In Oz I drive an automatic vehicle. It has a steering wheel with on the right, the lever to indicate whether you wish to turn left or right. On the left of the steering wheel is another lever that operates the windscreen washers. A sensible setup that is engraved in my cranium. Here, in County Ireland, us colonials hire geared cars as they, for a reason I cannot fathom, but then I’m unfathomable myself, cost some 20 to 50% less per day to hire than an automatic. Never mind, our Irish hired U Bewt Nissan Quasimondo does have a steering wheel but with the indicator lever on the left and the windscreen wiper lever on the right. PLUS, theres six forward gears – six. Unless one is travelling on the ‘M’ highways or several of the ‘N’ roads, its virtually impossible to get into fifth gear let alone sixth as you are continually changing gears from third to fourth to second back to third, all due to the short distance between sharp bends, traffic calming devices, bumps, dips and Kathleen walking her Irish Setter. Its all ‘oops’ another sharp corner back to second into third and wow fourth and momentarily fifth before another isosceles triangle corner is upon you which Patrick, ciggy alight, is hurtling around in his monster John Deere Tractor with an eight metre trailer carting silage. I indicate to him that I am staying left with my windscreen wipers waving and he waves back excitedly with two fingers erect and a hurried draw on his ciggy. I then realise my mistake and compound it by putting the indicators on and inadvertently slip into fifth gear instead of third which slows us right down but the good side to all this with numerous gear changes and flicking of the wrong levers, is that I am developing shoulders like Amanda Vanstone.
At our Clonakilty O/niter, Tudor Lodge, Teresa and Michael start brekky at 0830, late for us as we want to be ‘on da road’. We sit down at 0825 and wait. Teresa comes in, a pleasant largish lady in her late 60’s, I’m a skinnyish man in his mid 70’s, she is possibly thinking, in Gaelic speak, deese ferkin Aussies comin dun ere early lyke but I circumnavigate that by saying in Oz speak good morning Alison. Bad start Des, wrong name. My lovely Sue quickly smooths the waters and we have our brekky of eggs, poached, toast, soda bread and an unusual potato cake in waffle form. Oh, and a fried tomato. Too many more Irish egg combination breakfast’s and I’ll be getting clucky.
Off heading for who knows where but generally up the west coast hopefully avoiding the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Skellig which we ‘did’ on a previous adventure, and at the moment, its bumper to bumper with coaches, campers, cars and ankle biters their mouths stuffed with fairy floss. One must travel around the Ring of Kerry anti clockwise unless you want to end up crushed under a coach full of yabbering Yanks. The small village of Waterville just over half way around the ‘ring’, has a statue of Charlie Chaplin. Charlie visited Waterville for holidays as he liked the fishing, and the relative anonymity the place gave him. The town now gets silly once a year and everybody dresses up like Charlie and staggers about, legs bent like Charlie fuelled later in the day by Guinness. Staigue Stone Fort is a little further along accessed by a single lane track bordered by high hedges and the occasional cow who has a permanent job trimming the hedges. Its a must visit site.
My bride Susan has her talking & listening appliance on to Google Maps smooth talking unflappable Ms Daisy Trump who is instructed to guide us via the shortest, quickest way possible towards Charleville, where we have a tentative plan to stay o/nite. Ms Daisy, like her brother Donald, has a mind of her own and seems to delight in causing tension, bickering, sneering, scrapping of pre-nuptial agreements and the need for frequent toilet stops to let off steam from various body holes. Ms Daisy leads you at times, in circles, down farmer Patrick’s private laneway and causes the windscreen wipers to come on. We stop at Skibbereen population 2,568 the name meaning ‘Little Boat Harbour’ and what we see of the harbour, there’s very little water in it as the tide is out and boats are lying over having a snooze. Situated on the River Ilen its about 12k’s from town to the sea. This was one of the towns that was devastated by the Great Famine of the 1840’s. A nearby burial pit contains between 8 to 10,000 bodies of those who died of hunger and its companion, diseases. The famine was one of the catalysts that motivated my great great great grandad Thomas O’Brien to set sail with his family for Melbourne. Otherwise I would be here in an Irish pub drinking Guinness, driving a John Deere Tractor, smoking, having tatties with eggs and black pudding for brekky and die of a complicated disease when I was sixty.
A pleasant mornings drive, a tad of drizzle, cloudy, the road weaving about with glimpses of ocean water in bays, rocky headlands, lots of traffic as we enter the small town of Ballydehob which we rate 7/10. With a population of 270 it punches above its weight as it looks well cared for, has brightly painted buildings and its a tad hilly which is good for the constitution. When on foot. You are not supposed to know, but Jeremy Irons the actor owns a castle nearby. Shh. AND, back in the bronze age, copper was mined at the nearby Mt Gabriel. Yay for those bronzed age folk doing it tough without electronics and those infernal iPhone devices.
After dallying a bit in Ballydehob, we motor on into Bantry pop. of 2,722 which lies at the head of Bantry Bay. Back in 1796, a True Blue Irish patriot Theobald Tone who led the Republican United Irishmen, convinced the French that it was an excellent idea to clear Ireland of Poms. The French possibly had another agenda but whatever, they gathered a fleet of Froggy ships to carry 15,000 soldiers and set off in bad weather finally entering Bantry Bay where the foul weather continued. The whole episode was a disaster mainly due to the weather with ships wrecked, going off course, problems in landing soldiers blah blah. However, ol’ Theobald is now one of those Irish Heroes who the Irish cherish and honour with statues, street, park names and every man with the surname Tone, gets a free Guinness at Christmas. The road now squiggles about rather a lot requiring maximum concentration from the driver, me, as my navigator Ms Daisy, has to be often overruled by my current wife Susan, and our vehicles windscreen wipers. The Caha Mountains are off to our left shrouded in mist as we motor thru short abrupt tunnels, lush greenery, hedged and rock walled roadsides hoping at the time that we are still on road N71 and not going clockwise around the Ring of Kerry.
Kenmare village, population 2,175, is passed us travelling thru its marvellous crowded streets lined with all the small pubs, cafes and shops that one could desire all in well cared for colourful moods. But its bloody well crowded, so come when its not school holidays and when all of Irelands coaches have broken down. We rate this town 8/10. From Kenmare we have entered the last stretch of Kerrys Ring with all its gorgeous views for Susan, of lakes, mountains, stone bridges, trees, ferns, shrubberies, historic holdings, chapels and castles whilst I concentrate on the bumper of the vehicle in front and trying to remember that the windscreen wipers do not activate the indicator turning lights. Pass slowly by Muckross which translates as ‘Pigs Wood’ but do not tell the very rich that come to stay in Muckross’s fancy hotels. Just before the big smoke of Killarney, we turn right onto the N72 hopefully to avoid the ‘maddening crowd. We dont. Its near lunch time and I need a pissoir and foolishly by-pass Kates Diner at Barraduff which rates five stars on Mooshbook. Kates Diner that is, not Barraduff. We enter the scruffy small village of Rathmore which looks like one of Putins stray cluster bombs accidentally exploded nearby. The main road passes thru the village the traffic having seemed to have run everybody over. I make another foolish decision and we enter ‘Oeinehys Corner Pub’ where Mama Cass is juggling the tax books at the tiny bar whilst in a small adjoining room, three stupified men with large glasses of alcohol, all dressed in Genghis Khan outfits, watch the Oz program ‘Neighbours’. I order a Jamesons, the bride a soda water and after a quick look around, realise theres nort to eat apart from food which tends to narrow one’s arteries. I can tell the bride wants to know why we did not stop at Kates Diner. We finish up sitting in the car outside eating red salmon and avocado on Ryvita Dark Rye seeded biccies and I decide to have a bit of a sook as my decision making process has faulty wiring and seeds get under my bottom plate. The view of Paddypower Betting Shop in front of us is not inspiring and I intend to phone Putin so see if he could ad that and Mama Cass’s pub next door onto his next mis-directed Cluster Bomb. Rathmore does not deserve a rating but what the heck, those Genghis Khan characters are not going to chase me so, here you are Rathmore, 3/10.
We trundle on passing thru, around and about many small villages some delightful and some so so and enter the larger village of Mallow with a pop. of 12,459 including young Ben in the supermarket who aspires to become manager. One day aye! It, Mallow, the name meaning ‘plain of stone’ or ‘plain of swans’ depending on which University Anthropology Professor is in vogue, has 76% white Irish, 4% black, 2% asian and 3% who did not know what they were. The rest were in the pub or attending Irish Jig, Reel and Hornpipe dancing lessons and missed the census. Do not try all those dances at once. Especially balancing a schooner of Guinness in the left hand.
Ms Daisy Trump insists we turn left onto the N20 heading north and we are in agreement such that late afternoon we pull into the semi swish looking Charleville Hotel come all things Leisure Centre and Conference Centre. This place is monsterous. And it is swishish but once again, we find that booking a room on booking.com means the hotel shoves one in a room three miles from reception down several alleys, passages, tunnels and past the maids room where all the rubbish, towels and sheets are stored. Grr grr. We pay them back by drinking my Glenmorangie and her Red wine in our room as we do eating dins and brekky as its just too far to walk to any of the hotels facilities. I manage to have a luxury bath with heaps of bubbles gained from those small containers marked ‘bath gel’, ‘shampoo’ and ‘conditioner’. In fact I squeeze all of them into the steaming water whilst sipping my Glenmorangie and avoiding the bubbles wanting to float into my mouth.
Off earlyish hoping to get to the pretty village of Adare before the tourists and rich yanks awaken and are in their coaches as Adare is occasionally voted, depending on which bureaucrat gets wined and dined by the town Burghers, as Irelands most picturesque town. We arrive and find the hordes and their coaches already here but we find a possy in the ‘Village Bistro’ sipping tea, the place busy when three tall farmer types come in and order strong coffee and cood ye be puttin a dash a whiskey in dat dere plise Dermot. Dermot did and its only 0945. I like this quirkiness in Ireland but try it in Oz. The media would have a field day, Pauline Hanson would denounce it, Sarah Hanson Hyphen Young would ask why its not single origin, free trade eco whiskey and Clive Palmer would reckon its a good idea. With a population of 2,650, most of them involved in the tourist industry, you would have to love people to live here. And coaches. Fortunately Adare adjoins the M20 Motorway where one can get into sixth gear. We got into first gear and headed off up the M20 onto the M7 branching onto the R494 and Ballina where my ancestral line originated together with its twin town of Killaloe. We stop and hurry into the Templekelly Church and Graveyard where I know many O’Brien’s lie having a rest. The name Templekelly means ‘the church of the marsh’ as it once upon a time, shook hands with the mighty Shannon River which is just down there flowing strongly. The site has been recorded for over a thousand years and there are many O’Brien graves some with headstones and some with recumbent engraved slabs. Many of the gravestones and recumbent slabs have unusual engravings like a Skull and Crossbones, a Rooster Crowing, the Sun, Moon, Angels Trumpeting and my favourite shown below.
This is predominately a Catholic cemetery but there are Prottos also having a final lay down. A tradition that exists to this day, is for the funeral coffin to be sat down all quiet for a few minutes, purportedly to throw foxes off the scent, then the coffin is buried. Alas, the thatched church roof was blown off several hundred years ago leading the walls to crumble as Paddy and his mates, obviously all Prottos, stole the roof timbers for their barns. My first Ozzie ancestor Thomas O’Brien married the lovely Charlotte Lockyer just up the road from here in the Banagher Catholic Church. I photographed ALL the O’Brien graves for handing on to my cousins so they can decipher who is who and what. We slowly motor on having been here investigating family links on a previous trip. I remember walking the streets my gggGrandparents would have walked and visited buildings they may have been in including the Anchor Inn adjacent the early 18th century one lane stone bridge crossing the River Shannon. Theres an ornamental memorial in the centre of bridge commemorating the IRA members who were shot on the bridge in 1920 by dastardly Poms.
Making good time from Killaloe on a lovely drive, all green with tree branches arching over the road in places forming a tunnel come cathedral on the R463 which morphs into the R352 and thru the pretty town of Mount Shannon which has nearby in Lough Derg, ‘Holy Island’ which is one of the most famous monastic sites in Ireland. Lough Derg is part of River Shannon. It suffered repeated attacks by Vikings who rowed up the River Shannon, pillaging, raping, making terrible decision and acting like Donald Trump. The monks had it tough but kept on building and restoring their structures. Brian Boru my great ancestor, he! he!, rebuilt structures in the 10th century after he had given those nasty Vikings a dash of Irish steel. There are Ballaun Stones on the island which are large slabs with a dished hole in the centre and grave slabs including one engraved The Grave of the Ten Men possibly referring to unknown warriors who died defending the island.
Onto the R351 where we find J. Walsh’s Bar and Restaurant at Woodford and, ah Aileen, a cup of white tea for she and a Jamesons with a wee jug o’ water for Moi please which duly comes as Mister Grumpy sits alongside with a schooner of yellow liquid I think is urine and Sue thinks is cordial. He orders a Bacon and Cabbage Pot Roast Dins which according to the Knowledgeable One alongside me, contains a large piece of a pigs leg. And we wait and wait to see just what it is. But they must have been chasing the pig for it failed to arrive in the 25 minutes we waited. Nice bar and very popular at noon on any given day. The town rates 6/10 only because of the bar and a chance to see a pigs leg in a cabbage pie. On and on we go enjoying a more relaxing drive as Ms Daisy Trump has been spoken to by Ivana and guides us without rancour thru Loughrea and onto the M6 motorway then a right hander utilising the windscreen wipers to indicate direction and onto the M something as my 2013 Ireland book shows it as an under construction motorway. Thence a left hander just before Tuam onto the R333 and into the not unpleasant nor pleasant village of Headford where we have an over nighter at the Anglers Rest Hotel. Ooroo from Des.