After a break of more than three years, I finally experienced a summer getaway from my usual home turf. Rather than heading across the Atlantic as I did in 2019, I returned to the country of my birth to spend some time around Ireland’s south and southwest.
There was a lot of hiking and the weather essentially obliged much as it did on my Western Isles escapade in 2008. My time around Killarney did see some clouded skies and the occasional light rain shower but there were spells of sunshine too. The rest of the time saw near-constant sunshine with associated heat that might have limited my strolling but for an inbuilt determination to keep exploring. The timing of my return was near impeccable because even hotter temperatures were to come and they might have curtailed activities a great deal.
The days around Killarney were long ones that made up for disappointments earlier in the year while they also allowed me to follow up on residual inspiration from those encounters. The first day had me traipsing through Knockreer Park to reach Ross Castle where the nearby peninsula of Ross Island used up a bit of my time. From there, I continued to Muckross Abbey and Muckross House from where I was lured into completing a circuit of Muckross Lake before returning to my accommodation again. Sunshine came and went but there were enough interludes to allow some photographic efforts on my part.
The same could be said for the hike from Kenmare to Killarney that followed part of the Kerry Way. That was inspired by an otherwise unexceptional into Killarney from a damper Tralee when I ascended Torc Mountain when it was beset with a low cloud base. The sight of a track going into the distance was enough to get me inspired and a later bus departure did nothing to stop me. The ascent to the saddle between Peakeen Mountain and Knockanaguish was near constant but the scenic rewards were plentiful. The same could be said for what lay beyond on the way by Windy Gap and a lunch stop was in order to make the most of it. There was an ascent for tiring legs for passage by Cromaglan Mountain on a rough path. Torc Mountian was the next landmark and I could not forego an ascent in clear conditions. Sunshine may have been occasional on the day but extra lighting was there so often that I could not complain and some shortcuts were taken on the return to Killarney that made me wonder at my lack of attention while passing through the Muckross estate. That might have more to do with how fatigued I felt at the time.
The next day was to be a less intensive day involving an out and back walk into the Gap of Dunloe from Beaufort Bridge with a return bus journey to lessen the walking. Skies were clouded but I persevered in hope that was not in vain. The head of the gap was reached at a good time for returning to the bus stop again but even a passing shower could not stop me from dropping into the Black Valley with lighter footwear than might have been best for what was to come. The rewards were such that I do not regret what I did for this was revisiting some countryside that I only got to see from a car bound for my two parents’ home after a long driving trip. Then, there were stories from short breaks that they enjoyed in the area so my actions may have been inevitable. The Kerry Way again guided my steps for I passed Lord Brandon’s Cottage and the Upper Lake in surroundings that felt quite wild. After Derrycunihy, I was set to retracing steps from the day before without the ascent of Torc Mountain. There was time for a food stop near a quiet cascade and I chanced passing Torc Waterfall too even if there were more people there than I might have expected. Passage by Muckross House and Muckross Friary was enlivened by evening sunshine and the same could be said for the rest of a hike that left me less tired than I might have expected. A visit to Tomies Wood might have ensured the shorter day that I had in mind but I was missed out on so much if I did. That and O’ Sullivan’s Cascade get left for another time but that is no bad thing.
The next morning saw me revisit Knockreer Park before onward travel to Cork city where I would base myself for the remainder of the trip. Travelling forced a quieter day on me before taking up things again with a day trip to Bantry that featured some time spent strolling around Whiddy Island and enjoying its views of the Beara and Sheep’s Head peninsulas. Thoughts of time spent around Glengarriff and Castletown Bearhaven may inspire me for any future trips since outrageously long day driving tours did pass those. The Beara peninsula also features vantage points like the Healy Pass and there are islands like Beare and Dursey for some offshore walking too. There is much in the area and a gift of some good weather would help greatly too.
Inland wanderings in the Knockmealdown Mountains gained me wide views not only of those summits but also those of the Galtee Mountains and there might have been a glimpse of the Comeragh Mountains too. This is quiet countryside and I relished the empty hillsides around Knockshanahullion near Clogheen. Sugarloaf Hill and Knockmealdown may have been more attractive to those seeking more height but I was happy to admire them and avoid the crowds. There may have been no sighting of The Vee for me but any tree covered offered shelter from the heat and I was back in Clogheen to catch the last bus of the day to Cork. In addition to the hill wandering there was another reason for my interest in the area since my father wrote an essay on martyred priest Fr. Nicholas Sheehy who ministered in the area and was hanged in Clonmel on false charges. His remains rest in nearby Shanrahan Cemetary and there are monuments to his memory both there and in front of Clogheen parish church.
My last full day of the trip dedicated to wandering saw me spend more time around Kinsale than I expected. The cause was coastal walking between and around two old military forts. Of these, James Fort was the first and needed a circuitous amble to get there because it was across the harbour from Kinsale town. Charles Fort may have been nearer the town but did not feel that way in the afternoon heat and I was lured along the coast by a good path to extend the walk. Damien Enright’s guidebook did some good service when it came to adding information and inspiration. The return to Cork may have been in warm weather but I could not be stopped from wandering an old university alma mater of mine and it has changed a bit since I was a student there. A quick rendezvous with Cobh ensued before I was content to leave things at that for the day. Blarney Castle might have been another prospect but that needs to wait.
All in all, this was a trip that allowed for so much to be done. There are some loose ends but they do not weigh on me at all. If anything, there was what felt like a sense of closure and reconnection that may open up other parts of Ireland for visits. The extra sense of connection now reduces my self-repudiation for not seeing my home country and adds to a sense of meaning in anything I read about its areas of hill country since they will not feel so alien to me now.
It was good too to again frequent parts where I had been with my parents, albeit in a different way. Going on foot really slows you down enough for a landscape to seep into you and any ambiences to become embedded in your memory. Doing the same with places in Clare, Galway, Mayo, Donegal, Down and Wicklow would build on this but no one knows what a future can bring.