Saturday, August 15
So, you left us in Cork, now we are pressing on to the west. Very far west, Caherdaniel in fact, off the South West of the Ring of Kerry. Before we got to the distant outpost we has to endure a car journey. We played that game where one person starts a story and the next continued, it went like this:
Me: Once upon a time there was a beautiful Princess AND
Mr. Waffle: She was going on her holidays AND
Princess: She met a handsome Prince AND
Michael: Some baddies came out of the wood and attacked them AND
Daniel: Cut off their heads.
There is a reason for stereotypes, I suppose. We also played the Minister’s cat (at which Michael showed surprising facility for a boy who isn’t very sure about the order of the alphabet) and that game where one person hums a song and the others guess what it might be. Is it a sign of parenting failure that the only songs the boys could hum were the theme tunes of Bob the Builder, Fireman Sam (not v. hummable) and Postman Pat?
When we got to the tiny village of Caherdaniel in one of the most remote parts of the country, the children were delighted to see their Dublin grandparents in situ. Michael celebrated by breaking Daniel’s glasses. Inquiries in the local shop elicited the information that there was an optician’s in Caherciveen open every day and all hours. Correctly interpreting this to mean that the optician was open 9-5 (even during lunch time) Monday to Friday, we resigned ourselves to poor Danny bumbling around blindly for a day and a half.
The rest of us settled down and admired the view which the grandparents had kindly provided for us along with the house.
The Princess tried and failed to work up the courage to feed the horses and compromised by laying carrots, grass and other titbits on the wall for them to eat.
Sunday, August 16
The weather was fine. An exceptional circumstance. We went out blackberry picking which the children had never done before. The novelty wore off quickly for the boys (Daniel’s problem may well have been that he couldn’t actually see the blackberries) but herself could have gone on all day and delightedly filled half a bucket.
After lunch we rushed to the beach. A friend once described a holiday in Donegal where the family spent the whole time huddled in the hall with their beach gear and then when the sun came out they picked everything up and ran to the beach. Kerry is like that.
When I say that the weather was fine, you have to interpret that by local standards.
Look, it’s not actually raining.
At 4.00 we took ourselves off to a local GAA match. Michael instantly made friends with a little Kerry boy who had a ball. Young Mr. Kerry instantly began ordering around all of the little boys on the sideline and they were shortly playing away. As I commented to his mother, it is this spirit which explains Kerry’s continued success in Gaelic football (though, please note, Cork v. successful too and at hurling). She mentioned a bouncy castle and a raft race on a nearby beach so we took ourselves off there.
The children had a fantastic time wading into the water in their clothes. I was less enthused.
The rafts were constructed by the teams and there was some entertainment in trying to guess which would capsize first.
Esteemed grandfather ran into the landlord of his local pub in Dublin, because Ireland is like that. On the way home, I ran into my mother’s gardener, because Ireland is like that. Local gossip gleaned from Mr. Waffle revealed that he (the gardener) had bought land which was sold off when there was a dispute over Bono’s uncle’s will (not involving Bono because, I suppose, he has enough money already). What, you didn’t know that there are fewer than two degrees of separation beteween Bono and everyone in Ireland?
Monday, August 17
The Princess and I were up before 8 making blackberry jam because I promised her I would. There were no weighing scales and I was relying solely on my skill and judgement and this text message from my sister: “Other random jam making advice. Don’t use overripe fruit or jam will not set. Fruit and sugar should not occupy more than half of pan. Don’t use iron or zinc pans or jam will taste horrible. Setting points tests 1. cold plate. Put jam on cold plate and check if it wrinkles. 2. heat to a temperature of 220F to 222F 3. Flake test. Place spoon in jam let cool it should set and form small flakes (not recommended as not conclusive and tricky). 4. Volume test. Not even going to go there. Only for frequent jam makers in my opinion.”
You will be pleased to hear that the jam set. Though a bit too sweet. Everyone had homemade jam for breakfast. The Princess and I were very proud.
Mr. Waffle prepared to take Daniel to Caherciveen to look for the optician. His father had been snoozing gently in the porch. Ah, I thought, age is catching up with the man who runs up mountains. He woke up and asked Mr. Waffle to drop him off in Waterville so that he could run cross country back to the house (10kms). My parents-in-law like to confound me. I took the other pair off to the beach as the sun was shining.
In the afternoon we went to Staigue Fort, a pre-historic ring fort, where I had never been before.
All very interesting and the boys liked it but I was terrified that they would somehow manage to toss themselves over the edge.
Tuesday, August 18
It rained on and off all day. We used up our one indoor trip (for a wet place, the Iveragh penninsula boasts very few indoor excitements) and visited the home of Daniel O’Connell. Michael swooned with happiness when he saw O’Connell’s duelling pistols. I’m not sure how much the boys took in; their sister on the other hand is now an O’Connell expert. Afterwards when asked by his grandmother what the Liberator had done, Daniel said, “He died.” True, I suppose.
We went out to Derrynane beach where the children took the opportunity to wade into the water and get their clothers wet.
That evening, friends of the grandparents called round. They are ultra runners. Mad. Off their heads. They once ran from Malin to Mizen head (length of Ireland) in 8 days. They make my f-in-law (has only run up over 200 mountains) seem positively sedentary.
Wednesday, August 19
“It rained and it rained, it bucketed down, teeming in torrents on mountain and town,” as Lynley Dodd would say. And nothing to do. We had booked the children in for riding and they were grimly determined to do it. They were led down the road by three, understandably, gloomy pre-teens. We splashed after and the horses hung their heads. The children, though, were ecstatic. So delighted that we booked them in again for Friday despite the enormous cost.
Thursday, August 20
More rain. Mr. Waffle and I at our wits’ ends. Grandparents considering, very cravenly, bowing out early and driving off to Dublin. As Mr. Waffle put it, “Kerry has 24 hours to prove itself to my parents.” He was reminded of a girl who was at college with him and used to do bus tours around the Ring of Kerry. Obviously, half the time it was a breathtaking, spectacular view and the other half it was impenetrable mist and rain. They used to keep postcards of the views on the bus and pass them around to the poor tourists showing them what they were missing. I suppose that they have DVDs now. Poor Americans.
We spent a good portion of the day driving round looking for the Skelligs chocolate factory. I’m not sure that you could say vaut le voyage – two rooms and a DVD on how chocolate is made. Nice chocolate though. The Princess, who had been reading “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in the car was profoundly unimpressed. We investigated the Cill Rialaigh artists’ colony where we had lunch. Big city food and accompanying prices – €8 for a small bowl of kiddie pasta. At least the food was good and it made a welcome break from my staple diet in rural Ireland: toasted sandwich with salad and chips.
And it was still raining.
We went to Cahersiveen to look at the old RIC barracks, now a museum. This was my first visit to Cahersiveen and I had not previously been aware that its barracks was modelled on Neuschwanstein or as the brochure put it, it was designed in “the highly distinctive ‘Schloss’ style of architecture”. The usual story is told, Empire got the maps mixed up and the Kerry barracks went up in India somewhere and we got their Neuschwanstein. I find this a little unconvincing as this thing would be as odd there as it is here.
The literature on the barracks points out that “the major deficiency of the South Kerry tourism product lies in the lack of things for visitors to do when travelling around the west end of the Iveragh penisnsula.” They’re not kidding. I’m not sure that the barracks fits the bill though it does have a mildly interesting collection of old press cuttings, agricultural implements, Daniel O’Connell paraphernalia etc. However, we were very glad it was there and we didn’t have to stay outside in the hailstones (yes, really).
That evening we went out to dinner and left the children with saintly grandparents. Alas, another disappointment. Strike Parknasilla from the list. I was astonished at the numbers of families with small children staying in the extremely expensive hotel. Has nobody told them that the boom is over?
Friday, August 21
Bright, beautiful sunshine. The children went riding again. Everyone was much more cheerful this time. The Princess was led round by a French teenager with whom she chatted cheerily in French. I heard one of the Irish teenagers whisper to her friend, “Did you hear that little girl, she speaks Spanish and English?” To appreciate this fully, you should know that French is more or less compulsory in school from 13-15.
We then went to what my daughter declared “the best market ever”. It had the usual offerings plus some bric-a-brac and cheap second-hand children’s toys and books.
We spent the whole afternoon on the beach in glorious sunshine, made even better by the knowledge that the rest of the country was enjoying pouring rain. The sea was full of waves and children in wetsuits. My children are, officially, the only children in Ireland whose mean Mummy makes them go blue when they want to swim. I’m trying to toughen them up.
Saturday, August 22
Miserable, grim and very lengthy drive back to our nation’s capital. Sustained only by false memories of a full week of delightful sunshine in Kerry – blinded by Friday’s sunshine. This is why people like my sister-in-law believe that it never rained in Kerry in all the years she went there as a child (hollow laugh). Children ecstatic to be home and, more particularly, reunited with the television. Car has peculiar and unpleasant smell.
No more holidays until next year.