After one of the longest lockdowns in Europe, Ireland is finally opening up. Next week, hotels and bnbs reopen, followed by outdoor dining the following week, with indoor dining, pubs, etc. likely returning in July. Museums and cultural sites are beginning to reopen, and for domestic tourists at least, there’s a lot to look forward this summer.
Obviously, not being able to travel and enjoy tourism is minor compared to the other things that have happened during this pandemic (I feel like this is so obvious I shouldn’t even have to mention it, but just to be clear that I’m not trying to place it on a similar level), but as someone who has spent the preceding years (and even the first half of 2020) travelling as much as possible, it has definitely felt weird to have not even left the county since September of last year.
Luckily I’ve gotten to do plenty of fun things around Kerry like trying another route up Carrauntoohil and hiking Crohane mountain, but I’ll be looking forward to doing more as restrictions loosen. For now even the tiniest trips offer a nice chance to get out and explore.
This past weekend, we took advantage of a sunny day and took a small drive just across the border into Cork to see the Beara peninsula.
The way the weather was this weekend, you’d be forgiven for thinking the southwest of Ireland was situated somewhere closer to Spain. Devastatingly, the dry, hot conditions have left a wildfire burning in Killarney National Park for the past three days and nights, but overall the warm weather has done wonders for everyone’s mental health and outdoor to-do lists. Now that the 5km travel restriction has finally been lifted and we’re free to roam around our county, a good-weather weekend was just what was needed to really take advantage of it.
While many folks in the area headed to the costa del Kerry to enjoy the sun in Ballybunion or Banna beach, Steve and I took to the mountains yet again for my third trip up Carrauntoohil.
Our original plan for the day was a looped hike near Sneem that I’d read about online, but when we saw the clear, cloudless skies, we couldn’t resist Ireland’s tallest mountain. Even on good days, the mountains are often covered in fog and mist, so you have to jump on your opportunities for views across the county when you get them.
With more vaccines arriving and covid cases going down (by the numbers they’re plateauing, but an increased number of tests and tracking of asymptomatic spread means that the positivity rate continues to drop encouragingly), we are once more starting to feel more optimistic about summer here in Ireland.
Next week, the 5km travel limit will finally be lifted and we will be allowed to travel around our own county. Luckily for me, I live Kerry, in one of the best counties in Ireland when it comes to beautiful nature and outdoor activities. Although there are many favourite spots in Kerry I’m looking forward to visiting again once the restrictions (and the weather) allow—Carrauntoohil, the Dingle peninsula, and the Old Kenmare road, to name a few—there are so many amazing places in Kerry I have yet to see that I’m really excited to explore. Here are a few of them:
Last week I hit two milestones on Duolingo: I reached a 365-day streak, and I completed the Irish skill tree (finished all of the lessons for the language, for those who are not familiar with the app). I started doing a few Duolingo lessons a day at the start of lockdown when I first arrived back in the US from Southeast Asia and now, a year and change later and still in lockdown (although now in Ireland), I’ve managed to keep the streak going and also complete every lesson on the skill tree.
Despite being one of the official languages of Ireland, a history of oppression in which the use of Irish was forbidden by the English and Irish words and particularly place names were haphazardly Anglicised (in college I read Brian Friel’s Translations for a course and have been fascinated by this ever since) means that bilingual speakers are a minority. It is estimated that only 40-80k people in Ireland are fully fluent in the language, and in the 2016 census only 6.3% of respondents said they speak Irish weekly (with only 1.7% reporting speaking it daily).
While there are a few jobs that require a level of proficiency in Irish, for the most part you could go your whole life without ever needing a word, especially as an immigrant.
The Dingle peninsula is one of the biggest attractions in Ireland, and before you even arrive you’ll understand why as you drive the winding roads from Tralee or Killarney you are treated to incredible views of County Kerry in every direction. When you arrive to the small but lively town of Dingle, there is an immediate vibe of the friendliness and fun for which Ireland is known. Dingle is also known as the foodie capital of Ireland, so there are no shortage of delicious spots for seafood and more (for a casual meal, I highly recommend fish and chips at Harrington’s followed by ice cream at Murphy’s and a pint at Foxy John’s). However, when Steve and I took a drive out to the Dingle peninsula on Saturday we bypassed the town; our sights were set on a higher point: Mount Brandon.
The one thing you have to expect when you make any outdoor plans in Ireland is, of course, rain. It’s definitely a plan for the worst, hope for the best scenario—if you go in thinking, even in the back of your head, that you might be lucky, you will almost inevitably be disappointed. Whereas, if you just assume that it’ll probably rain the whole time you are wherever you’re going, you may occasionally have a pleasant surprise. Over the weekend, Steve and I went up to Doolin, in Co. Clare, to look at a wedding venue (!). We were hesitant to book a place to stay overnight as we didn’t want to spend an extra day if there was going to be nothing but rain, but by last Wednesday when the forecast was still clear, we decided to chance it, and we definitely made the right decision.