Ireland’s ‘Wild Atlantic Coast.’ Another Piece Of Remarkable.
I’m in the town of Bantry, a pretty place wrapped in mountains on three sides and then tucked neatly in between the Sheep’s Head and the Berea Peninsula. It's blessed with expansive water views and sloping, lush green landscapes that meander gently down to the bay.
However, whatever charm the town once had was comprehensively stuffed when, maybe a decade ago, a ‘planning committee’ for some inexplicable reason allowed the construction of the, ‘fanciest ‘hotel in town. The end result was a square, brutalist structure, probably bought in kit - form from an obscure factory in China which now dominates the picturesque harbour. A pity really as it is the main venue for the wonderful West Cork Literary Festival.
I was here to attend Graham Norton’s book launch. He was grand!!
I have parked myself in Kenmare for a week, an altogether delightful tourist town with a few excellent (if slightly expensive) restaurants, all manner of gift shops, warm and welcoming pubs and delightful places to rest. What more could one ask for?
Kenmare itself is at the head of the bay, just across from Beara “on the other side” and the Ring of Kerry peninsula. This patriotic information was passed onto me by three middle-aged cyclists clad in rather bright lycra cycling gear. They, to their credit, had peddled up the long and winding switchback roads of the Caha mountain pass, part of the Slieve Miskish, the humpy backbone of the Beara. They were understandably delighted that the worst stage of their journey was over and that it was all downhill to Kenmare and the prospect of a Crème Brule at the fancy newly opened French Charcuterie, no doubt to replace those calories lost in the crippling ascent
The staggeringly beautiful Beara peninsula is a tapering, 30 - mile-long finger of land that pokes like a giant’s forefinger, straight out into the Atlantic Ocean. It's somehow more rugged, ancient and untamed and naturally, I was told by locals "search all you like, there’s nowhere else like it on the ‘Wild Atlantic Way.’
I chose to head to the town of Eerie, only because I had seen postcards for sale of this intriguing little town at the airport in Cork. It's the quitisensually perfect ‘coffee table book’ image, with its absolute picture-perfect location clinging to the side of the rugged terrain that tumbles down to the natural harbour below.
All the shops and houses along the long, narrow streets have been repainted in vivid shades of reds, greens, yellows and blues which perhaps is the new vernacular where once everything was grey and perhaps considered a tad dull!. I did find that it verged on the vivid side of garish and so after a quick explore I was on my way.
The Irish economy, now so driven by tourism might mean that every little town and village ends up like this, brandishing brushes fearlessly painting the town red so to speak in order to hop aboard the Celtic Tourism Express. Perhaps they're anxious to show their real Irish idiosyncrasies not realising that a successful tourist industry can quickly turn a place into a bit of a parody of its very self?
But, now for the fun bit!!
I'm off to Killarney and a day at the races!
Its been a few years since I last visited Killarney when the town and indeed, the entire country was at that time looking on in horror as the Celtic Tiger economy was being mercilessly throttled to death. Eight years on the Irish are back with a vengeance if Killarney is a barometer for the rest of the country.
There's certainly no sign of any woes here as I drive through throngs of bewildered tourists, looking for all the world as if they are in a collective daze dragging their luggage down the main street in search of their elusive B&B of which there are hundreds.
Outside some of the bigger hotels a line of trap and pony drivers are vigorously touting for business while their assistants push and shove extremely overweight Americans in garish attire aboard for their twenty Euro ride through the traffic-clogged streets.
There are countless shops
selling all manner of everything Irish; Leprechaun statuettes are ten deep on the shelves along with shamrock rosary beads and signs of Irish sayings no doubt to hang above someone's mantlepiece in Tucson Arizona. This retail fiesta is accompanied by jolly fiddle music piped onto the street from tinny speakers above the shop doors.
The Killarney racetrack, however, is one of the most beautiful venues anywhere with the lake and mountains lining both sides of it. The only hint that there is a thriving town anywhere nearby is the steeple of the church that pokes above the trees.
Today is rather a special race day as one as the world’s leading jockeys, Frankie Dettori has flown in to ride and the crowds have turned out in force to watch him. I make my way to the astonishingly long parade of bookies that line the main straight all shouting out the latest odds and waving white-gloved hand signals to who knows whom. They are characters straight out of a Martin Scorsese film as they face each other like infantry, scouring each other and the tote boards through high precision binoculars.
My solid and well thought out investment of 20 Euros on the horse that Danny is riding will surely ensure that my day out and, if the gods smile benevolently, the next few are more than covered. Heading to the mounting yard to examine my horse I pass a couple of priests in dog collars placing a bet, a transvestite wobbling on 10-inch heels, a two-piece band playing old Sinatra favourites and a woman in a Versace outfit spilling the entire contents of her medieval sized goblet of red wine over herself.
“And they’re off.! ”
Frankie’s out of the barriers looking like he was a half-hour late for mamas weekly pasta night; he moves effortlessly to the front of the field his bright blue colours flashing in the soft afternoon light. For the next ten furlongs Frankie is like a general at the head of a marauding cavalry leading at full gallop past some of the lushest scenery on the planet.
As they turn for home I'm calculating how to collect the sizable pile of Euros in just a few minutes time.
“ Go, Frankie, you fecking champion,” the crowd roars.
With just two furlongs to go, Frankie’s steed is done, out of puff, knackered and by that stage couldn’t give a toss who was on his back whacking his bum.
“Oh, feck!” Dead Last!
No matter, the disappointment of not looting the bookies was overcome by the rest of the day watching and being looked after by some of the most wonderful people on the planet.
It’s good if you can do Ireland in 'chunks,' like any country but especially this one. It's a lot to take in!
Its impossibly beautiful, its citizens are warm, charming, hospitable and, yes, Irish!
You don’t get much better than that.
Photography copyright Paul v Walters.
Paul v Walters is the best selling author of several novels and when not cocooned in sloth and procrastination in his house in Bali, he scribbles for several international travel and vox pop journals.