Ireland of the Welcomes
Cycles of Lifect
Weather watching in County Kerry
The three headlands of Kerry extend westwards into the Atlantic and define the coastline of this magnificent county. The Dingle, Iveragh and Beara peninsulas are rugged, mountainy and beautiful. Each is a wonder and may be regarded as a unique principality within the Kingdom of Kerry. Recently, I spent some time along the quiet beach at Cromane straddling the southern shores of Dingle Bay. I had a lovely cottage, several books, three days and a good bicycle at my disposal. A perfect opportunity to explore the heart of Kerry. Despite the best efforts of modern science, weather forecasting in this part of Ireland is usually achieved by reading the sky to the west. On most days you can see what’s in store several hours away. I remember an old man once explained “there’s an art to looking at the sky from the top down; the uppermost layer will give you three days of weather, the next will tell you what’s in store for later today and the clouds that cast their shadows on the water are only an hour away”.
All Kerry people are expert forecasters and they talk about it endlessly. The best way to change the subject is to mention Gaelic football but you need to be careful or they’ll furnish you with a a thesis on the effects of wind on a high kick out. As luck would have it, the western sky that greeted my arrival was a bulbous mass of dark storm clouds. It took two days to clear. Cooped up by the edge of the ocean, outside the rain, wind and waves were relentless; inside, the steady beat of a clock. Short walks to the local pub to hear the expert analysis of the local fishermen. "That’s a fierce one altogether" declared the man at the bar to nods of approval and mutterings of "a holy terror’"and the like. "It would clear by Wednesday" was the general opinion but expect "dodgy days with showers" for at least a week. And true enough, Wednesday brought brightening skies and the morning rays magnified the panoply of distant mountains known as MacGillycuddy's Reeks. I was off and cycling before the sun cleared the hilltops. The town of Killorglin is the staging point for walkers and hikers seeking to explore the Kerry hills. It is famous for "Puck Fair" an annual market festival involving the elevation, quite literally, of a male mountain goat to Kingship. The animal is hoisted on a platform and fed and watered for the duration of the festival. It’s a very old tradition with competing explanations for the origin of the veneration of the goat. Some say that long ago, the townspeople decided to hold a fair for the first time and the only visitor was a local farmer who brought his goat to sell. They were so pleased that they reserved pride of place for the goat in future years. Another story is that when invading armies came to steal livestock in the area and it was a wild goat that rounded up the stock and took them to safety in the hills. Regardless, these days the fair attracts many visitors with revelry and business dealings going hand in hand. I zoomed through the town and headed out the road in the direction of Beaufort. My plan was to loop around toward the Reeks and climb the long road to the mountains. The trick for such as sustained uphill task is to develop a steady pace and take it easy. Although Irish mountains are never as high as the Alps or the Rockies, they are steep and wild in parts, and perilous to those who underestimate them.
Gradually, the rich wall of trees and vegetation thins, and is replaced by hedgerows and these in turn become sparser, until the blanket bog yields an unobstructed view of Dingle Bay in the distance. It’s like a transformation to another world. Journeys to high mountains and magnificent vistas are great for the soul. On that day, up there in the hills, there is nowhere else I’d rather be. There was still "work to be done". More steep climbs and steady peddling. I came to a bridge on a river and admired a lonely white horse on the far bank. It is easy to imagine how scenes like this can inspire the abundance of stories of myth and magic in these parts. Further on, through rocky ridges, I discovered a high lake tucked away in the hills. It was lonely and lovely as I took time to rest and listen to the wild birds. The "dodgy" weather was never far away and ominous cloud formations seemed to be approaching from the west. I added an extra layer to my clothing. Descending from height on a bicycle can be fast and exhilarating but it can be cold especially when it rains. Time also to remind myself that I am no longer a teenager and to go down safely. Yes, it was a bit "iffy" for a while as I hurdled along the bog road in the spitting rain with my cold hands clutching the wet brakes. This was one of those experiences you wouldn’t want to repeat but you’re glad you did it! I came to the aptly named "Black Stones Bridge" and paused to admire the view and let the rain clear. This is a nice little spot popular for fishing and walking activities. It was the descent that just kept giving. Every once in a while, I would have to deal with a short incline but the overwhelming direction was downhill. As is typical, the sky cleared, and the sun beamed like we were in the Mediterranean. Ten minutes earlier I was cold and wringing wet, now I was boiling over with the heat. Kerry! Racing along the shores of Lough Caragh, once again the splendid beauty of landscape was on full display. Splashes of colour from the wildflowers, purple red Fuchsia and orange yellows of Mombretia, contrasted with the deep blue lake and the greens of the mountains. Onwards to the town of Glenbeigh and from there the coast road back to my lodgings at Cromane Strand. That evening as I sat outside with the locals, watching the unloading of the Salmon boats and listening to the excitement of the gulls. We looked westward out across the Atlantic, analysed the scene and talked about our favourite topic. “It’s rain tomorrow for sure”. “I’d say there’ll be a fair wind too”. “Can you see those hills across the bay? Well that’s a sign that there might be hail”. The endless story of the weather in Kerry has many twists and turns and many more chapters to come.