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Sheep! July 26, 2019

It was a little before noon when we left Liam and his birds behind, headed for the Ring of Kerry, a scenic drive around the Iveragh Peninsula. Tricia and I had a bit of a debate about whether to drive clockwise or counter-clockwise. Most travel guides and articles about the drive discuss these options, primarily as a means of avoiding the numerous tour buses that make this journey. I felt we were early enough in the year to be ahead of most tours and were unlikely to encounter many buses. Tricia was driving at the moment, and wanted to drive counter-clockwise, so I let her make that choice.


Let the ring begin


If you’re driving straight through, it’s a loop that probably takes about three hours. Stopping as often as we did, it took closer to six. The western side of the loop, takes in the towns of Killorglin, Glenbeigh, Cahersiveen, and Waterville. From this side you can take detours up to the Gap of Dunloe or to the Skellig Islands. We missed the signs for the Gap of Dunloe and the ferry service to the Skelligs wasn’t running yet. We did turn off the ring onto an even smaller road into Reenard Point, where we could see across to Valentia Island and daydream about getting out to the Skelligs.



The views of the coastline were stunning, even on this overcast and growing grayer by the hour day. We pulled over at probably every third turn off, never tiring of the rugged beauty. We had our first close up sightings of sheep during this drive, which made me nearly giddy and I’m not sure why. The largest pullout actually had a parking lot and is part of a dark sky reserve. I imagine it must be a beautiful place at night. With no cities for miles around, the sky must be filled with stars. There are a number of these reserve areas throughout County Kerry, but our entire trip we never had a night clear enough to see stars.



I think to do the ring properly, one would need to plan to stop for a night at a couple of points along the way, taking time to explore some of the quaint villages. In Cahersiveen, we toured the Old Barracks, built as a police station for the Royal Irish Constabulary in the 1870s to protect the Irish end of the transatlantic telegraph cable. There are exhibits inside on the Great Southern and Western Railway, The Life and Times of Daniel O’Connell, The Fenian Rising of 1867, The 1916 Rising and Monsignor Hugh O’ Flaherty. Also in this town, we could have visited Ballycarberry Castle ruins, the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church, or taken in two stone forts. Some of the places we passed through didn’t offer such an abundance of sights, but it would have been nice to take a walk along the main street, peek in the shops, and try a bit of local fare.



By the time we reached the southern point of the peninsula, though, we were starting to feel pressured to make it to the end of the ring before the sun set. The eastern side of the peninsula is more forested and had an entirely different feel. I had wanted to shop in Kenmare to visit the lace shops. I was hoping to pick up something locally made as a gift for my mom. Unfortunately, it was close to 4pm by the time we made it to Kenmare and we’d learned most shops close at 5pm.


We did stop at the Avoca Shop and Cafe outside Kenmare. It was getting ready to close so we didn’t spend too much time here, and the prices were well outside our budget anyway. The best part about this stop were the sheep crossing the road, and one was kind enough to pause in front of the shop for me to snap a photo. Avoca sells mostly woolen goods, so this scene made us giggle. Were the sheep checking out the place their coats would one day be sold?



Ross Castle and Muckross Abbey were places I had wanted to visit and why I’d wanted to do the ring clockwise, then they would have been our first stop as opposed to our last. By the time we arrived they were no longer admitting guests. As the rain turned from a sprinkle to a more insistent drizzle, we hurried from the car to take some pictures of Ross Castle’s exterior then set off in search of dinner.


Ross Castle


Before we’d left our Hawk Walk experience, we’d chatted with Liam about life in Killarney and asked for recommendations on things to do and places to eat. He told us his favorite for boxty was Bricín Restaurant. Boxty, he explained, is a potato pancake and it can be filled with seafood, venison, corned beef, and vegetables.


Bricín was wonderful! The interior is beautiful, it was warm and cozy against the chill, wet night, and the food was amazing. I had the venison boxty and for the life of me I can’t remember what Tricia had. I was so glad Liam had made this recommendation and told us about boxty, I may never have tried it if he hadn’t already explained to us what it was.


Feeling revived, we wandered down the street. Most non-dining establishments were closed, but a couple of tourist shops were still open. I’ve taken to collecting Christmas ornaments from the places I visit and so far this trip I hadn’t purchased a single one. I found a cute ball ornament and Tricia purchased some more wool goods, a blanket this time. She’s going to have to move to Alaska to use everything she ended up buying!


Coming up, we will hit the road again and experience every variation of wet weather imaginable.


Waterville has a Charlie Chaplin festival each year. He enjoyed vacationing here.



Birds of a Feather July 19, 2019

Killarney reminds me of a resort town one might find in coastal New England. The street we were staying on was lined with Bed & Breakfasts with a small hotel here and there and a few restaurants. We would make it into the town proper later to see more, but this morning, we were going on an adventure I never imagined I’d be involved with, a Hawk Walk.


You see, when I was in high school, I was in an aviary at the zoo and a large bird landed on my head. I had very long hair at the time and the bird proceeded to get tangled in my hair. Ever since, I’ve had an aversion to birds. I have mellowed over the years, enjoying watching birds from a distance, but now I was going to have birds of prey flying to me!


About a year ago, I had an idea for a character that was into falconry. I had no idea how I would research that but I filed it away in my idea folder. When I was doing research for this trip I had a whim to search for falconry in Ireland and I found Falconry Kerry. After reading some reviews I sent the link to Tricia to see if she was interested. She replied with a resounding yes and I sent an email to make a reservation.


We loaded the address into the GPS and found the farm where we were to meet Liam, the falconer. He greeted us and told a little about the farm and what we would be doing, then introduced us to Pablo, the falcon. (I can’t remember exactly which species of falcon. If you recognize it from the pictures, please let me know in the comments.)


Pablo was gorgeous! This was his first flight in about a week as he had been molting, so when Liam let him loose, Pablo took off, floating on the stiff wind. We weren’t sure if he was going to come back, but Liam had food and was able to lure Pablo back after several minutes.


Liam and Pablo


Pablo was gorgeous! This was his first flight in about a week as he had been molting, so when Liam let him loose, Pablo took off, floating on the stiff wind. We weren’t sure if he was going to come back, but Liam had food and was able to lure Pablo back after several minutes.


Tricia and I each had a chance to feed and fly Pablo while Liam gave us some background on falcons in general and the work he has done with them over the years. Previously, Liam worked for the Killarney National Park until he was bit by a tick and developed Lyme disease. Now he helps rehabilitate injured birds and does these Hawk Walks.


Tricia and Erin


After fifteen minutes of playing with Pablo, he was retired and Erin, a Harris Hawk, was brought out. What a smart bird! She followed us to the large field, flying from fence to tree to fence, tracking our movement. Again, we each had a chance to feed and fly Erin. To have these large birds flying right at you is impressive and can be intimidating, but I didn’t feel any fear, only awe and excitement.


After Erin had her fill of chicken, we went to a shed where two travel boxes were already waiting and Liam introduced us to a pair of his owls, Freddie and Bobo. Freddie reminded me of both my cat, Mia, and the Tootsie Pop owl. Their feathers were so soft and watching them turn their heads nearly 360 degrees was amazing.



Before we left, I shared with Liam about my experience in the aviary and the aversion to birds that had instilled in me, but that I hadn’t felt any fear during this encounter and I’d enjoyed it immensely. He was surprised to hear I’d been afraid as that hadn’t come across at all. That did make me feel a little warm and happy inside. I am so a happy we decided to book this. I have a better insight into what it means to be a falconer and I have a new contact I can reach out as I start to develop that character in a future book. If you are going to Kerry, I highly recommend the Hawk Walk. They are private sessions and truly a unique experience.


Next up, we would be driving the ring of Kerry. That was a full day in and of itself, though, and has so many breathtaking pictures, I will save that for next week.



What side of the road? July 12, 2019

Friday was our 4th full day in Ireland and it was time to pick-up our rental car. Deciding where to get the car consumed more than a few hours of my pre-trip planning. The idea of learning to drive from the opposite side of the car on the opposite side of the road inside the city terrified me but the next rental location was Cork. The train to Cork was an option, but there was so much to see along the way. What if we missed something?



The Clouds of History July 5, 2019

A gray and weeping sky greeted us Thursday morning, which fit our exhausted spirits. We were thankful to have a slower day planned and dawdled over breakfast in the hotel restaurant before meeting our guide for a taxi tour of Belfast’s iconic murals.


As much as I’ve read about Belfast, it was still startling to see how close together Shankill and Falls Roads are. The physical divide between Catholic and Protestant neighborhoods isn’t much at all. Our guide had a first-hand perspective of the “Troubles” as his grandfather had been a member of the IRA and served time in jail.


Much like we in the U.S. are working to rewrite history by tearing down monuments, some of the historical murals in Belfast have been painted over or modified to alter their meaning. We learned that any mural with a face on it couldn’t be painted over, but could be altered. History should be something that is objective rather than subjective, a statement of facts. If we don’t learn where we come from and the mistakes that were made, how can we learn and avoid repeating those mistakes? I wish now that I’d purchased a book on all the murals.



I’m fascinated with the whole Brexit situation, particularly how it will impact the people of Northern Ireland and if this shift will be what leads to the island being reunited. I asked the guide about this and he seemed to agree that reunification was likely, if only for economic reasons. Brexit will likely lead to a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, causing goods being transported from north to south to be subject to border checks. (Some roads cross the border numerous times within a few miles!)


Additionally, the Catholic population is growing; the demographic that has most wanted reunification all along. Where they once were a significant minority, they are forecast to be the majority within the next couple of years. If you live in the UK, particularly Northern Ireland, I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Our guide dropped us off at Belfast City Hall so we could do a little more exploring. It’s the most impressive City Hall I’ve ever been in! The rain was only a light sprinkle by this time and we enjoyed our walk back to the hotel. The train ride back to Dublin went quickly and we were greeted by Tricia’s friend, Dan. He guided us to our hotel on the River Liffey to drop off our bags and we walked to Trinity College, just a few minutes away. Trinity is a beautiful campus.



We had tickets to see the Book of Kells, a 9th century manuscript, created around 800 AD, that documents the four Gospels of the life of Jesus Christ. We reached the exhibit and flowed from one informational wall to another, learning about the art of illumination, until we reached the actual book in a glass case.


When we finally reached the Book, I experienced a feeling of deflation, much like I felt upon seeing the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. Both are much smaller than I expected and the colors of the Book weren’t as vibrant as I anticipated. It’s beautiful, for sure, and it’s obvious the work to create it must have been painstaking. I was so deflated I forgot to take a picture of the actual thing, but I did have a photo of a copy housed at the Dublin Writer’s Museum, which is a pretty good replication. Sometimes we build things up in our mind so much we are bound to be let down when we do finally experience them.


Copy of the Book of Kells

Dan was going to take us to a fish & chip shop, but after wandering for close to an hour, stumbling on icons such as Molly Malone, St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, and Dublin Castle, we stopped at the Bull & Castle. Dan was brave and ordered an appetizer of bone marrow. It was strange in every way, but the taste wasn’t bad. The steak I ordered was one of the best I’ve ever had.



Dublin definitely comes alive at night. The streets were crowded as we walked back to our hotel and music poured out of many pubs we passed. We had a good chuckle at the line of American franchises- Kentucky Fried Chicken, Papa John Pizza, TGIFriday’s, Subway, Burger King, and McDonalds- practically on top of each other. I admit we did enter the McDonalds, but only so Tricia could use the facilities. Don’t worry, I purchased a coffee.


Come back next week as Tricia and I pick up our rental car and hit the road!


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