Live from Ireland – Day 5 – Kenmare

15 Nov

Location: Kenmare, County Kerry, Ireland
Population: 7,000, inclusive of numerous nearby villages
Random Fact: Kenmare has been named the Tidiest Town in Ireland.
Accommodation: O’Donnabhain’s Guest House, Kenmare

After rearranging our planned itinerary a bit we opted to spend the first half the day enjoying Dingle, then set off for Kenmare with our only goal being to get there before the sun set. Our original plan was to spend the day hiking in the Gap of Dunloe. Despite having spent the spring and summer walking (and walking, and walking) to build up endurance for this trip by the time we reached day 5 our legs and knees were very, very upset with us. We’d done a bit of hiking here and there but really we’d just spent the entire time on our feet, going somewhere. There was no way we were going to survive a 7 mile hike. And with the weather just so-so we didn’t think it was worth the pain. Maybe next time!

After one more perfect breakfast and several long looks from our patio, we packed up and left Pax House. It was sad and I did not like it.

We headed into Dingle town and parked the car the by the marina and set off walking about. We popped in and out of shops buying up all kinds of fun Irish goodies. I’m pretty fond of a little ceramic cottage that we picked up – it burns a tiny little peat brick so that you can have the smell of a peat fire at home.

Eventually we wandered down to the docks and strolled around checking out the fishing boats. We even watched one boat dock and unload its catch. It was kind of like watching the end of Deadliest Catch : ) The views back into Dingle town and of the surrounding hills were beautiful, peeking between the nets of the fishing boats.

We hung around a while, tried one last time to find a way to get out on the water and settled on the fact that we were just going to have to come back another time if we wanted to fish or kayak in Dingle.

We shopped around some more, picking up Rugby jerseys, a claddagh ring, and one of my favorite things – a painting of the coast. We’d gone into several small galleries hoping to find a painting but nothing was catching our eye. The difference at the last gallery was that the scenes of Ireland weren’t painted in 40 shades of green, but in 40 shades of blue and gray.

The rolling green hills were amazing, no doubt, but the views of the rough seas, cloudy skies and jagged coastline are as equally burned in my mind. There was something haunting but calming about the cloudy sea views we’d taken in and the paintings we found captured it perfectly.

Eventually we wandered into Adam’s Pub for lunch. It was empty, except for an older gentlemen reading a paper. It was – of course – small and warm with floor to ceiling dark wood. Perfect spot for one last meal in Dingle. So after our round of fish, chips, chowder and stout we gathered up our shopping bags and enjoyed the walk back through Dingle and down to the marina where we packed up the ole Focus and headed off for our next destination.

To get to Kenmare, we would be following the same route we’d taken the day before back through Killarney. This time, we didn’t get along so well with the fair city of Killarney. We drove in circles – actually I think it was a huge square – at least 3 times. Around and around and around. On the third loop, we determined that the sign we were following was askew and we were missing the correct turn.

It was frustrating. Maddening even. To hell with Killarney. I will never go back there. You can’t make me.

Once we were out of town and back on track we took a few deep breaths and shrugged off the cranky pants mood that was threatening.

As we got deeper into Killarney National Park (deeper than the day before) the road grew increasingly narrow. And the tour buses seemed to grow increasingly wider.

The road was essentially one lane at this point and every 500 yards or so there would be a little pull off area so when you looked up ahead and saw a tour bus flying towards you could whip into the little pull off and duck and cover your head while it passed.

As we zipped along we caught beautiful mountain views between the trees and glimpses of the shimmery lakes. Eventually we spotted a small pull off and of course we whipped right in. Several people were pulling in, snapping a picture and moving on. I just don’t see how you can remember where you’ve been if that’s all the time you give a place. But to each traveler their own pace.

We hiked our way down to the edge of the water which was completely crystal clear. There were lots of large rocks and stone formations all along the shore so of course we climbed all over them : )  Give me a big ole rock — jagged, smooth, slippery, whatever ya got — and I’ll climb all over it. But a steep set of stairs? Sorry baby, no dice.

The view was amazing with the lake wide open if front of us and the mountains towering around us in the distance. Nothing makes you feel small like mountains. I love that.

Later on we came to another scenic outlook – the official kind with the viewfinder thingys. It was a gorgeous view but at that point we were pretty well up into the mountains and I’ve decided I prefer the view from the bottom looking up than vice versa. It just feels more dramatic.

We stayed in the car for the rest of the journey to Kenmare, enjoying the views but desperately ready to be off that road and out of the car! Of all the driving we did, this was the part that I liked the least. The road was just so narrow with so many tight, blind curves. Because its the last leg of the Ring of Kerry (a famed scenic drive popular with planned tours) it had by far the highest number of tour buses as well. We’d gotten used to the narrow roads and the sheer cliffs but those combine with the giant rocks jutting out of the mountain side and the buses –  just a wee bit too much it was.

When we pulled into Kenmare we were relieved – proper sized roads! The town was quaint and charming, with long streets lined with shops, pubs and B&Bs, all framed by the mountains. It reminded us a lot of Galena (in Northern Illinois) which is one of our favorite places for a getaway (we were married there).

We ditched the car (and our jackets! whoo hoo!) and set out to stroll the around the shops. Kenmare has 3 main streets set up in a triangle so its very walkable. The shopping here was very different from Dingle – far fewer shops selling shamrock emblazoned trinkets and a much bigger selection of artisan items. We heard from several locals before we went to Kenmare that its a popular getaway destination for the Irish and you really could tell. The selection of shops spoke to a more local clientele for sure. No worries though we still found plenty of things to buy!

When we first pulled into town I spotted this very large store advertising Quilts! and I was pumped. An Irish quilt. What a souvenir that would be. I marched in with my credit card ready. I searched two floors of assorted Irish goods and nary a quilt did I find. So out the store I saulked.

“How can a store that has “quilts” written across it in giant print not have a single flipping quilt??” I complained.

The I realized it said “Quills.”


For the record, Ididn’t notice any quills either.

After a bit more shopping we headed to our B&B to check in. It was located right on the main street, among all the pubs and restaurants and of everywhere we stayed certainly had the most iconic Irish exterior:

Best part about it? It’s a pub!! A room above a pub? Does it get any better than that? At this point we’d been going out and having us a time every night and we were feeling the effects! We’d also been up early nearly every morning. We were plain worn out. So we figured we’d have a quiet night in and just have dinner in the pub down stairs and then head for bed.

Nothing ever goes as planned.

When we walked into the pub we snagged a booth right next to an open fire. There was a taper candle burning in a stone jug on the table, the lighting was dim, and an Irishman was playing guitar and singing Johnny Cash. It was exactly what we needed, warm, cozy and low key but plenty entertaining.

We had a fantastic meal and finally got to try one of those Kerry cows we’d been seeing all over the country side. That was some good beef! And you know what goes really well with steak and potatoes? Hard cider. Its like my kryptonite, I’m powerless against it. Why couldn’t I just order a glass of water?!

In the 10 days we spent in Ireland I think I consumed my body weight in Bulmer’s cider. (Side note…they do sell Bulmers in the States under the name Magner’s but the flavor is quite watered down and has a lower alcohol content. Boo that.) (Another side note…hard cider and the like tends to be ruled “girly” around these parts. Definitely not the case in Ireland. We saw just as many Irish men drinking Bulmer’s as Guinness. And that’s because its damn good. And boozy. Man do I miss Bulmers.)

We were really having a fantastic time in this pub and the pints were going down a bit too easy. But the singer was really great – a bit different sound than we’d heard yet – but singing many of our personal favorite Irish songs. Isn’t it always better when you can sing along? It is.

Most of the crowd was Irish as well which some how made the vibe seem more laid back. True to what we’d heard, we didn’t meet any Irish local to Kenmare but several couples were away for a few days to enjoy the shopping, scenery and a few good meals.

As the night wore on the musician began to play what is – in all seriousness – one of my all time favorite songs. Not my favorite Irish song, or my favorite ballad, or any of that.

One of my very, very favorites.

I remember the first time I heard it in college and I’ve loved it ever since. I’ve listened to a hundred versions by a hundred different artists and the version this man played was as good as any.

So I sat in our cozy corner next to the roaring fire, kinda drunk, and I sang every word of “The Green Fields of France” and knew it was something I will never, ever forget.

For most of the people there it was probably just a depressing slow song. But for me it was just really, really awesome.

When the music at O’Donnabhain’s was over we weren’t quite ready for bed. We wondered out the front door and heard some good tunes coming out of a pub across the street and quickly took up residence there for the rest of the night. Here too the music was just by a single guy with a guitar yet completely different than what we’d just been hearing. That’s one of things I enjoyed about catching these Trad music sessions – we might have heard some songs in several places but they were different every time.

We’d come to Ireland with a very lengthy “hope we hear” list of songs and by the time we headed back to our room we’d heard darn near all of them.

All in all, it was a quiet day with plenty of beautiful sights and beautiful music. And beautiful alcohol. It seems there’s no break from the alcohol in Ireland.

We went to bed looking forward to the next day which we’d dubbed our Castle Day!

Preview of the next day… When I woke up my good camera was on the night stand next to my bed. I’m a photographer people, cameras get backed away securely in their padded bags. They are not stored on nightstands where they can be knocked over and spilled on. What was it doing there? I couldn’t recall. I eyed my camera suspiciously. Then I reviewed the evenings photos and found these little gems:

Operation Quiet Night In: Mission Failed. Ireland-5, Maggie and Zac’s Sobriety –  0

(By the way – I don’t know which is my concerning – Zac wearing a duvet as a cape or the quality of these photos!)

About the Photos – I’ve gotten emails and messages from a number of folks wanting to buy prints of the photos I’ve featured in our Ireland blogs. Once we’ve posted the last installment, I’ll follow up with a post about how to go about purchasing them. They’ll be available in a variety of sizes, professionally printed, with or without a matte. All proceeds from the sale of our Ireland photos will be donated directly to the Irish Society for Autism. Watch for the details!


3 Responses to “Live from Ireland – Day 5 – Kenmare”

  1. Christy Nicholas November 15, 2011 at 12:48 pm #

    We loved O’Donnabhain’s and Kenmare as well! And of course the ubiquitous pints of Bulmer’s 🙂

  2. Paul November 17, 2011 at 7:19 am #

    You are a busy girl, so taking the time to post your Ireland trip is very much appreciated. There is a little cafe in Kenmare that my wife and I go to when in town, it’s called ‘an cupan tae’ which is Irish for Cup of tea – not very difficult to work out ;). Did you get to visit? No Bulmers but great tea and home made pasteries. If not this time, you should visit next time. Enjoying the trip! Thanks Paul

    • maggieandzac November 17, 2011 at 8:22 am #

      Thanks, Paul. I’m just happy to have people reading my ramblings : ) Planning to share the next one tonight! We did see An Cupan Tae, I remember because I was pleased with myself for being able to read Irish ha! Never got to stop in though. Wish we could have spent a bit more time in Kenmare in general, seems like a very good place spend days whole days strolling around.

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