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    Jon's Ireland Vacation Travelogue - May 1998

    Day 9

    We started the day with the gruel and bananas that my parents love so much and then headed out for the Beare peninsula. This area is the tradition home of the O’Sullivan Beare clan. In fact for the whole day we saw businesses with the O’Sullivan name. There were so many of them that they had to not only use the owners first initial but the middle initial as well. In every town a third of the businesses were owned by an O’Sullivan.

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      This pub in Killgarven used the original Gailic spelling for O'Sullivan.

    Driving along the peninsula, I would have to say that this is some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. The ocean here is crystal clear, the gentle slopes are covered with stone walls and sheep, and the mountains are formed from huge chucks of stratified rock visible for miles. Truly inspiring.

    North coast of the peninsulaLooking the other wayLooking east from Dunboy Castle

    We turned off on the road to Healy Pass. The whole road up to the top of the pass had a fantastic view. A small emerald blue lake, a green valley criss-crossed with stone walls, little herds of sheep. At the top of the pass we found a tiny unpowered shed that housed a tourist shop where we found some cool T-shirts.

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      From Healy pass looking north.

    We drove down from the pass and turned onto a tiny road that led to the ruins of Kilcaskin church and Oghum stone (unknown date). On most of the sites we tried to find today, we ended up on roads that looked more like someone’s driveway than a road. This road was no exception. In most places it was to narrow for two cars to pass at once, even the tiny cars we saw everywhere.

    South towards Dunboy castleLooking down the coast

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      Looking west on the south side of the penisula.

    The church was completely overgrown with vines and brush, so we couldn’t make out many of the details. The Oghum stone, which had some Celtic writing, was quite worn but still recognizable.

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      Oghum stone at Kilcaskin Church.

    We drove pasted the ruins of Massmount church, which seemed to have been rebuilt recently.

    Further down the same road we parked the car and hiked up to the Ballynahown wedge grave (unknown date). This site wasn’t particularly spectacular. I suppose the top stone weighed about a thousands pounds or so however. The view from the tomb was spectacular.

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      Ballynahown wedge grave.

    I decided to climb up to the top of the ridge here to see the view from the other side. Again I was surprised to find the whole hillside quite marshy. About 300 yards from where the road ended I found cut marks where someone had cut peat from the hillside. This seemed strange since there were no houses for miles.

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      From the top of the ridge.

    Further down the road we came to the Leitrim Beg standing stone. This stone was very large and didn’t show as much wear as some of the others we saw. I started to wonder when it had really been put up. There wasn’t any bog and brush near by and I couldn’t think of any reason why anyone would put it up in recent times. Makes you wonder though. The more visited sites have had archeologists study them extensively but we didn’t have any idea about the origin of these scattered stones. They could have been put up any time in the last 3000 years.

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      Leitrim Beg standing stone. This stone was lime stone instead of granite like the others.

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      This shot gives you the size of the stone. About 10 tall (above the ground), three feet wide, and a foot thick.

    The next site we visited was the Derrintaggart stone circle. This circle was very impressive with large, tall stones.

    Derrintaggart looking southOne of my favorite photos on the tripLooking north

    Just a little farther down the road we came to the remains of the Teernahillane raised ring fort. This was probably built over a thousand years ago so it was a little hard to figure out what it might have looked like when it was being used. All that really remained was a very large raised area about 6 feet high. I suppose with a ditch around it and wooden palisade it would be quite defendable, but it seemed a bit small for more than one family.

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      Teernahillane raised ring fort.

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      Near the ring fort they were cutting peat. You can see the trench they've cut on the left and the peat stacked to dry on the right.

    The last site we visited was Dunboy Castle. This was traditionally owned by the O’Sullivan Beare clan. It’s been destroyed three times over the last 700 years and only the foundation and a few walls still stood.

    Looking southest into the interiorLooking northwestOne of the few pictures I have of myself in Ireland.

    I took about a roll and a half of film for my web page, and hopefully I’ll have a large section on the castle up soon.

    Day 10

    We started the day with some shopping at Bantry. We went into a bookstore to find some maps of the areas and it turned out the owner was the author of the book we’d been using to find most of the sites we where looking for. He was able to give us a few more tips on other sites as well. Small freakin’ county.

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    After shopping we had lunch at O’Conner’s. Their specialty was mussels and we had lots of those. Mussel chowder, mussels in wine and garlic, stuffed mussels. Delicious.

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    After that we drove up to Gougane Barra Park. The lake there has an island with an old church on it. Several swans were swimming in the lake as well. Very picturesque, but the weather was bad so we didn’t stay long.

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      Gougane Barra Park

    We tried to find a few more Neolithic sites but it was a wash for the most part. We found one but it had no trespassing signs on the fence, so we could only look from a distance.

    On the drive back home we decided to try to find one of the sites we’d heard about in the bookstore. We had only general directions but we thought that it might be a short hike from the pass we’d went over that morning. When we got over to the lake the view alone was worth the hike. We did find some ruins of something as well as a possible rock cairn and possible wedge tomb.

    Looking south towards the highwayLooking westLooking down into the valley

    Day 11

    Our drive on this day took us though the Kilkenny National Park, which had some very wonderful oak woods, lakes, and valleys. All green and mossy.

    We did some more shopping at Kilkenny. I had to buy another piece of luggage for the trip home so I’d be able to get all the stuff I was buying back.

    While in one of the grocery stores I found some black pudding. Reading the ingredients I noticed that the first thing listed was fresh pigs blood (AAHHH!!!). Wait, it gets better. One of the other brands had dried pig’s blood as the main ingredient. This might sound better until you stop to realize that somewhere in this country there’s a factory that’s dedicated to producing dehydrated blood (AAAHHH!!!). Maybe that’s why Ireland doesn’t have lots of vampire legends. No one here thinks there’s anything wrong with consuming fresh blood (AAAHHH!!!).

    Ross Castle was our next stop. This classic style castle was built in the 1500s and had been standing since then. It has been restored so the visitors can see how the residents would have lived when the castle was built. It was quite fascinating. I got the idea that it would be incredibly awful. Cold, smelly, drafty, dark.

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      Ross Castle

    Further down the road we visited Muckross House which was built in the 1800s. The gardens around this mansion were very well designed. Lots of great sight lines and groves. They let visitors go on self-guided tours through the house, which is cool. All of the furnishings are original and it was nice to be able to wander around the rooms the way the residents would have.

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      This was the lake that you looked out over from the main room in Muckross house.

    After dinner that night we walked down to a pub that we’d heard would have some live traditional music. The bar was only about 20 feet by 15 feet, but by the time the music started there were about 30 people listening to the ten musicians who had filtered in over an hour or so. Mostly accordions, with a fiddle, guitar, a bodram, and some Gaelic bagpipes. It was a truly fantastic night of music.

    I got the impression that most of the musicians were just local people who liked to get together every week and play.

    Day 12

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      Gurteen Stone Circle

    Our landlord said that he knew of a stone circle that wasn’t on any of the guide maps and he offered to show us where it was. So we started the day be driving up a steep tiny road to the Gurteen stone circle and standing stone. The circle was really in nice shape with a characteristic entrance and recumbent stone.

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      Gurteen Stone Circle

    Of course the view was incredible. All of the circles we’d been to had a really great view of the countryside. Usually they weren’t on hilltops like I’d assumed they’d be. Most were on a flat area on the side of a hill.

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      A standing stone near the Gurteen stone circle. We were with the local sheriff, so we decided not to tresspass to get over to it.

    On our way over the pass into the Coomhola valley we saw a suspicious stone on the side of mountain and decided to check it out. We’d driven by that point twice before and not seen it. It also wasn’t on an of the site guides we had.

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    There was a light rain falling as I took this picture, and I could see a rainbow down in the valley, but you can't see it in this photo. It's pretty beautiful anyway.

    When we got up to it we found that it was a really nice standing stone with a few possible structures around it. We saw similar structures at the Drombeg circle that had been excavated to reveal stone huts and a cooking area.

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      Looking down the valley from the standing stone.

    We finally got lost trying to make it to some of the other stuff we’d planned for that day. The roads out here are frustratingly difficult to drive. The road signs are clamped to posts in such a way that they can swing around if they get loose. Of course that’s if you can read them at all. All of the posts have town signs mixed in with signs for B & Bs and restaurants, so you’d need to stop at every intersection to make sense of them. Of course the signs are done in tiny type in low contrast brown and white on rusty metal. Oh, they’re also half Gaelic, half English.

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      Okay, notice the following about this typical roadsign:
  • Half the signs have kilometers, the others (unmarked) are in miles.
  • Uh, why two roads to Macroom? One of the raods is probably dangerous.
  • The quaint rust and dirt.
  • One of the signs seems to be missing.
  • This sign is at a road entering the main highway, but the signs point five directions.
  • Gailic translations. Not helpful.
  • The good thing about getting lost was that we got to some other things we would have missed otherwise. One of the nice things was lunch at Mary Ann’s in Castletownshend. Again we were informed that they were only serving bar food. In this case bar food included baked cod with herb crust, lobster Thumador, and a great looking fish platter with some huge shrimp cooked whole. We also had a really good seafood chowder.

    As good as the food was, this place looked completely nondescript and was in the middle of a town that really looked deserted. We were the only people in the restaurant and we only saw half a dozen people on the drive through town. It was almost like they were waiting just for us.

    After eating we decided to walk down by the docks and checkout the bay. We came upon a fisherman who was unloading some crab traps. We mentioned that great seafood we’d had and found out that he was the one that had caught it. Small world.

    Okay, here's the really weird part. While I've been putting this all together I had it up on the net and someone from Castletownshend found it. They e-mailed me and told me how they where buying the house right behind Mary Ann's. He knew the fisherman and invited me to stop by next time I was in Ireland. Cool or what?

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      I don't know where this picture was taken, but it was somewhere around Castletownshend.

    We continued down the road to the Drombeg stone circle, which has been excavated and studied more than most of the other sites we’d been to. They had found buried remains in the center of the circle which they’d dated to 150 AD. This was one of the larger circles we’d seen.

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      Drombeg Stone circle.

    Nearby were the remains of some stone huts and a cooking area where the ancients apparently boiled food in a large trough. This seems odd but it said they had tested the system using stones heated in a fire and were able to bring 70 gallons of water to a boil in 18 minutes and the water stayed hot enough to cook with for over an hour.

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      You can see the spring to the left and the cooking pool to the right. I find it hard to believe that the water table would have stayed the same for 2000 years, but who knows.

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