The Ring of Kerry

We woke up on Friday morning pretty early, but Mike felt pretty tired so he decided to rest in bed for a little while.  I went down to the breakfast room and had a delicious homemade breakfast of soft-boiled eggs, assorted fruit, and dried apricots and prunes, and fresh coffee.  Mike was still resting when I finished, so I walked down the street a ways to get some bottled water to take back to Mike.  On the way I noticed a poster for a Good Friday race.  I vaguely remembered looking up races in Ireland before I left and seeing something about that.  I was pretty sure it was in Tralee, which was about twenty miles from Killarney.  Intrigued, I went back to the hotel.  Mike was still resting, and he drank some of the water and then headed off to take a shower.  I looked the race up online and saw that it was in Killarney, not in Tralee, and it was at 6:30pm that very day.  Excitingly possible, depending on when we got back from our trip around the Ring of Kerry.  Unfortunately the website said that they didn’t take day-of-race registrations.  Nevertheless, I emailed the organizer asking if it would be possible to run the race.  Meanwhile, Mike took his shower, and we went down to the breakfast room for Mike to have breakfast.  The woman working in the breakfast room recognized me from coming down before and still brought me coffee so that I could drink that while Mike had his coffee and breakfast (very similar to mine except minus the prunes and plus bacon.  I even convinced him to try an apricot, which he was not enamored by but thought was ok).  Then we prepared to head out.  The receptionist at the front desk was so helpful and let us know how to get out of town. “Once you’re on the N-72, it’ll take you all the way around the Ring o’ Kerry,” she said.  “And there’ll be lots o’ turn-offs and areas to take pictures.  But apart fr’m that, it’ll take you right around and bring you back into the south end o’ Killarney.  It takes most folks 4-5 hours to go ’round.”  She paused and glanced out the window.  “It’ll be a beautif’l day f’r seein’ the Ring.”

We started out headed west on N-72 towards the start of the Ring of Kerry peninsula around 11am.  The town was still relatively quiet as we drove through on our way out of Killarney to the north.  As we drove away from the town, we were almost immediately greeted by the mountains that filled the peninsula.  A grey set of clouds hung low over the Macguillycuddy’s Reeks mountains that the sun hadn’t yet burned away.

Macguillycuddy's Reeks

Macguillycuddy’s Reeks

The further we drove away from Killarney the more the wildness of the surrounding countryside seemed to envelope us.  We drove for about twenty minutes before we hit Killorglin, the first town on the Ring, which was close to the Atlantic Ocean and the start of our journey around the peninsula.  According to one of the books of maps I had with me, there was a turn-off from N-70 onto R564 which would lead us out to a look-out point across Dingle Bay to the Dingle Peninsula.  We decided to take it.  We almost didn’t see the tiny turn-off for R564, but Mike managed to take the slight right turn at the last minute.  We drove for several miles on a very narrow, windy road.  We came to a bridge over a rocky narrow stream which had only one lane (not one lane per direction of traffic; just one lane). Mike stopped the car dead in the middle of the road and turned to look at me.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.  One lane?  What if someone else is coming from the other direction?”

“I think whoever gets on the bridge first gets to go first,” I said, comfortable in the knowledge that I wasn’t driving.  And that the car was fully insured.  “Kind of like the bus we took up to Lake Como.”

Mike shook his head, clearly not liking this blatant violation of the rule that every direction of traffic gets at least one legal lane.  Mike proceeded across the narrow stone bridge with caution and we didn’t run into anyone coming from the other side. Although the road was a little sketchy in places and one-way anytime we crossed a bridge, the look-out point we reached was amazing.

The Dingle Bay, and the Dingle Peninsula beyond it

The Dingle Bay, and the Dingle Peninsula beyond it

 

We didn’t get to the Dingle Peninsula itself during our trip, but we saw it across the Dingle Bay.  The water was so turquoise blue we almost couldn’t believe we were in a real place.  Ireland had the most magical, ancient, wild feel to it… with each new landscape we saw we admitted to ourselves that it didn’t seem real.  It seemed magical and other-worldly and ancient.  So, so ancient.

So much blue sky and blue water... breathtaking

So much blue sky and blue water… breathtaking

Everything felt surreal.  We couldn’t still actually be in our world, right?  Not with sky and water and rocks like that.

Back on the R564, we made our way back to N-70 and continued on our journey. We continued to pass beautiful scenery, and the road was clearly winding up, and we were clearly headed into the mountains.

Towns in the mountains

Towns in the mountains

 

The towns we started to see looked so small against the giant mountainous background.  Shortly after 1pm we stopped for lunch at a beautiful cafe by the side of the road with a gorgeous view of the Atlantic Ocean.  I had the vegetable soup, and Mike had fish ‘n’ chips.  I had lots of vegetable soup in Ireland.  It was very good, and the vegetables were pureed rather than left chunky the way most vegetable soup in the U.S seems to be.  Mike had lots of fish ‘n’ chips in Ireland; all of the fish there was very fresh!

 

A brief break from driving manual on the left side of the road

A brief break from driving manual on the left side of the road

As we got farther up into the mountains, the sky started to cloud over.

Dark and wild mountainous countryside

Dark and mountainous countryside

We passed through one of the main market towns of Kerry named Cahirciveen.  The streets of Cahirciveen were very narrow and the one we were on was one-way.  There were so many little stores just crammed together along the street… it felt like there were hundreds although I’m sure there weren’t actually that many.  🙂

 

Crowded steets of Cahirciveen

Streets of Cahirciveen

 

There were so many lookout points along the way for us to stop and look… it was beautiful!  Mike has lots more pictures to show (which he will hopefully be posting soon!)

We stopped in Waterville, another little town, to take some pictures… both pictures of the town full of colorful buildings and of the Atlantic Ocean.  We were never very far from the water!

Waterville... and everyone looking out to sea

Waterville… with everyone looking out to sea over the rocky beach

 

The beaches were all very rocky.  There were also waist-high stone walls everywhere, sometimes used to show property lines and sometimes used to fence you out of an area with a steep drop below it.  (I appreciated those!)

 

Stone walls

Stone walls… and the Atlantic

The roads were very narrow, full of twists and turns, and very close to steep cliffs in places.

Lots of twists and turns

Lots of twists and turns

 

We also definitely saw that Ireland is, in fact, the Emerald Isle.  Even after we got up into the mountains and the sky became cloudy, the green of the farmland throughout the area was striking.

Farms separated by stone fences with the Atlantic beyond them

Farms separated by stone fences with the Atlantic beyond.  The Atlantic was always close by.

 

We saw quite a few other cars on the road, but since apparently it’s well known that you’re supposed to drive around the Ring of Kerry in the counter-clockwise direction, almost all of the cars were going in the same direction as us (which was particularly nice since we were still getting used to being on the left side of the road).  I kept getting nervous at the speed we were going, given the twists and turns in the road, the mountainous landscape, and our proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, but Mike assured me that we weren’t going very fast and he had a handle on the car.  He was already bonding with our car and was starting to feel like it was a friend.  Ah, Mike.  Always bonding with heavy pieces of machinery, but unable to understand the draw of stuffed animals.  (On a side note, I mistakenly typed in the last blog post that our rental car was a Mini Cooper, but it wasn’t.  I asked Mike yesterday what kind of car we had, and he told me we had a Fiat Panda.  I had a feeling Mini Cooper was incorrect, but somehow Fiat Panda wasn’t leaping to my mind.)  🙂  So we were in a pretty tiny car traveling over those roads, and we could feel every bump of the road. We could tell that at the beginning of the Ring we were traveling upwards into the mountains, and throughout most of the Ring we were far above the Atlantic Ocean.

 

This doesn't seem like it could be real...

Even looking at this, it didn’t feel real.  It felt thousands of years old.

 

Waves have been crashing against the rocky Irish coast since long before we were born and will likely continue until long after we die.  Everything we saw reminded us of how young we are and how old the world is.

After several hours and miles of breathtaking scenery had gone by, we realized that we would soon be reaching Sneem, which was one of the last towns on the Ring, and then we would be descending out of the mountains into the Killarney National Park, which was supposed to be beautiful but was supposed to have a very different landscape than the rest of the Ring of Kerry.  (It didn’t border the Atlantic Ocean for one thing!)  Sneem was a delightfully colorful town!

 

One of the more famous bars in Sneem... and it's pink!

One of the more famous bars in Sneem… and it’s pink!

 

It seemed as though every shop and restaurant in Sneem was painted a different color!  We saw bright blue ones, bright red ones… and of course the pink one above.  🙂  We stopped there for a snack and ran into our first person who didn’t speak English and spoke only Gaelic.  Mike had ordered an apple tart from him by pointing at it, and then we realized we had left our Euros in the car.  We tried to tell him we’d be right back with money, but he didn’t understand us.  So we just hightailed it back to our car, retrieved our Euros, and then returned breathlessly.  When he saw our Euros, he smiled and understood what had happened.  He seemed very nice, and it was so cool to hear him talk in his lilting Gaelic.

After our snack, we were back on the road, this time winding down the mountains and slowly edging away from the Atlantic Ocean back towards Killarney.  As the last part of the Ring of Kerry, we drove through Killarney National Park.

I honestly wasn’t thinking much about it one way or the other; I knew it was supposed to have a lot of walking trails in it, but I also knew it wasn’t along the Atlantic Ocean so figured it wouldn’t be stunning the way the Ring of Kerry had been.  It was beautiful!  Although we were certainly not strangers to rocky landscapes by this point, Killarney National Park was much more rocky and much less green than the Ring of Kerry.

Very rocky!

Very rocky!

 

There were some amazing look-out points along the road through Killarney National Park, so I can only imagine what it’s like if you’re actually on the hiking trails deeper into the park.  Ladies View is one of the more renowned lookout points… it’s lovely!

All of the water in Ireland was SO blue

We stopped for a rest at Ladies View… so beautiful!  And you can see the shadows from the clouds on the mountains.

 

By the time we drove back into Killarney it was around 4pm, and we were tired.  I was not too tired, however, to stop in at the running shoe store (since it was coincidentally right around the corner from our hotel) and ask about race entry for the race at 6:30pm that day.  The woman I talked to told me it was fine to register, even though it was the day of the race.

“Ye just go down to the old monastery near wh’re the race will start,” she said.  “Ye know it?  Ye just tell the woman there that Bridgit from the runnin’ store sent you.”

As soon as I’d started looking up the race that morning, I’d already figured out where it started and ended, and had discovered that the old monastery where it started was actually only a few blocks behind our hotel.  I thanked Bridgit, and then Mike and I walked several blocks to the monastery.  There were already people there in race gear warming up even though the race wasn’t starting for another two hours.  I paid for my race entry while Mike, who had brought his camera along, started snapping some preliminary pictures.  We walked back to the hotel to rest for an hour until we had to head back for the race.  Mike wanted to shower and I wanted to do some warm-up stretches.  After so many hours in cars, trains, and planes over the past week and a half, my legs were feeling pretty tight!  I checked my race “goodie” bag back at the hotel and saw that there was an adorable little egg holder in it, since this was a Good Friday/Easter run.  I loved it!  There was also a chocolate egg so huge I knew it would be futile to even think about trying to get it back to Seattle in my luggage!  🙂

An egg holder... with a giant chocolate egg in the background!

My egg holder… with a giant chocolate egg in the background!

Some resting, some stretching, and an hour later found us walking back to the monastery.  It was a little chilly out, particularly for me since I had opted for cool, racing clothes.  It was so exciting to see so many people there and ready to run!  There was lots of energy and excitement, and it seemed like a lot of the participants knew each other as there was lots of back-and-forth conversation before the race.

I lined up with the rest of the participants while Mike went on ahead to see about getting some good pictures.

He got some great pictures!

And it starts!

And it starts!

Mike told me that the guy in the orange shirt ended up winning the race, and based on this picture he looks like he’s practically catapulting off of the starting line!

I really didn’t have a good enough sense of Killarney to understand the race course.  I just followed everyone else.  We ran out the north end of town and seemed to be running through a park that had wide bike/pedestrian paths in it.  It was lovely!  And it had such an old feel to it… very different than the races I do in the States!  Everyone had so much energy and seemed so excited to be running that I was too.  And I was running in Ireland!  In Killarney which wasn’t more than fifteen miles from the town my ancestors came from!  Crazy!!  What an awesome connection with the past!  Although I didn’t have a good handle on the route, I did know we’d be passing down Main Street twice, and shortly after we exited the forested bike trail, we ran down Main Street the first time.

And Mike was right there waiting to wave and take my picture!  What a guy!  🙂

Running down Main Street in Killarney!

Running down Main Street in Killarney!  If I look happy, it’s because I am!

 

Once down Main Street, we veered off into an unknown (to me) direction, and I just followed the excited happy Irish runners.  There were lots of spectators along the sidelines cheering enthusiastically, which made for even more excitement.  When we passed by the old monastery, I got my bearings again and knew that I was close to running down Main Street for the second time and then around the corner to the finish line.  I kept running strong since I knew I’d be seeing Mike on Main Street again and wanted to be able to pass him with lots of energy!  Sure enough I saw him again, he snapped my picture again, and then I was around the corner turning off Main Street, and I could see the finish line!  I tried to put in a final burst of energy, and managed to cross the finish line with a chip time of 43:53 for the 5-mile race, which comes out to a pace of 10.9km/hr.  Hard to do the math on that to turn it into mph, so I didn’t try.  😉

It was an amazing race, and I loved every minute of it!  🙂  I grabbed some bottled water and two bananas from the post-race food area, and then Mike found me.  The band was still playing loudly as more finishers crossed the line, and Mike and I slipped down one of the side streets to head back to our hotel.  It was already getting dark, and it was a cool, crisp, still twilight.  We could still hear all the music and yelling and cheering from the race behind us as we walked the couple of blocks to our hotel.  I took a shower and got cleaned up, and then Mike and I headed out for a late dinner.

We went to the Danny Mann Inn, which was one of the pubs we’d passed just off Main Street while walking back to our hotel from the race.

The Danny Mann Inn

The Danny Mann Inn

 

Although it would have been a great night for a Jameson, we discovered that there is exactly one day of the year on which it’s illegal for Irish pubs to serve alcohol, and that day is (you guessed it!), Good Friday.  We didn’t mind at all though.  Their stew was tasty and hearty, and the restaurant manager and the waitresses were open and friendly so we thoroughly relaxed during our dinner regardless of the lack of alcohol.  Interestingly enough, it wasn’t enough that they didn’t sell it; they had to actually cover all the taps in plastic tarp.  Wow!

After our late, relaxing dinner, we strolled slowly back to our hotel in the dark.  There was still a lot of music playing from pubs in the area and lots of talking and laughter coming out of the restaurants.  Interesting how late everyone was out given that there was no alcohol being served!  🙂

Back at the hotel, we were both tired and content after having gazed at amazing, fairy-tale worthy landscapes all day followed by an Irish evening race and lots of Irish culture.  (I’ll go easy on the words “beautiful”, “gorgeous”, and “amazing” in the next blog post… I realize I’ve overused them pretty badly in this post!).  We were tired, but not in a go-to-sleep way… it was more like a completely relaxed way.  We watched a Game of Thrones episode on the Kindle Fire using the wireless in the hotel and listened to the host of birds singing outside.  (The birds in Killarney seemed to sing constantly, not just in the morning!)

One thing I have to say… the pictures don’t do the Ring of Kerry justice.  The words don’t do it justice.  Nothing can express how ancient the Ring of Kerry feels.  All around you, three-hundred and sixty degrees, all you can see is a giant sky and giant mountains flanked by a giant ocean.

It is the beauty of a land aged gracefully by time, and it is the wisdom of a land who remembers her past.

It has to be experienced first-hand to be understood.  So I would definitely recommend going.

And back to Seattle… the weather here has been warm and sunny!  We’ve been enjoying our gym memberships, but balancing gym time with time outside enjoying the Seattle summer!  I hope everyone had a good weekend!  We actually spent most of the weekend cleaning, so it wasn’t particularly fun but our apartment is much cleaner.  🙂

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2 Comments

Filed under England Ireland Trip, Running, Travel

2 responses to “The Ring of Kerry

  1. Nate Danenberg

    8.78 and you look good against the red pharmacy.

    • Thank you… apparently someone can do math in their head more effortlessly than me. 😉 Mike is really working at his photography and picked his location based on having a good colorful backdrop. It’s interesting… Mike said that the pictures from this trip are taking much less time to process than the ones from our Italy trip. We’re getting better at framing our shots and picking shots with good lighting, I guess!

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