Saturday, July 10, 2010

European Vacation Travelogue: Day 14 The Ring of Kerry and the Skellig Ring

On Day 14 we headed toward the Ring of Kerry with the hopes of ending up near Cork and, in BioMom's dreams, Kinsale.

This day incorporated both my high and my low of the trip in terms of both expectations and sites.

Basically any guidebook or travel show about Ireland raves about the Ring of Kerry. We did it backwards (not the "long but satisfying day by car from Kenmare" that Rick Steves discusses)* but from Dingle down counterclockwise on the Ring, ultimately to Kenmare but passing first through the Skellig Ring.

It was all very beautiful, no doubt, but compared to the dramatic sights of the Dingle Peninsula, we were (at least at first) somewhat disappointed.

We decided to add on the additional Ring of Skellig to the tip of the Ring of Kerry because of my growing fascination with the Skellig Islands: Little Skellig and Skellig Michael.**

I first noticed the islands from Dingle. They are very distinctive and Gothic, rising up from the sea.

The smaller of the two islands is now a bird sanctuary and World Heritage Site. It is the home to Ireland's largest gannet colony, with 22,500 pairs in 1993. Again, if you look at the pictures, the white is not the natural hue of the rocks. One guidebook says that if you boat out to the islands, Little Skellig looks like it lost the largest pillow fight in history.

The larger of the two islands (Skellig Michael)is a steep rocky island that is estimated to have been founded in the 7th century and became a Celtic monastic settlement. On the island itself, a steep climb of 600 stone steps leads to a small cluster of six "beehive" huts, two oratories and small terraces are located 714 feet above sea level. Historians think that the Skellig Michael community consisted of about 12 monks and an abbot and that they abandoned the harsh life in the 12th century. Here is a short video on the World Heritage Committee site of Skellig Michael.

For obvious reasons, we did not attempt the 8 mile treacherous boat ride that may or may not really get you to the islands during our trip--depending on the weather--and, instead, put getting to Portmagee on our "to do list" for next time and head out to visit the islands.

In real life we did, in fact, stop at Portmagee, grabbed a few sandwiches, and headed up to the tip of the Skellig Ring to relax a bit and catch a view of the Islands.

These views were amazing and again, note the laissez faire attitude of the Irish about falling off sheer cliffs. The warning sign in the picture below was VERY serious.

These cliffs, too, were home to thousands of birds and their nests. See the little white marshmallow-looking things below. Perhaps they are the actual Peep prototypes. Upon close look in real life, you could just barely see them moving when the parent-bird would come back and feed them.

After our lunch, we hopped back into the car and headed toward the second half of the Ring of Kerry which turned out to be much more scenic.

We got to Sneem and decided to step out and regroup after the long day of driving. Could we get to Kinsale?

Really, I just wanted to talk BioMom into getting to Kenmare and relaxing at a B&B while it was still light out for our last "real" night in Ireland.

We talked her into it, sped the 20km to Kenmare and headed out for some pizza and a good night's sleep.

Day 15 would be our last day in Ireland and we had to explore Kenmare, kiss a stone to get the "gift of gab" and get as close to Dublin as we could to catch a noon flight on day 16.

*Check out his videos (here for a short one and here for a longer one) on the Ring of Kerry for some excellent views of the scenery.
**At some point we found out that the term "skellig" means "splinter."

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