Tuesday, July 5
On Thursday morning, we visited Daniel O’Connell’s house. While the younger children played around the grounds, the Princess and I went for our annual inspection of the Liberator’s house. As we crossed the courtyard, she said “40 shilling freeholders”. “I beg your pardon?” “Catholic emancipation, the 40 shilling freeholders got the vote,” she sighed. In the house, I pointed to a cabinet saying, “Look guns!” “Yes,” she said, “the duelling pistol with which he killed a man, and there beside it is the black glove he wore for the rest of his life.” When we arrived downstairs, the nice woman on the door said, “Is this the young lady who I heard speaking so knowledgeably upstairs?” The Princess glowed with delight.
That afternoon, my cunning sister-in-law suggested that it would be nice, if the ladies of the party had an opportunity to go for a cup of tea together. The three of us ran out of the house like coursing hares leaving the men in charge which they took stoically, if not enthusiastically. We went into Sneem (great name, no?), past some of the most beautiful scenery in the country; we had a cup of tea and cake and it was all delightfully peaceful.
Wednesday, July 6
In what was, alas, to become the leitmotif of the week, the day dawned rainy. My sister-in-law suggested a nature walk. The children were quite extraordinarily excited by this prospect and rushed out of the house. I became fascinated myself. Daniel and I collected a bucket full of different flowers. I would never have thought that there was such a diverse range of flowers in the hedgerows. Our destination was an artist’s studio up the road. On arrival, we met the artist’s wife (our babysitter for the evening) and son leaving the premises which were closed. Our troops were undaunted and continued back to the house reasonably cheerfully. Except, Michael, of course, who objects to walking and was hopping on a point of principle as, he maintained, his socks were wet. Daniel and I had a serious conversation about ferns and how they were around when the dinosaurs were there.
Daniel: And fossils were made while God was resting?
Me: Well, well, not exactly..
Daniel (seriously): Is the Bible true?
Me: Well, not literally true no, well some parts of it are true, well, it’s all true but some parts of it aren’t literally true.
Daniel: It’s not true, is it?
Michael went upstairs and stood on the windowsill of our bedroom, fashioning himself a cloak from our curtains. “Who are you?” I asked. “I am super-deluxe man,” he replied. What powers do you think super deluxe man might have?
That afternoon, we spent on the beach at Derrynane which is, possibly, one of the nicest in the country.
The Princess amused herself by gathering jellyfish and discovered empirically that these particular dead jellyfish don’t sting.
No sooner did they get a chance than the little barbarians stamped out civilisation with every appearance of enthusiasm: “Nothing beside remains: round the decay/Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,/The lone and level sands stretch far away.” As the children finished their stomping, my three year old niece rushed up to the adults and said, winningly, but clearly untruthfully, “It wasn’t us.”
That night the adults went out to dinner leaving the children in the hands of the artist’s wife. It was a really lovely evening – we have a lot in common and we don’t often get to speak uninterrupted by children for more than 5 minutes at a stretch.
Thursday, July 7
This day was, in my view, our greatest triumph. As the Princess said, “It rained like bullets all day”. The parents-in-law went to Waterville where they sat in a car park overlooking the sea with their newspapers. The younger members of the party went to Valentia island, westernmost and almost certainly wettest point in Europe on, possibly, the wettest day of the year. It was the point at which America and Europe were linked by cable and the guide book says that for years Valentia enjoyed better, if not cheaper, communication with New York than with Dublin.
Our first stop was a “pet farm” for which my sister-in-law had picked up a brochure earlier. When we arrived, it looked unprepossessing. The rain was bucketing down. “This,” said Mr. Waffle bitterly, “is an Irish holiday, driving miles in the rain to see things you wouldn’t cross the road to see at home.” An inauspicious start. But, it was absolutely terrific. The place had only just opened and the owner was a lovely man. Hugely welcoming. The children got bottles to feed the lambs, biscuits for the ponies, rubbed rabbits, held tiny baby chickens and terrapins. Saw lots of chickens in fact. They were able to rub all the animals and name the goat (Lucy, since you ask). As a parent, I have a lot of exposure to petting farms, and I really would give this one the best of the bunch award. It was particularly appealing the way the owner kept urging us to come back another day when it was sunny and he would let us in free; he also encouraged us to have a cup of tea in the house (again, no charge, just a ‘you must be miserable from the rain offer’). I only hope he can keep going because these are not particularly commercial attitudes and the season is short. If he lasts, then I can guarantee that he will have clients every year we go back to Kerry. If you find yourself in Valentia with a small child, go to the pet farm, you will not be disappointed. Alas, no website to link to, as yet. My brother-in-law, who is technical, hovered over the test site and offered the best advice he could – if it goes live, watch this space for an exciting link [updated to add – the brother-in-law came good; here is the exciting link].
After the pet farm, we went to lunch in Portmagee. The food was fine and the children were all really great. Nobody misbehaved and everyone ate something. The shape of things to come, D.V. (as my mother’s teacher used to write in her letters to her – I will be suitably impressed, if you are not Irish and know what it stands for. Clue: teacher was a nun).
After lunch, sister-in-law was keen that we go to a candle place. I was not keen, nor did I feel that the troops would be keen. However, they got to make their own candles and they loved it. There was also, for reasons that are not at all clear, a car racing track which Michael, in particular, found irresistible.
Please note, that the rain continued relentlessly throughout. As the children left with their (€4 – excellent value) candles clutched in their paws, we announced that we were going to the Valentia ice cream company. The Princess said in tones of genuine delight, “Just when I thought the day couldn’t get any better!” As we sat in the slightly glum parlour (lovely, I imagine, on a sunny day looking out across the Atlantic) eating really excellent ice cream, two young men sidled in the door and asked for a cone each; the sons of the house. The older boy, about 8 went outside with Daniel and me and we patted another rabbit. When I asked the rabbit’s name, the boy lifted it up in the air, examined closely and said, “It’s the girl.” Ah, young farmers. Upon enquiry, he confirmed that the damp cows in the field between us and the Atlantic had supplied the raw material for our ice cream. No food miles there.
Then we went into Knightstown. I am beginning to feel that my husband and his family are wilfully hiding aspects of this part of Kerry from me. The first year I went, I was only allowed to see Derrynane beach on the last day; the second year, Staigue fort was revealed to me, on the second last day; this year the charming Knightstown was revealed to me on the third last day having been concealed on all previous trips. It’s a really pretty planned little town full of the kind of upmarket tourist tat that I love – look, it has a stained glass shop. We took ourselves into a lovely cafe/bookshop. Daniel, perhaps a little tired of our attempts to stay dry, said, as we went through the cafe to the book shop, “Not another little bite to eat” which drew a grin from the waitress.
And then we took the ferry across to the mainland. It was “the best day ever”. Despite the rain like bullets.
Friday, July 8
“You know the cousins are leaving this morning,” I said to Daniel. “I know,” he said, and started to cry, “and they’re going to take their great ball game with them.” Despite the wrench of parting with the cousins’ ball game, the children recovered sufficiently to go to the beach for a last afternoon. It was overcast with sunny spells, during one of the sunny spells, I swam. Oh God, the bone crushing cold. Even the memory of it makes me shiver and my ankles start to shrivel. We then departed to partake in that most classical of Irish summer entertainments, drinks in the pub with crisps for the children. When we got back to the house, the grandparents gave us pictures of Derrynane which they had got from the local artist, which was rather lovely of them, particularly considering they were already paying for everything, even the hot water.
Saturday, July 9
We handed over the keys to the lady who manages the house. She commented that we had had “the wettest week of the year” and that she never remembered it being so wet in July before. I found this strangely uncomforting. And, frankly, this which I found online tonight, adds insult to injury.
And then, we broke the journey to Dublin with the Dutch Mama and her family in Mitchelstown (it’s complicated) which was great. There is something very appealing about visiting other parents – they are less alarmed, if your children eat nothing. The Dutch Mama had a bag of hand-me-downs which the Princess was initially – mortifyingly – outraged by (not being aware that she had had hand-me-downs in her wardrobe before) and subsequently charmed by as she found an exciting bag full of pretty things which, essentially, now constitute her summer wardrobe. The Dutch Mama has been investigating her ancestors and how they got through the famine. As she put it “it ain’t pretty”. Perhaps material for another post. Survivor guilt.
And then, onwards to Dublin and home. Did I tell you that we’re off somewhere else next week? It’s non-stop chez Waffle.