Kerry people just run rings around the willing tourists
Published 13/08/2014 | 02:30
Every summer for the past fifteen or so years, my sister and I and our families have holidayed in a rented house somewhere around the coast of Ireland. We all like messing around in the water.
In recent years we have been going to Kerry. This is because, though it pains me to admit this as a native of a neighbouring county, we feel Kerry and particularly the Iveragh Peninsula suits us well in terms of accessibility and attractions, both natural and man-made.
Not that there is anything too accessible about a near-five-hour journey from the Midlands. But we were determined to be on holidays from the time we got in the car; and the vibrant palate of red velvet fuchsia, orange montbretia waves, purple heather and loosestrife mixed with various coloured hydrangeas moderated the drive from Killarney.
I know the Ring of Kerry, which is now part of the Wild Atlantic way, trailed the likes of the neighbouring West Cork in the overall satisfaction ratings in the 2013 Holidaymaker survey - transport in the area was the Achilles heel, being rated among the lowest in the country. But I have no doubt that this 179km loop road will remain top of many visitors must-do list.
Tourism for the masses started to take off in this part of the country with the coming of the railways and the building of associated hotels, the first of which to be built in Ireland was the Great Southern Hotel in Killarney in 1854, while Queen Victoria stayed in Muckross in 1861.
Almost a century earlier Englishman Arthur Young had described the area as "the wildest and most romantic country I had anywhere seen."
Dramatic scenery tends not to be overly compatible with dramatic agricultural production and so, of necessity, some landowners in the area are firstly farmers of tourists rather than livestock. I think that the enthusiasm, pragmatism and foresight that they show towards tourism has ensured its longevity.
Kerry-men and women are a special breed of people when it comes to tourism. On an ordinary day they could sell ice to the Greenlanders. On a good one, they would make a decent stab at offloading smog to China. Who else would have the chutzpah to create an industry based on a road that would have been narrow even when trap cars were the common form of transport?
You tell them what you want and they will provide it. You want biodegradable dog poo bags at Derrynane beach car park? Done. You want a cúpla focal? Not just happy but proud to oblige. It's about more than cuteness though. They're willing to put themselves out too, with some people even swapping a caravan for the family home over the summer to rent it out.
Freddies bar & shop in Caherdaniel might look old-fashioned but step inside and the modern discerning tourist can procure anything from Green & Black chocolate and Bombay Mix to fresh chillis, Little Tree air fresheners and the Financial Times.
There is also a row of a hundred or so books left behind in local holiday homes, proceeds from the sale of which go to a local hospice. Incidentally, the current titles include two copies of Fifty Shades of Grey. Down the road is the excellent Blind Piper bar, around the bend is Siopa Glaise Rinn where the first batch of freshly baked croissants will be gone within minutes of opening.
A local businesswoman described the current summer as powerful. While most of us would assume she was referring to the fine weather, it wasn't the weather she was talking about.
While Waterville recently attracted negative publicity when the owner of a café placed a sign in his window declaring 'No bus/coach or loud American's' [sic]. The café owner claimed that many of these were spending a penny, but nothing more.
Now there is a sign on the way into the town which declares 'Waterville Tidy Towns welcomes EVERYBODY'. Indeed, proving the old adage that there is no such thing as bad publicity, the café has now become something of a tourist attraction in its own right. Sure, between that and all the Sceiligs/Starwars hype, there's only so much attention that any one place can take in a season!
If it's raining, that's not a problem either. Cycling or walking in soft rain can be quite pleasant if you have the gear. If you don't, or are a fair weather participant, there are plenty of alternatives for all interests and ages, including Derrynane House, the mobile cinema, O'Carrolls Cove beach bar and Skelligs Chocolates.
While this was our third year in the Caherdaniel area, we never stay in the same house. We feel that each one offers a different experience.
Some houses are Spartan. Once there was no chopping board or sharp knife but loads of wine and beer glasses. One was damp, another had a four-poster bed. Still another was decorated with genuine antiques, and even had a telescope. Most houses are modern, spacious and bright and we have come across every combination of TV remotes imaginable. Often there is no sweeping brush or clothes line. It all adds to the jigsaw of life.
On the morning after arrival this year, Sarah and I headed out on foot from our house on the edge of the village when we got talking to a lady who has a holiday home up the road. She told us about the bog road that goes on up over Coomnahorna Mountain. It proved a pleasant walk one morning and we were treated to fabulous views across Lough Currane, Valentia Island and Carrantuohill.
Last year, we stayed in Farraniaragh and the kids had great fun jumping off Bunavalla Pier at high tide. But our best find to date has been Reen beach, on the westerly tip of Westcove harbour. It is sandy and the sand is good for building. The water is shallow and excellent for swimming and a variety of water activities, except the extreme. This is a popular area with indigenous visitors, especially families, many of them from Cork and well-heeled.
It's a lovely area to visit: but its lovely, too, to return home.