Keys to the Kingdom: Three journeys to stir the soul in Kerry
From 'Star Wars' to intrepid salmon, what is it about Kerry that lends a unique magic to trips?
Have you ever seen a salmon jump?
This summer, I did. Staying at Sheen Falls Lodge, just outside of Kenmare, an early morning walk took me to the lovely 18th-century bridge overlooking the falls (above).
That's when I saw it. A splash, in the corner of my eye. I waited. Another splash. This time I turned my head quickly enough to catch a silvery glimpse. I stayed a half-hour or so, and ended up seeing a dozen or more fishy flips from what I reckon were three different salmon.
Read our three Kerry Journeys...
- 'Fungie is my training partner' - The long-distance swimmer and the Dingle Dolphin
- Digital Detox in Derrynane: A family holiday short on smartphones
- Blasket Islands - A trip back in time for your Irish bucket list
I got to thinking about the journey those fish had made. Setting out from the river as smolts, migrating with the North Atlantic Drift, and returning hundreds if not thousands of miles to that same bay, that same river, bypassing the seal that waits by the brown rocks at the foot of Sheen Falls, and leaping up the trickling torrents into this little pool.
It wasn't the first journey I'd been wowed by over my week in Kerry.
The previous day, I'd met Aileen Crean O'Brien in Kenmare. Aileen is the great-granddaughter of Antarctic hero, Tom Crean, and she runs a restaurant in town. In 2016, she marked the 100th anniversary of Crean's Endurance Expedition by following in his footsteps, she told me... only to break her leg in the Antarctic. On the day we met, she'd spent the morning lugging tyres in training for another adventure.
When I tweeted a photo of Fungie, another Kerry adventurer got in touch - open water swimmer, Nuala Moore. Nuala's epic swims have taken her as far afield as Cape Horn, but her daily immersions are in Dingle Harbour. You can read about her journeys with a dolphin she calls her 'training partner' here.
Kerry is a tourism honeypot - this, we know. On my travels, I found Killarney crammed with visitors, locals making hay, and a well-oiled industry ticking over as it has done since Queen Victoria's time. But as anyone who stays more than a day or two discovers, there's a lot more to this canny county than the Gap of Dunloe.
The Wild Atlantic Way, Lord of the Rings-style landscapes and easygoing, soulful hospitality combine to give journeys in the Kingdom an air of almost Magic realism.
Before I left for Kerry, writer Nuala Woulfe had been in touch about an idea that intrigued me - a digital detox with her family on the Ring of Kerry (read how she fared here).
While I was there, I saw climbers bound for Carrauntoohil and Star Wars fans en route to the Skelligs. And I took a bucket list trip of my own - a Blasket Islands visit).
None of our trips match that salmon, of course, which for all I know ended up on the breakfast menu at Sheen Falls. But I hope this week's pages give a hint of the travel possibilities in this beautiful county.
Read more:Sheen Falls: Barry Egan's tranquil tales from the riverbank