(I realize that I'm taking forever to get my trip recap finished. While numerous things have happened around here--Mothers Day! I got a job! We're in the middle of construction for our new carport!--I'm determined not to interrupt my recaps, so it will all appear consecutively on my blog. I know. I'm weird.)
If you look at any Top 10 list of things to do in Ireland, driving the Ring of Kerry is usually on there. I've heard it's amazing. The views are spectacular, and it's everything people dream of when they think of Ireland.
That being said, if you look at message boards, locals will tell you that you should do Slea Head instead of the Ring of Kerry. It's shorter; it has fewer tour buses; and where the Ring of Kerry is about countryside views, Slea Head is about ocean views.
Since we were in Dingle--which is where the Slea Head drive begins and ends--then by proximity and desire, we decided to spend Friday morning driving the coastline before driving across the country to Dublin. So with nothing but a spirit of adventure--a necessity when driving those roads, let me tell you--we started driving clockwise along the peninsula as the guidebooks suggest.
Being on the westernmost part of Europe? Check it off the list. We saw it; we even took pictures.
We stopped first to see Dunbeg Fort, an ancient fort built before 800 AD on the edge of a cliff.
As it turned out, this was as close as we could get. Indeed, we paid $2 just to see this--which was only about 20 feet closer than we could have seen it from the road. Well, the fee also paid for viewing an informational video that ironically talked about how the fort having stood for centuries would certainly stand the test of time for decades to come.
That time was tested back in January when hurricane-force winds swiped at the cliff, and the fort toppled into the sea as the ground fell away. In fact, according to a local we spoke to a little farther on down the road, there were a couple of tourists INSIDE the fort when nearly all of it swept into the sea. They escaped by the skin of their teeth, and were plenty rattled when they told what had happened. "I offered them some whiskey to calm their nerves," he told us.
I think I'd need a lot of whiskey if that had happened to me.
We asked the guy when the fort would be rebuilt, and he told us that it couldn't be rebuilt. He said they really needed to just close the site down and stop charging people, but I imagine that they are reluctant to do that (and the above link makes a reference to building a new structure to overlook the sight of where the old one fell away).
So, Dunbeg Fort was a bust. We did meet a nice guy from Switzerland, though. And an orange cat. The Swiss guy took our picture.
Just up the road from Dunbeg Fort were the Fahan beehive huts, which had also been damaged by the January storm. But fortunately, as the guy who had been telling us the story of the tourists and also the one taking our money to see the huts, the damage was less extensive, and he could rebuild.
"We get to see something here, though, right?" I prodded.
"Oh, yes," he said. "It's still worth seeing."
And, indeed, we got to see this hut. These huts are also hundreds of years old and were once occupied by farmers who had been pushed out of the more prosperous regions. People lived in these huts, as did their animals in other nearby huts.
Clearly, these were hardy and determined people to live in a tiny windowless hut in a region not known for its nice weather.
The other beehive huts were being rebuilt. Not an easy task, but certainly made easier by the fact that the ground was still intact...and not swept into the sea.
All the new construction rocks were hauled by wheelbarrow up a steep hillside. What a job.
But not our job! We're on vacation.
Off we drove, through old fishing villages, past ancient churches and hillside communities.
Although it was getting late in the morning and we really needed to be making our way over to Dublin, we felt compelled to stop at the Blasket Island Centre, which told the story of the people who used to live on the Blasket Islands until their evacuation in 1953.
This is a view of Blasket Island from the centre. You may be able to see the tiny white dots on the island--those are the structures that still remain there. If we had had time, it would have been cool to take a ferry out to the island. Technically, that island is the most western part of Europe, although people don't live there anymore because it was a hard life living out there.
The centre, however, is beautiful and has a great collection of stories about the people who lived there, many of whom wrote books about their life on the island. The people who lived there spoke Gaelic, and their existence helped keep the language alive through the English invasion. It focused a lot on the Irish language, and we could have stayed there much longer than we had time for.
But Dublin was calling us, so we were back on the road, driving the northern part of Slea Head as we headed back inland.
Amidst the sheer cliffs and rocky shores, there are several beautiful beaches, some of which are safe for swimming, some not.
From the peninsula we climbed Conor Pass, and had the breathtaking view of where we had spent the morning.
We realized at the top of the pass that this would have been the best way to drive into Dingle rather than the road we took. Driving towards the sea, with sheep meandering the hillside, on a road so narrow only one car could fit in some spots? Yes. Of course, yes.
But driving away from Dingle and looking behind us to see this sight was certainly rewarding too.
We headed towards Dublin, leaving Yeats' Ireland for Joyce's Ireland, two completely distinct personalities of a beautiful country. One more day of my trip, which hopefully I will get posted tomorrow.