A large party from Dorking U3A explored the landscape, history and hospitality of County Kerry in south-west Ireland. Jane Blackadder reports
After the rigid security checks of Gatwick Airport we were amazed to sail through Cork Airport without even a passport check. We were met by Tony, who was to be our coach driver throughout our five-day stay in Tralee.
On the way we stopped at Blarney and some of our more energetic members walked to the castle to kiss the Blarney Stone, while others experienced the Biggest Shop in Ireland, full of Armagh woollens and other tempting clothes.
Meanwhile, as we drove on, Tony regaled us with countless funny stories and historical information about Ireland and this area, including Queen Victoria’s visit to Kerry in 1861 just before the death of Albert.
On arrival in Tralee we were welcomed at the Ashe hotel in the centre of the busy market town and were served an excellent dinner.
The sun shone on the first morning and we set off in our coach for the famous Ring of Kerry. Tony told us it was about 179km. We passed through the large town of Killarney and then had a stop at the Old Bog Show Village, which gave us a fascinating insight into the simple, humble lives of people in past centuries. One cottage had the cow and pigs housed under the same roof as the family.
As we continued, the countryside grew more mountainous, swathes of deep yellow gorse lined the roads, the fields were full of sheep brought down from the high slopes for lambing, and small brightly painted houses surrounded by neat grass plots and painted walls or fences were dotted over the land.
All the towns were painted in bright colours, red, deep pink, dark blue, green and yellow. There was an amazing coastline of rugged rocks, cliffs, great sandy beaches, inlets and lakes. Sometimes we passed a wee stone church.
Our lunch stop was on high overlooking a rocky bay, and further on we passed through coppices and over streams, along winding roads which Tony took in his stride, sometimes mentioning that he was taking a little nap, but continuing with his stories and the odd song. In Kencare we had a little wander and saw beautiful stained-glass windows in the cathedral.
Black clouds were gathering on our second day as we journeyed to Killarney. We explored the town in slight drizzle but when the time came for our jaunty ride to Muckross House the weather had let us down. The jaunty traps had roof canopies but not much on the sides. We got somewhat wet, so after a trot of about half-an-hour a quick dash to the restaurant for a cup of tea was very welcome before our guided tour of the house. The tour illustrated the lifestyle of the landed gentry as well as life downstairs. We were sorry to miss the lovely gardens, but it was too wet.
Thursday was our free day to explore Tralee, with its beautiful park, Rose of Tralee gardens, fine churches and excellent museum, where we learnt much about The Troubles and what Mr Casement tried to do for Ireland. The basement housed an excellent enactment of medieval and earlier times with sound effects. Evidence of the land’s first settlers was around 5000BC at the Megolithic site on the Dingle peninsular, which we passed later.
Some of our party walked out to the famous Windmill and Wetlands Centre. In the evening we had Irish music in the bar. Some people sang – thank you, Fergus, for Rose of Tralee; you have a great voice – there was dancing, too, mostly from some energetic women from Donegal.
Friday was fine again for our drive around the Dingle peninsular, the most westerly area of Ireland. There were many mountains and sea inlets and views of the far Blasket Islands.
Tony was full of jokes, and as we came close to one sharp cliff corner he pointed out a large white crucifix and statue of Mary, saying: ‘It was a good ting for all the coaches dat had gone over ter edge!’ He also pointed out the little leprechaun houses which some people have in their gardens. I even spotted a ‘leprechaun crossing’ on a proper road sign!
We had lunch in Dingle, a colourful, busy harbour town, where I had the best fish chowder ever. The scenery, as we continued, looked out to Slea Head, Brandon Head and the Atlantic as well as great long stretches of sandy beaches. We passed some of the beehive mounds and ancient circles from 4000BC.
Everywhere the countryside had patches of yellow gorse, fields of sheep and new-born lambs and isolated little painted houses dotted around the great sweeps of land between the mountains.
Saturday, our final day, was very wet as we headed towards Shannon Airport. On the way we stopped at Foynes Flying Boat Museum. This was from where the first flying boat had crossed the Atlantic. We were able to see inside a replica plane with its spacious seating, galley, and even a honeymoon suite. The tour ended with a demonstration of how to make Irish coffee: thank you, Elisabeth, well done! We continued to Shannon with a lunch stop at Limerick and arrived back in Gatwick around 8pm after a very enjoyable holiday.
Thank you, Jim and Angela, for arranging such a good programme; also for all the fun we had making and meeting friends new and old.