderful exposed rocks there that needed a closer inspection by my geologist scholar.

Nancy was not having one of her better days.

Nancy waited impatiently while I snapped a photo of this magnificent rhododendron.

Me under blankets with my trusty camera in the buggy behind Nancy.

Patrick introduced us to Nancy, his horse, who was in a pissy irritable mood the whole time but grudgingly pulled the buggy. We didn’t care. A cranky horse is still a horse pulling a buggy, and it was fun. We walked the garden of the Muckross House, pictured at the top. It’s a beautiful place and beautifully maintained. We didn’t go in because it cost money and time and we wanted to spend our time hiking. Walking the gardens was free, however. Tara ran across the wide wide lawn down to the shores of the lake. Then we hopped back into the carriage where Nancy and Patrick took us to what he called an abandoned abbey surrounded by a graveyard.

On site it was referred to instead as a friary. The Muckross Franciscan Friary was probably founded in 1445 by Donal MacCarthy, a local chieftain. This friary is said to be built around a yew tree inside, which means the tree is 600 years old today. The community here were Observantine Franciscans, so-called because of their rigid observance of rules of diet, clothing, and posession of property. Muckross Friary was said to be in posession of a miraculous statue of the Virgin. The friars were driven out in 1652 by Cromwellians, and the building destroyed. Enough of the ruins survive today to make it a very educational and compelling stop.

Ruins of the Muckross Friary

Graveyard around the friary, and the park beyond, with cyclists.

Interior of the friary and church are still beautiful.

Occasional bursts of sunlight made delicious patterns on the ground, bringing life into the rooms.

The yew tree inside was remarkable.

Next it was time to drive to the trail head and begin a hike. We were both excited to hike near the creek, but we were out of breath because of the elevation gain. Southwestern Ireland has mountains, and we were climbing for real. But we were quickly rewarded by our arrival at a waterfall.

Creek at the trailhead for the Torc Mountain hike.

The trail included these fabulous stone steps for the first half mile.

Torc Waterfall of the Owengarriff River.

Past the waterfall we continued up the mountain and were afforded some great views of the lakes below and the area surrounding us. We walked through forests, which are not as common in Ireland as we are used to in the Pacific Northwest. Finally we continued our loop back down the trail to Muckross Lake. We played at the lake for awhile, enjoying the beauty of it.

View of Muckross Lake and Lough Leane beyond it.

Looking over my head to ferns growing from a tree branch.

Despite the density of the forest, we continued to find views through the trees.

At the shores of Muckross Lake.

Walking back from taking photos at Muckross Lake.

Next we walked the trail that follows the lake back to the carpark where we had miraculously found a parking spot in a tiny carpark for the second time today! The trail was so lovely that we took our time and enjoyed identifying the plants and birds, and then stopping to chat with a pony having lunch.

This pretty pony was only somewhat tolerant of our presence, and soon after this photograph turned its head away from us and stayed that way the whole time.

Life is hard when you’re so beautiful that people want to invade your personal space.

The trail turned into a bike path as we got closer to the back side of the Muckross House gardens, and the lake.

Even in the open area along the lake, we were greeted with gorgeous scenery.

Satisfied with the hike, we got into the car and hit the road again in earnest. We had used up most of our day and because of the extreme rural site of our evening’s Airbnb room, I wanted to get there in the daylight so we would have an easier time finding the place.

We drove out to Dingle, and past it, on to Ballyferriter. And past that. If you looked at a map, you’d see we were heading almost as far west as it is possible to go on the mainland of Ireland. When we began plans for this trip last summer, Tara had said to me: “Cliffs! Cliffs! Cliffs!” and so I made an effort to find a way to get us out to some cliffs. I found an Airbnb room in our price range (which was modest) that was directly ON the cliffs of the Dingle Peninsula. The place was apparently so small we had to share a bed, but it seemed like a good place.

I was getting worn out from the stress of driving, and the sun was going down, but we kept going. We saw scenes like this, and began falling in love:

The clouds lifted a little and showed us fairytale scenes of green hills and white sheep.

Fields divided by hedges and scattered with sheep.

We could see the sea beyond the green slopes.

We passed Inch Beach, where cars drove right out there on the sand, like they do in Oregon.

Crepuscular rays splashed across the sky.

We went north from Ballyferriter and took a wrong turn and took another wrong turn. Each time ending at the seashore and nowhere near anything like the description of our room for the night. It was frustrating. But one stop was very cool, and if we hadn’t got lost we wouldn’t have seen it. At the end of a narrow dirt road was a site named Dunanoir (Dun an Oir in Irish), meaning Fort of the Gold. Its use as a fort may date to the Iron Age (500 BC to 500 AD), but is notable for the events which took place in 1580 AD. A force of Spanish, Italian, and Irish soldiers, supporters of the Desmond Rebellion, landed in Smerwick Harbor in that year and immediately began to build new fortifications here. Before they completed their work, English government forces led by Lord Grey de Wilton, began a three-day seige. On October 10th defenders surrendered, and up to 600 people including men, women, and children, were massacred on the spot. The commanders were spared, but some have written that theirs was the worse fate. It was demanded that they renounce their Catholic faith, and if they did not, their limbs were all broken. The earthen remains of the unfinished bastions are still evident at the spot, and a monument to recognise the event has been erected.

A monument sits at the site of Dunanoir.

We also said hello to the sheep before we got back into the car.

We drove all the way back to Ballyferriter and tried again. Bear right at the golf course, turn left at the handwritten sign, turn right at the next handwritten sign, down a very long, bumpy, very narrow road in which brambles brushed both sides of the car at once. I was panicking that someone in another car would meet us there, and one of us would have to drive backwards for 200 yards. Finally, we came to a spacious parking area in front of a lovely little house. A kind and smiling older man came out to greet us and asked if I was Crystal. Yes! We had found it. The spot was incredible. Our room was a darling tiny attic cottage with lots of glass windows and a tiny sitting room that looked out over the water. We went to sleep that night listening to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing just beneath us.

The stairs lead up to our room.

The view from the garden in front of our room.

 

 

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