G explores Quin Abbey, County Clare.
On his latest journey author, Warren Rovetch, explores the character-laced, historic counties of Clare, Kerry and West Cork in South West Ireland on a leisurely independent journey for “the mobile but not agile”.
Our regular readers will remember the author’s first book, The Creaky Traveler in the North West Highlands of Scotland, whose feature article in our web magazine has intrigued and inspired readers since 2003.
Photos by Warren and Gerda Rovetch.
Over a period of a month, Warren Rovetch and his wife, Gerda [affectionately known as G], explored four famous peninsulas – Mizen, Dingle, Beara and Sheep’s Head – right to their respective tips. They saw an amazing array of brilliant landscapes and spectacular seascapes, sometimes changing moment by moment: fractured limestone terraces, crashing seacoasts, heathery bogland, blue-granite mountains, emerald-green valleys, ruined castles, abandoned abbeys, Neolithic remains, misty sun and soft rain.
Warren recalls, “Our planned progression down the four peninsulas of Ireland’s west coast offered the prospect of a scenic escalation: wild, wilder, wildest! Above all, there is transcendent beauty, always there, ready for discovery.”
The remains of Minard Castle on the Dingle Peninsula.
The author mixes history and culture with independent sightseeing by rental car to give readers a very personal look at the places and people he visits. He includes both good and bad impressions of lodgings and shares the secrets of a successful trip. He has a hilarious encounter with a matchmaker, explores Celtic spiritualism, and learns the art of road bowling. Particularly helpful to more mature travelers, the book includes lots of advice for executing smoothly independent trips of their own.
Come along with our two favorite Creaky Travelers, now tipping 80 years apiece, who share their half century of journeying wisdom with five vacation principles in mind: 1. Nourish the soul 2. Feed the mind 3. Rest the body 4. Leave time for happenings 5. Have fun.
Lively Irish tunes every night at the Harp & Lion in Listowel, County Kerry.
Graphic road sign warns of danger on Sheep’s Head Peninsula.
I begin planning my trip by painting pictures in my mind. I learn something of the character of the different places we might stop over – scenery, history, unique qualities, special events, interesting people, new things to learn, suitability for creaky traveling. I then choose the best scenes and assemble them in a moving picture – where we will stop and stay, and ground we will cover. My planning tools are detailed maps, guidebooks, old movies, and, increasingly, the Internet.
The bed and breakfasts or small hotels we choose demand a great deal of consideration. With high expectations, we like to stay in most places for three nights, so we aim for certainty. We try to apply seven criteria for our choices:
1. small, not more than six rooms; 2. distinctive personality, run by an onsite owner, not a hired hand; 3. beautifully situated; 4. en suite room with toilet and bath or shower; 5. reputation for superior food; 6. affordable price; and 7. a place where we wouldn’t mind being rained in for a day.
An hour’s drive from Shannon Airport put us in the northwestern corner of County Clare, minutes from the rocky shore of the Atlantic and in the middle of the Burren. My vision of the Burren was of a world apart from the usual pastoral scene of the Emerald Isle. I pictured endless and remorseless wind and rain eroding a porous hundred-square-mile limestone plateau, etching an otherworldly surface of raw beauty — stony pillows, deep fissures, cliffs, and terraces – a rare combination of light, rock and water.
Because of my work with public schools in the United States, I was interested in talking with Irish kids to find out how they saw themselves and their futures. The headmaster at Fanmore Primary thought this would be as interesting for the kids as for me. Fanore was to be the first of my visits to four primary schools and talks with sixth graders in the course of the trip.
A class of 6th graders in Castletownbere.
The Dingle Peninsula is Gaeltacht, meaning it is one of the few remaining Irish-speaking areas. It is described in one guide as “a place of intense beauty with long beaches and staggering splinter-slatted rocks that define the extraordinary coast at Slea Head.” We thought a stroll along a Dingle beach would be just the thing for a misty afternoon, duplicating a scene from the old movie, Ryan’s Daughter.
I was curious about Kenmare in County Kerry, in particular its status as an award-winning Tidy Town. What, I wondered, was an official Tidy Town? I satisfied my curiosity by talking with Father Patrick Murphy, parish priest and Chairman of the Kenmare Tidy Town Committee. We also paid several visits to a brilliant nine-foot-high outdoor sculpture, The Music Makers.
Music Makers of Kenmare.
On the Beara Peninsula, I came across “road bowling,” a sport played only in County Cork, in County Armagh in the north, and in parts of Germany and Holland. Two grown men compete, throwing a 28-ounce iron ball down two miles or so of curving back roads to see who can get from one end to the other in the fewest throws. Large crowds of partisans attend, betting is said to be ferocious, and a stop at a pub along the way is not unknown. My top priority while on Beara was to attend a match and learn the finer points of this unique sport.
Allihies, a village on Beara, was once a center of copper mining. Many miners from the area emigrated to work copper mines in Montana, USA. There were said to be few Beara families without relatives in Butte, Montana. I particularly wanted to learn more of this history that included ancestors of Mike Sullivan, whom I knew when he was governor of Wyoming and later US Ambassador to Ireland.
Beara Peninsula: once copper, now cows.
The Maid of Erin pub and hotel in Listowel.
Regional Internet Resources, Recommended by Warren Rovetch for South West Ireland
County Clare: www.tourclare.com
Dingle Peninsula: www.dingle-peninsula.ie
Beara Peninsula: www.bearatourism.com
County Cork: www.cork-guide.ie/mizen.htm
County Kerry: www.kerryguide.com/listowel
The final leg of our trip involved a different kind of Irish experience, one focused on town life. We stayed in Listowel in North Kerry, not too far from the River Shannon and close to where our trip began. It was the time of the annual Listowel Races and the Harvest Festival with street dancing, buskers, and kids’ parades. Known as the literary capital of Ireland, Listowel has produced many important writers and holds an annual writer’s workshop of some note. I arranged to meet several members of the literary scene to talk about the source of this creative energy.
I have always felt that the end of a trip needs to be planned with as much care as the beginning. Home should not be where you go to recover from a vacation. This calls for one’s final days to be spent in a place that is attractive, comfortable, interesting, undemanding, and close to the international airport. Quin fit the bill. It is a peaceful village with well-preserved remains of a 15th Century abbey, only nine miles and fifteen minutes from Shannon Airport.
This 292-page paperback is available in online and local bookstores [ISBN:1-59181-027-2] for US$26.95 or through Sentient Publications, www.sentientpublications.com.
Warren’s book brings vividly to life the culture, history, and wondrous natural beauty of Ireland. Part travel story and part guidebook, this charming, witty adventure shared with his beloved wife, Gerda, includes both good and bad impressions of lodgings and shares the secrets of their successful trip.
Warren Rovetch has been a Fulbright Scholar at Oxford University, an economist, a textbook publisher, and a creator of an environmental education and conference center on the Columbia River. He and his wife, Gerda, live in Boulder, Colorado, and have traveled extensively worldwide. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org