Our Drive Through The Caha Mountains To Killarney
Our Drive Through The Caha Mountains To Killarney
Having left Drombeg Stone Circle close to noon, Bob and I continuing towards the Caha Mountains, a range of low sandstone mountains located on the Beara Peninsula. As we drove towards Killarney we soon came upon a very rugged, and stony slope on either side of the roadway.
But where there were gaps in the hills, the most beautiful sweeping countryside could be seen fading into the distance. Bob and I stopped the car at one of the available pull-offs for a gander.
That is when we came to realize that others were likewise enjoying the panoramic view of the Caha Mountains. Rising from its recumbent position on the warm rocks behind us was an inquisitive sheep, perhaps checking out we possible intruders.
It turned out that, there in southwest County Cork, the rocky slopes were well populated with sheep. First one, then several, heads popped up for a peek over the crest of the ridge. When speeding along the roadway, we were unaware of the “wildlife” lurking nearby.
In order for farmers to keep track of their sheep, it is necessary for them to paint a coloured dot on each sheep’s fleece. A farm has the use of one specific colour of dye, but it seemed that the location of the coloured spot also plays a role in identification.
Bob and I barreled along the scenic roadway until we came to an unexpected tunnel. Actually, there are several tunnels in the Caha Mountains giving rise to a segment of the route being called tunnel road. Rather than building the roadway up and over the summits of certain mountains, a more direct route was chosen. Labourers hand-carved the solid rock to allow passage through the mountaintops. Bob slowed our vehicle to prepare for the sharp corner ahead, which also enabled us to enjoy passing through the cool, dark tunnel.
Good thing, too. The ensuing 90-degree turn skirted a sheer dropoff where at least I was able to benefit from a good view of the lush, green valley and sprawling farms far below, but Bob had to maintain a firm grip on the steering wheel and keep his eyes on the road.
The mountain ridges dictated the construction of the roadway, and so the route had one sharp corner after another making for a very exhilarating drive. Shock set in when we rounded one sharp turn to discover a couple of sheep loitering on the verge. Due diligence would be required in order to watch for errant farm animals.
No sooner said than we careened around another turn in the road to find a ram right on the edge of the pavement. Whoa! We wondered how many sheep fall prey to speeding automobiles in the course of a year.
It was quite evident that that next small flock of sheep belonged to a different farm because the dye spots were pink, and they were placed on the rumps of the animals. Our travels were done in June, and judging by the size of the youngest sheep, they were from that spring’s lambing season.
The Beara Peninsula is unique because it consists of the longest unbroken spine of rugged hills that run 160 kilometres from Macroom in the upper Lee Valley to Dursey Sound at the end of the Peninsula. Sparsely populated fishing villages dotting the coast are surrounded by bleak moorland and fertile valleys.
Molly Gallivan’s enchanting stone cottage is over 200 years old. History was tangible in the aura that exuded from the building, sustained by the integrity of the restored heritage structure.
Sitting on the original farm property, the cottage is surrounded by other original outbuildings that are either part of the historically-based museum or have been converted into service buildings to support the museum and farm operations found scattered around the homestead. These include a turf bog that still supplies peat for the cottage hearth, and Molly Gallivan’s first moonshine still.
Molly Gallivan was widowed during the Irish Potato Famine and left with seven small children to feed and clothe, so she had to be very creative in order to survive. In addition to subsistence farming, she was able to sell a small portion of her produce to supplement her meagre income. She soon realized that her home baking and hand spun woolens were also popular with the few passing tourists, but it was her home-brewed whiskey, sold on site in her sibheen, an illegal pub, that proved the most profitable. Molly’s poitin, as the whiskey was called, was referred to as Molly’s Mountain Dew.
Today, Molly’s whimsical stone cottage houses a tea shop and gift shop that is well stocked with unique hand spun woolens fashioned by local artisans out of wool from the district’s sheep.
As Bob and I browsed the extensive selection of items for sale, the operator spoke to us about the ghostly ruins of a a family dwelling on the property that dates to the era of the Irish Famine. She also shared with us her insights into the famine and rural life in Ireland at that desperate time.
As she explained, after the Great Famine, Soda Bread became a staple of life in Ireland because the people had lost their trust in growing potatoes.
The location of Molly Gallivan’s cottage was made even more enchanting by an outstanding view of burgeoning fields and frolicking sheep just across the road. Dominating the whole scene was Barra-Bui Mountain, which is topped by an ancient cairn, the resting place of a Druid chieftain.
Over 6,000 years ago, the first settlers to the area were the Druids who left a legacy of burial and ritual sites reflecting their devotion to their gods and their dead, as well as emphasizing their advanced knowledge of astrology. In fact, a pair of Neolithic stones that are part of the valley’s ancient sun calendar is located right on Molly Gallivan’s farm property.
The afternoon was getting on when Bob and I struck out from Molly’s place, and even before we reached the far side of the valley, we had a preview of the roads to come. Sinuous narrow strips of pavement could be seen leading up through the fertile farm fields and lush pastures and disappearing in the distance. It was still a fair distance to Killarney, where we would be hanging our hat that night.
It took until 6:30 p.m. before we entered into Killarney National Park. Given the uncertainty of Irish weather, we decided to take advantage of the wonderful late afternoon sunlight to capture some photographs of the outstanding scenery.
The roadway continued to be incredibly winding, a constant progression of sharp left and then sharp right turns, but we managed to pull over at a couple of viewing points to capture the moody beauty of the three lakes, Upper Lake, Muckross Lake and Lough Leane.
The landscape in Killarney National Park is dotted with ruined castles and abbeys, but it is the Lakes of Killarney that draw tourists to the area. Lush, wooded slopes of some of Ireland’s highest mountains flank the valley where the lakes are located, and as we stepped from the car to investigate, soft yellow light crept beneath low-hanging boughs and cast an ethereal glow over the lacy ferns and damp undergrowth lining the forest floor.
The three lakes of Killarney are interlinked and together make up almost a quarter of the national park’s area. Even though the lakes are connected, they each feature a unique ecosystem. Upper Lake, seen here, is the smallest of the three lakes, and it flows into the Long Range River.
The mood of the scenery changed dramatically with the shifting light when early evening clouds began to gather on the horizon. The distant ring of peaks fell into silhouette against the setting sun and embraced the calm waters of Upper Lake, as a sense of calm fell over the land.
Time was ticking as Bob and I stood on the shore of Upper Lake, so we had to pull ourselves away from the inspiring setting and make our way to Killarney where our next accommodation was booked. We were thankful that the weather was sunny and clear, and that it had afforded us such spectacular views of the stirring scenery.
With darkness drawing in, Bob and I made haste, but the journey was far from tiresome. Every step of the way, we were stunned by the proliferation of rhododendrons growing freely at the forest’s edge. All along the roadway, a swath of pale mauve blooms, aglow in the last rays of the sun, shouldered us onwards toward the cheerful town that would be our home for the next couple of days.
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