Just yesterday, Tim was asking me about our trip to Ireland: Where we went, what we did, will we ever eat smoked salmon as great as that again? I could easily answer the last question (sadly, no), but to answer the first two questions I had to dredge the backwaters of my memory, hardly the most reputable place to find the kind of facts he was looking for.
Way, way back in the dimmest beginnings of the internet (we’re talking Geocities; remember Geocities?) I threw up some web pages with our travel photos and what I thought of at the time as witty commentary for the folks back home to look at. Just for the hell of it I asked The Great Google if there was any vestige of those pages still out there and, what the hell, there was! All of the pages for our trip to Ireland were there, but two of the photos had gone missing: One photo was the introductory page, and I have no idea what that looked like. The other photo is described below in the original text from the web pages.
So this one’s for you, Tim. Here, without further delay, are the photos with the original, unaltered text. I hope they’ll provide some of the answers to the questions you had, because it’s about all that I’m able to provide, with the help of my internet memory.
[Added: I found the original photos in an album and was pleasantly surprised to discover that I’d written the date of our visit on the backs: April 2000.]
Some time around the turn of the century, Barb’s great-grandfather, Arthur Marshall, left his family in Tarbert to emigrate to the United States, and for some time now she’s wanted to kick around the old ancestral land. Since our first full day in Ireland was wet, we decided a long car trip to Tarbert would be just the thing. We had no idea what we’d find when we got there. The town hardly gets a mention in any guide book, and then only because they have a jail that they’ve turned into a museum. As it turns out, about the only thing in Tarbert worth showing anybody is my lovely family posed by the sign on the edge of town. They look happy because they haven’t seen Tarbert yet. The place amounts to a t-junction with several pubs and a shrine to the Virgin Mary. I’ll leave you to think about the implications of that juxtaposition.
We managed to squeeze all the wild excitements of Tarbert and drive all the way back to Killarney in time for lunch. As we still had plenty of daylight, we all piled back into the car to have a drive into Killarney National Park to see the sights. The first sight we saw was a cave I don’t remember the name of and which I don’t have pictures of anyway, so why do you care, right? It was a cave. Think of Batman.
The pictures I do have from that outing, though, I took while we were having a bimble up the valley that Torc Fall cuts through. Nobody on earth could have designed a waterfall more perfectly laid out for tourists that Torc Fall. There’s a big car park right beside the road, and the falls are only about a hundred yards up the path. I imagine in the height of the tourist season this place is thronged, but today the rain discouraged them, so we didn’t have to fight through much of a crowd. They were thickest when we were already coming back down the hill, where I stopped to snap this shot of the boys with the falls behind them. That’s Sean to the left of the couple holding hands, Tim to the right. Like you can see them.
We lucked out just about everywhere we went that day. Every time we stepped out of the car, it had just stopped raining. While we were having a walk around, no rain. Then, each time we got back to the car, usually just as we were opening the doors, it started to rain, and kept on raining until just before we got to our next stop. I can’t explain it, but I’m not complaining.
As the weather was being so kind to us, and there were quite a few pathways to explore in Killarney National Park, we took a short hike up the valley to see the source of Torc Fall. Never found it. We did find this view, which is a great deal more spectacular if you’re gazing upon it in person with your own wet eyeballs, and not staring blankly at a web page on a computer monitor, but this is the best I can to do for you, sorry. The city of Killarney is in the distant right background, beyond the lakes of Killarney National Park. A gorgeous mountain range is immediately off the left edge of the picture. Too bad you can’t see it.
One more shot from Killarney National Park, this time a photo of what they now call Ladies’ View, so named because Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting were so utterly dazzled by this sight they could hardly tear themselves away. It must have been pretty dull to be a lady-in-waiting. I imagine they had better weather, too. We stopped here for quite a while, had a tramp around the rocks, ducked into the Ladies’ View tourist shop, and so on, but the majesty of the place didn’t quite strike us the way other places did. Might’ve had something to do with the thirty-knot headwind or occassional showers. And that’s just about all we saw around the national park; we spent the rest of our time chasing tourist busses in our car, and I know you can’t wait to hear about that, so if you’re still with me, let’s click on to the next page …
This is the kind of scene you expect to see when you think of Ireland, isn’t it? We had miles and miles of this when we finally went out to tour the Dingle Penninsula on Tuesday. (I’ll wait a moment while you finish chuckling over the name ‘Dingle Penninsula.’ Done? Okay.) The sky was clear and blue, the temps were warm, the most gentle of breezes beckoned us to get out and walk whereever we went, and every picture I took that day was a post card — I know you don’t want to look at post card after post card. As pretty as these scenes are, they all kind of run together after a dozen or so. I’ll offer you a few here, though, just so you can sort of get the flavor of the day. I don’t remember where I took this, but I know it was on Dingle (Yes? What’s so funny in the back, there?), possibly in the area of Slea Head, where we stopped several times to walk around — or it might be in the area of Inch, our first stop of the day. Don’t remember. Spent more time trying to soak up the sun and the sights than paying any attention to what I was taking pictures of.
This, on the other hand, is typically not what I imagine when I think of Ireland. Looks more like Japan to me. But Ireland it is, honest. This is off a beach in Smerwick Harbor, on the north shore of Dingle. We were looking for the rolling heads. According to the guide book, there was a massacre on this site back when they used to do that kind of thing in Ireland, and to commemorate the event (I think that’s the right word), an artist with a fat government grant sculpted dozens of severed heads and scattered them up and down the hillside. Or so says the guidebook. We saw no heads, and although this stunning view made up for it, we were still rather disappointed.
Backtracking just a bit, this is a shot of Inch Strand, the beach at Inch that runs right round and out into the harbor. It’s very, very long, very wide, rather tidy, and soft enough to invite you to run barefoot, with of course Tim had to do almost immediately. This was our first stop of the day and we couldn’t have asked for a better place with better weather. There was even a tea shop on the beach. Tim started a shell collection here that I believe is still rattling around in his jacket pockets. The rest of us just collected sand. We stayed about as long as we could stand the tourists, then squeeked out between a pair of tour busses and an oversized camper. The main roads that you see on the map are just wide enough for our car to slither between an oncoming tour bus and the stone walls that flank the road on both sides, but only if I clamp both hands around the steering wheel and shut my eyes so hard that tears spurt out. Barb was doing the same thing with her eyes, so I don’t think she caught on to what I was doing. It worked, right?
I’ll squeeze one more snap into this page to make your download really tiresome. Barb’s nephew Alex sent us a ‘Flat Stanley’ — a little cutout doll. Stanley likes to travel, the story goes, and he travels mostly through the mail. Alex sent him to us so he could get a little globe-trotting experience, and lucky for Stanley he arrived just as we were getting ready to head for Ireland, so he went much further than he knew he was going to go. We took lots of pictures of Stanley — way more, it turned out, than the huge number I already thought we were — but I’m not going to inflict that on you. This just happens to be a fairly good picture of Barb and I, and Stanley happens to be stuck to Barb’s fingers. Stanley’s also in the photo of Barb, Sean and Tim at the Leprechaun Crossing that you saw on the first page, by the way, but no way am I going to turn this into a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ competition. (Winner gets a piece of stinky piece of cheese by return of post.)
Here’s Barb at the beehive huts, near Slea Head. These are supposed to be something like a thousand years old, constructed by hermits or religious devotees or somebody else who wanted to be very, very alone, didn’t care much where he lived and didn’t have a lot to build with. There are lots of flat stones lying all over the ground in Dingle, so these guys piled them up in a circle, like an igloo. Why these are called ‘beehive huts’ and not ‘stone igloos’ is beyond me, but I’m not on the tourist board, so it’s not my call. If you ask me, they look suspiciously like somebody rebuilt them a year or two ago, and it might just possibly have been the local farmer who charges a pound per sight-seeing tourist, or they might actually be a thousand years old and just look as though they’re remarkably clean and well-kept, especially for ruins that thousands of tourists tramp through every week.
The O-Men (trademark applied for) pause somewhere along the tourist circuit on the Dingle Penninsula to vogue for this stunning photograph. Ain’t we a bunch of studs? Especially the guy in the middle? Somebody in the peanut gallery has asked about the toupee. It’s a hat. I will never wear a toupee. You can hold me to that.
The tourist circuits around the three penninsulas in County Kerry are known as the Ring of Dingle (okay, that’s enough of that), the Ring of Kerry, and I forget the name of the other ring right now, but it’ll come to me, I promise. By unofficial agreement, the traffic on these rings moves in an anti-clockwise direction, but the guidebook doesn’t explain why, so I decided to go my own darned way and was feeling pretty good about making my own decision until we met a tour bus. They’re wide enough to take up the whole road and big enough to squish tourists who have the temerity to disreguard unofficial directives. So for crying out loud, if the guidebook suggests something, no matter how whacky, JUST DO IT!
This is a shot of Dunquinn — or Dunquin, or Dun Quin, I’m not sure. Everything in Ireland is spelled at least two different ways. Killarney is also Cill Airne, and everything is labelled in English and Irish. (Which is not Gaelic — that’s what the guidebook says, SO BELIEVE IT!) Since the English is also supplied it’s not a big deal, but there are one or two isolated spots where the road signs are in nothing but Irish, so if you haven’t been paying attention, driving can become a teensy bit more complicated than you bargained for.
As for Dunquinn, it’s a small harbor between Dunmore Head and Clogher Head, and features very prominently in the tourists shops this year because a well-known photographer (well-known to tourists) took an artsy-fartsy picture of a flock of sheep winding their way up the stair-step road you see snaking up the rocky point. I couldn’t arrange for the sheep, sorry.
We visited the Staigue Stone Fort on a rather rainy day and, wouldn’t you know it, unlike the beehive huts, there’s no roof! You can’t count on those stone-age guys for anything! The stone age must have been a very confusing time, because the Staigue fort doesn’t guard anything that we could see. It must have been just a place where the shepherds and beehive hut people could run into when rampaging bands of marauders landed on the penninsula to kick some heads.
This fort really is rather impressive, by the way. Unlike the beehive huts, the walls of the fort are something like ten feet thick and twelve feet high, and the fort’s defenders could climb up the stairways built into the walls to fend off marauders by bonking them with rocks or whatever the cutting edge of weapons technology was at the time. The small door you see to the right of the boys is a storage chamber built into the wall. If you want to see the fort, by the way, you’ve got to REALLY WANT TO SEE IT, because it’s at the end of a long, long one-lane sunken road that winds up a valley choked with sheep, which frequently step out onto the road to greet tourists in the friendly manner that all Irish sheep seem to have. And it’s on the south coast of the Iveragh Penninsula, on the Ring of Kerry — sorry, I jumped ahead without telling you.
Backing up to the Dingle Penninsula, this is a view from Connor Pass. For once, all the hype in the guide books is well-placed; this view will take your breath away on a clear day, and we had the clearest, warmest, most breath-taking day of the week when we were up there. We stopped for a quick late-afternoon lunch, and just to make the day perfect, some guy parked beside us, dug a set of bagpipes out of the boot of his car, and played a couple tunes. He wasn’t busking and he wasn’t from the tourist board, he just wanted to play his bagpipes at the top of Connor Pass. I know that’d really spoil the moment for some people, but I dearly love the sound of bagpipes, especially in the open air. Barb, by the way, is one of those people who can’t stand bagpipes. She’s the one with the Celtic blood, and I’m nothing but Slav. Go figure.
I took lots of pictures of the roads as we were driving around the tourist circuits because they were so narrow, sunken between berms thickly covered in grass or flanked by high stone walls, and along the coast there was always sheer stone up one side or a sheer drop down the other. Unfortunately, none of those pictures captures the hair-raising feeling of driving along those roads. This snapshot of the road north of Connor Pass, for instance, doesn’t convey to you that there were just inches of clearance between the fenders of my car and the rock on either side. If it had been fairly straight, this might not have been much of a problem, but the road was as crooked as an arthritic woman’s fingers. I chose to show you this photo because I love the warning posts along the stone wall on the left. As if I needed the warning.
The drive up the hills to Connor Pass was so pleasant, and the view from the pass was such sweet eye candy, that when we got back down and were headed home Barb pointed out another scenic route that would take us up another mountain pass, between the villages of Camp and Aughils. I’m pointing this out to you because IT’S A TRAP! The only vehicle you should ever attempt to drive along this road should have at least four-wheel drive, although ideally it should be tracked and armored and powered by a twelve-cylinder diesel engine of at least two-thousand horsepower. This ‘scenic’ road climbs grades that had me spinning my tires against asphalt in first gear. And I thought I knew hairpin turns from my drives through the Rocky Mountains. They were child’s play compared to this drive. And for all that work you’d think they’d give you a scenic view at least as spectacular as the one at Connor Pass, but it ain’t there, if you ask me. Just don’t even think about it.
You can’t go to Ireland and not kiss the Blarney Stone, right? I mean, there’s something almost irresistable about puckering up and giving a warm, wet buss to a cold chunk of rock that several thousand people have already slobbered on, don’t you think? Blarney Castle just happens to be along the road that we took on the way home, so we stopped in, climbed the stairs with a hundred other tourists, and planted our lips on the legendary stone. It’s on the underside of the wall, so you have to bend way backwards and slide out through the hole that you can see daylight through in the photo of the castle wall.