Precious Gifts11th February 2015
After a break needed to care for their own older relatives, my parents started to go exploring Ireland again. Early memories of this involved evening drives after the cows had been milked. Places like Springfield Castle, Cahermoyle House and the last resting place of William Smith O’Brien still reside in my memory. Somehow, I also seem to recall that the evenings were clouded and dull when we made these excursions, but my father retained an interest in history for much of his life and a few of these outings stemmed from that.
That is not to say that places were not frequented for their scenic worth. After all, my mother enjoyed flowers and shrubs with many a pot plant about the house while shrubs and trees made mowing the lawn all the more interesting. Trees were favoured by my father, so places like Foynes Wood, Curraghchase Forest Park and Doneraile Park also saw visits and the Ballyhoura Mountains were not ignored either, especially given my mother went on Sunday drives around there with her own mother. Visiting gardens open to the public was more my mother’s interest and she found ones like Annesgrove Gardens near Castletownroche in North Cork or Derreen Gardens near Lauragh in Kerry through the pages of the Cork Examiner (now the Irish Examiner). Rhododendron flowering seasons nearly always saw excursions to the Vee and Mount Melleray in the Knockmealdown Mountains between Clogheen in County Tipperary and Cappoquin in County Waterford.
Continuing the scenic theme, my parents also appreciated mountain and coastal scenery. My mother especially enjoyed the latter and it was the freshness of the Atlantic sea air that especially drew her. There were so many visits to Ballybunion in County Kerry that the place no longer appealed to me and might have inoculated me against seaside resorts for life! Other favoured seaside destinations included Beale, Banna and Ballyheigue on the same stretch of coastline as well as the likes of Kilkee, Lahinch and Spanish Point in County Clare.
Thinking back on it, it sounds that my parents enjoyed much of what is branded now as the Wild Atlantic Way. In fact, I reckon that there was not much of Ireland’s western seaboard that they had not savoured. Donegal stands out in my mind, as well as Sligo and maybe north Mayo too. Definitely, their travels have West Cork, Kerry and Clare well covered and there were a few days spent around Connemara too, nearly twenty years ago. Car touring was their way rather than country walking though, and they thought of their excursions as going for drives and these often were leisurely too, the often narrow roads that were travelled saw to that. Doring Kindersley’s Back Roads Ireland (from their Eyewitness Travel series) would echo what my parents enjoyed doing.
On some of these, they would bring us along and there would be many miles covered between the two milking times in the day. One was around 180 miles and took us all around the Beara Peninsula with a scary moment when it looked as if there was no road and that all that was ahead was the sea. Even though it was a sunny summer day, the sight gave pause for thought until we saw the road go around to the left and lose height as it did so. Going slow around there certainly paid its dividends. Another memory from such an escapade was dropping down into the Black Valley and the Gap of Dunloe on a gravel track in an ordinary family saloon, a four-door Nissan Sunny. The places that they took their cars would surprise you and there was a story about the way into a waterfall on of their multi-day trips away; the road was well rough and my father proceeded without due regard to the underside of the car and got away with it. It may have been Glen Inchaquin near Kenmare but I cannot be more definite than that.
The east coast of Ireland did not get overlooked either, for they honeymooned around Bray in County Wicklow. Thirty years later, they reprised that trip and went to Glendalough and other spots too. The full details escape me at this stage, but their love of scenery certainly excluded very few parts of Ireland. Another trip away took them down to Ireland’s south-eastern corner, though it was not as sunny as its reputation suggests when they were there. There was one story about an experience in a guest house when trying to open a window for fresh air at my mother’s insistence resulted in the thing falling out on my father. It was dodgy anyway and hit no one as they discovered the next morning. Many a B&B say was secured at the end of a day’s touring and they were fortunate that accommodation providers at any fully booked establishments rang around to sort them out for that night. That is something on which I never would attempt myself now and I did take such a spur of the moment approach with hostels on my first visit to the Isle of Skye. It makes me shudder a little even now.
All of these visits to scenic areas rubbed off on me and actually inspired me to visit the Scottish Highlands in the first place. Even so, I followed a very different approach with more cycling and walking with hardly any motorised touring at all. Nevertheless, all that exploring of Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man never would have happened if visits to Kerry and West Cork with my parents had not stirred up something in me and my mother encouraged it in her own small way by asking if I had gone anywhere during a preceding weekend. Without my various excursions, there would be anything for this blog or even for this website and that is one of the priceless things that they have left me. My curiosity for seeing new places or new sides to old haunts still remains with me. There are parts of Ireland that they visited where I have yet to go and there is armchair wandering beyond the shores of Britain and Ireland too, with the Faroe Islands and the Alps arousing enough interest for me to survey guidebooks because I realise how little I know of such places. Whether I actually get to these places is another matter, but my current hunting grounds have much to delight me so I have no plan to desert those either. The two people who inspired all this may be with us no longer, yet their wanderlust has not gone with them. It is difficult to see them wanting to be very much different.
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