Ireland Revisited – 2010

Slea Head Drive, Mulcahy Pottery

May 2 – 12, 2010

 

Part 1: Flights from Memphis to Shannon

Part 7:  Shopping in Town of Dingle

Part 2: Drive to Dingle on Southwest Coast

Part 8:  Beautiful Sights near Slea Head

Part 3: Holden Leather, Dingle Golf Links

Part 9:  Drive Over Connor Pass to Shannon

Part 4: Ballydavid, Historic Brandon’s Creek

Part 10: Shopping in Shannon, Flights Home

Part 5: Playing Golf at Cheann Sibeal

Link to 2003 Trip to Dingle and Vicinity

Part 6: Slea Head Drive, Mulcahy Pottery

Link to 2002 Trip to Dingle and Vicinity

 

- Updated June 14, 2010

 

Ten photos mainly taken by Betty Nolan are posted at www.kodakgallery.com in an album entitled “Ireland – 2010” under the account of Lewis “Buzz” Nolan’s email address. Email lewis_nolan@yahoo.com for instructions on how to access.

 

By LEWIS NOLAN

 

May 8, 2010 –Saturday - Retracing Slea Head Drive and Mulcahy Pottery

 

Because of our travel clock’s battery evidently failing, Betty and I slept in until 8 a.m. at the very comfortable suite we enjoyed at the Dingle Skellig Hotel.

 


 

Betty Nolan by Celtic statues made at nearby Mulcahy Pottery on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula

 

With the sun already up and bright, we were greeted by a beautiful Irish morning of blue skies, lots of sunshine and rather cool temperatures at this late Spring time of year.

 

We again had our usual, excellent and included breakfast at the hotel’s Coast Guard restaurant with its big tables of cold and hot morning foods. The very nice restaurant manager, Paula Monyan, gave us a cheery and smiling greeting, which we’ve come to expect from hotel employees per the posted signs formally making “promises to guests” that are faithfully observed.

 

I had my usual breakfast of two poached eggs, several pieces of Irish bacon, a small banana, a few slices of fresh fruit and two dried prunes, along with a slice or two of buttered, Irish brown bread and a small glass of tomato juice. Once again, I’m ready for the activities of the day.

 

Well fed and with wonderful weather at hand, we decided to spend at least part of the day again retracing the scenic Slea Head Road drive. We had taken the route earlier in the week and had been mightily impressed by the beauty of coastal scenes at their very best. Persons in the area that are interested can obtain detailed information from various tourism brochure locations.

 

We planned to follow the Slea Head Road on the recommended route, going out Dingle around the bay to the minor highway to Ventry along the coastline. We had breathtaking views of farmland and coastal sights, re-affirming (again) the loving artistry and Hand of the Creator at work millennia ago. Cliffs were steep and the Atlantic was deep blue with a white fringe of surf.

Here and there were a few sandy beaches that would invite sunbathers on the rare days when the temperature warmed to 80 degrees F or so in this part of Ireland. We did see a few surfers clad in black wet suits to ward off the bone-biting chill of the ocean – reported to be 62 degrees F.

 

In the distance was the rugged farmland in various shades of green and criss-crossed by ancient stone walls.

 

At one especially pretty headland washed with crashing surf, we trekked down a paved, narrow road that winded its way down to a small but pretty beach. A nearby sign said it was where scenes from the highly regarded, dramatic movie of a half-century ago, “Ryan’s Daughter,” were filmed in black and white.

 

Our only disappointment came when we stopped at the government-developed and managed Blasket Islands Center, a historical tribute to the old native lifestyle on the islands that disappeared in the 1950s. That is when the remaining few dozen inhabitants were forced off the remaining Great Blasket Island because of the difficulty of providing medical care and other services across the sometimes very rough water between it and the mainland.

 

I had remembered eating fairly well at a reasonable price in the museum’s cafeteria on a previous trip. However, neither the fare nor charges were reasonable on this visit. My large green salad was piled high with sliced onions and a half-can of corn kernels. It was basically inedible. Betty’s selection wasn’t much better. Making it worse, a male employee refused to place any ice in our soft drinks (saying “that’s what Americans like but we don’t.”) So we didn’t eat our $30-lunch and agreed that we would not return to the place.  I think I should report our unpleasant experience there to Irish tourism authorities.

 

Farther down the Slea Head Road, we stopped (again) at Clogher Beach to take some more photos at the gorgeous-but- little-visited overlook. It offers a truly magnificent view of the ocean pounding away at the beautiful beach and its cliffs, but signs warn that currents make it unsafe for swimming.

 

Leaving the beach area, we took several short detours down narrow lanes to Smerwick Harbor. One we had taken some years before to visit Wine Rock Point. Near the waterline was where area residents had parked several camper-trailers for probable week-end use. Trusting people, indeed.

 

We got back on the Slea Head Road and turned off onto another narrow road at the now-closed Smerwick Hotel, where we had stayed some years ago when it operated as a smaller facility under the Wine Rock Inn name. We had learned the former owner had greatly overestimated the market for upscale lodging in the area. Just as it was in the early 1990s, the best hotel on the Dingle Peninsula is far and away the four-star Dingle Skellig 15 or so miles away, our lodging in 2002, 2003 and on this trip.

 

We re-visited the very historic Gallarus Oratory a few miles away from the now-closed hotel. It is reputedly the oldest Christian church that is still standing in Europe. It looks something like an upturned, large fishing boat made of painstakingly placed stones. It is perhaps 30 feet long and 15 feet wide, with stone walls 18-to-24 inches thick. It has a small window on one end and a narrow door that a tall visitor would have to stoop over to pass through. I gather that even the Irish were not as big 1,000 or more years ago as they are now. 

 

The Oratory – an ancient name for a church – is thought to have been built in the 7th or 8th Century A.D.  A relatively modern supervisory office collects a modest fee from visitors to walk inside the Oratory, buy souvenirs, use restrooms or go upstairs to a snack bar.

 

We enjoyed talking to a native Irishman who runs the visitor center, a man who seemed to be educated and well read in matters of Irish history and public policy. His name was Seamus (pronounced Sha-muss as in old-time cop movies) Kelliher. He was quite knowledgeable about the English mistreatment of native Irish during the great famines of the 1840s and 1850s; he took me outside and gave me the use of his high-powered binoculars to examine a distant hillside on Brandon Mountain marked by a low, stone wall.

 

The wall had been built, he allowed, as a public works project. It was part of the pitiful and pathetically inept attempt of the ruling English to provide relief to the starving Irish. Ireland was a 19th Century basket case in all respects after the vital basic potato crop failed. Its failure from blight resulted in extensive famine and out-migration during the famine years. Seamus asserted the “totally useless wall” was built by very hungry men with no means of support. They were paid only a penny a day for their back-breaking labor despite having to walk some miles to and from the worksite.

 

Seamus also pointed out a nearby, medieval-looking stone fortress which had been built centuries before by the conquering Normans. The Irish had been forced to work for them. Betty and I had poked around it on a previous trip when the old fighting tower was being made ready for tours. However, the tourist interest never materialized as it was closed to tour again a few years ago.

 

It was fun talking to Seamus and an absolute delight to see a man with his deep interests and knowledge about the subject under his stewardship. Too many times, Betty and I seem to end up talking with dim-witted youths at attractions interested only in whatever money they can get for being polite to tourists. He gave us several interesting brochures dealing with interesting historic structures in the area and also ancient manuscripts.

 

Despite his directions and assorted maps, we had a tough time finding again the unmarked monument to the ancient Irish Celtic settlement and church of Kilmalkedar. But after stopping for directions when back in the vicinity later in the week, we were told precisely its nearby location by an elderly Irish woman primping her front yard. We visited the ancient Roman Catholic church made of stone – but missing its roof. We saw a couple of workmen cutting grass in a very old burial ground surrounded by old and modern graves. One stone about chest-high has traces of the now-forgotten Ogham writing on it.

 

Once back at the Dingle Skellig Hotel, I enjoyed a pint of Harp Lager beer and napped while Betty read for a while.

 

There was another blowout wedding reception at the hotel that afternoon. Betty enjoyed watching the young marrieds and their attendants from the rural area arrive in flower-bedecked cars and a Rolls-Royce limo. Some of the festive clothing of the guests was “distinctive,’ to say the least. 

 

Betty inquired of an Irishman wearing plaid shorts and Scottish-looking accessories about when the wedding reception music would be played by a visiting group with traditional folk instruments. With a big grin, he said, “When they stop drinking.” Actually, we were told by a couple later that the wedding reception carried on until the pre-dawn hours next morning. It’s no wonder that it is sometimes difficult to check into Irish holiday accommodations until mid-afternoon.

 

We again hugely enjoyed another wonderful dinner in the hotel’s Coast Guard restaurant. I had freshly caught and broiled sea bass and allowed myself a few French fries served with Betty’s dinner of Fish and Chips. We split a very yummy crème brulee for dessert.

 

(Continue with Part 7, Shopping in Town of Dingle)  /  (Return to Nolan Travels Home Page)