It’s a long way to Tipperary; Kerry’s no joke either.
We arrived in Sneem on Friday evening, staying at ‘The Sneem Hotel’. It’s a long, long drive from Roscommon, but the fabulous scenery makes it all worthwhile. The journey brought us into ‘The Ring of Kerry’ and we ventured into bustling Killarney, the country’s tourism capital. There’s a visible buzz, if a buzz can be visible. On arrival in Sneem, the hotel staff were extremely friendly – and it’s a hotel I’d recommend.
Not having been in Sneem before, we had a quick look at the village. “It’s like Balamory” (the town in the popular children’s tv programme) one of the kids said – and so it is. Several of the quaint buildings are very colourfully painted.
The coastal drive to Valentia Island is pretty spectacular. En route, there’s a lovely summer atmosphere in Waterville, where there are two statues that command your attention. One is of Mick O’Dwyer, perhaps the single greatest GAA personality of them all. How special it must be for this man to live to see a statue dedicated to him (usually the person being paid tribute to has passed on before the unveiling). The other statue is of the trailblazing comedy genius, Charlie Chaplin, who spent many happy summers on holiday in Waterville.
On Valentia Island, the locals are friendly and welcoming, and the scenery is beautiful. The island has a rich history which is well worth exploring. On the journey back, we stop at the spectacular Kerry Cliffs, from which you can view Skellig Michael. A walk to the top of the cliffs and a dreamy view of what Mother Nature then offers makes for a breathtaking experience.
It’s Super 8s time in Sneem, but the Sky Sports reception in the otherwise excellent hotel was dodgy, the action from Croke Park fuzzy and frustrating. We had to abandon and relocate to a cosy pub in Sneem village, where the locals were only mildly interested in Roscommon v Tyrone.
Early promise from Roscommon was soon replaced by gloom. Enda Smith’s superb goal early in the second half raised spirits, but Tyrone plundered on relentlessly and Roscommon’s Super 8s opener fizzled out badly. Here’s to a much better performance this weekend.
Today we went to Kenmare, where there was a lovely atmosphere. All weekend, this lively town had gone ‘all French’. I subsequently discovered that there’s a large French community living in Kenmare. The locals were celebrating Bastille Day in style, French flags and bunting much in evidence. This was all very timely, given that France were playing in the World Cup Final on Sunday.
We spent a few hours doing tourist-type stuff in Kenmare, before switching our focus to the day’s sporting activity: Croker and Russia.
It would be unfair to say that pubs and hotels weren’t showing the World Cup Final, but accessing the soccer wasn’t that straightforward. Most places were concentrating on Kerry v Galway in the Super 8s (starting at the same time as France v Croatia) and those that had the World Cup on were crowded, or pretty much insisting that customers order food! We were watching the end of Kilkenny v Limerick in a bar when a group of 12 French fans came in. They pointed to vacant seating and asked if they could watch the soccer, only to be told they’d have to order food! (They were planning to order drinks).
There were French people everywhere, and a few Croatians too, and by 4 pm some of them were getting a little panicked, all alarmed at the sight of Pat Spillane filling the space they’d assumed the World Cup Final would occupy.
On the street, in the drizzle, French and Croatian fans looked at us pleadingly and asked: “…where can we see the World Cup Final?”
Between us all – Kerry locals and visitors alike – we tried to explain about Damien Comer and David Clifford and black cards and fair shoulder charges and blanket defences and the Super 8s and that this was why so many screens in packed pubs were showing GAA, not the big one from Russia.
In the end, after much wandering in and out of establishments by French, Croatians and Irish (us), I think everyone got to see what they wanted to see.
We ended up in a busy hotel, one eye on the soccer, one eye on the GAA. Kerry’s defeat to Galway came as a right shock to the locals. As the Rossies, the Croatians and the Kerry aristocrats licked their collective wounds, young French fans drove up and down Kenmare with horns beeping and flags waving…they’d only gone and won the World Cup in Kerry.
The ‘filling station’ we stop at this morning is more of a private house with an old garage and rusty fuel pumps. Visually, this place is past its heyday, but it’s quaint and charming. There’s no sign of life, but it appears to be open. After filling fuel, I go up to the garage, but there’s no-one around. Silence reigns. Then the door of the house slowly opens and I can hear words before I see a face.
“Money, money, money…” the female voice says.
The voice belongs to a woman of ‘a certain age’ and her ‘money, money, money’ comment had been said in humour (it appears). The woman of the house/filling station is formidable, I suspect. “Nice morning” she ventures next, before informing me that the previous night’s drop of rain had been badly needed. I agree, and hand over the money, money, money.
An hour in Sneem…before facing that long drive back to Roscommon. At the entrance to a pretty green area, there’s a sight that requires a ‘doubletake’. A man with a very long beard is sitting on a park bench, holding an animal (pet?) on a lead. It’s a goat! And a mountain goat, at that!
We have encountered a clever entrepreneuer. This ‘One Man and His Goat’ is a tourist attraction. Buses full of tourists stop every few minutes in Sneem. Most of the visitors take photos with the man and his (allegedly) Guinness-drinking mountain goat. Donations are gratefully accepted and thrown into a cap at the man’s feet. The goat seems very relaxed. So does the man.
“He’s a mountain goat and his horns grow an inch or two every year” the man tells a tourist, opting not to say how much his own impressive beard grows each year.
Later, we stop in Killarney, which, as every summer, is brimming with tourists, a large number of whom are from the USA. The town is buzzing and there are numerous quaint shops as well as bars, restaurants and those majestic dripping-in-character hotels.
I wonder what the Americans make of their President, Mr. Trump, in the news (as ever), this time over his chaotic visit to see Mr. Putin in Helsinki. No doubt there are mixed views (perhaps some supportive) although you have to say that Trump’s post-summit press conference was quite bizarre, even by his standards. Far from ‘Putin the boot in’, more a case of Russian Rollover.
Maybe the American tourists have banished Trump from their minds, as they enjoy wonderful Kerry.
As our American friends feel the texture of yet more Aran sweaters, two no-nonsense Kerry men stand outside the shop and casually pore over the fall-out of their county’s dismal Super 8s show.
“Yerra there’s no point in going to Croke Park and playing like that, they’ll have to do better when they go back for the semi-final”.