Fisherman and Flashers in County Kerry
West Ireland, 1997
Connemara, West Ireland
"IF the weather doesn't break by midday tomorrow, you're
The Atlantic storm had been brewing in my slipstream for the past
100 miles but now, it decided to snatch the lead.
"Send your bicycle back
to the UK, you're going nowhere" chimed Peter from the kitchen, as I sat
gazing out of his cosy hostel at the rain hosing down the windows like a
car wash and the sea threatening to pop over and join us in front of the
fire. Of course, I expected Ireland to offer a climatic challenge November,
and like a true masochist even packed my tent and stove "just in case."
come departure day, I dragged myself out of bed before sun-up to catch the
train and ferry that takes you from London to Holyhead to Dublin and back
again for a very reasonable £49, (that's about $A110 given the sad
exchange rate at the moment), valid for a mooonth.
I got into Dublin around
8pm, playing dodgems with an appalling number of lorries thundering along
the damp roads into the city. I thought, why aren't these people at home
watching Coronation Street? I spent a couple of days chilling out at a friend
of a friend's place before catching a train west to Tralee for a £42
plus £6 bike.
Why didn't you fold it up? I hear you say. Because I'm
a lazy bitch and besides, I forgot to bring the soft bag!
MONEY SAVING TIP: I have since discovered that if you
get friendly with a local who has a Credit Union account, you can try ask
them nicely if they'll get you a special single journey ticket for £14.50,
valid for any one way trip in Ireland. This little perk seems to be available
only from the west-ish part of the country - Dubliners and Corkers just shrug
when you ask them about it.
It was only country iswhen the train reached Farranforte
that I got a sense of how wet this . The bitumen platform was carpeted with
a layer of bright green moss, and leaden clouds slouched overhead. At the
stately Collis Sandes hostel in Tralee, Endo, a serious, bearded little
chap, inducted me into the Irish sense of humour: not overly quick or laced
with cynicism like our neighbours, he counselled, but more a "craic" - meandering
tales of bended truth fuelled by pure, unleaded Guinness. Some obscure stanzas
of graffiti in the Tralee station loo certainly gave backed up his perceptions..
My first dayof real riding (35 miles) included a haul over the Connor Pass
to Dingle. "Steep! You'll have to push!", they warned, which almost got
me chickening out for the easier road through Annascaul. The notorious pass
turned out to be a slow but not unbearable climb for 3-4 miles through some
grand mountain scenery, with an aerial view of Brandon Bay behind one's
right shoulder. Somewhere along the way I developed a new respect for my
body, which has conveyed me through strange countryside with only passing
mechanical failure and only the briefest of emotional failures (see "A Worrysome
Night in the Lake District", in the last rant). I recall telling people
how my reliable Bike Friday's hauled me through almost 3000 miles so far
when someone said, isn't it you that's actually hauled your bike around
Evocative Gleninchiquin Valley
"NO food here, not at this time of the year. Or anywhere.
Good trip. Bye."
I pedalled off, musing how the celebrated Irish warmth
and hospitality must be getting a little cool under the apron as Low Season
becomes No Season.
At Slea Head, a good bit of blustery coastline, I took
a short cut climbing into the wind then careering down a road so steep and
straight it was like sliding down the shiny bit between two London Underground
escalators, starting somwhere up in the sky and ending up at the beach.
In a Dingle supermarket I was bailed up by Des the Kiwi poet. He took me
to the local cinema to see "Photographing Fairies" introduced by a dapper
Hitchcockesque MC but sadly, no choc-tops, only the ubiquitous Magnum. Des
is a bit of a bike nut too. He showed me pictures of his amazing collapsible
"bicycle-towed hotel room", complete with wind generator and solar powered
TV, which made my Bike Friday suitcase (complete with "LONG VEHICLE" sign)
look positively pedestrian.
The next peninsula to tackle was the Iveragh, aka the
Ring of Kerry. Just out of Glenbeigh I spotted a lone hitcher, and after
a sidelong glance at his 6'1" frame and handsome countenance felt compelled
to squeeze the V-brakes. This was one Matthew from Tennessee , shy, slow
talkin' and very easy on the eye. I small talked for a little longer than
was decent, before agreeing to meet at the 28-pub town of Cahsiveen. At
the turnoff to Valentia Island I ran into Eddy and Richard, two birdwatchers
cruising the backroads with eyes peeled lest a bird escape without being
Skelligs, West Ireland
They took me for a spin around the Skellig Ring which, on a good
day, beats the Ring of Kerry and on a lousy day, just manages to outshine
bus depot at Milton Keynes. The bird boys drove me to Peter's Place, the
cosy hostel at Waterville, upon which the sky opened up and didn't shut
for six days. Consequently, much time was spent in the Fisherman's bar up
the road where we witnessed a systematic thrashing of the Irish by the All
Blacks (15-65) then a few pints later, a similar fate for the locals at
the hands (or should I say boots) of the Belgians. None of this seemed to
matter with Dr Guiness the Resident Anesthetist doing his rounds. I had
a ball chatting with Dominic and Abe, two youngish fisherman (well, too
young and beautiful for me), though in true Irish form they took the piss
out of me, telling me things I learnt later I should take with a grain of
salt, or better still, respond with some equally canny bullshit.
it bucketed down. Dominic offered me a lift for the 200 metres back to the
hostel, which raised a few heckles in the stalls. Now I must admit a bit
of slap and tickle with this blond hair blue eyed young GOD wouldn't have
inconvenienced my evening too severely, but I let him drive me back to the
hostel and resisted jumping on his bones at least while the engine was running.
The next day it cleared a bit, and we crossed the road
to go perwinkling with Dan, the likeable old rogue who blew me kisses through
the hostel window. Given my aversion to anything slimy or sluglike it's
no wonder I barely covered the bottom of my bucket by the time Dan had collected
a cement bag of the things.
"Dan is one great example of Irish resilience",
said Peter, proffering an insight into the tough Kerry mettle.
"If you strip
back all the artifice and bullshit, you are left with the crust of the earth".
So: before Guiness, dig peat, fish sea. After Guinness, dig peat, fish sea.
That's it, I wrote my friend in base camp Windsor; I've got it sorted: marry
a fisherman, bake soda bread. Sorted, mate, sorted.
Our slimy booty was
converted into a chowder after a procedure with a needle that would have
snail liberationists crawling out of their shells in protest. Despite Peter's
ominous prediction the weather did break.
"The sun shines whereever an Aussie
I chimed a little too smugly, and my journey continued. He almost
had me convinced though, with a grim story of the two young fishermen who desperately
tried to swim for a sheltered bay after capsizing, and were found drowned
with their fingers ground down to the joints from repeatedly trying to grasp
the limpet studded rocks. And just two nights earlier, a local was swept
off the Portmagee Bridge in his car. Nature commands, and gets, respect.
Next came the most spectacular stretch of the whole trip in perfect, Bondi-like
weather. From Sneem, on the southern side of the Ring I rode down through
the Black Valley and Gap of Dunloe to Killarney. If you only pitch your
tent once next year, make it the Black Valley. The scenery is wild, not
unlike my favourite place, the southern shore of Loch na Keal on the Isle
Somewhere between Killarney and Glengariff I encountered
my first flasher. He waited until I was walking alone towards Torc waterfall,
then turned around flopping out his flaccid member.
This puzzles me: flashing
is obviously done for sexual gratification but judging by the state of the
beast, I wonder why he bothered. I said, "No thanks". A few miles later as
I was grinding up a hill at 5 mph, he appeared again, coming down the road
towards me, having driven past in his car. Without thinking I thrust a finger
in the direction of his dick and shouted, "Mate, I'm gonna report you!".
Almost immediately I thought, why did I say that? Next minute I'll be bum-to-bumper
with his road rager. Luckily, it seemed to scare him off.
I nipped out to the Beara Peninsula for a couple of days, where I stayed
in the Garannes Hostel and almost decided to join in the Bhuddist retreat
that weekend, but time was running short. On the way back the weather was
clear and dry, so I decided tonight was the night I would pitch the tent.
I had to justify dragging it across the country, didn't I?
The woman owner
came out and said "She on 'er own? On a bike? No charge!". It felt good
to get in the tent again, try to light the stove, faff about getting one's
cocoon organised for the night. It rained. I was happy.
From here I rode south through Bantry, along the south
coast of Ireland to Skibereen, Kinsale and finally north to Cork. There
is a magic little town called Union Hall 10km from Skib, with a schoolhouse
At Kinsale, Graham, the laid-back bossfella at Dempsey's
hostel, let us in on some local knowledge, and consequently I was lucky
to be at the Spaniard Bar on a Monday night where they grill fresh caught
herrings over the fire and serve them with soda bread, compliments of the
In Cork I spent a pleasant evening strolling around with Jaco, a
10-foot tall South African from Pretoria on his first world trip. I thought
I was hard done by with the £/$A exchange rate: 2.4 and getting worse.
He informed me the Rand was worth less than a fifth of the pound, and that
the £1 burger he just swallowed would have cost 20p back home. Nonetheless,
he'd saved enough for 6 months away. I was humbled. And resolved to stop
whinging about money.
On the train back from Holyhead I sat next to a gregarious
mother and daughter pair, Helen and Lemoine from West Coast USA. (Hi Jack).
Lemoine has her own cleaning business, her mum Helen spends summers hanging
off the sides of second hand yachts restoring them for sale to budding boaties.
That's the kinda lady I want to be when I grow up ...
Doing the Dishes in County Kerry Part 1
Doing the Dishes in County Kerry Part 2
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