The ferry from Killimer to Tarbert took about twenty minutes and for €18 transported us four kilometres across the Shannon estuary and saved us nearly one hundred and fifty miles and two or three hours of driving.
Back on dry land we found the coast road and headed west and came first to the village of Ballylongford which is famous for a castle and for being the birthplace in 1850 of Horatio, later Lord Kitchener and we took a detour from the main road to visit the castle ruins.
Carrigafoyle Castle was known as the guardian of the Shannon because of its strategic command of the shipping lanes that supplied the trading city of Limerick upriver. It was destroyed in a fierce siege that took place at Easter in 1580. Such was the damage to the castle in the engagement that it was never repaired. Its ruins still stand, including the outer defences and moat, and the effect of the bombardment is clear to see. The castle was open to visitors and there was free admission so we climbed the spiral staircase to the top of the battlements and took in the views over the surrounding countryside.
Our next destination was the seaside town of Ballybunion which enjoyed enthusiastic reviews in the visitor guidebook so we made our way into the town and found a parking spot. We almost immediately wished that we hadn’t because whoever wrote the reviews must have been under the influence of mind altering drugs. It was grubby and unpleasant with a street full of shabby pubs, greasy cafés and loud amusement arcades – it made Blackpool look classy so we didn’t stay long, returned to the car and moved on driving past a statue of a golfing Bill Clinton which is claimed to be the first ever public statue of the ex-President to be erected anywhere in the World (apparently he once played golf at Ballybunion).
It had been our intention to eat in the seaside town so now the challenge was to find an alternative so rather than follow the coast road we headed inland towards the market town of Listowel to find somewhere suitable. Listowel is not the sort of place which is at its best at just past lunch time on a Sunday and most of it was closed but we found a pub where we had a Guinness and a disappointing sandwich and then left without looking back and continued the drive to Dingle.
It seemed to me that north Kerry is not an especially scenic or appealing part of the country and I was glad when we hit the Tralee bypass which took us quickly around the town in a sort of sling-shot manoeuvre and we entered the more dramatic landscape of the Dingle peninsular with the black Slieve Mish mountains rising to our left as we travelled further west into more picturesque and appealing countryside.
After a few kilometres there was a decision to be made, either follow the direct route to Dingle through a flat valley between two mountain ranges that went south or to follow the coast road and enjoy a more scenic route towards the Conor Pass. We choose the scenic option which took us towards the second highest mountain peak in Ireland, Mount Brandon, which despite this distinction is part of a curiously unnamed range. Mount Brandon is nine hundred and thirty metres high and the tenth highest in the British Isles.
Away from the coast the road started to climb and as it did so it became much narrower and we passed signs prohibiting coaches and large vehicles from going any further as the road reduced to single carriageway with infrequent passing places as it weaved its way through sharp black cliff faces on one side and a sheer drop on the other.
More than once we had to collectively breath in as we squeezed past traffic coming in the opposite direction with barely a tissue paper width between car bumpers and I was momentarily distracted from the warning lights and the fear of mechanical failure as the risk of collision and bodywork damage seemed much more likely.
Eventually we reached the windswept top where under a blue sky with high white clouds floating by like a flotilla of sailing boats there were stunning views in all directions, the Atlantic Ocean to the west, the town of Dingle to the south and right below us a high soft green valley casually strewn with lichen embroidered boulders and punctuated with inviting blue mountain lakes. I liked this better than the Cliffs of Moher and I could have stayed longer but we were keen now to complete the final few kilometres into Dingle and to find our accommodation for the next two nights at the Dingle Skellig Hotel.
Richard had promised that this was a lovely hotel and he was absolutely right and after we had settled in we sat and relaxed with a Guinness and simply enjoyed the views over Dingle Bay and the Kerry mountains beyond under a marble cracked crazy paved sky and next to a meadow casually decorated with wild flowers.
We might have walked into Dingle that evening to eat but there was a meal offer at the hotel that was too good to miss so we stayed there instead and dined late into the evening until the sun slipped away and left behind a sprawling sunset and then a clear sky which made us optimistic that the good weather would continue into the next day.
“As the sun went down it seemed to drag the whole sky with it like the shreds of a burning curtain leaving rags of bright water that went on smoking and smouldering among the estuaries and around the many islands” Laurie Lee – ‘As I walked out one Midsummer Morning
For anyone interested in what makes a sunset, find out about it here: Rayleigh Scattering and Sunsets