Friday, August 13, 2010

Ireland:Day 2, The Ring of Kerry

Today started off bright and sunny - and I mean me - I was in a much better mood having shaken off my jet lag and thrilled with the prospect of someone else doing the driving. We signed up yesterday for an all-day tour of the Ring of Kerry one of three promontories to the west of Killarney.

We were the last on the bus and the driver was coincidentally named Pat (my husband's name), probably not so much of a coincidence given the part of the world we're in...but he seemed very nice, very local (that's always a plus when you're dealing with treacherous roads) and my Pat wouldn't have to put up with my left seat driving, a happy day all-around!

And it really was sunny - and unusually quite clear as we climbed into the hills on the Ring - so Pat the bus driver told us. The trip would take all day, from about 10 AM until 5 PM. We were scheduled for a few stops, an old bog village (that was very similar to Amish farmhouses, minus the shoo-fly pie, that I remember visiting when I was young) whose main attraction, besides the peat bricks from the bog, was an impressive pair of Irish wolf hounds (there will be photos, I promise!). I liked the statue of the Blessed Virgin in the window of this touristy stop, a nice touch for us Catholics.

As we climbed higher and higher into the mountains we started to chat with a couple from Connecticut, who were on the tour for the same reason we were...divorce prevention. It was their first trip and they were of Italian descent. I asked them why they chose Ireland (since we couldn't get our Italian friends to come here) and they said because they heard the scenery was spectacular. They weren't disappointed and neither were we!

At one of the stops, the bus had a flat tire, not to worry. Pat, the driver, called ahead and had another bus driver who was a wee bit (note the use of local language) ahead of us at a sheep viewing demonstration (really!) drop his passengers off and come back for us. While we watched the sheep, Pat had the bus repaired and picked us up at the end of the demonstration. No one made a fuss, sighed heavily, threatened to sue, wanted their money back...we're in Ireland after all. Amazing!

But back to the sheep. In this part of Ireland grazing and raising livestock is the main occupation. The land is too hilly and rocky for anything to grow so there are cattle, sheep, goats grazing everywhere. To get the sheep down from the mountainsides, too steep for us humans to climb, they use trained border collies and this was what we were to see while the tire was being changed. First off, I didn't know there were so many varieties of sheep and secondly, I couldn't even remember everything the sheep herder told us but to simplify, there are sheep for eating, wool and tweeds. We saw about 15 varieties from all over the world. The dogs are trained to fetch the sheep by a series a whistles and voice commands that they can hear from very far away. These dogs are bred for this and their hearing ability is seven times that of a human. It was amazing to watch! The sheep sheepishly follow them in whatever direction the dogs are instructed to turn and the dogs, while quick and wiry looking, would never harm the sheep. They also wouldn't make good guard dogs all because they are strictly bred for asheep herding.

After travelling a bit more we stopped for lunch in a small town where the actor Charlie Chaplin vacationed every year. If the point was to get away from his fans, then he surely was successful. The Ring of Kerry is a primitive area of such natural beauty that photos (if I can ever get this PC to cooperate) would never do it justice. One area, at the very highest point that cars or buses could go, was freezing. Pat the driver said that the best day here is a bad day anywhere else, an understatement. He mentioned that my hair was a bit tussled when I got back on the bus, another understatement.

We ended the trip with a viewing of a mountain where some of the scenes from 'Far and Away' were filmed (Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman). I hope she had a great hairdresser!

Tomorrow we'll be back on the bus to visit the Dingle area, just north of the Ring of Kerry, and the ancient town of Dingle where the Irish language is still spoken. Tonight we'll eat in a pub in town and catch a live music show. In the meantime, I'm working on the photos!

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