the man associated with Derrynane is Daniel O’Connell, referred to by many as The Liberator (or Emancipator) of Ireland. dedicated to gaining rights for the (mostly poor) Catholics of Ireland from the wealthy Protestant majority, O’Connell opposed the violence associated with armed revolts, such as that which occurred in 1798. he studied law in France during the Revolution, and returned to Ireland in time to witness the worst of the bloodshed for the ’98 Rebellion. consequently, he became a ardent supporter of non-violent direct action. basically, he inaugurated the first major non-violent, popular social movement in history. in 1823, he established the Catholic Association, which had a penny-per-month membership fee and championed electoral reform, tenants’ rights and economic development. in part because of his masterful oratorical skills, O’Connell cultivated a massive following. one of his “Monster Meetings” at the Hill of Tara drew 100,000 people.
Derrynane, located on the southwest coast of the Iveragh Peninsula, is the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell. the family purchased the house and parkland on which it sits through profits garnered from smuggling with France and Spain. the house is set on rather expansive grounds, with a view of the sea, and remarkably exotic gardens. our favorite were these six-foot tall fronds that looked like … I don’t know what, precisely. the flowers were also fantastic and multi-colored. on our way out, Nico plucked a bud off a bush and got a conspiratorial wink from a woman (leaving at the same time) who said she visits the gardens often and has, on occasion, plucked a flower or two for herself.
I wish I could capture the full sense of standing on the crest overlooking the beach at Derrynane, and then turning around to look back up at the grand manor house. despite being on such a heavily touristed route, and for receiving as many visitors a year as the place must, it felt remarkably isolated. perhaps it was because we reached the House a half an hour before it closed up for the day and there weren’t that many people about, or because we had to drive so far off the “main” road, along windy, single lane track that was my true introduction to driving in Ireland, but it did feel refreshingly off the beaten path.