Gal from
down under




Fisherman and Flashers in County Kerry
West Ireland, 1997

Connemara, West Ireland

"IF the weather doesn't break by midday tomorrow, you're fooked."

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."

So 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.

Evocative Gleninchiquin Valley
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 the country?

"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 "Aha'd!".

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.

Outside, 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. Just Kidding.

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 goes!"

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 of Mull.

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.

From Glengariff 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 hostel.

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 house.

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 ...

More reading:

Doing the Dishes in County Kerry Part 1
Doing the Dishes in County Kerry Part 2
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