(click on pictures to enlarge)
We drove from Northern Ireland to the Dingle peninsula via Clonmacnoise, an ancient monastic settlement developed in the 9th century.
The last time I was in Clonmacnoise, admittedly many years ago, there was nobody else there and it had a mystical atmosphere with its tall round tower and ruined churches situated right on the banks of the Shannon River. It was a little disconcerting this time, to see busloads of tourists, an interpretive centre, and prettified surroundings but it was still interesting to see the Irish high crosses now on display indoors with copies on the original sites.
We opted to take a ferry from Killimer in County Clare to Tarbert in County Kerry which took us along a scenic route. Arriving on the Dingle peninsula, we were immediately struck by how beautiful and wild it is. Rumour has it that National Geographic once declared it the most beautiful place on earth!
We stayed with friends in Inch overlooking a long stretch of beach which attracts a few surfers but which is otherwise empty. It was glorious to wake up in the morning and see the wonderful view while still in bed. The landscape on the Dingle peninsula really is magical with a rocky wild coastline, mountains and hedges of wild, purple fuschia and orange montbretia growing along the sides of the narrow roads.
There are a number of archaeological sites on Dingle ranging from prehistoric Beehive huts built without mortar or nails, to pre-Christian artefacts to early Christian churches. Driving to these sites, one follows a narrow coastal road with truly magnificent scenery. The road signs are in gaelic so it helps to know the Irish form of the town or village one is heading towards. I was fascinated by the Ogham stones which consist of groups of one to five horizontal lines representing letters, and which are the earliest form of Irish writing.
Much too soon, we left Dingle and made our way to Cashel and Kilkenny. The ruins of the church on the Rock of Cashel are certainly impressive but I preferred the completely empty and unvisited ruins of the massive Kells Abbey and a magnificient stone tower and high cross at nearby Kilree. There was nobody at either of these two places and Kilree is down a small lane with the cross in a field and a sign saying ‘Beware of the bull’. Luckily, there was a small herd of cows also in the field so we figured that the bull wouldn’t be paying much attention to us.
One of the most beautiful cloisters I saw were at Jerpoint Abbey also close to Kilkenny. All of the cloister pillars once had magnificient carvings but few of these are still intact. Again, there were very few people here and the atmosphere of the place was retained. Kilkenny is a very pretty little town dominated by an Anglo-Norman castle on the Nore river which runs through the town.
Our last stop was visiting friends who have a lovely cottage in County Wicklow. Wicklow is close to Dublin and I was able to visit my favourite haunts. Some of them like Glendalough, are now teeming with tourists but the rest of the county is still wild and spectacular with rivers, mountains and bogs covered with purple heather. We had a wonderful and memorable holiday in Ireland. Thank you to all my friends all over the country who hosted us and showed us around. We hope to return soon and perhaps to reciprocate your hosptality in Rome.