Off the beaten path. That is exactly how I would describe the last two days in Ireland. Mizen Head, Sheep’s Head, and the Beara Peninsula are three of the lesser-traveled peninsulas in southern Ireland. The tour buses can’t easily get to many of the places in these areas, so there are far fewer people. Just my type of day! I stopped at Muckross Abbey in Killarney before heading to the Beara Peninsula. I plan to spend the day in Killarney National Park on Friday, but the Abbey is a short walk from the main road and I decided to check it out. I was there before 9AM and had the place almost to myself. The friary dates to 1445 and is well preserved. I can’t say that my visit turned me into a history buff, but I wandered around in awe of the building and tried to imagine the friars who lived there walking through these same doorways and arches. You can actually climb the winding stone staircases up into the tower and around the vaulted cloister.
I then set off for Kenmare, where Wednesday is Market Day. I picked up a map of the Beara Peninsula at the tourist’s office and walked around the market stalls for a few minutes. Similar to our farmers’ markets, there was a mix of fruits, vegetables, baked goods, fish, meats, and antiques. I was tempted to buy a small metal “Eire” plaque from one of the antique dealers, but decided I would continue to search for just the right memento to bring home.
The road along the Beara Peninsula hugs the coastline for much of the route. The most memorable part of the drive was the coastal loop between Ardgroom and Eyeries. The road is barely wide enough for one car and has a grass strip down the middle in some parts. It winds up and down and around hairpin curves as it follows along and above the coastline of Kenmare Bay. I may have seen 2 or 3 other cars on the entire road. It was breathtaking, and I had to keep reminding myself I couldn’t keep stopping at every possible spot to take a picture. Near Eyeries, the ruins of Kilcatherine Church are right next to the road. The church dates from the 7th century and overlooks one of the inlets of Kenmare Bay. It was a perfect place to stop and stretch my legs.
From Eyeries, the road follows loosely along the coast until just after the town of Allihies, where a spur road leads to the cable car to Dursey Island. I didn’t take the cable car across, but did make the drive to watch the cable car make its journey across. I made my way back through Castletownbere (which is one of the largest fishing ports in the country)
and turned onto the Healy Pass road in Adrigole. The road traverses mostly rock strewn pastures filled with sheep who wander along and across the road. At Healy Pass, I stopped to take some pictures and struck up conversation with an Irish gentleman from Cork. His accent was so thick I had to ask him to repeat himself several times. He was exactly what you would picture from an older Irish gentleman. After coming over the pass, I drove back to Kenmare where I had dinner and an ice cream cone. The ice cream was heavenly! I’ve learned quickly that the Irish really know what they’re doing when it comes to dairy, and my honeycomb ice cream was no exception! Tomorrow my plan is to be up early to beat the masses (and tour buses) on the Ring of Kerry.