A mountain dweller in the valley of Kerry

Just back from a week of holiday in the beautiful Ireland, and thought that I would jot down my thoughts from my encounter with the backcountry. I have indeed been a few times in Dublin, but that was the first time I was really going into the deeper countryside, namely the Ring of Kerry. But I am very conscious that this part of Ireland is not Ireland as a whole, and that the following comments refered to as "Irish" facts may not be as representative as I may want to imply. So I hope that the Irish readers of these lines will excuse my cliches... (They are said to be feisty, so I have no intention to get into trouble!)

The drenched Emerald

One of the first things that struck me when I looked back at my 200+ pictures was the green-dominated hue of the portfolio. Nicknamed the Emerald Isle, Ireland has certainly not usurped its reputation. Green fields, green mountains, green signs... Pretty much everything blends in that tint. In fact probably the only thing that denote is the sky... Blue, sometimes, but most of the time loaded with threatening clouds. And like the Irish fighting reputation, these clouds do not pretend, they hold to their promise. When it starts raining, well, it certainly rains like crazy.

These pictures were taken on the same location, within two days. And to put things into perspective what you are seeing here is the Gap of Dunloe's wishing bridge. We are over 200m over sea level, very close to the top of the surrounding mountains and in the middle of July. So the flooding cannot be attributed to the convergence of numerous rivers, boosted by melting snows, as you may encounter in the Alps at Spring. No, here you have tiny improvised streams, pouring down rocks bathed by continuous rain showers, that simply flood the equally tiny gap.

I must say that the Brisith Isles have a reputation for being often drenched, but that was the very first time that I could really see that cliche materialised in front of my eyes.

The fast and furious leprechauns

The Ring of Kerry is renown for its scenery roads. Yet what people often forget to mention is that it really takes skills to get your car in one piece on the other side of the circumference. And to the seasoned drivers who may think that they would be safe, I can assure you that they would not have only to worry about surprising encounters such as leprechauns or wild ponies (these dangers are duly highlighted).

The primary danger consists in navigating through a network of single-laned "roads" which are used in both directions by cars, buses, trucks tractors and other engine-powered vehicles of your choice. The narrow width of the tarmac and the immediate proximity of gaping cliffs are a challenge in themselves, but in addition you have to drive one-handed as your other limb is in constant use for waving thanks at other sweating drivers who kindly gave way and now have to figure out how to get their fourth wheel back on the ground rather than spinning loose over a 50m-high void...

And this is not enough thrill for the locals... First they are so used to the narrow roads that they could drive through whilst dancing the hooley and maintaining a steady 100km/h which is the authorised speed limit (and a pure joke for any sane driver). Second they are locals and as the traffic regulation code clearly states it THEY have the priority - no matter left, right, downhill, uphill or the size of the engine... "Out of MY way" should be printed on road signs in lieu of Yield. Finally, Vin Diesel must have his greatest fan clubs in that province. The roads bear the indelebile marks of Fast and Furious afficionados who tour the roads at dusk, leaving behind melted rubber trails that zig-zag between markings and then draw perfect circles at t-junctions. And I am not talking about isolated cases. Seriously we have seen so many spurs of these joyrides that Michelin is probably a profitable global corporation thanks only to the Irish market.

51st state?

Whilst we are talking about globalisation, I would like to dwell a bit on Americans. If after the great famine, over 2 millions Irish inhabitants had emigrated to the US (about a quarter of the total 1850's population), it seems that their great, great grand children have finally seen the light. I am refering to the lantern at the Áras an Uachtaráin, the official residence of the Irish president where it is left on all year long to guide the Irish back home...
We happened to be in Ireland on July 4th, and stars and stripes were floating in the sky everywhere. I must say that it puzzled me, a bit like when German tourists flame bratwurst in Ibiza considering they are home due to the excessive presence of their fellow-citizens. I appreciate the historical connection between the two nations, but what I was witnessing was more a take-over rather than pilgrimage. I am certainly not hostile to cross-fertilisations, when it is for the greater good. And I must say that a Floridian pink house with its alignment of pseudo Roman columns has nothing to do in such a part of the world (and don't try to pretend it is a legitimate local architectural execution, you could smell the cinamon chewing gums from the road). It is clearly a cultural faux-pas and there were a bit too many to my taste. If your intentions is to return to fatherland, then at least respect the local habits and traditions... You came up with the concept of the melting pot after all.

Space-efficiency, Sport-efficiency.

But let's not get too hung up on this colonial polemic... There is so much to say about the true Irish that it is not worth for me to digress. The Irish are said feisty, maybe, but they are more certainly friendly and welcoming that I can testify. At some point I thought they were also really pragmatic...

That was when I walked past a stadium and peeped over the edge to discover what was a brilliant utilisation of a limited space. In a country that has been badly hit by the recession sport remains most certainly the opium of the people, yet it is certainly costly to build stadiums that can host either football or rugby. There on each side of the pitch were proudly standing posts which, I was convinced, were the solution to the inflation. The woodwork was looking as if football goals had copulated with their rugby cousins to give birth to an hybrid: the offspring looked either like a rugby H with a netted skirt or a football goal with two long antenas (depending on which sport dominates your referential scheme).

Anyway what I thought to be a modular response to the football and rugby cohabitation was in fact a locally brewed sport, Gaelic football, which in essence is indeed the mongrel of rugby and football. A pragmatic mutt though, as manages to finally unite the fans of both sports, and shares his pitch with another inbred sport, hurling (a combination of lacrosse, hockey, handball, rugby and football.... Yep, just that). Ireland may just well be the Ikea of sport!

More seriously, I love Ireland and this little taste gave me tons of reasons to go back. I loved the people (in particular my Irish friends and colleagues who are about to read these lines and wait for me in a dark side of a parking lot), their accent, their welcoming kindness, their sense of humour. I enjoyed the scenery and no matter people think the weather. This stay has made me stronger (in the left arm, the one holding the stirring wheel) and more avid to discover new regions of what is certainly a European gem... Hey, that may well be why they call it the Emerald Isle after all. Here some more pictures about that lovely country. And please note that I did my best to limit the amount of greenery in this selection:

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