Mark Tanner - Adventurer, Writer and Amateur Beatboxer

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To the Country

23 March 2001

 

I saw in the New Year in Dublin with Triona and her friends Sara and Helen, dancing with wigs and sunglasses and getting bloated on beef sandwiches at Sara's family bash followed by some drinking and boogying in a pub in the city.

 

I was reunited in the New Year with Ronny and Trish who came back to Dublin after having a look around Northern Ireland and Edinburgh. They crashed with me in the lounge of Hotel de Cloisters until they sorted out some permanent accommodation. It was good having them there as we organised a plan of attack for a few holidays away to see the Emerald Isle, the first of which was to Kerry.

 

Kerry, in Ireland's Southwest, is often touted as the most scenic part of Ireland, and although I haven't yet seen everything Ireland has on offer, I was pretty impressed with what I saw.

 

Cramped into a tiny electric-blue Nissan Micra, we zigzagged our way around the county to the atmospheric tone of traditional tunes from The Celtic Contra Band, booming from the Micra's factory-issue tape-deck.

 

Our first night was in Killarney, a scenic little town whose streets were lined with the old colourful character buildings, with a backdrop of snowy mountains. As Killarney is where most tourists start and finish the well-travelled Ring of Kerry, it has become quite a touristy spot. Fudge and diddley-i souvenir shops selling everything from green shamrock hats to slippers that look like sheep have filled just about all of the street frontages that aren't taken up by restaurants and pubs. We had a few stouts in a couple of the establishments before resting our weary heads, getting a good night's sleep for the day ahead of us.

 

We were up at the crack of dawn and after supposedly 'the best traditional Irish breakfast in Killarney' we left on the anti-clockwise route around the Ring. The Ring was scenic, with some nice coastal vistas, adorable towns and some scenic mountains and lakes, but the best parts of it were when we left the main route and took the rarely travelled side roads - rough hedge-lined thoroughfares barely wide enough for a car at times.

 

Our alternative routes took us past some interesting spots including a stony sheep farm perched on the side of the rugged hill between Dingle Bay and the little road we were travelling on. We parked the Micra in the middle of the way, as there was no room anywhere else and not another car in sight, and climbed the gate to make acquaintance with a lone-farmer, his sheepdog and flock of sheep. Irish people are generally friendly, especially the country-folk, but this farmer didn't have too much to say to the trio of interested tourists, and was quick to look for a way out from the bombardment of questions. After chasing his sheep around for a good while, we lodged ourselves back into our wagon and set off again along the winding, hilly road.

 

Our next point of interest was a derelict old stone house, on the hill with a fantastic view below. We originally stopped for a quick photo, but upon closer inspection, decided the abandoned dwelling would be interesting to explore. The house was falling apart, and other than the woolly sheep that were roving around on the ground floor, it didn't look like anyone had lived there for many a year.

 

We made our way up the rickety staircase, with squeaking and dust coming from well-aged boards with every step we trod. The scene had an element of character about it, one of which Ronny decided he could use his artistic ability to capture with a timer shot. Trish and I positioned ourselves where he asked us to, and after having got the fine scene in focus, with the timer pressed, he ran over to join the picture. Having not chosen his route wisely, with a cloud of dust and noise, in slow motion, Ronny fell through the rotten floorboards, only saving his fall with some lightning quick reactions, in which he managed to catch the windowsill with his elbow. Remarkably, he managed to face the camera, and with his legs dangling from the ceiling of the floor below, put on a cheesy smile for the timer shot.

Back on the road we continued on our way, stopping for lunch at one of the little villages that had won Ireland's prettiest town a few years back. After testing the Micra's performance on sand, we left the coast and, back on the main Ring road, wove our way up into the mountains, stopping off at Ross Castle. The Castle was in a spectacular setting on the edge of the glassy Lake Leane and forefront to snowy mountains and Killarney National Park. After scaling the castle's walls and looking around the area, we managed to negotiate a good deal for the three of us to take a relaxing ride out to one of the islands in the lake on a motor boat with a very informative guide. The island was very peaceful, and apparently from almost 1000 years ago was a place of learning for the Celts. There were still the remains of the old buildings on the island, including an old chapel from the 12th Century.

 

Having finished the Ring of Kerry, we drove our way North and after directions from numerous locals and a good deal of backtracking, we finally came to the settlement at the dead end of a long road. The settlement was significant to Ronny as there was a house there that his relatives used to live in. He had the contact details of a lovely old lady who lived across the road, and very kindly showed us around, followed by some tea, sandwiches and scones.

Lots to see in County Kerry

The next port of call was Dingle, where we arrived by dark, found accommodation and went out for a few Guinness. For a small town, Dingle has a lot of pubs, ranging from your traditional Irish spot, to converted houses, to old general stores with bars. The course of the night saw Trish do all kinds of weird dancing moves by herself on an empty dance floor, a large old lady rejecting Ronny's proposition for a dance and an appalling rendition of the New Zealand anthem by the three of us, at the end of the evening as a gesture to the local folk who were all singing Irish songs and tin-whistling.

 

A beautiful sunny day showed Dingle in all of its glory the next morning. Having arrived in the darkness the night before, we didn't realise how pretty the town was. Dingle was a colourful fishing village, with boats, old character buildings and grassy hills surrounding it.

 

We left the town and continued along the peninsula. It certainly was a spectacular drive - the Ireland you see in the picture books, rugged hillsides dropping off to the sea, dotted with old stone cottages and old stony walls filling the steep paddocks. Reaching the end of the peninsula was absolutely beautiful, enhanced even more with the sound of the fiddle from The Celtic Contra Band. The skinny winding road we were driving on got even skinnier, edged into the steep rugged hill with and an old stone wall framing the road. The view was of a jagged head at the end of the peninsula that stretched out to the Atlantic before giving way to a string of islands. Down a steep, windy cobblestone road was a fine-looking golden sandy beach. It may have been the middle of winter and the chilly Atlantic, but Ronny and I couldn't leave without a short dip. There was no one around so we dove in and frolicked amongst the waves until the cold got too unbearable. Blue from the coldness, we made our way back up to the car to change into some warm and dry clothes, and found a crowd of people enjoying our stupidity.

 

After finishing the Dingle Peninsula circuit, we headed inland, had lunch in Tralee then made our way back to Dublin.

One of my favourite parts of Ireland, Dingle Peninsula on the rugged West Coast

It was a few weeks later when we were again on the road heading to County Clare another excursion.

 

Night 1 we decided to point out a place on a map that looked good to visit. Our first attempt was pretty poor, and the little town seemed anything but busy on the Friday night, so we continued on and headed for the coast, thinking there must be some buzzing little towns by the water. We chose a town Quilty, based on its strategic location by the bay, but upon arrival, realised is was even smaller and quieter than the last.

There was a bed & breakfast/pub/nightclub right by the water, so we decided it would be as good as anywhere to stay. It turned out the nightclub was like an old church hall hatched on the end of the bed & breakfast and happened to be full for the evening with the local senior-citizen contingency. We got a few beers in at the pub and then joined our elderly friends in the 'nightclub'.

 

It was quite a cultural experience and interesting to see how old people in country are entertained in the evenings, and it was rather warming. When we first arrived, they were traditional dancing in rings and waltzing with one-another, but this soon gave way to individual performances, where one at a time, the patrons would have a turn on the microphone, whether it be singing a folk song or reciting a poem. With the exception of one character, who forgot most of his poem, they were pretty good for mature performers.

 

A stunningly sunny day followed and after loading up with the complimentary breakfast, we headed north up the coast, stopping at Lehinch, a surfing town, which seemed rather odd for a place like Ireland. We worked our way to the Cliffs of Moher, one of the most photographed natural formations in the Republic, and looking breathtaking in under perfect blue-sky.

With Doulin just around the corner, we drove into the small town and booked into one of the local hostels. I had heard a lot about Doulin, but was surprised when I got there with how small the town was, just a scattering of houses and pubs amongst green rolling hills.

 

With a few hours of sunlight left we continued up to The Burren, a strange rocky, formation, unlike anything else in Ireland. There wouldn't be a better way to see the strange landscape than on a horse. So we saddled up and started the trek up the hill and down to Fanore beach.

 

In the past when I have been horse riding, I have had sluggish, unenthusiastic horses, that no matter how nice you talk to them, or how hard you dig your heals into them or whip their backsides, they don't seem to break from the toddle. For this reason I asked for a horse that could run, and a horse that could run is exactly what I got!

 

I was riding Jerry, an ex-racehorse that measured an enormous 17 hands and 2". It had fire in its eyes, and spent a relatively good portion of the ride as a bucking bronco, ready to bolt at any time. I didn't want him thinking I was a pushover, so always kept a very tight rein, and by the end the angry stallion was foaming at the mouth like a rabid Doberman.

 

It wasn't just my horse that had a bit of character though, when trotting along amongst the waves, Ronny's horse Hopper decided to take a dip, and without warning, sat down in ocean, forcing Ronny to dismount.

 

After the interesting trek, we returned to Doulin, which was just starting to heat up for the annual Miko Russel festival, a tribute to the god of the tin whistle, the man who put the 'tin' in tin whistle. People had come from as far away as America especially to be in Doulin for the weekend. As one would expect the town was buzzing.

 

The pubs were full of talented musicians, who sat around playing their traditional instruments singing traditional songs. We sung along to those we knew and just enjoyed the singing for the others.

 

Everything is so close in Clare, so while we were there, we visited Lisdoonvarna, the Aillwee limestone Caves, a huge network of caves in the side of the hill, only recently discovered by the farmer whose farm they were on. Following that we visited the much documented very old, but disappointingly small 'mini Stonehenge'. But it was Father Ted's house down a long road that seemed like it was going to nowhere that I will remember.

 

The route east to Dublin came pretty close to Athenry, so we took the 11 mile detour and had a quick look around the town that influenced the legendary song, The Fields of Athenry.

The Cliffs of Moher and Doulin in County Clare

 

 

 

 

 

 


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