The road to Killaloe began with the dramatic scenery offered from the Caha Pass (N71): stony, mist-wrapped mountains plunging to green dales, blue peaks in the distance. You could almost hear the pipes calling. Coming and calming down off the hills, we came to Kenmare (another Tidy Town winner!) on market day. Plenty of traffic, but Larry secured a parking spot. This is a stop on the touristy Ring of Kerry, and it shows. Very tidy, spit ‘n polish, signs over the shops vying in quaint and quantity. In the market: honey (local), cheese (Europe & local), salami (Italian), baked goods (local), crafts (local & global). Onward!
More gorgeous scenery as we drove through Killarney National Park; Lough Leane gathers at the base of 800m mountains, whose slopes are covered with moss-covered trees and boulders. The road takes you through green tunnels and views of the lake. With the gray skies, it all made for a magical drive (though there was no time travel). Beyond Killarney, the road flattens out and the scenery looks more like Wisconsin: gently rising low hills of pasture, all the way to Limerick.
Skirting Limerick on one of the few stretches of superhighway (N20), we got to Killaloe at rush hour. Killaloe and Ballina sit across the Shannon from another, joined by a 13-pont bridge wide enough for one vehicle. Two lights on one side, two lights on the other side, and you are looking at a 5 minute wait on narrow streets. So it’s best to know where you’re going. We didn’t. Pulled over to wait the gridlock out, at which time the Parade of Giant Farm Machinery began: mowers, balers, tractors, threshers, all careening happily through the clogged streets, raising our hair, but scratching nothing. It began to rain.
Ate sensibly and well, strolled through the drizzle into town, through the churchyard of the 13th century cathedral, reading the tombstones. A very quiet town. The next day we discovered why (possibly). This is a vacation spot, for golfers and fishers. Due to the unseasonable and unremitting rain, the Irish are vacationing in drier places, like France and Italy. We were also there mid-week, and it looks like a weekenders kind of place. Lovely.
That evening, however, Nina and I came upon an encampment of “Travelers”, people who live in trailers (caravans), park them on the sides of roads, and live. Some are Roma (“gypsies”), some are not. Their way of life is a controversial issue in Ireland; they are seen as outsiders, experience discrimination, and have been pressured to give up their wandering. They have worked to be recognized as a distinct cultural group, and have rights to encamp on certain public land. My understanding is minimal, gleaned from a TV show on the Gaelic channel, so I didn’t get most of it. It looked like a hard life, and I wondered how I would feel if an encampment showed up on my nice quiet middle-class street. The big boulders placed at driveway entrances on country roads were now understood.
We left on the 13th, not sorry to leave the driving, glad that we had come.
Some more flickr photos