Today we were off to complete the trifecta of the peninsulas in Ireland. After some discussion we decided to spend the day touring the Beara Peninsula rather than going to Killarney to visit Moll’s Gap, Muckross House and some other sites.
Liam met us at 9:30 after what turned out to be a VERY stormy night. The wind blew and it poured all night, but by morning the rain was only intermittent and even then it was only a light mist. By the time we took off for the Beara Peninsula, the day had brightened considerably.
So the Beara Peninsula is part of the Wild Atlantic Way with the Kenmare “river” (actually a bay) on one side and and Bantry Bay to the south. The Peninsula includes two mountain ranges, the Caha Mountains and the Slieve Miskish Mountains, and has a massive scenic coast. We were going to start in Kenmare and drive through Ardgroom, Eyeries, Allihies, Castletownbere, and Adrigole before crossing the Healy Pass and back to Kenmare.
Our drive did not last more than 15 minutes before Liam was taking a side road to show us a massive waterfall and an Uragh Stone Circle in a farmer’s field. As Liam drove, we encountered a carmel coloured cow that did not seem too interested in moving off of the narrow little farm road. After some coaxing the cow meandered over to the side of the road, but not before she turned and gave us a “maybe I will charge” look.
A few minutes later, we parked and we could immediately see the massive waterfall in the distance. We wandered down the little road for a bit paralleling Lough Inchiquin and admiring the beautiful view of the lake and the fog shrouded hills. We met up with Liam a few minutes later where he parked and joined us for a walk to down the road, through a gate and up through a field past sheep to the Uragh Stone Circle.
As with other stone circles we have seen, this stone circle contained one large pillar stone surround by five smaller stones. The stone circle was believed to date to the Bronze Age and was used as a ceremonial site with the stones lining up to mark significant solar and lunar events. It was another amazing example of monument to history.
And our trip to see the stone circle would not have been complete without three sheep using the stones as back scratchers. Yep, right in the middle of history, the three sheep were wandering around, eating grass and rubbing up against the stones. Hilarious.
We hiked backed to the car and made our way to the main road. As we drove, we entered a heavily forested area where the trees created a canopy over the car as we drove. We were chatting with Liam when he suddenly slammed on the breaks as a red deer bounded out of the forest in front of our car and back into the forest on the other side of the road. Thank God for Liam and his amazing driving skills. (As Cheryl noted, Donnie would be changing his pants right now if he had been driving.)
We left the forested area and drove through Ardgroom, the first of many colourfully painted villages. Now we subsequently learned from Liam that in 1957, when tourism first opened up in Ireland, Ireland surveyed the tourists for their opinion of Ireland. The results showed people, loved Ireland, but found the villages very drab. Enter the Tiny Town Competition where small, medium and large villages try to outdo each other to make their village the most attractive. A parish priest apparently started the trend of painting the village buildings in Sleam pastel colours and when Sleam won the Tiny Town Competition the trend caught on. Now you can find brightly painted and pastel coloured villages throughout Ireland, but in particular County Kerry.
Liam suggested that we get out and walk around the next village, which was Eyeries. The village was absolutely lovely. We wandered into a couple grocery stores and then hiked up the little hill in the village past pastel painted buildings. The streets were virtually empty since it was Sunday and most of the shops were closed. Nevertheless, it was a really nice little walk.
We continued on towards the town of Allihies, but not before Liam had us out of the car again for a ¼ mile walk along a beautiful coastline on one side of the road and a steep rocky hillside on the other. Liam eventually caught up with us and took us up a path through the rocky hillside to a “Mass Rock”, which was a rock alter on a hillside where the Catholics used to come for mass. The area would be guarded in order to avoid the wrath of the English who were trying to do away with the Catholic Church. It was a fascinating slice of history.
We hiked down the slippery hillside and continued our hike along the coastline road as Liam drove on ahead. As we walked, a waterfall flowed down the hillside beside us and a beautiful bay came into view with crystal clear waters bordered by a massive hillside farm. The varied landscape in this area was really something else.
Once we were back in the car, we headed to the little, and once again colourful, village of Allihies where Liam dropped us off and had us once again walk through a very quiet little village. Now the views from this village were spectacular looking towards the Atlantic Ocean, a beautiful sand beach and the rolling farmland.
We met Liam at the bottom of the hill and continued on past the beautiful seaside, up the rocky hills and finally to the largest seaside village on the Beara Peninsula, the little village of Castletownbere, where Liam promised to take us to a pub for the best open faced crab sandwich ever. The pub was MacCarthys and was the Irish pub of the year in 2016. Now there were many remarkable things about this pub. First, the pub still has the traditional shop at the front where groceries and tackle for fishermen are sold. Second and certainly not least, the pub contains a great deal of memorabilia associated with the pub itself and the MacCarthy family’s distinguished history.
Dr. Aiden MacCarthy was a doctor who was captured by the Japanese and held for 3 years in a Japanese POW camp. Dr. MacCarthy suffered years of abuse at the hands of the Japanese, but was able to flee to the mountains following the bombing of nearby Nagasaki, which is also where the residents of Nagasaki fled. Dr. MacCarthy not only treated the Japanese who had suffered radiation poisoning, he locked the head of the prison in a cell to protect him from the escaping prisoners who wanted to kill him. Dr. MacCarthy was subsequently presented with a Japanese ceremonial sword by the very man who imprisoned him for all those years.
We were able to meet Dr. MacCarthy’s daughter, Adrienne, who now runs the bar since her father’s passing in 1995 and she not only showed us the sword, but the medals Dr. MacCarthy won as well as the food bowl he took with him that he ate from for three years as a POW. (And oh yea, the open faced crab sandwich was superb!)
After the amazing history lesson, we left the pub (but not before I purchased a fabulous slice of home made orange pound cake made by Adrienne) and turned the vehicle back in the direction we had just come from so we could take a quick detour down an overgrown gravel road to Puxley Mansion aka Dunboy Castle. Puxley Mansion was built in 1739 on the profits from copper mining. The mansion was extended and added on to, but subsequently abandoned when Mrs. Puxley died in child birth. In 1921, the IRA, convinced the house was meant to house English troops, burned Puxley Mansion. The Mansion lay in ruins until 1999 when the mansion was purchased with the intent of turning it into a luxury resort. 60 million euro later and a world wide economic crash left the mansion once again abandoned.
Now Liam had told us this story the prior day so we just had to see this thing for ourselves. So off we ventured down the road and within minutes the dilapidated old mansion turned castle came into view. Liam and Donnie insisted on going to explore the grounds while Cheryl and I stayed behind. When they returned, they did not have pictures (jackasses), but they had been able to glimpse the inside and the building was virtually unfinished with no flooring or finished walls. This begs the question … what the hack happened to 60 million pounds?
So with our curiosity somewhat satisfied, we left Castletownbere and continued on for the final part of the trip around the Beara Peninsula: the trip over Healy Pass, which connects County Cork with County Kerry. (We would be travelling the County Cork portion of the Beara Peninsula on Monday.)
Anyway, as we left the town, we followed the coastline for a spell before we headed inland and up, up, up over a series of switchbacks through the Caha Mountains. Now about 300 meters from the top, Liam suggested that we (i.e. Cheryl, Donnie and me) walk the rest of the way to the top. At this point, I was pretty tired and still getting over the food poisoning, but nevertheless, we climbed out of the vehicle and began the climb. I immediately said there was NO WAY this was only 300 meters. Cheryl was monitoring her steps and by the time we were done, we had walked over ¾ of a mile up hill.
Now the views were spectacular and we encountered some goats, but the wind was absolutely veracious. By the time we got to the top, I tracked down Liam inside a little store and told him there was no way that it was only 300 meters. After checking his calculations, he realized that the distance was as the crow flies, NOT the distance of the switchbacks we hiked up. Uh thanks?
We took a quick break and at Liam’s suggestion walked another 200 meters to the top of Healy pass where the view back to County Kerry was simply spectacular. A view of a beautiful lake, forests and rolling farmlands treated us at the top. Now the walk to get there was another thing. The three of us were almost blown over it was so windy.
After our final walk of the day, we all got back into the vehicle and headed downhill towards Kenmare to finish up yet another wonderful day. (And the weather held so yea for us!) We were finishing up our tour of County Kerry, so it was on to County Cork tomorrow.