I called again upon my Kiwi friend Stephen, who proved to be indispensable during my trip to Delphi last month. Asking him again to forfeit yet another weekend from the big smoke of Dublin and act as driver through the dicey West of Ireland roads, he was more than obliging. No doubt the sheep and cyclists on the Ring of Kerry breathed a sigh of relief upon his undertaking the task.
From Dublin we reached Renard Point in Kerry in just over five and a half hours. As Stephen legs were numb from the first leg of the drive, I took over the piloting and bought a return ticket from Renard Point to Valentia Island on the car ferry. I had business there with my Uncle Robert who was holidaying with my Aunt Joyce. I hadn’t been down to Valentia since my sister Sabrina had competed in the Valentia Triathlon a few years ago. I was again struck by the wildness and beauty of the island. It is such a nice way to arrive on Valentia. To watch the small harbour grow in size ahead while seals pop their wet heads out of the calm sea to eyeball you.
Stephen and I were given a wonderful welcome by Robert and Joyce, who are without question, the best hosts I have ever have the pleasure of being guest to. Robert had picked up a Laser boat from the local shipyard and had been out all morning in the bay. No doubt Ireland’s Annalise Murphy, the Irish Olympian who was burning up the waves that weekend, had helped the sales of many Laser boats in Valentia. Joyce had laid out a beautiful spread off Atlantic Bay crab claws, salad, brown bread and potatoes which Robert had grown out in the garden.
Valentia life is certainly a different speed and quality of life. The land is very easy to grow all manner of produce in and the plentiful supply of nutrient rich seaweed helps the vegetable to flourish. Robert brought us out to the sun room where he had washed some seaweed and was drying it out. Joyce explained it is used for all manner of local remedies, from face creams and beauty treatments to tea and Japanese Sashimi. Robert asked us what route we had planned to get to our lodgings that night in Quilty, Co. Clare. Stephen, ever the Man Friday, had the foresight to book us into a cottage just off the strand in Quilty. Robert took out a map and calculated the mileage between us and Quilty. He informed Stephen we could shave at least an hour and a half off the journey if we took the Tarbert to Killimer Ferry. The last one would leave at 9.30 that night. It was already 7.30 and there was no time to spare, I finished the last mouthful of my carrot cake and kissed Robert and Joyce goodbye. Stephen, being the trooper that he is, took the reigns for the next leg of our trip. We boarded the Valentia ferry and waved goodbye to the tourists and seals. After alighting the Ferry at Renard Point, Stephen put the foot down and we reached the Tarbert harbour at exactly 9.30 that night. We expected to see the Ferry just pulling out of the harbour as we rounded the final bend but as luck would have it, the Ferry was running three minutes. Night had fallen by the time we reached Killimer on the far side and we stopped in Kilrush to pick up some supplies for the evening. In the off licence, a friendly attendant suggested we take in the Star of the Sea church in Quilty. He briefly explained the history of the church which led to my interest in penning the article.
Over the next few days we travelled all around Clare. We drove to Lahinch where Stephen launched himself into the waves of the Atlantic while I watched at a safe distance from the bar. We hiked around the Burren National Park where I got us lost on the Mullaghmore walk (blue line trail) and almost navigated us over the edge of a cliff. Stephens skills as a “man of the earth” were in full throttle and he backtracked our steps, saving us from becoming another statistic on a mountain rescue report. We stopped in the wonderful village of Kilfenora to visit the Burren Centre and St. Fachtnan’s Church. Vaughan being the prominent name in the graveyard, I felt it only fitting to stop by in the local pub Vaughan’s to take in the Katie Taylor Lightweight Woman’s Semi Final in the Olympics. Well done Katie. “He gains what he seeks and he strikes what he aims for.” Never has the Taylor family motto been more relevant.
The Scarriff Harbour Festival is always worthy of a visit every year. Every August bank holiday weekend finds the harbour transformed and filled to the brim. It’s full of music of all genres, dancing, recitals and events for the kids. This years celebration on the Lough Derg shore showcasing everything that’s great about Clare was as lively as previous years. My own personal favorite from the festival was the junior Irish dancing which brought real energy to the stage. This month my Golden Harp Award for community spirit from Irishgathering2013 goes to the good people of Scarriff for their enthusiastic contribution to the Irish cultural calendar. It was thoroughly enjoyable and I left with a hamper full of delicious homemade country products.
Finally we stopped in Galway city before getting on the motorway back to Dublin. Galway has always set a high bar for other towns to follow from an arts point of view and I enjoyed a few hours of strolling around, snapping up the atmosphere with my camera. The street artist are professional musicians. Eyre Square was flying the flags of the 14 tribes of Galway and I sipped a cappuchino proudly under the Joyce flag whilst photographing the square. I promised John O’Malley who I talked to in the Square that I would mention the pupils of St Francis school of Ballinfoyle Parish who knit a patchwork sail to cover the famous Galway Hooker statue, which was erected in Eyre Square in 1984. For the benefit of our American readers, a Galway Hooker is a fast sailing ship which is famous in the West coast for its rust red coloured sails. The name Hooker is said to come from the Dutch word howker/holker, a small easily manoeuvred ship. So Roxanne, you don’t have to put on the red light.
Until next month, keep well and keep checking in with us at Irishgathering2013.com
*Photograph by Graham Duke