Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Diary of a World Traveler

Killarney Day 9: "Seeing a fox is like getting pregnant."

Another day, another amazing adventure. I have seen the ocean, climbed all over Iron Age ring forts, made friends with sheep, and looked out onto the beautiful Skellig Islands. Though we got caught in some rain, the sun always followed us on our journey around the Ring of Kerry. There was even a rainbow to wish us good luck—which we definitely had by the time the day was over.

The day started, as always, at 9AM sharp, when we left on a coach bound for Cahersiveen. We drove past the beautiful mountains of Killarney National Park, and even saw the snowy peak of the tallest mountain in Ireland (called Carrauntoohil). It didn’t matter which direction you looked out the bus window—there would always be something captivating to look at. On our way to the Ring of Kerry, we pulled through a town called Killorglin, where there is a statue of a goat wearing a crown. This goat, named King Puck, is said to have led a herd of wild goats down from the mountain as Cromwell’s troops pillaged through Ireland. Because of these goats, the people in the village were able to hide and live through Cromwell’s invasion. I do not know how truthful this story is, but it certainly makes for a good statue.

Our next stop off was at a beautiful mountain pass, with a sparkling river and wild gorse everywhere. It was absolutely a stunning view, especially with the morning sun just peeking out of the rainclouds. There was a man and his son selling Irish rush crosses, and our professor bought one to hang in the bus for good luck. As we were pulling away to leave, his son had gotten their donkey out of the trailer and put the saddle on, which was now home to a fluffy little dog. I have never seen anything like that in my whole life. I think I can die happy now. As we got back onto the road, there was a rainbow awaiting us, only adding to our good luck.

We continued on to Rossbeigh beach near Glenbeigh, where the bus once again pulled over for us to admire the turquoise seawater from up on the steep cliff. We could just see the open ocean out to the west, dotted with the small islands that speckle the coast. The yellow gorse made the perfect compliment to the lovely backdrop. These are some of my favorite photos of the whole trip! Though it was a very short stop, we all enjoyed getting out so close to the ocean and letting the air sink in.

After stopping there, we kept going on that road until we got to Cahersiveen. We skipped the town for the moment, since we would be eating lunch there, and instead went straight to the Iron Age ring forts just outside the city. A private farmer apparently owns the land, but he lets the Office of Public Works use the forts as a heritage site. Because he still has rights to the land, however, he lets his sheep roam free on the forts and the surrounding rocks—making it an interesting climb up to the top, complete with a close encounter with a ram. Only in Ireland, it would seem.

There are two main forts, called Leacanabuile (a smaller, residential structure with multiple inner rooms) and Cahergall (the taller, probably ceremonial structure where rituals would have been held). We had to traipse through some deep mud to get to them, but these forts were amazing to see. They are all dry masonry, just like many of the other ancient structures in Ireland, which is extremely impressive. All of their capstones have been removed or broken, leaving them open to air and filled in with grass. But the escape tunnel still exists, and a few of our students climbed all the way through it and came out the other side. Pretty cool! We also made an Augie A out of our bodies on the stone steps on Cahergall, which turned out well. From the top of that one, we could see the ruins of the medieval castle Ballycarbery, as well as the two bays on either side of the city. It was picturesque and rural and beautiful. The sun came out to greet us then, and did not leave us for the rest of the day.

Once we finished with the forts, we headed back into town to get some lunch at Spar and have a walk around. I grabbed a delicious mini chicken and mushroom pie for under €2, along with a double chocolate ice cream bar to snack on while we walked through the street. Apparently window artwork is a practice here—every window, even in the larger chain stores, was decorated with an Easter-themed painting. There were bunnies, eggs, pastel flags, and lots of flowers. There was even a rainbow and pot of gold left over from St. Patrick’s Day, and an Alice in Wonderland mural. It was really neat to see a quirk singular to Cahersiveen.

After a quick stop in Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church for some photos, we walked further down the street and ran into a man who said he could show us where Daniel O’Connell’s parents were buried, along with the remains of an abbey. Of course we said yes, so we went through an alley to a car park and, lo and behold, there was an ancient abbey right in the middle of town. Crazy! Who puts a parking lot next to an old site like that?! We walked around this Abbey of the Holy Cross and Holy Cross Graveyard for a while, taking in the cool old church and reading the headstones. One in particular, the man warned us, was very high and mighty—he was not joking. We saw the resting place of O’Connell’s family, which was a really cool historical experience. We thanked him once more as we left for showing us around, and then went back to the bus. I absolutely loved Cahersiveen. It was a cute little seaside town straight out of the myths—colorfully stacked shop fronts and town houses, Irish flag garland stretched over the street from window to window, little places to have tea or grab something to eat. It was so quaint and vibrant, but not too touristy like downtown Killarney. It would be great to go back.

Our time in Cahersiveen was over, so we kept our path, slowly moving closer to the ocean. A short drive away was the small fishing village of Portmagee, which means ferry in Gaelic. Right across a bridge on Valentia Island is the Skellig Experience heritage center, where we watched a movie about the monastic colony on the Skellig Islands. They also had a small museum, which we walked through before heading down to the docks to take some more pictures. A boat was leaving to circle Skellig, but visitors cannot disembark onto the islands until the tourist season starts in May. The seas are too choppy to go before then, and the boat trip even on a good day takes an hour alone in itself! 

Instead, we breathed in the salty air and then drove up to the Skellig Cliffs, where we pulled off to take some pictures. From there, we could see the entire bay and the two Skellig Islands: Skellig Michael (where the monastery was built, with 650 steps to the top) and Little Skellig (where hermits would live). These two seemingly insignificant blips in the ocean line hold so much history and faith; monks have been living there since 500AD, creating a whole colony of stone huts, churches, and cemeteries. All 650 stairs had to be hand-cut from the stone, or the slabs carried from other parts of the island. They created this to be a stairway to heaven, which is why they put so much care and work into completing it. Monks who lived on Skellig really believed that the more isolated they lived, and in greater hardship, that they would be closer to God. Puffins and seals kept them company from those early days, just as they kept the lighthouse workers company in later years. Nowadays, the lighthouse is automatic, so no people have to stay on the islands. But it is a favorite with tourists for obvious historical importance. Plus, for any Star Wars lovers, it is where Luke Skywalker has been hiding from the First Order. Once a hermit, always a hermit, it appears. There were even Skellig Wars tshirts in the gift shop, complete with puffins wielding light sabers. Perfect. 

A long day done, we sat back and made the hour drive back to Killarney. We drove through rain, but we never had to walk in a downpour the whole day through. I count that as great luck. Now, we need to get some sleep so that we can prepare to do it all again in the morning—this time, on the Dingle side of the peninsula. Can’t wait to share those photos tomorrow!

photo credit Diana Cleveland, Katie Walker, & Michele Hill

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