Conor Pass

returning from my adventure to Tralee, I opted to take the more scenic drive through the Conor Pass on my return to Dingle town. the road is quite remarkable, scratched out of the rockface with more determination than any of the other roads I traveled. uneven, repatched periodically where it appeared to have washed away at some point, tarmac wedged in defiance of strong odds, boulders protruding into the roadway at inconvenient points. the road goes over Mt. Brandon, the eighth highest peak in Ireland. the clouds hung low over the land north of the pass, but the view towards Dingle was wonderful. I’ll post a picture of the latter later.

Rose of Tralee

after our drive around the Dingle Peninsula in the morning, Nico and Kelly planned to take the early afternoon train to Dublin so that they’d be able to enjoy the city a bit.

unbeknownst to us, the city of Tralee was hosting the 50th annual Rose of Tralee International Festival. what is this festival you ask? we had NO IDEA. as near as we could deduce from the festival saturation on the Kerry radio station, it all revolved around the selection of the “prettiest Rose at the Festival.”  who were these “Roses” we demanded? why did this warrant taking over the town, shutting down access from one side of town (the side from which we approached) to the other (where the train station was)? why were there stalls blocking up the road leading to the Kerry the Kingdom museum? the answer to all of these questions: no ruddy idea.

tonight I finally got around to googling the Festival to find out just why it was such a big deal, and what the hell was going on, anyway. as the festival website explains: “Every year more than 30 International Roses come to Tralee, supported by friends and family. The Festival comprises Rose Selection, family carnival, fashion show and live concerts, in addition to welcoming visitors and delegates from regions worldwide represented by each Rose. During this time the town’s streets are transformed into a feast of parades, music, circus, funfair, markets and live performance.” the Roses are women of Irish decent (most of them are from Ireland) who are selected over the course of the year at “Rose Centres”. the crowning event of the Festival is the selection of the year’s Rose of Tralee, which is broadcast live over RTE on two successive nights.

probably it had a lot to do with getting stuck in the thick of it, and only having the radio to listen to as I drove all over Co. Kerry (and then north to Co. Clare), but for those couple of days, it seemed like the Rose of Tralee Festival was three times bigger than the Miss America Pageant. and thinking back it came off more genuine and less sleazy. it felt more like a Festival, I suppose, and less like a spectacle of female flesh, though that’s based on my limited time searching frantically for the train station, thwarted on several counts by Festival  activities, and hours in the car channel surfing past coverage of this event or that event, reminders about upcoming activities, discussion the various Roses and their Escorts, and a distinctly euphoric tone of celebration and tradition. I guess it felt a lot more like a county or state fair, rather than a beauty pageant; and, on reflection, I suppose it was a lot closer to the former, with rides and craft stalls and funfairs and blocked up traffic and grabbing hold of your last weekend of holidays before heading back to school.

in summation: the Rose of Tralee nearly stopped Nico & Kelly from getting back to Dublin. it did manage to prevent us from finding the train station in time for the one o’clock train. even allowing 45 minutes after lunch to find the station in time for the three o’clock train, they had to RUN to catch the train. but they did manage to catch the second train, and I managed to get back out of Tralee and over the Conor Pass and back into Dingle for a second night at Dick Mack’s, and the first of my planned nights exploring Ireland on my own.
definitely the start of something fantastic.

Gallarus Oratory

located on the Dingle Peninsula, the Gallarus Oratory was built somewhere between 1,200 and 1,300 years ago. the builders employed a drystone construction method, which means that all these stones were stacked without mortar. they built the place right in the first place as the structure is still watertight. the shape, as one can see, is quite similar to the boat (currach) found often in the Dingle peninsula. there are traces of mortar on the inside, suggesting the interior might have been plastered at one time. there’s a small rounded window in the east side, directly across from the door, which faces west. standing in the doorway, you can see all the way to the end of the peninsula and the Atlantic ocean.


Ireland has a name for being green, and hundreds of shades of green at that, but there are plenty of other colors to enhance the visual palate.  one plant that we saw all over the Dingle and Iveragh Peninsulas was fuchsia, seen in the photo. as with many plants that seem to overwhelm a landscape and look unlike anything else around, fuchsia is not native to Ireland, but to Central America. some smart English guy brought some back after an expedition to the Americas as a specimen and — shocker — guess what happened when it was introduced into the botanical population of the British Isles?

really, though, the fuchsia was great to look at, and something I’d never seen up close. (last weekend, though, I saw some at the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz. I suspect that I’d see it everywhere if I still lived in San Diego.)

but there was plenty more flora in addition to the fuchsia, and I’ll post some of the pictures of flower in boxes and planters and on the side of the road. all that rain certainly made the landscape a more colorful visual feast than, say, San Diego.

Dunbeg ring fort

the first place that we stopped to stretch our legs on our Dingle peninsula driving tour was at the Dunbeg Fort. it’s a promontory fort built on the side of a cliff during the Iron Age, which ran from approximately 500 BC to 500 AD in Ireland.

this, and other promontory forts that remin, is a series of defensive ditches and ramparts protecting a central structure or clochan (the entrance to which is seen in the photo). the one at Dunbeg has four lines of defensive banks (which raise one metre above the old ground level and are 3 metres wide in some places), five fosses (between one and one and a half metres deep and up to 12 metres wide) and an inner drystone rampart (which is up to more than 6 metres thick and 12 metres wide). drystone is a technique in which no mortar was used, the stones were simply stacked together to create the structure. much of the western portion of the rampart has fallen off the cliff and into the sea.

there’s evidence of habitation at Dunbeg dating back to the 8th or 9th century AD, and again in the 10th or 11th century. the earliest feature uncovered during excavations, however, indicate that the site was used for some purpose around 580 BC, or the late Bronze Age. my favorite feature was a little nook built into the inside wall of the beehive just to the right of the doorway (when standing on the inside of the arch seen here). it wasn’t big enough for people to hide in, but you could put all your important stuff inside and then close it up and it looked the same as the other wall — you’d never know there was a hiding nook behind it.

the other fun thing about Dunbeg, mentioned in a previous post: the donkeys! this was the only place that I saw donkeys grazing so close to a touirst attraction, and they were certainly friendly.

Dick Mack’s, take two

my second night in Dingle, I came upon a group of ladies from Michigan in search of a pub listed in Rick Steves, reported to have good craic. since I’d been walking around town all day, I knew precisely where they were headed and offered to show them the way. turned out, there wasn’t any music on at the time we wandered through, so we ended up at Dick Mack’s again, just as their live music was wrapping up for the night. we got our pints and headed around to the front sitting room and chatted, and all the while the pub continued to fill up. apparently Wednesdsay night was good enough for going out, and for drawing all manner of visitors to Dingle.

we’d been sitting and chatting about travel, and Michigan, and the system of higher education in the United States, and my thesis (it was quite something to have someone express interest in learning more about my subject for the first time in a year and a half–leave it to someone who teaches on gender issues at the collegiate level to be interested, how fantastic!). just as we rid ourselves of the unwanted attentions of the pub drunk, one of the young women from a group in the next room over decided to pull up a rickety stool to the piano and began to play.

it was something you’d certainly never see in the states, and it wasn’t something that I saw happen anywhere else. this fashionablly dressed thing, who couldn’t have been more than twenty years old, pounding out reels on a creaky old piano, implored by her friends and other patrons of the bar to play one more, eventually inspiring someone to track down a guitar and other additional instruments to start up the music again. the reels got people talking about dance, and it came out that one of the pianists friends was quite the traditional dancer; after much imploring she was induced to take off her spike heels, take hold of her (very) short skirt (they were clearly out for a “girls night”, maybe even a hen party) and started dancing along with the impromptu music session. thad kind of stuff, that’s what people mean when they talk about the craic: my second night at Dick Mack’s in Dingle was definitely good craic.

Dick Mack’s, take one

after meeting up with Nico and Kelly in Cork (finally!), we made our way to Dingle on the *other* famous peninsula in Co. Kerry. we stayed at a great hostel called the Hideout that had, bar none (yes, that’s right BAR NONE) the best bathroom I experienced in my two weeks of travel. just thinking about it now is making me happy.
anyway, there’s not a lot to Dingle; it’s a tourist destination and it’s got a lot of pubs. probably about a dozen within a couple of blocks from the hostel. of course, most everything in town is within a couple of blocks of the city center.

after settling in and finding some dinner, we headed out to find some craic at one of the pubs. we’d all heard positive things about Dick Mack’s, so we headed around the block in search of it. at the very least, Nico wanted a picture in front of it, but there was some music coming from inside, so we thought we’d brave the entrance and give this, the first of the truly authentic local pubs we’d found a try.

originally, as with many pubs in Ireland, and many of the pubs in Dingle in particular, in years past, Dick Mack’s served a dual purpose. by day it was a leatherworks shop, and at night the cobbler’s tools were tucked away and the place opened up as a pub. the daytime uses have been retired, but the interior was certainly one of the most unique pubs I set foot in. in the main room, in addition to the bar and a fantastic snug, there’s a long work bench that doubled as space for musicians to gather (through the door on the right in the picture). around the corner, there are two sitting rooms (for lack of a better phrase); in one there’s a fireplace and in the other there are shelves (behind the window in the left corner). on the walls of both rooms, there are paintings that depict scenes of those rooms as it appeared in a previous life. and in these two rooms, our amusement of an evening occurred. twice. and both times my party was accosted by the pub drunk.

the first night, after Kelly flatly refused to respond to his persistent (and annoying) inquiries, he got a little belligerent and said some rather unflattering and rude things. after Nico told him in no uncertain terms to bugger off (subtlety did not work), though, he did. later on one of the publicans came through, collecting glasses, and after we mentioned the confrontation, he expressed a degree of sheepishness about the drunkard.
the second night, the people I was with (Nico & Kelly had already headed back to Dublin) seemed more inclined to engage him in conversation, despite the fact that he got a rather lecherous look in his eyes when the youngest of our party (a soft-spoken blond) got a fit of the giggles. discussion of Leonard Cohen ensued, but eventually the drunk moved on.

driving adventures

driving in Ireland is a collaborative venture. you, those following behind you, the oncoming traffic, the tour buses, the local dogs, and the sheep. right out of Cork the road is pretty straight, with room to pass and wide enough that the oncoming coaches don’t make you quite fear for your life. things get more dramatic depending upon where you go. Galway city centre is manic (and i managed to arrive just about rush hour), but people in vehicles are predictable. even facing down tour coaches in the Ring of Kerry is somewhat predictable: they are big, and you’ll back up to make room for them if necessary.

our most harrowing experience came driving from Dingle town to Tralee to drop Nico & Kelly at the train station. a dog was hopping in and out of the road, going nuts over two people on bikes, and you could tell that my oncoming presence wasn’t going to stop him. sure enough, *bounce* into the road he came …. but i reacted fast enough to prevent dog-splatter on the road and the car.

sheep in particular take a degree of ownership over the road, too. in more rural areas it’s no suprirse as they tend to outnumber humans on a significant scale. you’ll see them sticking heads through fences to get better grazing, walking along the birm on the side of the road for their morning snack. coming out of Maam Cross, three of them were strolling along the N-road like they were out for their usual Sunday constitutional. later that same day, driving through Connemara, i had my first direct sheep-in-the-road encounter.

as i said, using the roads is a collaborative effort.