Saturday 18 November 2017

Walk of the Week: Bolus Head, Iveragh, Co Kerry

Christopher Somerville

On a morning like this one, fantastically blowy and vigorous, with a white-toothed, milky green sea and a tumultuous blue and silver sky, you really wouldn't want to be anywhere else than down on St Finan's Bay at the outermost tip of the Iveragh peninsula.

New-born lambs tottered in the shadow of their mothers, primroses and dandelions fought silently for possession of the verges along the bumpy little back-country road to Ducalla, and altogether everything in and out of nature seemed in a conspiracy to put a big, stupid smile on a walker's face.

A great crowd turned out to mark the start of the walk, including Jimmy Curran and John Joe O'Sullivan, the farmers whose land we were going to be crossing today.

After a lot of handshaking and mutual grinning, we set out across the squelchy hillsides of Ducalla.

"Just born this morning -- see?" Jimmy pointed to a lamb so new that the bright red birth string was still attached.

"I've farmed and lived all my life right here," he said, "and I'm never happier than when I'm out here on these fields with that view," and he indicated with a sweep of his arm the wide bay, the striated green blade of Puffin Island, and the Skellig Rocks like twin castles out in the sea.

"We'd the white-tailed sea eagles down there on the cliffs for two months last year, and I'm hoping they'll visit again."

At the turn of the path, Jimmy decided he'd better be off to see to his lambs.

He hurried away down the hillside and the rest of us faced up the spine of Ducalla Head, a narrow upward path on the cliff edge with breathtaking views down into the dark hollows, a tumbledown wall between us and the drop to the rocks a couple of hundred feet below.

We sat out of the wind in the shelter of an ancient multi-gabled building while the farmers talked of west Kerry's recent problems of emigration and the steady draining away of bright and energetic youth, with no work or prospects to hold them here.

And what of the men themselves? "Ah, well, now ... " The modest men and women of the Rural Social Scheme would never tell you this, but their hard work and local knowledge forms the bedrock of the huge success of Ireland's new looped walks.

If it wasn't for their tactful sit-downs and give-and-take discussions with sometimes reluctant landowners -- people they've known all their lives -- not to mention their hard work with spade, shovel and signpost, the looped walks would never have got off the drawing board and on to the ground.

We stormed the last of the slope and came to the twin ruins on the crest of Bolus Head -- a plain concrete lookout from the Second World War, and a far larger and starker tower of black stone just beyond, the wind howling softly through its blank windows.

The crest of the hill made an atmospheric spot to stop before the homeward descent, getting our breath and looking out to the soaring spires of the Skelligs where other modest and hard-working men -- the monks of the lonely rocks -- once clung to their isolation in that sea-girt fortress of prayer and fasting.

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