Visiting the Emerald Isle’s Ring of Kerry
A stranger in a new land, but there I sat with a pint in front of me yelling at the telly with a dozen other men sitting at the bar. Ireland was playing the Republic of Georgia in a European Championship qualifying match, and I was feeling pretty patriotic toward Ireland at that moment. After all, I was sitting in an Irish pub in the south of Ireland, surrounded by Irishmen and we were all a couple pints into the world’s most popular sport – football. Roy Keane, Ireland’s answer to David Beckham, knocked in a header for the go-ahead goal and the pub erupted in glee. People hugged and slapped each other on the back and ordered another round of pints – this was the Ireland I had always imagined.
This summer I spent the first 16 days of June in Ireland. An Irish friend offered her family’s seaside cottage just outside of Glenbeigh, down in the famed Ring of Kerry. Her folks greeted me at the airport in Cork and brought me to their home in Monkstown, where I sat down to my first Guinness looking over the Bay of Cobh, where the vast majority America-bound Irishmen set sail in the past two centuries.
The next morning I set off for Glenbeigh, which is about a two hour drive west of Cork. If you have never been to Ireland, one of the first things you notice is that they drive on the right side of the car and the left side of the road. The next thing you notice is that the roads are very narrow compared to our roads in America, but that doesn’t slow the pace of motorists on the Emerald Isle. Car insurance is definitely the way to go.
Though Ireland is a relatively small country – about one third the size of Colorado – I had no plans to conquer the entire country. I was content to spend my time exploring the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula. My days were filled with country drives, long walks on the beaches, golf on old links courses and daily visits to the many pubs.
Pubs are an integral thread in the fabric that makes up Ireland – people gather there to socialize, cheer their sports teams (rugby, soccer, cricket and hurling replace football, baseball, hockey and basketball), conduct business meetings, take their meals and consume quantities of excellent beer and Irish whiskey.
Having traveled through England years ago, I ate plenty of kidney pies and fish and chips wrapped in old newspapers, so I was very surprised to find the cuisine in Ireland to be excellent. Pubs often offered smoked wild salmon on buttered black bread, lamb stews with fresh bread, crab claws baked in bread crumbs and butter and always the hottest, tastiest french fries in a basket. The Irish are a well-traveled people, and they have done an excellent job of bringing back different cuisine from all corners of the globe.
Everyone I talked to who has ever been to Ireland said to pray for good weather, but bring your best rain gear and umbrella for the inevitable. This year Europe had an unusually hot and dry summer, and out of 16 days it only rained twice.
It is my guess that because the weather can be exceedingly dreary for days and weeks on end, the Irish decided to spice up their lives with some of the most colorful homes and towns I have ever seen. We are not just talking Swedish red, but intoxicating purples, bright yellows, lime greens, hot pinks – anything goes and it seems to go very well. The towns and hamlets are beautiful against the multitude of greens, which is the backdrop of Ireland.
Where it is not green, it is dotted with white. Ireland is still very much an agricultural based economy, and sheep are about as plentiful in the fields as are stones. Where there aren’t sheep, there are milk cows. It makes for a very pastoral setting, especially when you factor in all the stone hedgerows that make a mosaic of the landscape.
I always knew I would enjoy Ireland, I just didn’t know how much. Good food, nice people, a rich history, very scenic, lots of music, still friendly toward Americans and, oh yeah, did I mention the pubs?
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